Author, along with Kurt Vonnegut, of Pity the Reader: On Writing With Style As a writer-in-progress myself, I feel so lucky to have been invited to record this title for Highbridge Audio. The book is filled with thoughtful, generous (and on Vonnegut’s part, often humorously grumpy) advice about writing well, the writer’s life, and really about any creative person’s place in the world. For a taste, just read Suzanne’s answers to my questions about her writing life. KW: What contributes to flow in your work? SM: Keeping in daily contact with whatever I’m working on, by working on it, primarily—and/or by making lists of my intentions or questions, if they are ‘listable,’ by scribbling notes or thoughts, or merely by thinking about it. This abiding with it seems to set my subconscious in motion. The result is that some of my most productive ‘ah-ha’s’ occur in the middle of the night when I awake with a brilliant solution, or just the right phrase or word, or—even in the mundane outreach process, another person I forgot to email or who could make a terrific connection. I’ve long been interested in dreams. I once took a life-changing class in a method to change our dream, and one result was an eye-opening awareness of the subconscious at work. Over years. I’ve learned to trust it and my intuition. So if I am deeply engaged in my work in the daytime, night time often yields the answer. KW: Do you have a mentor? What gift did s/he pass to you that you use regularly? Embed from Getty Images SM: Kurt Vonnegut bestowed many things but the biggest gift he gave me is simply by being a model in terms of his commitment and persistence to writing, fueled by passion to convey serious truths as he saw them. KW: Do you have multiple creative outlets in your life? SM: I think other outlets are very nourishing and teach you a lot about the creative process in general, but also what’s specific to each art. I play the piano, but was taught classically; I took jazz piano lessons from a wonderful teacher over the last two years while writing Pity the Reader, which was joyously freeing. It was a relief from the computer and writing, immediate and playful, and it reinforced my sense of my intuitive creativity. I went through a period of doing watercolors for several years, in my 30’s I took dance classes, I once took an improvisation acting class that was marvelous and fed my teaching and sense of spontaneity in general. Writing is sedentary and all these other creative endeavors are more physical and immediate. I also love to bake, take care . . .
I wrote this article for Readerly Magazine back in 2015, but it’s been brought to my attention that it’s no longer findable online, so I’m reposting it here, with a few edits for clarity. Jen Karsbaek wrote (way back in 2015 in her blog Devourer of Books) an article to kick off Audiobook Month with what I thought were wonderfully practical tips on getting started as an audiobook listener. Her first three suggestions: using audiobooks to re-read books and choosing books which are engaging and fast paced but not overly complex. These make a lot of sense to me. In our current age, we take in information primarily through our eyes and in short bursts. Audiobooks demand that we take in information only through our ears, concentrating for long periods of time. In Shakespeare’s day, 400+ years ago, it was the opposite. People talked of going to hear rather than see a play. A written sentence at that time averaged over twenty words in length. When I was studying all this as a teaching artist twenty-five years ago, the average sentence’s word length was seven. Today, I imagine it’s even shorter. All this is to say that our brains are certainly capable of the kind of concentration that audiobooks require, but many of us may never have developed these neural pathways. But they are there for the using, and many devoted audiobook fans report that building up this particular muscle is relatively painless and worth the effort. The reward is receiving an intimate performance that is like no other. And that brings me to Jen’s final suggestion: listen to the best narrators. As a narrator myself, I hope I can give you a backstage peek as to what skills and talent are involved in creating an excellent audiobook performance, and why it makes a difference. I have been privileged to serve on a few panels on the topic in the past few years. In April 2015 a group of narrators recorded a chat for the AudioGals blog moderated by Lea Hensley and in May a group of nine narrators, led by the indomitable Johnny Heller, taught a workshop to a group of more than eighty narrators in New York. I learned a few things from my colleagues, but also realized that there are values we all share in our work. Audiobook narration is a subset of the acting profession. While some non-actor narrators may get away with innate storytelling instincts, having a solid base of actor training is considered the professional standard. Learning to break down a script into playable actions, studying a wide variety of genres, and training one’s body and voice so that they are as expressive as . . .
“I think art is going to save us because I think it’s the only thing that can make us check in with how we feel and what we believe. We read histories to find out what happened. We turn to art to discover what it felt like.”
Author Interview and Giveaway Books 1 & 2 of the Just Everyday Heroes, Day Shift series by Erin Nicholas from Tantor Audio ON CREATIVITY with Erin Nicholas A big thank you to Erin for her willingness to kick off my new series on the creative process. As someone who spends a great deal of time living in imaginary worlds (of my own and others’), I’m intensely curious about how creative minds behave, evolve and thrive. For these interviews, the victim, er, subject, had a long list of thirty questions to choose from regarding his or her process. I hope you find the answers as inspiring as I do. Me: What drives you to tell stories? Erin: I’ve been a story teller as long as I can remember. My parents tell stories of me making up elaborate pretend games for my friends and sister and I was writing stories long hand in notebooks from the time I could write. My dad tells about me being on family vacation road trips and missing all of the scenery because my head was bent over a notebook. I can’t imagine not telling stories. It’s a part of who I am and when I feel the most me. Me: What’s the part of your process that you savor? Erin: I love when I find myself thinking about my characters and their story as if they are real and I’m waiting to hear the latest from their love story. Many of my heroines end up feeling like “friends” that I want to call and ask “How’s it going with that guy?” 🙂 That’s when I know I’m on the right track with the story! Me: What’s your favorite way to consume stories? (books – audio or print? podcasts? movies? TV?) Is that different from how you end up consuming most of the time? Erin: All of the above! 🙂 I read a lot and love audiobooks. I’m also a TV and movie junkie. I use podcasts mostly for “real life”… business and news…but I tell people that I love to hear/ read other people’s stories after spending my days telling my own. Me: Do you read books in the genre in which you write? if so, is there a part of your process when you avoid doing so? Erin: I absolutely do! And I never have to avoid it. I’m very good at switching between being a writer and a reader. I read to be entertained and have no trouble not over-thinking or analyzing or editing! 🙂 Me: What’s your earliest or favorite reading memory? Was it someone reading to you or you reading by yourself? Erin: My dad reading to me. Every night we read a chapter . . .
AudioFile Earphones Award Winner. Available now from Harper Audio. From the Publisher: “The New York Times bestselling author of the celebrated A Land More Kind Than Home and This Dark Road to Mercy returns with this eagerly awaited new novel, set in the Appalachian foothills of North Carolina in 1929 and inspired by actual events. The chronicle of an ordinary woman’s struggle for dignity and her rights in a textile mill, The Last Ballad is a moving tale of courage in the face of oppression and injustice, with the emotional power of Ron Rash’s Serena, Dennis Lehane’s The Given Day, and the unforgettable films Norma Rae and Silkwood. Twelve times a week, twenty-eight-year-old Ella May Wiggins makes the two-mile trek to and from her job on the night shift at American Mill No. 2 in Bessemer City, North Carolina. The insular community considers the mill’s owners—the newly arrived Goldberg brothers—white but not American and expects them to pay Ella May and other workers less because they toil alongside African Americans like Violet, Ella May’s best friend. While the dirty, hazardous job at the mill earns Ella May a paltry nine dollars for seventy-two hours of work each week, it’s the only opportunity she has. Her no-good husband, John, has run off again, and she must keep her four young children alive with whatever work she can find. When the union leaflets begin circulating, Ella May has a taste of hope, a yearning for the better life the organizers promise. But the mill owners, backed by other nefarious forces, claim the union is nothing but a front for the Bolshevik menace sweeping across Europe. To maintain their control, the owners will use every means in their power, including bloodshed, to prevent workers from banding together. On the night of the county’s biggest rally, Ella May, weighing the costs of her choice, makes up her mind to join the movement—a decision that will have lasting consequences for her children, her friends, her town—indeed all that she loves.” From the review in AudioFile Magazine: “Narrators Karen White and Elizabeth Wylie use pacing and tone to bring characters to life in this novel about Ella Mae Wiggins, a forgotten heroine of history. For the bulk of the story White’s capable voice projects desperation and hope as Ella Mae struggles to support her family amid deplorable working conditions that lead, finally, to her commitment to strive for fair treatment. White gives unique voices to mill owners, union organizers, and Ella’s fellow workers. Wylie is the believable elderly voice of her daughter Lilly, who writes a letter to Ella’s grandson 79 years later to share the heroism and tragic consequences of those efforts. A powerful look at a dark chapter in our history when desperate people fought for equity and respect.” . . .
The second half of my joint post with author Ellery Adams goes up at the Tantor Audio blog today, and FedEx dropped off my copy of the audiobook this morning, so I’m doing a quick giveaway. Check out the interview at the Tantor blog, where I answer Ellery’s readers’ questions about how we make audiobooks. Come back here and tell me something you learned in a comment below and you’ll be entered into a random drawing to win the CD version of the most recent Books by the Bay mystery, WRITING ALL WRONGS. From the review at Fan Girl Nation: “Karen White returns to narrate this book, as with the others in the series. White helps to bring to life the story, leaving the readers hanging on every word.” THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED. Kate is the randomly selected winner and the CDs will be mailed out to her as soon as I get her address. Thanks to all for entering! I give away lots of books – to find out about them in the future, please consider following this blog, or my Facebook page, or on Twitter. Here’s a sample:
In celebration of #Audiomonth, the ladies at Books-n-Kisses and Enchantress of Books have been interviewing authors and narrators about their audiobook experiences. My Audiobook Lovin’ interview is up today! They’re also hosting a huge giveaway of all kinds of audiobooks and swag so be sure to enter. Thanks to Kelly and Viviana for including me in what I hope will be a yearly event.
Available now from Audible.com. From the Publisher: “A woman unexpectedly finds her best self through a sleepy bundle handed over at the airport in this heartfelt and surprising memoir. In Make Me a Mother, acclaimed memoirist Susanne Antonetta adopts an infant from Seoul, South Korea. After meeting their six-month-old son, Jin, at the airport – an incident made memorable when Susanne, so eager to meet her son, is chased down by security – Susanne and her husband learn lessons common to all parents, such as the lack of sleep and the worry and joy of loving a child. They also learn lessons particular to their own family: not just how another being can take over your life but how to let an entire culture in, how to discuss birth parents who gave up a child, and the tricky steps required to navigate race in America. In the end, her relationship with her son teaches Susanne to understand her own troubled childhood and to forgive and care for her own aging parents. Susanne comes to realize how, time and time again, all families have to learn to adopt one another.” My recording experience: I love narrating memoir. Oftentimes, publishers choose to have the author narrate their own work, somewhat naturally I guess, as one gets the story from the horse’s mouth, as it were. But the other side of the coin is that my training as an actor allows me to express an author’s words and thought/feelings more fully and engage the listener, taking them on a well-crafted journey. Luckily, author Susanne Antonetta had the same idea, so I got to read her story for her. We had a great conversation and it turned into the following interview. The interview: KW: So, I have to ask first: Suzanne Paola/ Susanne Antonetta – why the alter ego? SA: You know, when I lived in Atlanta and worked as a freelance writer, I had something like five pseudonyms! I get asked this question a lot and I’m not sure I can fully explain it. Maybe it works for me as a person who is bipolar, who is aware of what you could call almost the edges of my different selves. Antonetta is a family name, the name of a kind of a “lost” woman in my father’s family. I tell her story in Body Toxic. And my legal name was shortened by my father—it was originally Pietropaolo—so somehow it has never felt quite as mine as other people seem to feel their family names to be. All I know is that each of my identities has her own way of approaching writing—sometimes I call Susanne Antonetta my “evil twin.” She’s the honest one! KW: . . .
Welcome to Day 2 of Spoken Freely’s month long project at Going Public! Today my narration is featured both at the Going Public site and at Linus’s Blanket. I’ve donated my recording of Louisa May Alcott‘s story Death of a Soldier to the project. You can download just this story, or purchase the entire collection at Downpour. In both cases, all proceeds will go to the non-profit literacy group Reach Out and Read. In any case, I hope you enjoy this lesser known work by LMA. It represents a huge change in her life: by volunteering as a nurse for the Union Army, LMA was exposed to aspects of life (and death) that matured her as an author. Unfortunately, the experience not only brought her close to death, but altered her health for the remainder of her life. Quite the price to pay for artistic growth, hmm? You can find the recording via Linus’s Blanket blog, so let’s learn a little about its writer, Nicole, who I got to meet for a cold drink on a hot day in New York this past week: HOME COOKED BOOKS (HCB): Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started blogging, and what kind of books you like to read and/or review? LINUS’S BLANKET (LB): My name is Nicole and I blog at Linus’s Blanket. I started blogging five years ago when I started posting to my site as a travel journal that I envisioned would be followed by family and friends. Ha! That never really happened. But while traveling through Italy by train, I started posting my thoughts on books I was reading at the time, and to my amazement people started to come by and leave comments on my book posts. A book blogger was born. I love reading and I am an eclectic reader, so there is always a smattering of everything on my blog. I truly love literary and historical fiction, though. I would say those are my go-to genre. HCB: You review both print and audiobooks. Can you tell us how your reading vs. listening processes/rituals/locations/times of day differ, and how writing the review is different for you? LB: I tend to listen to audiobooks from the spring through fall. So about now is prime time. The weather is really nice and I walk everywhere so I find that’s the perfect time to listen. In the mornings I will go for a long walk, so I will listen for an hour or so then and then usually between 5:30 and 6 when I go to meet friends after work. I usually review the book and the audio . . .