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Interview with My Audiobook Narrator

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How an audiobook is made can be something of a mystery to readers -- and oftentimes, even to authors! My third novel comes out soon (July 3rd) and as Penguin Random House's audiobook producer, Diane McKiernan, contacted me to make arrangements for the audiobook version, a fun development took shape. Diane asked me if I had an idea of how I'd like the reader to sound, and as I thought it over, I realized I *did* know! Not only did I have a specific idea of the type of voice I wanted, I could name a specific person -- my friend, Elizabeth Romanski. Elizabeth is not only a friend, but happens to be a talented actor who has done tons of professional voice work. We met in New York and bonded in part because we are both originally from Northern California -- where my forthcoming book, EAGLE & CRANE, is set. 

One of the great things about life in New York is that you meet and make friends with tons of talented artists. Elizabeth is one of the most talented and accomplished people I know, and it was such a joy and an honor to have her record the audiobook. I thought I'd have her answer a few questions about her work, and about what it was like to record an audiobook, since so few of us really know how an audiobook "gets made."

 

Can you talk a little bit about your professional background? What are some of your favorite projects you've worked on? I know you do voice work but that your professional background extends beyond that, too. 

Yes, but first let me say what a complete delight it was to record your book! I so admire your gifts as a writer and it was thrilling for me to help tell this wonderful story. In terms of my professional life, I work as an actor and voice over artist. My voice over work is mostly on commercials but I also work on video games, narrations and TV promos. As a performer, I was most recently in the Off-Broadway show, Sleep No More. It's all wonderful work that I'm so lucky to be able to do. 

 

One thing that came as surprise to me are the long hours an audiobook reader can spend in the studio. What's the longest day you spent recording EAGLE & CRANE? How long did the entire job take you, and how long is the finished book? 

It can take a while! EAGLE & CRANE took one week to record, working about 7 hours per day. Hours-wise, that's a normal day, but it is a speaking marathon so tea breaks and a disciplined life are required to keep one's voice sounding good for the duration! I believe the finished book is about 13 hours. 

 

When you record, how does the director break it up? Do you, for instance, read an entire chapter at a time?  

In my experience, we do usually read straight through by chapter. For EAGLE & CRANE, I worked with the wonderful director May Wuthrich--we read through each chapter and would then go back and re-read any lines or sections that needed a bit more work before moving on. We read roughly 80-100 pages per day. 

 

How do audiobook readers and directors decide what kind of tone to take? What is it like reading different characters' dialogue lines? 

When I was reading EAGLE & CRANE prior to recording I was so taken by the grandness of the story. A huge emotional landscape is covered and so the tone needs to shift accordingly. For example, the thrilling moments of flight require a very different tenor than those at the interment camp. My task as the reader isn't to impose an overall tone but rather to be sensitive to those changes. In EAGLE & CRANE we also have the richness of different perspectives and so the tone changes depending on which character we’re with and what they're discovering or feeling from one moment to the next. In terms of reading characters' lines, it's really fun work to find their voices. You have such a knack for dialogue, the tones and cadences feel so specific, so I'm following your lead as the author--not only in the lines that you've written but also how everything you've described about the character--their physicality, level of education, status, demeanor, etc., might inform the way that they speak. 

 

How does the experience of recording an audiobook compare with the experience of recording a voiceover for a commercial? 

Practically speaking, commercial recordings are much shorter than audiobooks--a typical commercial is recorded in under 3 hours. In TV commercials, the voice over is one piece of the puzzle, along with the visuals and sound. Often, the voice over is one of the last elements to be added, so when I record I'm not only working off of the script for tone but everything I see onscreen as well. Of course, for an audiobook, there are no visuals, we just have the words and the voice. It takes a different kind of energy to tell a story for hours and days at a time but, as the reader, it is so wonderful to get to sink into the world of the book for a long stretch. 

 

As a professional voice actor are there special techniques you use to care for and condition your voice? 

Definitely! I do vocal warmups every morning and again before an audition or show. Breathing from your diaphragm, so that your voice is fully supported and not strained with constant use, is also really important. During longer recordings my routine becomes much more disciplined--no dairy, alcohol or caffeine and lots of tea and sleep! 

 

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What to Expect When You’re Expecting… a Book

My newest novel, EAGLE & CRANE, will hit bookstore shelves on July 3rd. (And don’t forget those library shelves!!!). That day is currently less than a month away now!

I was musing about this blog the other day. I mainly write these entries for non-writers who are interested in getting a glimpse of what it’s like to write and publish fiction for a living (or aspiring writers who want a reality check, haha!).

I’ve mentioned this in previous blogs, but if you are lucky enough to have a book contract (which – yay! What a lovely development!) one thing you’ll do a lot of – one thing you may not expect – is WAIT. On average, at least a year will pass from the time you and your editor polish that final draft till the book will see print. A lot can happen in a year, and if you’re a working writer who needs her paycheck, you’ll start writing the “next-next” book. Personal drama may ensue. People may get sick. People may get better. You might move all the way across the country and take some time to settle into life on another coast. Presidents might do erratic things; it may seem that the news has gone totally pear-shaped. Your book can start to take on a feeling of unreality – for months and months, people will congratulate you in passing, but so much time lapses, you’re like, “Is this book thing I keep hearing about really ever going to happen?”

And then… just when you feel like your novel is an old friend with whom you’ve sadly fallen out of touch (you’ve been meaning to call or email but just haven’t), your book suddenly pops into your life! It’s an interesting feeling… working in isolation for so long, and then suddenly being presented with reviews that are printed in very public places. You’re both excited and eager to reunite with the characters but you also find yourself a little nervous, too, desperately hoping it won’t be awkward, like a bad high school reunion.

And, of course, now you have to have something to SAY about the book you wrote. You spend so much time chastising yourself with the old saw, “show, don’t tell,” and now it’s crucial that you flip the script (tell, tell!) and come up with some key (and hopefully interesting!) points to tell people about your book.

And still, there is more waiting. A publishing veteran once told me there was an old saying in the business about being a month out from your pub date, “This is the calm before the calm.” Har, har. Oh, Publishing, you are such a sassy, snarky business and I love you.

So, this is what I’ll be doing during this month as the days (and hours and minutes) tick down to EAGLE & CRANE’s publication. I’ll be reacquainting myself with the old friend that is my book, and trying to think of good ways to communicate with people about it. Somewhere in the offices of Penguin, people far smarter and savvier than me will be working on ways to help readers find the book. Needless to say, I am extremely grateful for the existence of these individuals, and part of my daily activities includes a prayer of thanks!

In an odd twist of fate, I think this book actually touches on some major subjects that have become even more relevant over the past year or two, and – to be honest – this fact has perhaps come as a surprise. I never expected when I sat down to write a WWII novel it would reveal so many parallels to our contemporary political landscape. But, alas. More on that at a later date.

Dear Readers, I hope you give EAGLE & CRANE a chance! Land feuds in California, a love triangle, aviators and a flying circus – all eventually thrown into stark relief by the turmoil caused by WWII and the internment of Japanese-Americans. And since I can’t resist a solid cheesy pun, forgive me now as I say: Please help this book take flight!

 

Much love,

Suzanne

 

Access an excerpt from EAGLE & CRANE

Hello! Just a quick note to say Putnam formatted a nice little excerpt from my forthcoming book, EAGLE & CRANE, and I'm linking to it HERE, if anyone would like to check it out. There's also still a giveaway going on thru this Thursday on Goodreads (link to that HERE).

I'm jazzed for this summer! Can't wait for those warmer temps, and to share this new novel with all of you. 

The Inspiration Behind EAGLE & CRANE

 Above: My grandfather, Norbert, who worked as a flight instructor teaching World War II pilots how to fly.

Above: My grandfather, Norbert, who worked as a flight instructor teaching World War II pilots how to fly.

 
      New novel out July 3rd 2018.

     New novel out July 3rd 2018.

 

Dear Reader,

I’m full of hope and excitement to share my new novel, Eagle and Crane, with you. This novel holds a special place in my heart, because of all the novels I’ve written so far, this book is the most deeply rooted in elements borrowed from my family’s history.

Eagle and Crane tells the story of group of aviators who travel throughout Depression-era California putting on an illegal “barnstorming” act – a.k.a., a flying circus, wherein the two title characters perform daredevil stunts, such as wing walking. From the time I was a child, my grandfather (who’d served as a flight instructor for World War II pilots) told me exciting stories about wing walkers. Aviation was actually a theme in our family. My father was an U.S. Air Force captain and flew F-111s. My mother – my grandfather’s daughter, and a very petite 90-lb woman – figured, hey, if the men in her life could do this, she could do it, too, and promptly earned her wings. I grew up going to an awful lot of airshows (and yet, in an ironic twist, I myself have a fear of flying!).

But Eagle and Crane is more than just the story of a flying circus. The characters’ call signs – the all-American “Eagle” and the Japanese “Crane” – begin as a racist joke that they then use to create something more positive (their act). The book’s plot eventually intersects with the very real events of Pearl Harbor and Executive Order 9066. The internment of Japanese-Americans divides the characters, both physically and politically.

Two other personal anecdotes moved me to write this story as well.

My great-grandmother owned a ranch and orchard in the region where the majority of this book is set, a place in the foothills that lie northeast of Sacramento, where there was once a large and thriving Japanese community. My great-grandmother’s Japanese-born foreman and his (American-born) family lived on the property, overseeing the orchard, and she recalled the day they were forced to pack up and leave. Having cleaned out the cottage in their absence with a heavy heart, my great-grandmother said the rush they had been in was obvious. She realized she was seeing a glimpse into what would become a very dark and sad chapter of American history.

A second story that left a deep impression upon me was that of my mother's close friend, a woman named Barbara Matsui. I spent time with Barbara when I was a kid; she was one of my favorite "grown-ups" to be around. Barbara was a strong, capable individual, but she also happened to be legally blind. When I asked my mother “why” (as children are wont to ask), my mother told me: Barbara had been born in a Japanese internment camp. Health conditions were not good, and while pregnant, her mother had contracted German measles, which had left the developing baby (Barbara) legally blind. I was shocked; this story was one I never forgot. I remember feeling anger and outrage (I never once saw Barbara express such negative feelings, by the way; she rose above it somehow) that she should be affected by a lifelong health condition... one that could have been avoided, had our government not given into fear and passed policies that were built on racism and paranoia.  

In our present day and age, it seems especially important that we actively remember this part of American history. It is my hope that Eagle and Crane not only spins an entertaining yarn about a flying circus, but also humbly touches upon the very fraught and tragic reality of Executive Order 9066 and all its consequences.

My sincerest thanks for reading,

Suzanne Rindell

 

Let’s Talk About Blurbs…

I’ve been busy! Between defending my dissertation (yay! Finally!), wrapping up EAGLE & CRANE edits, copyedits, etc, and prepping things for the book’s publication later this year – not to mention sneaking in time to start writing something new (we writers always have to be working on something new or we kinda can’t function), the days have been… full.

But having just given my author site a nice new makeover to accommodate EAGLE & CRANE (check out my new author site here), I wanted to take a beat and talk about the subject of blurbs.

Blurbs!

In case this sounds like some kind of coded curse word to you, no – in fact blurbs are those nice little 2-3 line summaries that OTHER authors write to endorse your novel and help it find its way into the big, bad book-world. Blurbs are printed on the book jacket and help folks milling around the bookstore figure out if your novel is something they’d like to read.

How do authors get blurbs for their books? Well, basically: They ASK FOR THEM. Sometimes their editors ask for them. Sometimes their agents ask for them. And sometimes authors just suck it up and ask for blurbs themselves.

Can I just say? – awwwwwkwaaaaard! You’ve basically set yourself the task of making a list of authors whose work you ADMIRE, only to then approach them (email, Facebook, perhaps via a friend-of-a-friend) while shaking the literary world equivalent of a tin cup and trying not to look too pathetic or demanding throughout the entire process. And it’s kind of a big ask, to boot. You’re asking that author to take time away from his/her life and his/her own work to stop and read your book and then say something nice about it. You’re basically interrupting someone’s work day and demanding they do a “book report,” hah!

Needless to say, it can be quite daunting when you’re a shy person (I am, and I think a good many authors are far more timid about this than you might imagine). The hard truth is, there's an unavoidable element of self-promotion to this lil ol' "novelist" job, and it can really push you outside of your comfort zone.

So, on that note, I just wanted to take a minute and mention how GRATEFUL I am for the blurbs we were able to get for EAGLE & CRANE. Except for the thought that not everyone loves alliteration as much as I do, I almost titled this entry "Blurb Beatitude" because these folks (let me not forget, too, others who helped in the past!) have made me feel blessed. Between me, my editor, and my agent, we were able to get five extremely generous blurbs – and so quickly! Having been on the other side of this equation myself once or twice (as in, having blurbed other authors’ books) I know what a kindness this was. And I am super appreciative. As I made my website over to include all my EAGLE & CRANE stuff, I realized again just how lucky I am, and I wanted to share that sentiment!

Here are the blurbs, below, in case you’re interested. My sincerest thanks to Lyndsay Faye, Caroline Leavitt, Fiona Davis, Dominic Smith, and Adriana Trigiani!

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PRAISE FOR EAGLE & CRANE:

“Suzanne Rindell takes to the heavens in this glorious story of two daring aviators during the Great Depression. She’s written an epic love story set against a time of upheaval, suspicion and change. A magnificent novel from a great writer.” —Adriana Trigiani, bestselling author of Kiss Carlo

“Wildly ambitious and filled with heartbreak (I love heartbreak), Suzanne Rindell’s third novel mesmerizingly pilots us through the Depression, the 1930s, Pearl Harbor, and the love one fierce young woman has for two very different aviators. Passionate, profound and an absolutely daredevil act of imagination.” —Caroline Leavitt, New York Times-bestselling author of Pictures of You and Cruel Beautiful World

"In this blazing saga about a flying circus, Rindell performs death-defying plot twists that race toward the shocking conclusion. Eagle & Crane is a majestic historical novel that is profoundly relevant in today’s world." —Fiona Davis, author of The Address and The Dollhouse

“A white-knuckled historical mystery and collision course of cultures, Eagle & Crane threads a fascinating tale through the half-silenced world of Japanese internment in America. Timely, expertly researched, and provocative.” —Dominic Smith, New York Times-bestselling author of The Last Painting of Sara de Vos

“Elegantly interweaving a lyrical love triangle with the spectacle of Depression-era barnstorming, the plight of Japanese Americans during the Second World War, and a bitter family feud spanning generations, Eagle & Crane poignantly plumbs still deeper waters: how far loyalty and friendship can be tested, and what it means to be an American.” —Lyndsay Faye, Edgar-nominated author of Jane Steele and the Timothy Wilde trilogy