“For those used to listening to crime stories on audio, [Michael] Kelly’s take on [Stephen King’s] Joyland might be jarring. The narrators of Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder series, for example – Alan Sklar, William Roberts, Mark Hammer – explore every word as a threat, pummeling headlong toward finales composed of shock and sadness. (Only Block himself, on Eight Million Ways to Die, seems to get to the deep sorrow of the character).”
So writes Kevin Quigley in his fearnet.com review of Joyland. I quote it here not merely because it’s both (a) about me me me and (b) favorable, but because I find it reassuring after a couple of recent posts criticizing my narrative efforts as flat and undramatic, and lacking in the quality that can be imparted by a professional voice artist.
Neither critical response is invalid. A thing worth noting about audiobooks is that different styles work for different sets of ears. Some listeners are transported by a skilled actor who supplies a different voice for every character, and wraps it up in a performance worthy of the stage. Others don’t want the voice artist to enhance the author’s words, but merely to convey them with no more inflection that they’d get on the printed page. And there are no end of gradations between the two extremes.
For my own part, I’m not enough of a listener to have a preference. I don’t absorb information well by listening to it; the only way for me to experience a book is to read the thing. I don’t need to smell the paper, eBooks work as well as printed ones for me (and even better, as the years shrink the print on the page). But books for me are an essentially visual medium, and when I try listening to one my mind wanders.
But that’s just me. If I’m not a consumer of audiobooks, I’m certainly an enthusiastic content provider. Search for my name at audible.com and you’ll be furnished with an astonishing 94 listings. I’ve watched the medium grow from the high-minded backwater of Talking Books for the Blind to a broad-based and robust marketplace. I know people who never developed the habit of reading because printed books don’t work for them any better than audiobooks do for me; once they’ve discovered that they can read with their ears, a whole new world has opened up for them.
My first efforts at narration began in the mid-1990s, when I voiced the Burglar books for Penguin Audio. The books were severely abridged, reduced to a third or less of their original length, and I hated to see so many of my best words left on the cutting room floor—but I have to say I liked the work. It took its toll; at the end of my first studio session, in which we’d wrapped a two-hour abridged audiobook in five or six hours, I came home and slept for sixteen hours. But the process became less exhausting as I got used to it, and I never stopped finding it a gratifying challenge.
I even published an audiobook. Irked that no one had audio-published Telling Lies for Fun & Profit, I hired a producer I’d worked with previously and ran a couple of thousand cassettes. When selling them got to be a headache, I licensed the whole thing to Recorded Books, and their edition has been a steady seller ever since.
Besides Telling Lies, audible.com lists three other books I’ve voiced: Eight Million Ways to Die, Hit Parade, and The Night and the Music. (Search my titles for those I’ve narrated and you’ll get those and a dozen more, but eleven are individual stories from The Night and the Music, while the twelfth is an abridged edition of Hope to Die. I can’t recommend the abridgement—or any abridgement, really; an unabridged Hope to Die will be along in due course.)
While I’m very pleased that Kevin Quigley liked my work with Eight Million Ways to Die, the great majority of my audiobooks have been narrated by professional voice artists, and they’ve served me very well indeed. (At least that’s what everybody tells me. I don’t listen to audiobooks, and I for sure don’t listen to them if they’re books I happen to have written.) And I’m especially aware of this these days, with a whole batch of my Open Road backlist books in audio. If anybody had told me 55 years ago, when I was back home in Buffalo, writing Carla on a little maple desk in my parents’ house at 422 Starin Avenue, that the day would come when Julie Roundtree would actually read the damn thing out loud for people to download and listen to…Why, you might as well try to convince me Eva Wilhelm would record Campus Tramp. Yeah, right.
Never mind. If you’re a fan of audiobooks, I hope you’ll treat your ears to some of mine. If you’re planning a road trip, Norman Dietz’s rendition of Random Walk will make the miles go faster. If you really want to kick back and relax, pick any title, and read with your eyes closed.
And I might as well admit that I’m particularly motivated to urge this action upon you now, and to hope that you act sooner rather than later. Audible.com launched a program last summer, paying their authors a bonus for every audiobook sold. As far as I can tell, it was designed solely to generate good will, and I have to say it accomplished that end in this household.
But it was a temporary thing, and it ends the last day of June. So, if you were going to buy some audiobooks of mine sooner or later, well, sooner is better.
And even if you’re not in the market, what can it hurt to look?