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Category: general book stuff

Live at Lady Jane’s Salon NYC!

I had the great honor of being invited to speak at Lady Jane’s Salon during my birthday trip to New York this year. If you don’t know about Lady Jane’s, it’s a long-running (nine years and counting) romance reading series in New York, held at a bar called Madame X in the East Village.

Mr. B was on hand to meet, greet, and video, so if you’re interested in seeing/hearing a short excerpt of SLOW DRIFT, here it is!

Reading SLOW DRIFT at Lady Jane’s Salon, NYC from Adele Buck on Vimeo.

Some thoughts on audiobook narration and narrators (with recommendations)

It comes as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I have strong opinions about audiobook narration. I tend to have strong opinions about a lot of things (my own mother, in her inimitable way, says that I am, “Never far from an opinion”). I also have a master list of recommended books in other areas here.

Ever since Audible instituted a return policy I’ve been both more adventurous about trying new narrators and absolutely ruthless in returning books that aren’t doing it for me. As a former actor, I not only hear things that drive me nuts, but I can identify them with specificity. A non-comprehensive list of narrator tics and traits that will have me reaching for my phone and muttering, “Nope,” are:

  • Strange accent choices that aren’t rooted in the text (one book I listened to had someone from Colorado speak in a weird, nasal, Annie Potts-in-the-original-Ghostbusters Brooklyn accent. It made my face contort in very…interesting ways. Not good ones.)
  • Ditto for character voice choices (one book I DNF-ed had a main character who sounded unnervingly like the “Sexy Baby” girl on that episode of 30 Rock. You know the one.)
  • Reading fight scenes in an INCREDIBLY! AMPED! UP! WAY! That indicates the narrator doesn’t believe it’s exciting enough as written.
  • Immature voices in general. This isn’t 100% fair of me, necessarily, because voices are what they are. But an audiobook narrator needs to convey a lot of different characters at, usually, a lot of different ages, and very childlike voices don’t have a lot of range.
  • Badly performed accents.
  • Narrators who. Have what I call. Shatner’s Disease. They pause. In weird. Places.

Basically, what all these boil down to are: this is distracting. It calls attention to the narrator, and away from what is being narrated. A good audiobook reader lets the story flow through the voice. You might occasionally notice something about their voice or characterization, but it should be something you notice that you like.

At the same time, I feel for audiobook narrators. I’ve probably committed some of the same “sins” in the one (to date) audiobook short story I recorded for my friend Jacob Clifton. (Ignore the random cats – they have nothing to do with the narrative and were just the photo I slapped up on SoundCloud when I created an account).

Basically, narrating a book is hard. It’s difficult to keep track of the characterization choices you’ve made, it’s vocally challenging (especially if you’re a woman trying to produce a creditable-sounding man’s voice), and meanwhile you have to read the text…perfectly. Which sounds like it should be the easiest part. It isn’t.

With that in mind, I’d like to offer up some of my favorite audiobook narrators and some of my favorite books that they have read:

  • I’ll start with the divine Kate Reading. I once described her thusly:

    Then she blew my mind and responded:

    I don’t know when I first encountered her, but it may have been when I bought her rendition of one of my favorite books, Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold. Since then, I’ve listened to at least a hundred hours of her work and have only ever returned a book because I didn’t like the book. Never because of her reading. She also narrates either all or the vast majority of Loretta Chase’s excellent historical romances (Lord Perfect and Not Quite a Lady are personal favorites, but I have at least liked all of them).

  • Nicholas Boulton. The man I once described as:

    He has a sense of humor. He responded:

    In ensuing tweets I proceeded, apparently, to make him blush. It was among my finest hours. He brings gorgeousness and grit to the medieval The King’s ManHe’s also up for an Audie for Glitterland: Spires, Book 1 which I haven’t had a chance to listen to yet, but well believe is worthy of the nomination.

  • In the mystery genre, I really enjoy the marriage of Barbara Rosenblat’s voice and the Mrs. Pollifax series. These globe-spanning books have to be an incredible challenge both in terms of consistency of recurring character choices over a long period of time and a cast of, if not thousands, definitely hundreds from seemingly every country on the planet.
  • In fantasy, Kyle McCarley’s reading of The Goblin Emperor was simply fantastic. And, frankly, having read this book multiple times with my eyes and at least once with my ears, the narrated version makes the incredibly complicated names and nicknames much easier to navigate.
  • Some (a few) authors are also excellent narrators. Neil Gaiman reads his own work incredibly well. I’d recommend anything, but I especially enjoyed The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
  • The actor Alan Cumming is also an excellent narrator (you’d think all good actors would be good audiobook narrators. Nope. Some of them suffer from Shatner’s Disease). His readings of Scott Westerfeld’s YA, steampunk Leviathan series are especially fun. David Suchet reading Agatha Christie’s Poirot series is a particular delight, especially if you’re a fan of his small-screen portrayal of the Belgian detective. And, of course, Juliet Stevenson reading anything Austen.
  • I’m a huge Georgette Heyer fan and most of them are read by narrators that range from good to great, but my favorite of her books, A Civil Contract, is also read by my favorite of her narrators, Phyllida Nash. Ms. Nash also reads seven other Heyers.

Not all audiobooks that have ever been created are available (or they’re not all available in the U.S.). But if you can lay your hands on these via your local library’s audiobook CD collection, do:

  • Carole Boyd reading Stella Gibbons’ delicious Nightingale Wood. A favorite I’ve returned to again and again. Funnier even, I think, than Gibbons’ more well-known Cold Comfort Farm. If you can’t find it, console yourself with anything else that’s still available, including the fantastic Josephine Tey, Brat Farrar.
  • Ian Carmichael reading Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey books. The late Mr. Carmichael was an absolute master of character, accent, and pacing. If you can’t find any of those, you can still get him reading three of P.G. Wodehouse’s comedic masterpieces.

I have to stop here or I might be here all day. At any rate, if you have any recommendations for great audiobooks and narrators, please leave them in the comments!

Good news!

I am thrilled to be able to announce that as of this morning I am represented by literary agent Amy Elizabeth Bishop of Dystel, Goderich & Bourret.

Getting an agent is a huge milestone and I’m really excited to work with Amy. She’s smart and enthusiastic and so, so very nice.

I’d give more details but I’m brain-dead with happiness right about now.

Let’s talk about critique

There are a lot of articles going around right now about critique and a lot of them are very good. I’m going to try to address the power and the pain of critique from a slightly different angle. Because emotional response to critique is where 99% of the rubber ceases to meet the road in my experience.

Who am I to talk about this? I was an actress in a past life (like, seriously, I haven’t been on stage in 26 years, but I was an actor for 11 years*), and I am here to tell you that being critiqued on a performance is really nothing like having your writing critiqued.

It’s worse.

Imagine standing on stage (or more realistically, in a windowless, dingy rehearsal space) and feeling things. Making the lines someone else wrote personal to you, being passionate about something. Throwing yourself into a performance and feeling everything your character is supposed to feel.

And then being told, “Huh. I didn’t see it,” by just about everybody in the room.

This was you. Your voice, your body, your face. Attempting to convey emotion and meaning that nobody saw.

My point isn’t to play “which artist has it worse.” My point is to say I have some experience with dealing with intensely personal critique and to offer some of the strategies and techniques I learned to take the pain of critique and turn it into something better.

  1. Breathe. Really. Sometimes critique can make you feel like you were punched in the gut. It robs you of breath. Breathing helps you think, helps you relax and take in information. So check in with your body. Are you breathing? If not, do.
  2. Nod. Now maybe you’re thinking, Is she daft? Nod? Yes. Nod. What you’re hearing may be hard, but it’s probably true. Unless you have a critique partner (CP) who is intent on submarining you (and if you have one of these, get out. Now.) they’re relating their honest experience. The physical experience of accepting the criticism will hopefully soften your resistance. Your CP is telling you how s/he reacted to your piece. Is their experience universal? No. Is their experience valuable? Yes.
  3. Try to think of at least one thing you could change that might change your CP’s experience of the manuscript. I’m not saying to make those changes. I’m saying to think them through. Your CP has given you a lens to think about your manuscript differently. Use it. Take notes. You might make those changes. You might not. You might make entirely different changes. The point is, your CP is giving you a pivot point to work with. Work with it.

These are brief, Saturday evening thoughts. I’d be delighted if I got more suggestions in comments.

*I’ve spoken at conferences a bunch in the intervening years (fun fact: Adele Buck is my pen name, so looking me up that way won’t help much, but I’m also not hiding, so if you’re super diligent you might find me…though I can’t imagine why anyone would WANT to).