Three authors and two audiobooks readers share a peek behind the curtain for Audiobook Month.
Lisa See on crafting dialogue for The Island of Sea Women
Writing is a solitary activity, and much of what I do is completely in my head. It’s for this reason that I often speak the words as I’m writing. (This, more than anything else, is a good reason that I have an office in my home, where my mutterings about the sea, women, love and tragedy are heard only by the four walls that surround me.) Once the first draft is done, I read all the following drafts aloud. I want to hear how certain phrases sound, listen to the pacing and rhythms of the plot and get a sense of the pattern of each character’s voice.
When I get to my final draft, my sister Clara comes over, and we sit at my kitchen table and act out the entire book. This is especially helpful when there are several people in a scene. The divers in The Island of Sea Women meet in a special stone structure built right on the beach, where they change clothes, warm up by the fire, eat and trade stories. In real life and in my novel, these women love to banter. Clara and I play out these scenes—sometimes improvising new lines, sometimes deepening a joke or, conversely, a sad story. My belief in getting to the truth of how my characters speak not only improves the novel but also makes for a fabulous audiobook.
Scott Brick on becoming the new reader of the Jack Reacher series
Learning I’d been approved to narrate the Jack Reacher series after longtime narrator Dick Hill’s retirement left me lightheaded, as I’ve been a fan of Lee Child’s work for years. When Dick got in touch to give his full support, I was positively gobsmacked. I am hugely indebted to him for the massive body of work he’s left behind, and while I may be the narrator blessed to walk beside Reacher on his future adventures, Dick will always walk with us in spirit.
Child is a master choreographer of both brutality and necessity, from the ruthlessness of Reacher’s opponents to his commitment to doing only what he must to settle the scales. Having been a fight choreographer myself for stage and screen, I recognize the rhythm in Reacher’s battles, from the moment they begin until the moment when he recognizes—and exploits—a vital weakness. I was absolutely thrilled when I showed up to narrate my first Reacher novel, Past Tense, because reading those fight scenes aloud was like pulling on the most comfortable sweatshirt I’ve ever worn. Reacher proves himself to be a man of great resilience and optimism but also a man who will end any fight if necessary.
There’s another Reacher adventure coming in just a few months, and as I did last time, I will show up in the studio wearing jeans that’ve been pressed beneath a mattress and carrying only a travel toothbrush, and I will treasure each and every moment.
Stephanie Land on narrating her own memoir, Maid
When I sat down in a cramped studio to record the audiobook for Maid, it’d been over half a year since I’d read the book in its entirety. There were still several long months until publication, and the anticipation of what people would think of my story as a single mom on every type of government assistance program made me jumpy with nervousness. Not only was it my first book, but it also was the first piece I’d written that was longer than 20 pages. Imposter syndrome was high.
The recording process took a couple of weeks. I learned a lot about every noise my mouth and stomach make. I strained to not slip up on words, often holding my breath. I thankfully found no typos. On the day I read the chapter in which my daughter and I experience a devastating loss, I struggled to keep my voice even.
But something beautiful happened as I read this story, my story, this episode of my life that was so vulnerable and raw and scary to put out there. I’d read a paragraph or two, or sometimes an entire chapter, and think, Wow, this is actually really good! As writers, we sit with these stories, we bear down and go through dozens of rounds of edits until the sight of the title makes us cringe. Reading it out loud with such intensity and purpose made me grow confident in my story’s power to possibly change the world a little bit.
Julia Whelan on narrating Linda Holmes’ novel, Evvie Drake Starts Over
I’ve been a fan of Linda’s for about a decade and lucky enough to call her a friend for a few years. Her “Monkey See” column at NPR was reliably delightful, funny and unexpectedly wise. So when, after we came to know each other personally, she sent me the novel she’d just finished, I’ll admit to being nervous. What if her journalistic voice only worked in, well, journalism? But five pages in, I laughed. Ten pages in, I texted her a blisteringly brilliant sentence she’d written. Twenty pages in, I texted her, I HAVE TO NARRATE THIS.
This book is about the absence of things that should be there: grief, mothers, even sexual attraction to a person who, in all other respects, might be your soul mate. We, as readers, want to bring these things back, to right what seems to be a narrative wrong. But Linda so ably shows us that sometimes—sorry, but it’s true—things are just missing. The trick in life is to figure out which absent things you actually want and then go get them.
Like her pop-culture writing that I fell in love with all those years ago, Evvie Drake Starts Over is delightful, funny and unexpectedly wise, and I treasure the three days I had in the booth with it. I began missing Evvie and Dean as soon as I started recording the end credits. Linda was there for much of the recording process, and at the end, I walked out and looked at her and sighed. “I’m going to miss them,” I said. She nodded and replied, “I’m going to miss them, too.”
Patti Callahan Henry on her friendship with Joshilyn Jackson, narrator of The Favorite Daughter
When I write a book, I rarely imagine my character’s voices. I see them; I feel them; I know their pains and wants. And I do hear them, but not in any kind of audible way, more in an intuitive sense of what they would say and how they would say it. But if I had imagined Colleen Donohue’s voice, I would have chosen my friend Joshilyn Jackson’s audible narration. To have her read the audio version is simply more than serendipitous; it feels meant-to-be.
Joshilyn and I met when our first books came out a million years ago. I mean, 15 years ago. We first crossed paths when we were both speaking at a theater in Perry, Georgia. I had rarely, if ever, been on a large stage to speak, and was quite nervous. Joshilyn, on the other hand, seemed to command the stage, to hold the audience in the palm of her hand. I was in awe. When she later told me that she’d majored in theater, it comforted me a bit, but not enough to feel good about my own performance that afternoon.
Through the years, through moves and life and children and slumps and highs, we’ve walked alongside each other in this journey of both life and writing. And now, Joshilyn is alongside me in a way I never imagined: Her beautiful storytelling voice animates my character, Colleen Donohue.
I am thrilled. Colleen is spunky, witty and kind—just like Joshilyn.
See photo by Patricia Williams / Land photo by Nicol Biesek / Henry photo by Beth Hontzas