Audiobook Week, Listen Up!

Where do you learn about great audiobook titles? Find reviews? Buy your audiobooks? Share your secrets with the rest of us!

One feature of my job is that I select the titles that go out to listener advisory services, which is another way to say that I send out free audiobooks to reviewers! Some of the listener advisory services are easy in that they want the whole monthly slate of titles or all titles in a specific genre. Other reviewers require more thought: Reviewer “X” really doesn’t like narrator “Y” (and never will) or can’t stand violence against animals or only likes a very narrow sub-genre… Then there’s the part where I’m asked to provide only the best of the best and that’s really tough. There are big titles with big narrators; but then again there are some smaller titles with great narrators too! At this point, I actually use an unusual standard, What was the narrator’s response to the book when it was assigned or while s/he was recording it? There are narrators who are game for anything and everything and will take whatever we throw at them; but then there are those narrators who come back and say things like, “Oh. My. God. This book was absolutely incredible! I love this book! That denouement was mid-bending!” Or whatever. You get the idea. It’s that little extra something that, while intangible, comes through on the recording. I never hesitate to recommend these titles even if I have not personally listened to them or worked on them. In this way too, those same audiobooks make it onto my own personal TBL-to list.

But believe it or not, I actually listen to audiobooks above and beyond the borders of the Blackstone Audio campus! My tastes are extremely eclectic and so I heavily rely on other bloggers’ opinions. The blogs of Bob Reiss (@guildedearlobe at theguildedearlobe.wordpress.com) – Zombie, PA, SFF; Jennifer Connor (@lithousewife at literatehousewife.com, – litfic, #shakennotstirred #ArmchairAudies #ListenersList; “Beth Fish” (@BethFishReads at BethFishReads.com) – whose tastes are as equally as eclectic as mine, plus she also reviews graphic novels; and Jennifer Karsbaek (@DevourerofBooks at Devourerofbooks.com) – wide range of different genres as well –  are written by major audiobook advocates and audiobook bloggers whose views I respect immensely. I also like reading audiobook reviews from people who don’t normally blog about audiobooks; but feel so strongly about what they’ve heard they have to post (e.g. Mike Alatorre a.k.a. @le0pard13 at It Rains… You Get Wet) – movies and references to “she who will not be named” and; some of the up-and-coming audiobook bloggers like Cassandra Neace (@CassandraNeace at Indiereaderhouston.com) – whose enthusiasm for the audiobook form is refreshing. There are dozens of others as well who are probably reading this and saying “What About Me?”  To those audiobook bloggers who I have overlooked (mea culpa), please feel free to leave your blog URL in comments below!
Where I actually get my audiobooks varies. Sometimes I pull them off the shelves over at the warehouse; sometimes I request a review copy from another publisher; sometimes I troll the publishers’ sites and, yes, I’ve been known to try an audiobook I would not normally have considered if it was on my Maybe list but is now on sale 🙂

Audiobook Week: Mid-Week Meme

Current/most recent audiobook:



I’m currently listening to A Discovery of Witches (by Deborah Harkness; narrated by Jennifer Ikeda)

Impressions:

A couple of people whose opinion I highly respect recommended this title; but quite frankly I’m quite disappointed with it. I had no preconceived ideas about what it was about or what to expect other than that the story would be compelling. It’s about a witch who calls up an alchemical text from the stacks At the Bodlean library at Oxford. I’m about halfway through and I’m just not feeling it. Jennifer Ikeda has a lovely voice but every passage in the book is treated with the same intensity, whether its that moment when the protag meets up with an avowed enemy or she’s in a yoga class. The evenness with which the narrator delivers the story bleeds the excitement out of the tale. And then there’s the issue of a couple of mispronunciations which is driving me batshit crazy: Stuff like Magdalene (College) being mispronounced “mag-da-lin” instead of “maud-lyn” and “dressage” being mispronounced as “dres-idj” instead of “dre-sahdj.” There are a lot of suspect pronunciations but I’m too lazy to drag out the OED to do a look-up every time a not-quite-right-sounding word pops up.

(So why haven’t I dumped the audio in favor of the book? Basically because I’m cheap. I spent my book allowance on a FitBit (a fancy pedometer) and the hold list on the library is rather long.) I’ll get through this; but when the sequel is published I plan on getting Shadow of Night in print.

Current/most recent favorite audiobook:

One of my favorite audiobooks this year was actually released a couple of years ago, The Ghosts of Belfast (by Stuart Neville; narrated by Gerard Doyle.) I’m about to add it to my Personal Pantheon of All Time Great Audiobooks. The story is about a former IRA hit man, Gerry Fegan who is haunted by twelve ghosts. The ghosts will leave him in peace if he executes a vendetta against the people ultimately responsible for their respective deaths. It’s a great story and Gerard Doyle is perfectly suited and cast for it! You can read my review of it on this blog 🙂

Favorite narrator you’ve discovered recently:

My favorite new-to-me narrator is Wil Wheaton. His narration of Ready Player One (by Ernest Cline) was perfect! I often blow off celebrity narrators but this is an exception I’ll gladly make 🙂

One title from your TBL (to be listened) stack, or your audio wishlist:



Hmmm, next up may be Hillary Mantle’s Wolf Hall (narrated by Simon Slater.) I tried reading the book before and was lost. Then I switched to audio and was equally lost! Then I tried listening to the book and listening together and it all made sense! I stopped for some reason though. I need to get back to it however and wrap it up so I can listen to Bring Up the Bodies (by Hillary Mantle; narrated by Simon Vance.) I’ve heard that Bring Up the Bodies is more accessible (whew!)

Your audio dream team (what book or author would you LOVE to see paired with a certain narrator, can already exist or not):



I really can’t go there! Let’s just say that I make casting recommendations for a lot of books and sometimes I win and sometimes I don’t :-/

06/27/2012: 10:100: UPDATE! I’m changing my answer! I wish Xe Sands had narrated the final chapters to The Last Werewolf (by Glen Duncan) and then gone on to narrate Talulah’s Rising.

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When do I listen to audiobooks?

In #StudioA: I’m a  studio engineer and so it’s generally a good idea to listen to the narrator while he’s talking to you! Most recently, I listened to Kevin Kenerly narrate First Evidence (by Ken Goddard.)

In the car: I listen to a lot of audiobooks produced by the company I work for AND by other audiobook publishers. I primarily listen for my own edification; but I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I was also not-so-subconsciously vetting or auditioning the narrator for possible future work. Some audiobooks make me miss my exit (e.g. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson; narrated by Simon Vance), make me late for work because I don’t want to go in a crying mess or make it difficult for me to drive (e.g. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein; narrated by Christopher Evan Welch) and/or have my DH coming out of the house wanting to know why I’m still in the driveway (To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee; narrated by Sissy Spacek.) Occupational hazard, I’m afraid.

On the exercise bicycle: I used to listen to heart pounding music like Drowning Pool’s “When the Bodies Hit the Floor,” etc; but when I realized that I could sneak in a couple of extra minutes of an audiobook; I made the switch. I don’t listen while I’m walking the dogs (I’m with my family and that would just be rude) or when I’m hiking (bear, rattlesnake, mountain lion and drunk hunter territory and that would just be stupid.) Right now, I’m listening to Deborah Harkness’ A  Discovery of Witches (narrated by Jennifer Ikeda.)

When I’m playing Angry Birds: I can’t just sit on the couch or in a chair and listen. For some reason, when I try, I enter into some sort of catatonic state and quickly find myself asleep. Worse, when I wake up, I’ve found that I’ve got a crick in some body part and/or I’ve managed to drool. I can’t explain it, but something happens to my alpha waves and I’m down and out for the count! But now, if I want to make a point of listening to something, I sit down with Angry Birds. It keeps just enough of my brain waves activated that I don’t fall asleep.  I mute the nook, turn on my iPod and play! BONUS: I don’t have to listen to the pigs laugh at me when I fail to clear a level. For the ultimate of uber-meta listening, game playing experiences, Ready Player One (by Ernest Cline; narrated by Wil Wheaton.)

Audiobook Week: 2011-2012, My Audiobook Year

I’ve been listening to audiobooks for something like seventeen years now and have been working in the industry for nearly as long! Every year, there is something new that captures my attention in terms of book trends, narrating styles or changes in the industry itself; but to bring this closer to my own personal listening experience, I have to say that the thing that I’ve “discovered” this year is audio drama! Now I have listened to and worked on audio dramas in the past; but it has been only one of the many forms of audio that I listen to. This year as a part of the Armchair Audies (hosted by @lithousewife at literatehousewife.com) I decided to listen to a couple of audio dramas that were finalists in this year’s Audies Awards.  The Mark of Zorro (by Johnston McCully; dramatized by Yuri Rasovsky; full cast performance) was the first finalist I listened to and it was great: really well produced and a lot of fun! I was really hooked on the form and I ended up listening to all five of the final nominees! I’m now eager to claim the same category in next year’s Armchair Audies. What was really interesting to me about the audio drama finalists, was that it held a few sub-genres in an of itself: studio productions, live staged readings, podcasts, and radio broadcasts. The things I look for in the performances are how quickly the actors get the characters up on their feet, edge-to edge energy (does the performance slag off at any point?) and how the sound effects are used. This is addition to the normal considerations of any audiobook as to being well cast and well executed.

See Also:
2010-2011, My Audiobook Year (My response to Jennifer K.’s (@devourerofbooks at Devourerofbooks.com) Audiobook Week meme last year)

If you want to know more about me you can check out these two interviews:

If you want to know more about the Armchair Audies, you can check out the Armchair Audies (hosted by @lithousewife at literatehousewife.com) and the wrap-up I wrote for the audio drama category, which also contains links to the individual reviews 🙂

n.b. – Jennifer will be moving the Armchair Audies to it’s own site before the next Audies start up, so stay tuned!) 

                                               

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None of our performing services agreements, whether actual or implied, include special items on the order on Van Halen’s (in-)famous M&M clause; but there are certain things that some narrators want or need and, within reason the studio provides them. Some of these things have become a sort of ritual between the narrator and the studio staff and we are always willingly oblige for the simple fact that it makes the narrators happy and, ergo the sessions run smoother.

Some of the things that narrators have asked for have included, but are not limited to:

  • the same provisos that stage actors expect including water and scheduled breaks;
  • quarters (as in money) and company to the vending machines;
  • airfare, hotel, meals and/or snacks, and/or car rentals for guest narrators
  • transportation to/from the studio;
  • that the engineer pre-read the script to help them with figuring out what an author meant, if the typo is indeed a typo, or how a certain line might be read;
  • that the engineer not pre-read the script so that the narrator can read the engineer’s expression and thereby provide direct reactive feedback to the narrator’s performance;
  • chat sessions about the books and alternately, limiting or cutting the chatter and getting right down to recording (that the engineer shut up and just push the buttons or do lookups upon request);
  • use of an iPad, enlarged fonts on paper scripts; 
  • specific chairs, lamps, tables, stands and/or foot rests for the booth;
  • specific studio;
  • specific engineer;
  • room temperature re-sets;
  • pillows to combat stomach growls from being audible

I know of one engineer who prepared special snacks for his narrators: sliced apples and a selection of teas and, other engineers who have had to basically become a guest narrator’s personal assistant on and off the grounds of the studio. And, as I mentioned before, none of it is an inconvenience and we’re happy to accommodate.

That said, if you get me as an engineer, there are a couple of limitations I have and that you should know about:

  • I will not join you on a smoking break.
  • I cannot for the life of me make coffee. I don’t drink coffee and the mechanics of a coffee maker baffle me. Theoretically, I just need to pour water into one section of the machine and coffee magically comes out another part of the machine; but as anyone who has known me for five minutes will tell you, kitchen appliances (indeed kitchens in general) are a complete mystery to me and the results are never pretty :-/
  • If you need a ride in my car, my car has dog hair

As studio engineers we really only ask of the narrators four things:

  1. that you come in prepared (having done your homework) and ready to work;
  2. that you take care of your voice/person on a physical and emotional level;
  3. you not treat any of  the studio staff with contempt or in a condescending manner and;
  4. that you tell us what you want/need 🙂

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Last week, my DH was out of town and in the middle of the first night of his being away, my dogs simply would not settle down. There were a lot of perimeter patrols, snuffling, growling, collar-and-tag clanking, and general issue restlessness of a pair of dogs who are uncertain about everything when the leader of the pack is away. I’m annoyed. I tried to ignore them, but their wandering around the house was driving me crazy. I shut the bedroom door, but they would shuffle around and whine and softly bark. At point I was yelling “GO THE !#@% TO SLEEP! LIE DOWN!” (And feeling rather pleased with myself for being gramatically correct , i.e. “lie” vs “lay” at this time of stress and fatigue) but all to no avail. My dogs do not care about grammar. They just wouldn’t settle down. 
So I decide to let them out.  I live in the middle of !@#% nowhere (which roughly translates to  Southern Oregon) so when I open the door to the backyard, there are no city lights, street lights or even car lights to help me out here: all there is… is darkness. I’m about to turn on a porch light when I hear it: an insane keening, growling, hissing, scuffling thing out there. My dogs are going ballistic and vault into the unknown, growling and barking viciously. I absolutely freeze in the doorway, thinking the following thoughts: Raccoons. Big Foot. Aliens. I am not ruling anything out.
Because, you see, I’ve been in #StudioA with Kevin Kenerly all week. He is narrating First Evidence (by Ken Goddard) which is an X-Files type of book with shadows that… well, you’ll see. Or rather hear. Anyway, the story takes place in Southern Oregon… In fact, in the very town that I live in. And from the first passages, with Kevin sliding words into my ears so insidiously, I’ve been a little tense. Kevin can do that:  The distance between the page, his voice and your ears disappears and you experience the story.  Which is all great except when you’re talking about some seriously scary shit like what First Evidence gives you and you can do more than just imagine the places in the story because you live there… well it’s a perfect storm of paranoia and insanity :-/ 
You may laugh; but that photo above? That’s an actual un-retouched shot of my backyard at night. Anything could be in that darkness…
 P.S.  – My big brave dogs scared it way. And no, I did not go out there in the light of day to investigate.  When DH came back from his trip, he went out to “ride the fence.” He reports that the blackberry brambles were out of control  and has spent the week-end clearing them. I am pretty sure blackberries  were not the problem that night; but as they are alien to Oregon, I guess it could’ve been… Like I said, I’m not ruling anything out!

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My hands hurt. More specifically, my wrists, with radiating pains up my forearms. Years of gaming followed by years of working in ergonomically poor conditions at a computer job have left me with chronic carpal tunnel syndrome. It flares up maybe once or twice a year when I’ve spent way too much time at the studio console and then at various computer keyboards. That’s what I did this past week and its an occupational hazard that is not covered by OSHA, so many businesses do not accommodate it. There are friends and co-workers of mine in the past who have had surgery done to ameliorate the pain; but it’s effectiveness appears to me temporary so I am hesitant to go there. In the meantime, I resort to using Ice Patches and a wrist band!
I used to literally plunge my hands into ice baths; but then I came across these ice patches at the drug store and inspiration struck! I cut the patches into thirds, apply one strip to the top of my wrist, a second strip to the bottom of my wrist (creating a sort of broken bracelet) and then don the wrist splint/band. Repeat for the other hand. I then do this odd little exercise wherein I press my finger tips together, leaving space between my hands and bend my wrists. I don’t know what’s really happening, but it feels like I’m stretching out the inflamed nerve ends and  it feels really good!
Anyway, this solution enables me to work for hours, pain free. But I’m not pushing my luck tonight. I’ve got another week of studio and keyboard time ahead of me so I will keep this post short 🙂

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You may have seen some of the photos from the APA Audie Awards as tuxedo-clad gentlemen posed for their promo shots with a glass of champagne in one hand and a bedazzled woman on their arm; or conversely a stunning woman with a brilliant smile with a bemused husband by her side… In many of these pictures, you will notice one or more of the subjects wearing a medallion. No, they are not visiting ambassadors from obscure countries; but Audie Award nominees! 
I’m not sure when the tradition of handing out medallions to the nominees first started; but I do know that the first couple of years, my husband kept turning his back in, thinking they weren’t to keep. Then he brought them home; and now he doesn’t anymore again because they take up space and weight in his luggage which is better allocated to bringing home little blue boxes from Tiffany’s. Also, because the medallions don’t cite the year or the nomination and are therefore  indistinguishable from one year to the next, they amount to little more than a shiny souvenir.
True Story: Last year I was told to hold on to a bunch of the medallions until the Blackstone nominees came in. I was standing next to the incredibly suave and charming Robin Sachs. I cannot for the life of me remember what happened to fluster me: it could have been Robin Sachs himself (he can say the most outrageous things! 😉 or just a matter of trying juggle medallions and hors d’oeuvres and stuff; but I ended up dropping and scattering the medallions onto the marble floors of the Times Building anteroom, causing many people to turn their heads and interrupting a pitch one person was giving  the company studio director (and for which she still apparently hasn’t forgiven me because she still brings it up; but in all fairness for which the studio director is still thanking me)! Yes, that’s me, full of grace and elegance 😀
Anyway, so what do we do with them? For awhile they were sitting in a drawer. Then my daughter found them and used them to create safety harnesses for various stuffed animals for a zip line she set up in our house. Yeah, I know, it sounds disrespectful; but…um, yeah. I got nothin’ in my defense.

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Many in the print publishing industry take Fridays off during the summer. I have heard that this is because the heat in NYC, the center of the publishing universe, gets stifling and people escape for the more tolerable climes of The Hamptons or The Poconos or wherever. Though it makes sense, I wonder why it seems to be a tradition in the publishing industry and not so much in the say… the banking industry. If any one can shed a light on this for me, I would appreciate it!

Anyway, if you are not in the print publishing industry, you are probably working on Fridays; but have a reasonable expectation of clocking out as it were and kicking back for the week-end. Through the efforts of unions over the decades, you will have week-ends, holidays, and paid vacations. Increasingly nowadays, though, that “time off” comes with that ubiquitous and somewhat insidious 21st century umbilical cord, the cell phone.

The above picture is the shadow of the Studio Director at Blackstone Audio, Inc., after hours in the early evening at the dog park. He is taking a call from a narrator. He often gets calls from narrators et al at all hours of the day and night, weekdays and weekends, holidays and vacation. If you call Grover and he doesn’t answer or return your call right away, it’s usually because he’s on a chain of calls dealing with some issue or challenge; or he is literally in a place where the signal couldn’t get through (e.g. the Javitz Center, Klamath National Park, etc.) He views it as a part of his job to be accessible to narrators in particular to answer any and all concerns regarding casting, research, and whatever.

There are jobs in the audiobook industry that are “9 to 5” but at a certain level, the job isn’t so much a job as a lifestyle. The love for the art and craft of it carries you through 24/7/365 🙂

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This is the recording sign out side of Studio A. It is the equivalent of an “On Air” sign at a radio station or more pointedly, a “Do Not Disturb” sign on a hotel door. The recording sign, when lit, is actually telling people two things: 1) Please keep the noise levels down in the areas just outside the studios and 2) Do not enter. Sadly, many people do not seem to understand these things which leads to studio engineers, directors and even narrators to come charging out the booth to give offenders dirty looks.

There is a lot of sound baffling and insulation in each of our booths, which keeps out a lot of noise; but very simply can’t compete with the cocktail party level of conversation that people like to hold outside the studio doors and windows. Plus, some someone at our company decided that the hospital-green walled space outside the studios was the perfect place for a monster copier machine. The copier itself can’t be heard in the studios, but the people who like to chat it up while waiting it for their turns at the copier can. They are probably trying to compete with noise of  the copier machine; but I cannot rule out the possibility that their collective and general experience as habitues at local bars and restaurants makes them think they are talking normally. Also, I am not ruling out the possibility that everyone is deaf. Yes, it’s that loud. Why is this a problem? One the noise is distracting and two, there are noises that will get picked up the recording. It can be particularly disappointing when the narrator has just worked through a particularly difficult passage involving Irish wristwatches and or a run-on sentence that covers a page and a half, to have to do it again because someone was squeeing in delight over baby pictures, at a frequency to alarm dogs. The only thing that makes this whole situation worse is when the overheard conversations aren’t even interesting. Really, I just don’t think that,

THE BAGEL PLACE NOW HAS AVOCADO DIP!!!”
should be acclaimed with the same fervor and volume as,
“THE BUILDING’S ON FIRE!”

Oddly, there are also people who see lit recording sign and think it’s a “Welcome” sign. It’s actually exactly the opposite. Sometimes we have celebrity narrators, authors as narrators, or guest narrators that everyone wants to see work. They fail to understand that the act of observing actually does affect the process being observed. The narrator is there losing himself in the story; and the engineer (and the director if the session requires one) are right  there along with the narrator in an intimate setting (To put it bluntly, walking in on a recording session is akin to walking into a bedroom while a couple is having sex.) In comes someone who has decided to see what’s going on or meet the narrator. The intimacy is broken. Now the narrator has an audience. Even if the session ostensibly continues, the reading has a different feel. Often, I’ve had to scrap the sections that were recorded while there was an audience and re-record those sections. Every interruption is a delay.

Whether you know someone working at an audiobook publisher’s studio or at home, please think twice about entering the studio space when the “Recording” light is on. Or that hotel room with the “Do Not Disturb” hangar on the door as a matter of fact :-/