When I heard that plans were afoot to create a Dog Medicine audiobook, I could hardly contain my excitement…then dread. What if they chose an actor to read the audiobook? What if the actor read everything wrong? I decided that if an actor did the reading, I would never listen to the audiobook. Ever. Then it occurred to me–why couldn’t I read it?
So I e-mailed my agent and asked her if I there was any chance I might be able to do the reading. She replied, ever the expectation-setter, that publishers don’t usually let authors read their own work because it costs more because it takes longer. But she said she’d ask anyway. I thanked her and suggested I could send an audio clip of me reading a few sections. She thought that was a worthwhile endeavor, so I created a clip and sent it on. (Here’s that clip.)
About three weeks later, I got an e-mail from the lovely folks at Penguin that I had gotten the part and to stay tuned for future plans. The book was slated to be released July 19th and they sent an e-mail saying that they would fly a producer from New York out to Berkeley to record in a studio near my house. They said it would take three full days in the studio, and we booked the dates.
Here’s where it gets a little bumpy. The weekend before I was slated to go into the studio was Memorial Day weekend, and we had signed up for a family “camping” trip. It was at an organized camp, where they cook for you and you sleep in tent cabins (that’s how I like to rough it these days), so I figured all would be fine. But the day we left, I started feeling sick. Then when we got there, my throat was scratchy and I felt a bit feverish. Day two of camp, I was stuck in my cabin, in my bed, alternating between sweating through my clothes and suffering freezing shivers. We slept outside two nights and the first night I did not sleep one wink. At 4AM on the second sleepless night, when the temperatures were in the forties, I knew I was doomed. We had one more night at camp and I told my family that I didn’t think I could do it–we needed to leave early.
So, ever patient and loyal, and a little nature-d out themselves, my family loaded back into the car, and we drove home. Back at home, I had two days to recover before I would hit the studio. I went straight to bed and stayed there. The cold got worse. My voice was gone. I turned to social media and begged my friends for miracle cures. The suggestions that came in were plentiful and smart. (I love my social media tribe.)
I e-mailed the producer and let her know about the cold. I asked, ever so hopefully, if we could postpone the reading one week. She said she thought we didn’t need to postpone it and that I would be fine. The subtext, of course, was that she was getting on a plane in twelve hours and the studio was already booked.
So I dragged my feverish ass to the pharmacy and bought half the place. Back home in bed, I decided that my best course of action came from my doctor friend who suggested Mucinex-D + Afrin. Mucinex-D is the stuff you can’t get unless you show your ID to the pharmacist. I was pulling out the big guns; I would kick this virus’ symptoms in the ass.
The first morning of recording came and I didn’t sound like myself, but I didn’t sound totally awful either. I arrived at the studio, sat in my parked car, and thought–here goes nothing. I met the producer, who was utterly lovely, then sat down in my little recording studio.
I faced a big window, behind which sat two dedicated and patient souls, the New York -based producer who worked for Penguin/Random House and another who worked for the studio. We got started. In hindsight, it feels like the first mile of a marathon.
Here are a few things I very quickly learned about reading audiobooks:
#1: You must read v-e-r-y slowly. Luckily I didn’t have trouble in this department. I’m not a fast talker or reader, so I was setting a good pace from the beginning.
#2: You can’t move. Maybe I had a particularly sensitive microphone, but any time I moved a leg or arm, the producers would pick up a noise, come into my headphones and say something nice, like, “Slight rustling there, start again at ‘The’, please.” And I’d have to begin the sentence again. We used an iPad so that there would be no shuffling of pages, and I sat perfectly still, reading as clearly and slowly as I could, ignoring the bead of sweat dripping down the back of my calf.
#3: Having a cold while reading an audio book SUCKS. I couldn’t quite get the tone I wanted, and that kind of broke my heart a little. Also, when you need to blow your nose, the poor producers in the booth across from you listen to your disgusting snot rocket soundtrack. They were quite kind, though, and when I apologized once, said, “That must’ve sounded so disgusting,” one of them replied, “Actually, that sounded quite satisfying.” (Those times you know someone is really scraping the bottom of the barrel for something encouraging to say…)
#4: It takes a LONG time to read 250 pages. The first day, we worked pretty much non-stop from 10AM-4PM and we’d made it to page 77 or so. And, sadly, my voice was giving out. We were supposed to read until 5PM, but sensing that my voice needed rest, the producers suggested we stop early.
#5: Mucinex-D is not the best idea for two straight days when trying to speak all day long. Day 2, I woke up, did my regimen of drugs, cough drops, honey, throat-coat tea, tons of water, and drove back to the studio. My throat felt awful, but I knew that there were a few things at stake here. The producer was only in California for two more days. The studio was expensive, had been booked for these three days only. We still had 180 pages to go. So I started reading. But the Mucinex had wiped out so much of the moisture in my throat that after two hours of reading, I couldn’t speak. I coughed with every other word, and we had to stop. I was heartbroken and sick as hell. I went straight home and went to bed, cried a little, and tried to remember the lovely producer’s words: “If we don’t finish it here, we can do a Skype session when I’m back in New York and finish it that way. It’ll be okay.” I could tell that this was not the ideal outcome they had hoped for. It would cost them more to work with this author, and maybe in the end they would’ve wished that they’d hired an actor.
Day three came, and I woke up chanting a positive mantra. “I will finish this book today. I will finish this book today.” (Yes, I was channeling my inner Carolyn Burnham.) I didn’t take the hard-core cold meds, just some DayQuil and cough drops…and, well, I’ll let the video speak for itself. But man, what an experience it was.
After we finished the recording on the third day, the producer conducted a short interview for the Penguin audio book podcast.
“What surprised you about recording the audio?” they asked.
“How very hard it was,” was my response. By the end of the third day, I was bone tired. My voicebox felt like it had a pebble in it, and my body was stiff from not moving for three days. Then she asked if I’d do it again, knowing what I know now. My response was an absolute, resolute, “Yes.” Because at that moment, despite my sickness, soreness, and hoarseness, I was keenly aware of how very lucky I was. When in my life am I going to have the opportunity to read my own writing for almost twenty hours and then have it edited into 8 hours and 51 minutes of (mostly) coherent, heartfelt, personal storytelling? I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
The audiobook is available here.