Summer Shorts ’14: A Discussion with Author Jane Cawthorne and Narrator Dawn Harvey

June is Audiobook Month and the audiobook community is giving back! Spoken Freely, a group of more than 40 professional narrators, has teamed with Going Public and Tantor Media to celebrate June is Audiobook Month (JIAM) by offering Summer Shorts ’14, an audio collection of poetry, short stories and essays. All proceeds from sales of the collection will go to ProLiteracy, a national literacy outreach and advocacy organization.

Throughout June 2014, 1-2 stories, poems and essays will be released online each day via Going Public, as well as on various author and book blogs. As a “Thank you!” to listeners, pieces will be available for free online listening on their day of release. As a bonus for those who purchase the full collection from Tantor Media in support of ProLiteracy, there are over 20 additional tracks only available via the compilation download. You can purchase the collectionHERE. Special pricing of $9.99 through June 30th, in celebration of JIAM. $14.99 from July 1st forward. You can read more about the project here.

Today I have the pleasure of hosting author Jane Cawthorne and narrator Dawn Harvey. Their contribution to this project is Something as Big as a Mountain. Since I had both Jane and Dawn, I thought I would host a little discussion about the making of an audiobook and the interaction of author and narrator.

*****

As an author, what is it like to have your book turned into an audiobook? Do you struggle sharing your words to another voice?

Jane: No because I wrote a couple of plays and one was produced many times. I got used to hearing my work interpreted in a variety of ways. It was a really important thing for me to learn as a writer. I try my best to write in a way that conveys my intention, but readers bring their own experience and knowledge to the text and they interpret it in their own way.  The tone, inflection and delivery of the words can change everything. Often these changes are for the better. Most of the time, I don’t know how a reader is interpreting the work as he or she reads, but with an audio book, it’s right there.
How do you ensure that you do your best to capture the voice created by the author?

Dawn: Before I even think to go anywhere near a microphone, I have spent a lot of time reading and analyzing the work.  I pull out character and story information, research places and names, research accents and dialects, find voices for the characters and make a note of anything that I don’t understand or that doesn’t seem right to me.   I’ve been quite lucky in that, with several of the books/stories that I have narrated, I have been able to communicate with the author prior to recording.  By the time I get into the recording booth, I know the stories and the characters almost as well as the author does.   Many times while preparing books I have found errors or discrepancies in the material that had been missed by the author and his/her editors.  You know that you’ve studied the material very well when you catch things that all other have missed!   By discussing with the author anything that has me confused or that doesn’t sit right, I ensure that I am telling the story that they want to have told.  At the end of the day, by working together in this way, we create a better reading experience for readers (where I have helped to correct the manuscript) and a better listening experience for listeners because I have told the story that the author was trying to tell.  When you can’t clarify things with the author, you do the best you can with what you’ve got.  The internet helps sometimes.  In either case, and particularly with a good writer, their voice speaks to you through the writing itself.  If you get the story, you hear the voice.

Can you describe the author/narrator interaction? Do you work closely with each other?

Jane: Dawn had me listen to an early take. She invited me to comment and I felt free to make suggestions. But really, it was great so I think I might have made a correction on a place name pronunciation or something minor like that. Dawn’s voice is really deep and sonorous and she has a very serious take on this work, probably more serious than me. I can be a little self-deprecating. But the serious take is appropriate because it is about a big challenge. When I first wrote it and did a public reading, I got  kind of choked up. Of course Dawn can keep things on a more even keel and stay professional. In other words, Dawn can read it better than I can.

Dawn: I work as closely with the author as the author will let me!  I try to collaborate with them as much as possible.  But I can add that Jane’s case was different from the other works I have done because I have known Jane for a long time.  Several years ago, I was in a play she had written called “The Mother Auditions”.   We bonded during that show and have kept in touch ever since.  As well as being friends, we support and appreciate each other’s professional works.  So, working with Jane was easy.  I was never afraid she would be offended by my questions or comments (always scary when you point out imperfections in someone’s baby!) nor I by her’s.  We both wanted to create the best listening experience we could and egos can get in the way of that.  Neither Jane nor I operate that way and I knew that going in so that helped to make this a really great experience.

Tell us a little bit about Something as Big as a Mountain. It is autobiographical, yes?

Jane: Something As Big as a Mountain is about my experience as a novice mountaineer. I have always been a back country hiker and I had started doing some climbing and I decided at almost fifty years old that I’d go mountaineering for the first time. Who does that? I wasn’t consciously aware of my real motivation. Part way through the trip, I realized I was trying to prove to myself that I could accomplish something so physically demanding after recovering from cancer. I was trying to prove that I was better and the illness was behind me. As a mountaineer, I was a bit of a disaster, but in terms of showing myself I had moved past a bad time in my life, it went pretty well.

How did you approach Something as Big as a Mountain? Is it a challenge to narrate an autobiographical story?

As I have already mentioned, Jane and I have known each other for several years.  I went to a public reading she did a few years ago where she read an excerpt from “Something as Big as a Mountain.”  I loved the piece.  When you listen to the story, if you haven’t already, you’ll be taken by Jane’s style of writing.  Her descriptions of the scenery and her experiences in it are so incredible.  So, when Xe Sands invited me to take part in this project, I immediately thought of the story I’d heard Jane read.   I contacted her to ask if I could use that story I had heard her read at the public reading.  I was thrilled when she immediately said yes.  She sent me the story right away – but it was the wrong one.  She had sent me “Weight”.  I read it but I knew it wasn’t the story I had been thinking of, the name of which I didn’t remember.  Turns out that I must have gone to two readings and Jane and I were each thinking of different ones.  She then sent me “Mountain.”  Subsequently, Xe indicated that she was looking for some bonus pieces so “Weight” ended up in the bonus material.  Well, that was a good story but a major digression from the question.  I knew Jane but I didn’t know about her fight with cancer until I read the whole story.  The excerpt I’d heard her read didn’t mention the cancer if I recall correctly.  I can’t imagine I would have forgotten.  So, I knew Jane and now I had found out this thing about her past that she has had to live through.  I lost my best friend to cancer a few years ago and that sits just in the back of my mind all the time so this story hit home with me in terms of what Jane had gone through because I knew what Deb had gone through.  I think that being Jane’s friend made me even more connected to the story than I might otherwise have been.  As a narrator, being connected to the story is the key to any good narration and I have never felt so connected to a story before.   I am very proud of how this story turned out and I’m sure my connection with Jane is why it worked so well.

It is necessary to have this connection in all stories.  In autobiographical ones, there is a feeling of greater responsibility in “getting it right” because these are events that really happened, not a fiction.  Fiction can be interpreted by the reader.  Best not to be “interpreting” too much in autobiographies or you can get away from the truth of the author.  I guess that would be the biggest challenge of audiobooks in general but I didn’t feel that challenge in this particular case for the reasons I stated above.

*****

Thank you Jane and Dawn for taking part in this project and giving us a little inside look at audiobooks.  Something as Big as a Mountain is fantastic, and I urge you all to take a list. Plus, if you purchase the full collection, you’ll get an additional short story, Weight, written by Jane and narrated by Dawn (which I, personally, think I liked even more).
Listen to Something as a Big as a Mountain:

A little about Jane Cawthorne:

I’m a Canadian, living in Boston and am currently completing an MFA in Creative Writing at Pine Manor College. When I first started writing professionally, I wrote opinion pieces for newspapers and magazines, taking up the topics that haunted me as a teacher. My shift into fiction started with a few creative non-fiction essays. I tried my hand at short fiction and wrote a couple of plays as well. Now, I’m working on a novel. I don’t talk about work in progress because, in the immortal words of Gord Downie, “no one’s interested in something you didn’t do.” I’ve also recently joined the Crabapple Mews Collective, a group of writers helping each other publish great work.

A little about Dawn Harvey:

I am also a Canadian and I live in Calgary, Alberta.  I’ve been performing most of my life but somehow along the way I also picked up both Bachelor and Master of Laws degrees.  Sometimes life leads us in strange directions but mine, thankfully, led me straight back to the arts several years ago after a short hiatus.  I began narrating audiobooks about 3 years ago and am absolutely loving it.  Take a girl who loves to read, talk and act and give her a job as an audiobook narrator and you pretty much have bliss!  I am so thrilled to have been included in the Summer Shorts program this year with so many talented narrators.  Thanks Xe Sands – sure hope we can do this again next year!

Check out yesterday’s posts

Mike ChamberlainThe Statement of Randolph Carter, by H.P. Lovecraft @ MV Freeman’s blog
Dufris/AudioComics, Audio Theatre: Cask of Amontillado, by Edgar Allan Poe @ Jenn’s Bookshelves
John McLainThe Black Cat, by Edgar Allan Poe @ Going Public

and don’t miss tomorrow’s:

Tanya EbyThe Girl at the Gate, by Lucy Maud Montgomery @ Miss Susie’s Reading & Observations

And, finally, a big thank you to Xe Sands for organizing this HUGE project and, as the month is wrapping up, a big congratulations as well!

Madame Bovary [Audiobook Review]


Title: Madame Bovary
Author: Gustave Flaubert
Narrator: Kate Reading
Genre: Classic
Pages: 384 pages
Audio: 13.8
Year: Original – 1856 | Edition – 2010
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Source: Personal Collection
Book Rating: 1.5/5
Audio Rating: 4/5

Summary:

Charles Bovary had a tough childhood but he eventually becomes a doctor anyway. Sort of. He gets married to a girl but he falls for another. Lucky for him, Madame Bovary number one dies and he can marry Madame Bovary number two. But, she’s not quite as crazy about him as he is about her. And she feels pretty stifled in her country life. So she cheats on him. A lot. And it doesn’t end well.

My Thoughts:

Ugh. This book. I don’t get it – why are we still reading this?

Perhaps I am not intelligent or cultured or patient enough to appreciate how amazing this novel is. The wikipedia entry for Madame Bovary states: “Long established as one of the greatest novels ever written, the book has often been described as a “perfect” work of fiction.” 

I disagree.

Vehemently.

I can understand why, at the time it was written, this book would have been shocking. But how can it still be so widely read and highly regarded 150 years later?

It’s boring. I actually have no idea how a book about adultery can be this boring. I was listening to this one when I was training for my 10k and it actually made my long runs even worse.

Beyond the fact that it is really boring and the characters were miserable companions for 14 hours of my life, I don’t have much else to say. If you want my opinion, find another classic to read. If you want an adulteress, go with Anna Karenina – it’s well worth the additional pages.

Audiobook Thoughts:

The audiobook was fine. I have no complaints. And I certainly wouldn’t have finished this thing in print.

Dreams of Gods and Monsters [Audiobook Review]

Read my reviews of the first two books: Daughter of Smoke & Bone and Days of Blood & Starlight.

 

Title: Dreams of Gods & Monsters
Author:  Laini Taylor
NarratorKhristine Hvam
Genre: Fantasy; Young Adult; Supernatural
Pages: 624
Audio: 18.2 hours
Year: 2014
Publisher: Hachette Audio
Source: Review copy from publisher
Book Rating: 4.5/5
Audio Rating: 5/5

Summary:

[Warning: Don't read this summary if you haven't read the rest of the first two book. The remaining sections are spoiler free].

Karou is still trying to find a way to move past Akiva’s destruction of her family, but the two must work together to unite the Misbegotten and Chimera forces to stop Jael from destroying Earth.

As Jael descends on the Vatican, with anything but angelic intentions, Eliza Jones, a PhD student with a past she’s been running from for years, must fight off her always-recurring dream of monsters.

As world’s collide, enemies become allies, and the real past, the one that everyone but Razgut has forgotten, must be told in order to protect the future of both Earth and Eretz

My Thoughts:

This is a rare day: I loved the finale of a series that is very dear to me.

First, these have got to be among some of the best-titled books ever. Daughter of Smoke & Bone? Days of Blood & Starlight? Dreams of Gods & Monsters? Fantastic, catchy, and appropriate.

As for the actual books, I just ate them right up. There is so much action, emotion, and tension packed into every page (or every minute of the mp3 in my case) that it forces the reader to race on. These are not short books (this audio is more than 18 hours long!) but practically every word is necessary. Taylor does write with a descriptive style, but not to the point where you’re asking the story to move along already.

The only fault I found in this one – and I felt it in the others as well – is that it jumps around from POV to POV a lot. I had to listen closely for fear of getting lost along the way and there was a fair amount of rewinding.

I am going to miss Karou and Akiva and Zuzana and Mik and Ziri. I am going to miss Eretz. I am a little devastated (if one can be a little devastated) that I don’t have another book to look forward to. But, did the ending hint at the possibility of more? I’m going to rest my hope on that.

Audiobook Thoughts:

Kristine Hvam is probably my favorite narrator. She continues to excel in the conclusion of this trilogy. She captures everyone, from human to angel to chimera perfectly. She is the kind of narrator who could make me pick up an otherwise questionable book.

Elegy for Eddie [Audiobook Review]

TitleElegy for Eddie
Author: Jaqueline Winspear
Narrator: Orlagh Cassidy
Genre: Mystery; Historical Fiction
Pages: 368
Audio: 10.2 hours
Year: 2012
Publisher: HarperAudio
Source: Library
Book Rating: 4/5
Audio Rating: 5/5

Summary:

When Eddie, a simple man with a special ability to work with horses from Maisie’s childhood is killed in a factory accident, Maisie is solicited by some Lambeth childhood acquaintances to investigate. Soon after, it appears that someone more powerful than she is interested in keeping her from the truth. Meanwhile, Maisie is becoming less and less comfortable in her new position of wealth and in her relationship with James. Maisie must do some soul-searching along with solving the mystery of Eddie’s death.

My Thoughts:

Just as I was starting to tire of Maisie Dobbs, the character, someone calls her out on the exact thing that annoys me. Which made this one a little more interesting. Maisie grows as a person in each book, but in a few of them, there is a bigger leap forward. This is one of those books. And the mystery, which at first doesn’t seem to great, turns into something much larger. I ended up liking Elegy for Eddie and I am excited to be almost caught up to real time Maisie Dobbs publishing.

Audiobook Thoughts:

Orlagh continues to be the perfect Maisie.

Cress [Audiobook Review]

Spoiler Free, I promise.

Title: Cress
Author: Marissa Meyer
Narrator: Rebecca Soler
Genre: Young Adult; Science Fiction
Pages: 560 pages
Audio: 15.6 hours
Year: 2014
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Source: Personal Collection
Book Rating: 4.5/5
Audio Rating: 5/5

Summary:

I’m going to skip this in order to avoid spoilers. You can read the publisher’s description here.

My Thoughts:

You all know I loved Cinder and Scarlet, right? Well, this third installment in The Lunar Chronicles did not disappoint me either. Once again, I am going to try to push a series that has lunar people and cyborgs on you. Deal with it.

I don’t want to say too much, since this is the third book in a series and I could get spoilery pretty fast here. There is a lot going on this one. We add another “main” character to the mix which means we have to balance even more storylines. Like the title characters before her, Cress is (very) loosely based on a fairytale: Rapunzel.  We’ve actually met Cress before but she takes a lead role here.

One thing I didn’t like – and here I go being vague again – is that one main character was MIA for most of the book. It left me feeling a little unbalanced.

But, overall, this book is fast-paced and action-packed, twisting and turning until it’s suddenly over and we’re left wanting more. If you haven’t taken my advice to try this series yet, you’re really missing out.

Audiobook Thoughts:

Rebecca Soler is downright amazing in this series. I wouldn’t dream of reading it in print.

Salt, Sugar, Fat [Audiobook Review]

Title: Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us
Author: Michael Moss
Narrator: Scott Brick
Genre: Nonfiction; Science
Pages: 480
Audio: 14.6 hours
Year: 2013
Publisher: Random House Audio
Source: Personal Collection
Book Rating: 4/5

Summary (from publisher):

Every year, the average American eats thirty-three pounds of cheese and seventy pounds of sugar. Every day, we ingest 8,500 milligrams of salt, double the recommended amount, almost none of which comes from the shakers on our table. It comes from processed food, an industry that hauls in $1 trillion in annual sales. In Salt Sugar Fat, Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative reporter Michael Moss shows how we ended up here. Featuring examples from Kraft, Coca-Cola, Lunchables, Frito-Lay, Nestlé, Oreos, Capri Sun, and many more, Moss’s explosive, empowering narrative is grounded in meticulous, eye-opening research. He takes us into labs where scientists calculate the “bliss point” of sugary beverages, unearths marketing techniques taken straight from tobacco company playbooks, and talks to concerned insiders who make startling confessions. Just as millions of “heavy users” are addicted to salt, sugar, and fat, so too are the companies that peddle them. You will never look at a nutrition label the same way again.

My Thoughts:

The food industry infuriates me. The foods that are unhealthy are cheapest and taste the best (at least until you get used to real food again). It’s easy to know that foods high in salt, sugar, or fat are bad to for you, but it’s almost impossible to stay away from them. Moss shows us the science behind our addiction and how the processed food industry has taken advantage of it, to our disadvantage.

This book only increased my disdain for the food industry, but I think it is important for us to understand why we are addicted to these unhealthy “foods.” I would definitely recommend this one if you want to know what you’re really eating and why.

Also, don’t buy your kid lunchables. Just don’t.

Audiobook Thoughts:

I’m not even going to pretend to remember what the audio production was like at this point. But it must not have been awful.

The Circle [Audiobook Review]

Title: The Circle
Author: Dave Eggers
Narrator: Dion Graham
Genre: Fiction; Dystopian
Pages: 504
Audio: 13.6 hours
Year: 2013
Publisher: Random House Audio
Source: Personal Collection
Book Rating: 1/5
Audio Rating: 2/5

Summary:

When Mae gets a job at The Circle (think Google on an even bigger scale) she thinks her dreams have come true. But she soon finds that meeting The Circle’s expectations are harder than she anticipated. Constant internet contact, hyper-socialization, and an inability to escape any of it leave Mae at a crossroads. Will she accept the new age and help “close The Circle” or will she fight back?

My Thoughts:

Unless Dave Eggers is your hero, you can skip this book. It’s about ten times longer than it needs to me. It barely has a plot. It makes it’s point and then makes it again and again and again and again. I wish I’d put it down when I was two hours in like I almost did.

I thought this would be the book for me – a somewhat-dystopian book about social media – but it clearly wasn’t. This was my first Dave Eggers book and I certainly haven’t been convinced that I should go back and read any of his others. I think I’ll stick with McSweeny’s.

Audiobook Thoughts:

I thought it was an odd choice to have a male narrator for this one. The main character is female. The book is in third person but it is told from her perspective only.

The Dangerous Animals Club [Audiobook Review]

Title: The Dangerous Animals Club
Author: Stephen Tobolowsky
Narrator: Stephen Tobolowsky
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 352
Audio: 11.6 hours
Year: 2012
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Source: Personal Collection
Book Rating: 4/5
Audio Rating: 5/5

Summary:

Actor Stephen Tobolowsky shares stories from his childhood, his marriage, and his career.

My Thoughts:

We started listening to this one on a family road trip. Whenever E was asleep, Ben and I would put it on. E didn’t actually sleep as much as I expected him to, so we each had to finish it on our own. But we were both enjoying it so much that there was doubt that we would.

Stephen Tobolowsky, as he explains it, is that guy you recognize but you’re from where (the store down the street? the laundromat?). You recognize him from television and films. But he’s a solid character actor – not one to stand out or be memorable. But he is in practically everything, from Groundhog Day to Glee. And he has amassed some wonderful stories which he tells masterfully.

The book started with stories from his childhood and those mostly featuring animals (the title story is about a tarantula- and scorpion-catching club he was in as a boy in Texas). The stories then move on to his schooling, his relationships, and his career. He has had an interesting life so far and his tales are well-crafted. If you just want to listen to some good storytelling, this one is for you.

Audiobook Thoughts:

Tobolowsky reads this one himself, as he should. You’ll recognize his voice, even if you don’t recognize his name. He’s a born storyteller.

Grave Mercy [Audiobook Review]

Note: Until I get caught up, Thursdays will be reviews of books I read some time last year and never reviewed. They will be closer to mini-reviews than regular reviews. 

Title: Grave Mercy
Author: Robin LeFevers
Narrator: Erin Moon
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 560
Audio: 14.2 hours
Year: 2912
Publisher: Recorded Books
Source: Library (I think…)
Book Rating: 3/5

Summary:

I read this awhile ago, so I was going to use the publisher’s summary and then I remembered that I didn’t like the publisher’s summary because it sort of gave away a plot twist WAY down the line, so here is my attempt, many months later, at telling you what this book is about.

In 15th Century Brittany, Ismae is meant to marry a brute of a man when she is saved and delivered to the convent of St. Mortain. She chooses to stay at the convent and serve St. Mortain, the god of death as one of his assassins. She is given an assignment in the high court of Brittany, during time of great political turmoil, where she finds treason, lies, and, potentially, love.

My Thoughts:

Once I understood that Brittany is not Britain and that, at the time this book is set, it was a region trying to maintain its independence from France, things made a lot more sense (I will not tell you just HOW far into the book I was before having this realization). I highly recommend reading the Wikipedia page on Brittany before starting this one if you are not a history buff.

The setting is, obviously, new to me and it is full of plenty of things to keep this book interesting. Politics, alliances, treason, family, love – it certainly didn’t lull. At the same time, the book didn’t grab me for some reason I am not able to explain.

Audiobook Thoughts:

I am not even going to pretend I remember what the audio production was like. But I would remember if it’d been awful.

Parasite [Audiobook Review]

Title: Parasite
Author: Mira Grant
Narrator: Christine Lakin
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 482 pages
Audio: 16.2 hours
Year: 2013
Publisher: Hachette Audio
Source: Review copy from publisher
Book Rating: 4/5
Audio Rating: 5/5

Summary:

No one expected Sal Mitchell to survive the car crash. Yet moments before her family was to pull the plug, she wakes up.

Six years later, she still has no memory of anything that happened before she woke up, but she’s managed to piece together a life, albeit under the close watch of both her parents and SymboGen, the biotech company that saved the world by having it ingest tapeworms. Practically every person on Earth has ingested a parasite that protects its host from everything from allergies to cancer.

But these tapeworms may not have been the cure-all the world hoped for. And Sal finds herself in the middle of a battle over what to do with it.

My Thoughts:

As you may recall, I adored Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy. So my expectations were pretty high for this one. And they were mostly met. Grant created another unique world that kept me engaged the entire novel.

The big revelation at the end wasn’t a revelation to me and I can’t imagine it is for any reader. Perhaps that was intended but it did make the end a bit anticlimactic. Regardless, I am very much looking forward to the second installment of the Parasitology trilogy.

Audiobook Thoughts:

I first encountered Christine Lakin a few months ago in The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. She once again wowed me. Go with the audio on this one.