Flashback Friday: Storm Front

Storm Front

by Jim Butcher
narrated by James Marsters

8.0 hours
Storm Front is the first title in The Dresden Files and, introduces the audience to Harry Dresden, a practicing wizard in modern day Chicago, IL. Harry is tapped by Monica Sells to locate her missing husband and, the local police force’s Special Investigations unit has brought in Harry to consult ion a particularly gruesome homicide case wherein “magic’ is suspected of playing a part.

In February of 2010, the Yahoo! group, Sounds Like a Mystery (S.L.A.M.) discussed Storm Front. Because the discussion went forward on the premise that participants in the discussion had already listened to Storm Front, there are spoilers in the comments about characters and, I’ve marked out the passages below (“SPOILER ALERT” and “END SPOILER ALERT.”) The following comments were drawn from the discussion (02/20-23/2010):

> I listened to this first a couple of years ago and again a couple of weeks ago. I LOVE this audio! James Marsters’ delivery is excellent, conveying the idea that he IS Harry Dresden and overcomes some of the production issues (booth/mouth noise) and what I suspect is not-that-great writing. I’ve never been inclined to pick up the print, but I have no problem recommending the audio!

A twitter friend of mine pointed out that he thought the action scenes were rather drawn out but I countered that it was the equivalent of slo-mo (a la The Million Dollar Man) wherein the fast sequences needed to be slowed down so that the listener/reader could take in everything that was going on or; akin to when you are in an accident and even though it’s only taking a few seconds, it feels everything is going in slow motion. Moreover, I really hadn’t noticed it until he pointed it out so the argument that the action scenes were “too” anything was arguable!

I think many people are wary of starting The Dresden Files titles because the assumption is that they are freaky paranormal, but The Dresden Files somehow seems to emphasize the “normal” in “paranormal” and make the fantastic believable.

********** SPOILER ALERT **********

> Maybe I watch too much TV, but anymore, when two story-arcs are introduced, I’m not surprised to learn that it’s really one plot. Early in the novel, Victor Sells is introduced as a person of interest (as the missing persons case) so I figured he was involved somehow in the Tommy Tomm homicide. What I hadn’t figured on was that Victor Sells would turn out to be the arch-nemesis of the story. I had mistakenly figured he was a high-ranking pawn, but a pawn nonetheless, to a more powerful figure. I think when I first listened to Storm Front, I thought he might even become instrumental in bringing the bad guy down.

I was also surprised in Monica Sells’ complicity. While I understand her motives in seeking assistance, I was chagrined that she would withhold information that could have helped her. Harry wasn’t very good at persuading her to “help him help her;” but since she was the one who initiated contact, he shouldn’t have to have been.

This read very much like a first-in-series novel wherein the characters were being very carefully described, for use now, and later. As for the main characters I have to say that I love Harry and Bob. Of course, despite the descriptions given in the book, I imagine Harry Dresden to look like Spike (from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Bob to look like Terrance Mann (“Bob” in the TV series, The Dresden Files!) Hey, it works for me!

I find Gentleman Johnny Marcone very interesting. The scene in which Harry and Marcone were soulgazing leads me to think there is Marcone will develop into an even more interesting character. I like Susan Rodriguez too. She just seems like fun. I actually don’t care too much for Karin Murphy, as I’ve never really had much truck with people who only see things as black and white. Her indifference to Harry’s reluctance to pursue checking out how a spell was to be worked, her demands for results (tantamount to ordering him to solve the case for her,) on deadline no less and, her attempt to arrest him (showing a distinct lack of faith,) were off-putting.

********** END SPOILER ALERT **********

> I’m rating this an “A-” and promoting it into my Parthenon of Favorite Audiobooks. It held up very well on the re-listen! I have the next three (Full Moon, Grave Peril and Summer Knight) on my iPod and plan on listening to them after I finish with the Geographic/USA Challenge.

Death Masks (#5) is on my audible wishlist and I may dnload it this year, but I probably won’t listen to it until next year as I gotta lotta stuff on the backlog list! Titles #6 & #7 have yet to be produced. If they never are, then I may very well stop at #5 since I’m not particularly interested in reading these books in print and; I may have reached my limit in the series anyway. Titles #8-11 have been produced in audio but I really don’t want to skip titles to get there.

The only other thing I see that James Marsters has done in audio is take part in a performance of The Importance of Being Ernest (by Oscar Wilde.) It has one five-star rating but no reviews. I don’t know about that.

[Ultimately, Storm Front‘s production issues and suspect writing had me reconsider Storm Front from inclusion in my Personal Pantheon of All-Time Great Audiobooks; though it and The Dresden Files remains a guilty pleasure 🙂 All twelve titles in the series have been produced and are available. I did go on to listen to The Importance of Being Ernest (by Oscar Wilde as well as Death Masks (#5 in the series.)

Other Stuff: I purchased an MP3-CD of Storm Front from Buzzy Multimedia

Death Masks

Death Masks

The Dresden Files, #5

by Jim Butcher
narrated by James Marsters
11.35 hours
Death Masks is the fifth title in The Dresden Files series which features the only practicing wizard in present-day Chicago, Harry Dresden. In Death Masks, three plot lines bump against each other in a tale in which everyone seems to be out to get Harry one way or another:
  • The Red Court’s war against The Wizard’s Council continues in its vehemence. A duel is set up between the vampire Ortega and Harry at Wrigley Stadium. At stake is Harry’s life and perhaps the end of the war itself;
  • Harry is hired to recover a relic, nothing less than The Shroud of Turin! Harry and his friends, The Knights of the Sword, set out to track down The Shroud, the thieves, a few demons and, not lose Harry’s soul in the process and;
  • Harry’s erstwhile but very sexy girlfriend returns to Chicago ostensibly just to pick up a few things before leaving for good. Her love for Harry, combined with her sensuality and her newly developed fighting skills create an agonizing temptation for Harry.
There are some things that Jim Butcher does very well, namely create great, believable characters, write with humor and, provide plenty of action in any given plot. What Jim Butcher does not do well is pay attention to details with the result that there are always a couple of continuity errors that distract from the story.
James Marsters has spent years narrating and developing the The Dresden Files characters and is clearly in sync with the writer’s intent and style. This audio was recorded out-of-order from the rest of the series (at the same time a later title in the series was recorded) and the result is that James Marsters’ narration, from practice and experience far beyond the Buzzy Multimedia years, brings a polished performance to Death Masks. The production quality is cleaner than in the first four titles in The Dresden Files series (Storm Front, Fool Moon, Grave Peril and Summer Knight) as well. Issues like booth noises and mispronunciations have been eliminated. Overall, James Marsters’ narration transcends Jim Butcher’s writing, creating an experience best suited for audio over the print.
Other Stuff: I purchased a digital dnload copy of Death Masks from weread4you.com

This book also qualifies for the What’s in Name? Challenge #4 hosted at BethFishreads. Death Masks is an audiobook with [a life stage] in the title, “Death.”

This book also qualifies for the Where Are You Reading? Challenge hosted by Sheila at her blog, Book Journey. Death Masks is set in Chicago, IL.

View dogearedcopy map 2011 in a larger map

The Pink Chair: Changing Horses Mid-Stream

Audiobook publishers don’t want to do it. Fans of a series don’t like it. But it happens? Why?
In no particular order:
  • The original narrator sucked. The reviews are in and they are all bad. The listener advisory service reviews (professional reviewers) are scathing. Customer reviews are generous with one star posts. The audiobook company is getting hate mail and customer service is fielding call-in complaints. And still, the audiobook publisher will be reluctant to pull the narrator; but if they do, can you really blame them? The audiobook publisher has really no where to go but up.
  • The original narrator has gotten worse. The narrator has developed a unique style as a result of bad advice, a workshop experience or maybe just thinks s/he sounds better with a new mannerism or; years of smoking and drinking have lent a not particularly pleasant new quality to the narrator’s voice… The studio director has called the narrator on it (“Stop it!”) but the narrator can’t or won’t and, now the character totally sounds different then when the narrator was originally cast for it. In this case, sticking with the same narrator isn’t doing anyone – the listeners, the author, the book, the publishers – any favors.
  • The original narrator died. For obvious reasons, this is awful. And for less obvious reasons, it is also awful: The succeeding narrator will never be as good as the now-beatified voice of the original narrator who passed away.
  • The original narrator is otherwise engaged. Sometimes a narrator lands a juicy film role or a television gig or a role in a stage play or; maybe the narrator is ill or; having a baby or; in jail… It could be anything. The narrator is unable to meet the deadline of submitting the recording files. This is where the audiobook publisher weighs delaying the release of the title versus changing the narrator. For every day after the release of the print title that the audio edition is not available, the audiobook publisher and the author lose sales and royalties respectively. On the other hand, fans of a series may very simply not be interested in another narrator and would be willing to wait. It’s a tough call and some of the factors that go into making it are things like weighing lost sales, contractural clauses and, whether the narrator’s situation is one-time, chronic or, permanent.
  • The original narrator has retired from narrating. Many narrators are not full-time narrators. They have other careers or sidelines that are augmented by narration work. Sometimes those other lives develop into more meaningful pursuits and they move on from narrating. Other times, a narrator may rebel against being typecast into a certain series (e.g. the family man who doesn’t like being known for his pedophile-character’s predilections; the narrator who has a profound distaste for narrating passages involving bestiality, etc.)
  • The original narrator is difficult to work with. Maybe the narrator is off his or her meds. Maybe the narrator is an absolute asshole. Whatever, the narrator has gone beyond being eccentric into being truly impossible to work with. Studio sessions implode and everybody is tense and anxious. Almost inevitably, at one point the phrase “no one is indispensable” will be thrown into the mix.
  • The original narrator is too expensive. The narrator fees can be too high, the studio sessions can be getting too long (in the studio, time=$$$), the post-edit can be labor intensive (again, time=$$$)… Exactly how much is too much? When the costs of producing a book turn the title into a possible revenue generator into at best, a loss leader. This means that instead of hoping to ever eke out a literal dime in profits, the title will never even break even. The title will remain in the catalog and might attract customers to other titles; but overall the title becomes the weapon against which the bean counters wield against producers at every quarter’s budget meeting. When the uber expensive production fails even to generate backlist sales, “actionable efficiencies” (cost cutting measures) are executed. Bye-bye, narrator with the non-negotiable fees.
  • The author disapproves of the original narrator. The author’s reason(s) for being unhappy with a narrator can be many; but the reason always given is that the author does not agree with the interpretation that the narrator gave of the book. What triggers this decision can also be mysterious: Sometimes a narrator and an author do not becomes BFFs (see The Pink Chair: Contacting the Author); in fact, quite the opposite during a narrator consultation. Sometimes the author thinks that the audiobook royalties or the book’s reputation will improve with a different narrator. Sometimes, the author may just exercise his or her prerogative to get more involved in the audiobook process. Sometimes, they even listen to the audiobook and truly do believe that the narrator didn’t quite get it right. The audiobook publishers will generally fight against narrator changes, especially if the series is doing well; but sometimes the audiobook publisher loses.
  • The original narrator ages but the character hasn’t/new title is a prequel to extant series. This is an issue with series that have gone on for decades; but the protagonist remains the twenty-something-year old, stuck in time without a cell phone or perhaps with her immortal cat… Unfortunately, the narrator originally selected to narrate the series has aged. The vocal quality has matured and/or thinned and there is an disconcerting difference between the protagonist’s and the narrator’s voices. Sometimes, an author will write a prequel to the series. The adolescence of a pushing-forty protagonist will be explored and there’s no way it’s not going to sound bad using the same narrator.
  • The series gets picked up by new audiobook publisher. Sometimes a series will be picked up by another audiobook publisher and the new guys cannot get access to the original narrator or; the new guys think they can cast the audiobook better. In the former case, it should be noted that the audiobook publisher tries very hard to retain the same narrator for the series; but sometimes, it just doesn’t work out. The narrator can be under an exclusive contract with another audiobook company or, perhaps the original narrator and the new audiobook publisher simply cannot come to an agreement. In the case of the new guys thinking they can cast the audiobook better, it should be noted that the new guys were attracted to the series in the first place because of the series’ reputation; but oddly there are producers who seek to either fix what isn’t broken or; think that a soap opera star or B actor will do a better job than the professional narrator who developed the series. It’s usually a short-lived delusion that corrects itself with the next title in the series.
Whatever the reason(s), know that an audiobook publisher does not make the decision to change narrators mid-series lightly. They know, as do you, that if you’re unhappy with the change, you can always go to print.

Next up on The Pink Chair

Flashback Friday: The Importance of Being Ernest

The Importance of Being Ernest

by Oscar Wilde
Live performance featuring James Marsters, Charles Busch, Emily Bergl, Neil Dickson, Jill Gascoine, Christopher Neame and, Matthew Wolf
2.0 hours

    Product Description (taken from LearnOutLoud.com, the goto site for L.A. Theater Works’ audios:)

    This final play from the pen of Oscar Wilde is a stylish send-up of Victorian courtship and manners, complete with assumed names, mistaken lovers, and a lost handbag. Jack and Algernon are best friends, both wooing ladies who think their names are Ernest, “that name which inspires absolute confidence.”

    Wilde’s effervescent wit, scathing social satire, and high farce make this one of the most cherished plays in the English language.

    My journal entry of 05/24/2010:

    > Even though I have seen and read the play a few times, THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING ERNEST bears up under repeated scrutiny. The performance by L.A. Theater Works (starring James Marsters) had me laughing aloud, delivering the lines with excellent comic timing and all the appropriate absurdity. As an audio-only performance, the listener might expect to feel cheated in not being able to see the actors, but it’s a testament to Oscar Wilde’s writing and the performers that nothing was lost in this rendition. My only quibble was the inclusion of an interview with the director afterward: It simply wasn’t interesting.

Other Stuff: I purchased a digital dnload copy from audible.com

The Pink Chair: Contacting the Author

I just love it when a narrator and author are able to truly collaborate on a book. It truly is a wonderful and satisfying experience and makes for a better end-product. Having a feel for the author’s intent, knowing how the author pronounces certain words, reassuring the author that the book is in good hands… It’s all good. Sometime the author and narrator become BFFs, which provides all sorts of warm fuzzy feelings for everyone involved 🙂

That said, before a narrator contacts an author, s/he should check with the studio director to make sure it is okay to do so. There are authors who prefer not to be contacted by the narrator for whatever reason or; five minutes after having a very pleasant conversation with the narrator, are on the phone with their agent, outraged that they weren’t able to narrate the books themselves, or that a major movie star wasn’t cast, or even their best friend who has acting experience… Annoyed authors tend to create complications farther on down the line, including, but not limited to, having to have a title re-cast.

And for God’s sake, whatever you as a narrator do, don’t ask the author to re-write a passage to make it more audiobook friendly! The audiobook publishers have a way of dealing with print material, including charts, diagrams and other illustrations that aren’t audio friendly that include, but are not limited to, having a way that the charts are read and, acquiring the rights to publish the materials in a separate pdf. Some audiobook publishers acquire the rights to modify the text to adapt the material specifically for an audiobook production and, that script adaptation is what the narrator will receive to record.

So, all I’m suggesting is that when you pick up that phone or are tempted to shoot off an e-mail to the author’s web-site, call the studio director first to see if it’s okay to contact the author.

Next up on The Pink Chair:

The Alice Behind Wonderland

The Alice Behind Wonderland
by Simon Winchester
narrated by Simon Winchester
Harper Audio, Inc.

2.7 hours

The photograph that graces the cover of The Alice Behind Wonderland (and which is described in the text) is the catalyst into Simon Winchester’s explication of Dodgson as the photographer, erstwhile academe and poet who would find his greatest success as the writer of the enthralling tale about an English girl who falls down a rabbit hole. Familial, educational and religious influences are noted, as well as his relationship with the Lidells; but oddly, Dodgson’s work as a mathematician, inventor and creator of word games – all of which are evidenced in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, are omitted. Also curious is the overall subject matter of the book for, The Alice Behind Wonderland is a brief biographical sketch of Charles Dodgson (a.k.a. Lewis Carroll,) not of Alice Lidell, the muse of Caroll’s Classic nonsense tale. In addition to speculating on Dodgson’s probable influences on the creation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Winchester also devotes passages in refuting the never-proven idea that Dodgson was a pedophile. Winchester contradicts the argument, as most notably put forth in Karoline Leach’s In the Shadow of the Dreamchild, with a cultural explanation as to the high number of children-as-subject-matter of Dodgson’s photographs, as well as the fact that simply, no evidence exists to support Ms Leach’s claim. Far from being boring enough to dry you off from an unexpected swim in a puddle of your own tears, The Alice Behind Wonderland is an interesting profile of the man behind Lewis Carroll.

The material is narrated by the author himself in a clear, easy-to-understand British accent. The audio brings to mind a favored college lecturer who would entertain as well as enlighten.

Other stuff: I received a dnload copy of The Alice Behind Wonderland upon request from Harper Audio. Every month, their publicist sends out an e-mail highlighting their current offering for reviewers’ consideration.