You may or may not have seen my blog tour post with Ilsa J. Bick a few weeks ago. It was a guest post, much like this post, but we’re happy to have Ilsa here again, for a post on audiobooks. What are we celebrating, exactly? The publication of the audiobook version of WHITE SPACE, which I’ve got three download codes for, thanks to Audible and Ilsa, AND a little snippet of the audiobook for you to sample. Read on!
In the tradition of Memento and Inception comes a thrilling and scary young adult novel about blurred reality where characters in a story find that a deadly and horrifying world exists in the space between the written lines.
Seventeen-year-old Emma Lindsay has problems: a head full of metal, no parents, a crazy artist for a guardian whom a stroke has turned into a vegetable, and all those times when she blinks away, dropping into other lives so ghostly and surreal it’s as if the story of her life bleeds into theirs. But one thing Emma has never doubted is that she’s real.
Then she writes “White Space,” a story about these kids stranded in a spooky house during a blizzard.
Unfortunately, “White Space” turns out to be a dead ringer for part of an unfinished novel by a long-dead writer. The manuscript, which she’s never seen, is a loopy Matrix meets Inkheart story in which characters fall out of different books and jump off the page. Thing is, when Emma blinks, she might be doing the same and, before long, she’s dropped into the very story she thought she’d written. Trapped in a weird, snow-choked valley, Emma meets other kids with dark secrets and strange abilities: Eric, Casey, Bode, Rima, and a very special little girl, Lizzie. What they discover is that they–and Emma–may be nothing more than characters written into being from an alternative universe for a very specific purpose.
Now what they must uncover is why they’ve been brought to this place–a world between the lines where parallel realities are created and destroyed and nightmares are written–before someone pens their end.
Who doesn’t enjoy a story told well? We tell stories around campfires and the dinner table; a good story can get us through an illness or serve as a reward for finally getting that homework done. Hearing stories is how most of us learn to read. In fact, I’ll bet that it’s the mystery of how an adult is able to look at the written word and translate that into something capable of creating pictures in a kid’s head that makes reading such a magical experience to begin with.
My dad was a great storyteller of a certain ilk. He never talked very much about himself or his past; having lost his family in the Holocaust, he was an orphan and, I suspect, had a lot of painful memories best forgotten. But I think he understood how comforting a good story can be and how important it was to share that with kids. A very vivid memory I have is of having my tonsils out when I was very young—about five years old, I think. Anyway, I was the only kid in this particular section of the hospital; I was lonely, scared, and my throat hurt like hell. Mostly, what I remember is fading in and out after anesthesia, but whenever I woke, there was my dad, patiently sitting by my bed, an open copy of Mary Poppins on his lap. He must’ve started that story over at least a dozen times.
We used to do the whole reading-before-bed thing, too, although more often than not, my dad would make up a series of continuing adventures, most revolving around little animals who’d somehow lost their families . (If you think about my dad’s history, this makes sense.) One that sticks in my mind centered on a little guerrilla who somehow got separated from his parents and spent weeks trying to find his way back. I don’t remember whatever happened to that little guy, but I do recall that the whole series was a nail-biter.
So I really have a long history of listening to stories and, to this day, I’m a huge audiobook fan. A very good narrator can make even an only so-so read a spectacular listen just as the reverse is true: a crummy narrator can kill a book. In fact, one of the ways in which authors have historically promoted their books is to read them aloud. Charles Dickens was famous for this; there are lots of stories about how he would reduce listeners to tears or hysterics. Given that he’d once wanted to be an actor, maybe this isn’t too surprising. But at least one listener wasn’t impressed; Mark Twain remarked, “He is a bad reader, in one sense — because he does not enunciate his words sharply and distinctly — he does not cut the syllables cleanly, and therefore many and many of them fell dead before they reached our part of the house. . . Mr. Dickens’ reading is rather monotonous, as a general thing; his voice is husky; his pathos is only the beautiful pathos of his language — there is no heart, no feeling in it — it is glittering frostwork; his rich humor cannot fail to tickle an audience into ecstasies save when he reads to himself.”
Thankfully, I’ve had the good fortune of fabulous narrators for my books. Producing them has been a real collaboration, too. The Audible folks have been terrific, and because I’ve been a member for so long and listened to tons of books, I have a pretty good idea of which narrators I think might serve my story well. The Audible folks routinely ask for my preferences, or they come up with their own list on the basis of what I ask for as well as their careful reading of my books —and they do try very hard to corral the people I specifically ask for. My job is pretty neat, too, because I get to listen to a bunch of gifted narrators and then meld what I hear to the voice that I think best captures what I want my story to convey.
The narrators have been real pros, too. I’ve spoken to all my narrators before they have a single session in the recording booth. We talk about what how the characters should sound; how to pronounce certain words; all that. Some of their stories of what goes into a performance are real eye openers, and kind of funny, too. (Like how do you deal with shouting? You know, when people are screaming in books . . . how do you do that without blowing eardrums or destroying the sound? It turns out there are tricks.)
Now, having said all this and enthused over my narrators (and they are all super), I have never listened to my own work other than a little snippet, just as I try to stay away from audiobooks while I’m actively writing something. There are two reasons. In terms of my own work, I already know the story; I’ve read it more times than you can imagine; and I only have so much time in the day to discover and listen to new work. Plus, to be really honest, I don’t actually enjoy listening to my own stuff. (Maybe that’s why actors don’t like watching their own films, I dunno.) Just makes me feel . . . funny. Maybe I need to be a tad vainer, or something.
But far more serious is this: I’m like this verbal magpie. I’m completely serious. My husband HATES going to foreign countries with me because I pick up intonations and accents and cadences very quickly, and then you run the risk of offending someone who thinks you’re making fun. (No, I’ve just got you and your accent in my head; I can’t help it. Language is like music that way.) Voices and the tone of a story can easily take up residence in my head, and that can be a problem. Yes, it helps a lot in terms of characterization; if I can “hear” my character’s voice, then I keep cadence, tone, and all of that straight, and the character’s voice remains distinctive. In fact, one of the exercises I actually practiced when I was doing STAR TREK was taking a key speech done by, say, Captain Kirk and then recasting the same lines in the voice of the different captains. I know that sounds funky, but all these actors had different ways of delivering their lines just as the captains had their distinctive personalities. So the way Kirk might say something, the language and gestures he’d use, is fundamentally different than how Picard would deal with the language, or Janeway. Getting a character that rooted in your head helps you maintain a consistent and authentic voice for your folks.
So—being a bit of a mimic, and I’ve also done a ton of stage work—I worry that I would hear Kathleen McInearny, for example, and not the Emma of WHITE SPACE I imagine. I know how I think Emma would say something, but Kathleen is her own person, with her unique interpretation. What I wouldn’t want to do is write Kathleen. I’m Emma’s mouthpiece, the only one she’s truly got, and Eric’s and Rima’s, etc. The work is to keep them straight as authentic individuals, with their unique voices.
Among other things, I was an English major in college and so I know that I’m supposed to write things like, “Ilsa J. Bick is .” Except I hate writing about myself in the third person like I’m not in the room. Helloooo, I’m right here . . . So let’s just say that I’m a child psychiatrist (yeah, you read that right)as well as a film scholar, surgeon wannabe (meaning I did an internship in surgery and LOVED it and maybe shoulda stuck), former Air Force major—and an award-winning, best-selling author of short stories, e-books, and novels. Believe me, no one is more shocked about this than I . . . unless you talk to my mother.
Now, for a sneak-peak at the audio version of Ilsa’s fabulous book:
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