It’s been a couple of weeks since we finished recording The Burning Light of Two Stars audiobook, a couple of weeks since I stood in that dark closet and hit record, Becky Parker’s lustrous voice filling my headphones from Portland. And now, every day, in a digital folder shared in the Cloud with ProAudio Voices, Becky’s audiobook production company, more and more edited files are posted, waiting for me to listen, evaluate, critique, and respond. This is my last and only chance to ask for changes to these files.
Each time I get another batch of files from the editor, I have to remember the sequence to go through in order to download them so I can listen to them using QuickTime. If I play them directly from the native files, they freeze. If I play them from YouTube, I can’t start and stop them as precisely as I need to. QuickTime is best. But transferring the file there from the Cloud is four-step process, and I can never remember what exactly to do or in which order. So, I bumble along until I once again figure it out. The next step after that is to open a shared Google feedback sheet in which there are a number of columns for me to fill in. Bear in mind that I’ve never worked with Google docs or Google sheets before. Should I be embarrassed to admit this?
In most ways, I’d say I’m good on the computer—I like technology and my computer and phone feel like easy extensions of my mind and body—but that’s when I’m using programs that I’ve been familiar with for decades. I primarily use Microsoft Word and email and internet searches—and when I was working on my manuscript, I made the leap to Scrivener. Even if I only know how to utilize 10% of the capacity of those programs, I know how to make them do what I want. It feels effortless. But in the past few months, as I entered the brave new world of hybrid book publishing in 2021, I’ve been confronted with having to learn programs and storage systems and organizational systems and group co-working apps and audio recording programs I’ve never attempted (and often never heard of) before. I’d never worked with Audacity. I’d never used Google docs or most of the programs required for this audiobook, for the editorial and production process for the book, and for its marketing. I’m going on Medicare this summer, which means my brain cells have had some serious wear and tear (not to mention a shitload of chemotherapy fourteen years ago) and there is one hell of a steep learning curve to almost everything I’m undertaking this year. I’m having to stretch so far beyond my comfort zone that it doesn’t even exist anymore.
Back to the audiobook. Each chapter (there are 70 chapters in The Burning Light of Two Stars) is returned to me on a separate audio file. On the Google sheet, I write down the chapter number in the first column, and as I listen, if there’s anything that sounds off to me or that would “pull me out of the trance of the story,” I note the exact time in minutes and seconds in the second column where the problem occurs. In the third column, I write down the starting and ending words of the sentence, the bit of dialogue or exact words in question, and in the final column, exactly what needs to be fixed and why. And while I’m at it, I’m supposed to choose three short clips that can be used as samples of the audiobook on my website and in other places where the audiobook will be marketed.
It’s very much like editing different drafts of a book. You don’t get it right on the first take.
As you can imagine, this is a slow tedious process that requires complete concentration. The goal is to create an audio experience where the listener can get lost in the story, where the narrator(s) are secondary, and the story comes to the fore and is experienced as an immersive, full experience—getting lost “in the trance of the story.”
Before I can complete any of tasks connected to reviewing the audiobook files, I have to get over my reaction to hearing the sound of my own voice. Since I recorded these tracks with Becky, who is a professional audio actor, I’m very aware of the difference between her performance and mine. When she plays all the other characters in the book, her performance is consistent and steady. Mine is not. In some chapters, my voice feels more forced or stiff, more like reading, and less like storytelling. Sometimes I emphasize the wrong word in a weird way or my “s”’s go sibilant. Sometimes my voice just sounds fatigued and tired. And then there are other chapters, like one I just listened to this morning, where it sounds as if I’m whispering right into the listener’s ear, confiding in them—those tracks are intimate, emotionally resonant, inviting. They sound really good, and I can get caught up in my own story. Overall, my performance is pretty good, excellent at times, but my voice and delivery are definitely inconsistent, just about what you’d expect from an amateur with a background in radio and some audio experience—me.
Now my task is to note the sections that are just so awkward (to my ears) that they need to be rerecorded. Or to jot other errors that occur. What kind of things am I noting on the spreadsheet? Occasionally a word is clipped at the start of a sentence. Sometimes I feel like the editor didn’t leave enough silence between one emotional beat and the beat that follows. Sometimes there’s too much of a gap, the pause too long, unnatural—I know right away how I’d like it to sound. Sometimes, particularly in a tense fight scene between characters (and there are a lot of those in this book), the responses don’t come quick enough, and the resulting scene sounds stilted as a result. Those little silences need to be edited out. So sometimes I’m asking Johnny, the editor, to add more blank space; other times I’m asking him to take it away. Once or twice, the problem has been the “ch” sound, like in “teach” or “reach” or “beach,” that sounds off. But most of my comments have to do with levels—Becky’s voice and mine aren’t always matching in volume since I was recording in my office closet in Santa Cruz, and she was recording in her home studio in Portland on separate computers—and those levels needs to be adjusted.
But thankfully, there are no dogs barking in the background.
The more I move through this audiobook editorial process, the less self-conscious I become and the more I allow myself to get caught up in the story—my story. Sometimes, I actually love it. I can almost convince myself I’m listening to someone else’s book. Despite the long hours, in the midst of everything else required for this book launch, I’m really glad I chose to the do the audiobook now and not to put it off. It’s still not quite real to me that someday other people, people I don’t know will be listening to the sound of my voice—but it’s getting more real every day. The Burning Light of Two Stars is moving from my head and heart and desktop out into the world. After years of struggle and sweat and self-doubt, hard work, and persistence, I am actually realizing this dream.
The Burning Light of Two Stars is now available for presale. And I’m asking for your support. If you purchase the book today, you’ll get an array of free gifts, including the opportunity to read the first five chapters now. To access the presale bonuses, just hop over here, where there are a variety of links to buy the book (from Amazon to independent stores to autographed copies) so you can sign up to receive your rewards, enter the raffle for some great events and opportunities, and become a vital part of the team bringing The Burning Light of Two Stars out into the world. Please join me in this effort today.
(Don’t ask me why, but you can’t order the audiobook for presale—only the physical book)
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