I was a slow convert to audio books – not as a listener, because I have always loved listening to a story – but as an author of ‘to be read’ stories.
I was always nervous about the process which includes putting material up for audition, listening to the tapes the actors send – and then, gulp, choosing the ‘just right’ narrator.
Why? Not because it was a difficult a process, it isn’t. ACX, my retailer of choice, makes it ridiculously easy and economical for authors to find just the right professional voice to step up to the microphone and ‘tell’ the author’s story to an audience of readers who enjoy getting their box fix via a hands-free delivery system.
What was most daunting to me was simply letting go of my story. There is no doubt about it – giving a book to an actor to read is letting go of your work and watching – in fascination, and sometimes in shock – as another creative person interprets the mood, tone and characters in your book.
Authors, by the end of the editing process (which in my case involves reading my book about 10 times, some sections more than that), can clearly ‘hear’ their characters voices. We know what motivates them, what they wish for, what they’re hiding and scared of. We understand clearly why they did what they did, and what part they play in the overall panorama of the plot. Our biggest challengers as authors are to do two things – make the readers clearly understand these characters by choosing the right words for the dialogue and internal thought, and convincing the reader that these made-up creatures are acting from believable and well-grounded motivation.
On my final edit, I am confident the readers will understand my characters’ actions and personality, and hopefully they will like or dislike them as I do, and enjoy the story they inhabit.
Readers, of course, bring their own experiences along with them when they read a book, and I have learned from conversations and reviews that authors aren’t always the final word. I have often been surprised by readers reactions to a story of mine, where many times they do not like or accept something about a character, that, as the writer of the story, I thought I was the final word on. HA! Frankly, I’ve loved this reckoning, for I know that books do belong to the readers. When I write it, it is my story, but when I give it to someone else, it is theirs. Each of us decide which characters are good or bad or fair, or deserving of a happy ending.
While I have embraced this fact of life about readers, what I didn’t realize was that when I authorized an audio version of a book, I had authorized another interpretation of what was going on. Listening to the actors voicing my words, I was surprised at how, through intonation and tone, their grasp of each character was a shade or two different from mine.
My first venture into audio was with my book SECRET SISTER, a women’s fiction novel with a surprise paranormal twist that sets up the action. Thematically, this novel is about love and friendship, trust and lies, secrets and the hope we all have that we can ‘fix’ even the most complicated events so that we will be happy.
The actor who produced and narrated SECRET SISTER, brought a younger, fresher voice to Cathy Chance than I had heard in my head, and a more subdued and suffering voice to my hero, Nick Chance. In several scenes, she infused the novel with an ache and dramatic intensity I had not imagined, but which she felt by interpreting the words I had written in a darker or sadder tone.
This same thing occurred – even more startlingly for me – with Caroline Price’s performance of my new audio release of MOLLY HARPER. Both in the introductory novella, Duets, and in the full women’s fiction novel, brought a pensive, inured insight to Molly I may not have consciously intended.
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Molly Harper, a beautiful, academy award winning actress, is an angsty, somewhat prickly character and I had some push back from readers and reviewers about her. Some thought she was arrogant, or cold, or unforgiving, and felt she should be softer, nicer, because of all the blessings she has in her life…not bitchy because of unresolved personal wounds.
I saw her, wrote her, as heroic and smart, navigating as best she cut through a cut-throat profession as she dealt with significant wounds to her heart and soul because of some deeply troubling family secrets and lies. But I understood how readers, coming from their own experiences, didn’t understand her as I did.
However, I was again surprised (slow learner here) to listen to Caroline’s reading of the novel, because through her, I actually heard Molly’s character differently. She did seem a little bitchy. She could be aloof. I finally understood what some readers had been angry with Molly about when Miss Price voiced my character. She spoke the same words I had written, but came away with a different take.
Note to self…embrace this fact – anyone who touches your work interprets it and understand it through their experience and point of view – hears it with their heart in a way you might not. I have always prided myself on being good at communication – that human process of stating something in such a clear way the person being communicated with fully understands what you meant. But this process has taught me once again that for all my thinking, planning, editing and polishing…readers and listeners hear things you may not realize you revealed.
The bottom line is, once an author writes ‘the end’, books then belong to readers, and listeners. They will create, with their own wonderful imaginations, the world inhabited by your characters.