Saturday, June 30, 2012

That's a French accent, isn't it?

This is the last installment of Karen Krause's adventure in audiobook narration, and I'm so sad. I had no idea so much was involved. When writing my travel mysteries, I never think about how many of my characters are not American. From now on, I'll think about it. Frankly, I think the quality of the book Karen and her husband produced are way above the others, many of them produced by large studios. But the refrigerator? In the kitchen, several soundproof walls away?


Our first recording session was rough, but we eventually learned what days were high air traffic days and what times were best for outside noises.

With all of the technical issues under control, I was able to concentrate on performance.  I’d already done my pre-recording work defining characters and accents and making notes regarding same. 

Now, I thought this would be the easy part, since I’ve created hundreds of characters in my life on stage.  And in some ways it was.  But trying to keep track of twenty or more characters and voices is a bit like doing vocal gymnastics; hopping, jumping and twisting from one voice to another in the space of a breath.  There are
characters from different countries, from different parts of countries, old and young, male and female, angry, stubborn, lost, excited . . . .

But, I remembered, we are recording.  I can take time between characters if necessary.  No need to rush or keep pace as I would in front of a live audience.  We can edit out the pauses later.  Even with this luxury, keeping the different accents and voices separate requires concentration and focus.  Especially when there are several different characters speaking in the same scene. 

My dear husband stopped me numerous times to point out that I had used the wrong voice for this character or that one.  There was even once when I heard the all-too-familiar “Stop” from the next room.  I believe the character I was reading was French.

“That was Irish, wasn’t it?” I said meekly.

“I think so.”

There weren’t even any Irish characters in this particular story.  Too bad.  I do a mean Irish accent, if I do say so myself.

We finally reached the end of our recording, and I emitted a sigh of satisfaction.  Now all we had to do was edit and do some re-recording of spots missed.  Easy for me, since the editing would fall upon my husband’s shoulders.  I would read the manuscript twice with the recording to make sure we were word-for-word, but the rest of the work was his.

We had been told it takes about two to four hours to edit one finished hour of recording.  I’m sure the people who gave this information had never worked with my husband.  He has the best ear of anyone I know.  And he doggedly listened to every millisecond with that ear; carving out all of the mouth sounds, clicks, background noises, and things that for the life of me I couldn’t hear, even when he told me what I was to listen for.  I told him, “You have to lower the bar.  If it’s too perfect, it won’t sound natural”.  He tried, but I honestly think if we hadn’t had a deadline, he might still be editing that first book.

We met our deadline.  It was a long, somewhat rocky journey, but we both came out at the end proud of what we’d done and with the desire to continue. 

After sending off the completed audiobook, my husband looked at me and said, “We’ve finally found something we can do together.”  I wrinkled my brow.  “But we’re doing it in separate rooms,” I responded.

I will leave you with a few of the things we learned on our journey.

1. A soundproof vocal booth is HEAVEN!

2. Don’t lose the human element.  It’s acceptable to be a step below perfection.

3. You can be intense without deafening the engineer.

4. Don’t overdo the accents.  It’s more important the listeners understand the words than you impress them with your French accent.

5. Stay hydrated.  It’s not enough to drink lots of water right before a session.  It takes a day or two to get the vocal cords “oiled up”.

6. Patience is a virtue. 

7. Don’t forget to turn the refrigerator BACK ON after the session is over.

8. Did I say, patience is a virtue?

Thanks, Karen. Thanks for the laughs and the education.

Friday, June 29, 2012


Today we learn what the green apple slices are for. This post from narrator Karen Krause is the third of four, telling us what audiobook producers go through. It takes me back to a frustrating day I spent recording a tape to go with a slide presentation on gems and minerals I made for my science classes. I live in the flight pattern for jets from Langley Air Force Base.


Once my husband’s ears stopped ringing from my unintentional assault on them, we went through the checklist.

Copy ready?  Check.  Microphone on (well, we tested that already) . . .  Computer up and running?  Check.  Refrigerator off?  Check.  Furnace off?  Check.  Dogs shut up in the back room?  Check. 

Let’s do this thing!

We had deliberately waited until evening, after most people had finished the day and gone inside to do whatever people do between supper and bed, hoping the outside noise would be at a minimum.  All was peaceful and quiet.  Perfect.

I took a drink of water and began the introduction.  So far, so good.

On to the first chapter.  I’d already read and reread the manuscript, made character notes, and marked spots that needed special attention when being read aloud.  I took a deep, calming breath.

“Chapter One”

“Stop!” I hear from the next room.


“Don’t you hear that?”

I tilted my head and listened.  Ah, jet noise.  Our house is not in the direct flight path, but during certain wind or weather patterns, the air traffic is rerouted so that it passes near us.  It’s not loud enough to notice during normal activities, but is quite obvious in the recording.  I sighed and waited for it to pass.

“Okay, start again, Chapter One.”

“Chapt—no, it’s coming back.”

“Sounds like they’re in a pattern.  We’ll have to wait till they pass.”

Two emails, a trip to the bathroom, and a water refill later, I finally sat back down in front of the microphone and listened.  No jets. 

We were well into the 7th or 8th page before the next jet interruption.  Or was it a helicopter?  “Patience is a virtue”, I said to myself.  This was to become a phrase I would repeat daily.

Finally, we got into a rhythm, and I was getting into the performance of the characters, when again from the next room I hear, “What are you doing in there?”


“It sounds like you’re chewing or smacking.”


“Well, take a drink.  Do something.  It sounds awful.”

Ah, the green apple slices.  That’s what they’re for.  You can chew it; you can suck it; you can bite it but not chew it; you can chew it but not swallow it.  The reports disagree on exactly how to best get that apple pectin working on your dry mouth, but green apple is universally touted on all the voice-over sites. 

It didn’t work for me.  I tried water.  I tried apple juice. I tried cinnamon.  I tried drying my tongue.  It got better, but it appears I am cursed with a noisy mouth.  It would just have to be added to the list of things to edit out post-recording.

When the neighbor turned on his compressor, which he often does when working on his car, we called it a night.

Despite, jets, passing cars, my mouth smacking, and neighbor intrusions (there really weren’t any trains, but I thought it sounded good in the title), we made it through the first chapter. 

Our feet were wet and we were ready for more.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


Today, Karen Krause brings us the second installment in the adventures of a newbie audiobook narrator. Go to Audible, iTunes, or Amazon to hear a sample of her recording of my Death on the Aegean Queen.

With the first hurdle cleared (getting the contract to produce a book), the real work began.  Now we had decisions to make.  How do we set up the recording space?  Which microphone do we use?  Which pre-amp?  Do we use a compressor?  Which program will we record into and edit with?  How do we map out a schedule?  It seems with every question we answered, a new one materialized.

Fortunately, for me, we had my husband’s experience to guide us.  As a musician, songwriter, and composer, he’s logged hundreds, possibly thousands, of hours recording, editing, and manipulating sound.  He already had the basics we needed to produce a quality recording.  The fact that his expertise was in music rather than the spoken word, meant we had some adjusting to do; but for the most part, we had all the tools we needed.

We set up a spare bedroom as our sound booth.  Old duvets lined the walls and hung in strategic positions to baffle the sound and muffle outside noises.  After testing various microphone/pre-amp combinations, we settled on the one we liked the best.  We set it up in a portable isolation box to isolate the sound even more.  I brought in my water and green apple slices (which I’d been told I would need, but wasn’t really sure what to do with), sat down in my chair, my copy on the music stand in front of me, eager to finally get into the “fun” part.

I couldn’t see or hear my husband.  He was in front of the computer in the room adjacent to mine, holding a copy of the manuscript in front of him so he could follow along for continuity. 

“Are you ready?” he yelled. 


“I said, are you ready?” he yelled, louder. 

“Yes!” I yelled back.

“Ow!  You don’t have to yell!  I can hear you through the headphones!”

We were off to a great start.

Okay, what are the green apples for?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Recording an Audiobook: What does it take?

In preparation for producing Death on the Aegean Queen as an audiobook, I first considered doing the narration myself. Thank God, the good people at ACX talked me out of it. It's harder than you think and VERY few writers can do it. Okay, let's get someone competent to do it. I listened to the audition tapes of a bunch of producers (that's what they call the person or group that can turn your book into audio) and chose the lovely Karen Krause because her voice sounded much like my viewpoint character, Dotsy Lamb, sounds in my head.

But narrating an audiobook is not just a matter of reading it. You mustn't cough. Your clothes mustn't rustle. Sit up straight. What if a plane or a garbage truck goes by? How do you eliminate everything but the words?

I asked Karen to tell us more about the process and I'm posting the first half of her answer today. Second half tomorrow.


Books have always been a passion of mine.  My family moved a lot when I was young, so making friends was hard.  My books became my best friends.  In the summers, I would climb the nearest tree and sit for hours reading; imagining myself living the lives of the characters in my books.  As I grew older, and busier, I no longer had hours for reading, but had to steal the time from my grown-up responsibilities. 

Then I discovered audiobooks.  Wow!  I can read and clean the bathroom?  Or read while I drive to work?  Or read and weed the garden?  Heaven!

And then one day I realized, “I can read and share my passion with the world”.  I wanted to narrate those audiobooks I loved to “read”.  So, I started auditioning. 

Now, I’m no stranger to rejection.  I’ve been singing and acting on stage since I was seven years old, and I know how brutal the audition process can be.  So, I didn’t expect much to happen at first.  I was prepared for weeks, maybe months to go by before I was offered a book to narrate. 

After a long night of recording and editing, I sent off my first audition, tried to tell myself not to expect anything, and went to bed.  Six hours of fitful sleep later, I went downstairs to find a message waiting.  They loved my audition and would I accept a contract to narrate and produce the book?

“I’ve been offered a contract.  S**t!  What do we do now?” I practically screamed to my husband, who was to be my director and engineer. 

Excitement.  Terror.  Anticipation.  Trepidation.  Insecurity.  Emotions were flying around inside of me like dust in a Kansas windstorm.  I mean, I was as confident in my abilities as any actor (we can all be crushed for days, even weeks, at the whim of a scathing critic or director), but I’d never done anything quite like this before.  This was true storytelling, an art in and of itself.   What if I really suck at this?  I took a deep, calming breath and said to myself, “There’s only one way to find out.” 

And thus began our journey into the world of audiobook production. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Reining in the Research Monster

I love research. Before I even begin plotting a mystery I've visited the site of the story, taken photos, made notes in my journal and just sat for a good while soaking up the smells and sounds of the place. Later I lock horns with my tax accountant over whether I: 1) learned anything of use in my mystery or 2) had fun. Huh? I can't have both? I'm starting my fifth Dotsy Lamb Travel Mystery. This one is set in Oxford and although I've been there maybe 8 to 10 times, I did go last summer and stayed in the oldest (spookiest) college on a B & B basis. My room at Jesus College was in the oldest wing of the oldest quad. While lying in my little bed on the top floor overlooking Turl Street (locals say "The Turl") I imagined mine was the room T.E. Lawrence had when he was a student there. It could have been. They don't know which room was his.

Other writers do it differently. Some do no research. Some write the first draft, then research all the questions that have come up while writing. One writer I know, asked what to do about a chemical element with specific properties not found in any natural element, said, "Forget it. Make one up."

I hit the ceiling.

"You can't make up an element! It needs an atomic number and they're all taken!" That is, all the natural elements have been assigned a neat square on the periodic table and the man-made ones are all quite heavy, radioactive, and any new ones they may find probably won't last long enough in the lab to even take a photo of it.

That's the chemistry teacher in me talking.

Ruins of Glastonbury Abbey
But back to research. Today I'm using the Internet to find out all I can about, Glastonbury, King Arthur's (alleged) burial place and bones, and King Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. These all figure into the story that's still in the ether of my head, but the research is so engrossing, I'm in danger of doing what I've done before. That is, going off on a tangent and forgetting why I'm doing this.

I actually went to Glastonbury two years ago and I'm kicking myself now for taking our guide's advice. She said, "Don't bother going to the Abbey. There's nothing there." I now know that her definition of nothing and mine are greatly different. I should have gone. But at the time, I didn't know it would every figure into a story.

Meanwhile, If you know some good websites for information on any of the above mentioned, let me know.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Walking with Lions

Young lion at Lion Encounter
The number of African lions in the wild has decreased 80% to 90% in the last thirty years. I'm sure you already know why: growth of human population and habitat shrinkage. In Zimbabwe, we found a wonderful program designed to return lions to the wild. For a small fee (proceeds going to the rehabilitation project) the seventeen members of our group were allowed to take a walk through the grassland with a couple of lions.  Eleven months old, they were already about the size of hefty german shepherds.

It's a four stage program. In stage one, young captive lions are moved to the rehab property, but still fed and protected. They are used to human contact and cannot, themselves, ever be truly wild. In stage two they are released, but into a protected area where they hunt for themselves and hopefully form or join a pride. If the pride seems stable enough it is released into the real wild. The cubs born into this pride of lions are truly wild. Success.

Me and my walking buddies
I had to do this while still on crutches thanks to my pulled hamstring muscle and worried that the lions would see my crutch as a threat. No problem. Everyone was given a walking stick (Why? I'm not sure) so my crutch was just another walking stick. The guides also had walking sticks and they used them to distract the animals. Lions have really short attention spans and are easily distracted.

What's it like to pet a lion? Nice, but they aren't as soft as our cats. Their hair is a bit coarse. Another thing. All the wild animals we saw, lions, zebras, giraffes, cheetahs, buffalo, monkeys, wildebeest, impala, et al, look ever so much healthier than the ones you see in a zoo. Slick coats, bright eyes, easy gaits. Makes sense when you think about it.

The program is still pretty new, and the fate of the African lion is very much in doubt but if you want to know more, you can visit their site, or their facebook page,

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Zimbabwe vs South Africa

I'm not a political person so this is the first and last time I'll blog about politics. Probably. My visit to South Africa and Zimbabwe over the last few weeks has left me with some vivid images. In South Africa I honestly expected to find all that Cumbaya stuff following the elevation of Nelson Mandela to the presidency to be fraying a bit at the edges. I was wrong. Looks like South Africa is doing fine. Sure they have problems, but the unlikely cooperation between former president, F. W. de Klerk, and former prisoner, Mandela, has not only avoided civil war, it's brought about prosperity and an air of optimism.
Mandela's Cell on Robben Island

I toured Robben Island near Cape Town and saw the jail cell Mandela called home for 18 of his 27 years behind bars. When not breaking rocks in the limestone quarry, Mandela conducted school, call it Robben University, teaching prisoners and guards alike. After his release, now a national hero, he spoke out in favor of cooperation rather than civil war. Former president F. W. de Klerk and former prisoner Mandela worked together to establish what we now see. A country full of optimism and energy. Never friends, Mandela and de Klerk put country above personal considerations. Mandela, now 93 and frail, lives in a very nice house in Johannesburg.

Honest-to-god Zimbabwe money
Zimbabwe,has taken the other road. Following the switch to majority rule in 1980, they took a scorched earth approach to land management with the result that practically no agriculture or production of anything else is left. The economy spun out of control. Inflation devalued their currency to the ridiculous degree you see in the photo. This was a real bill. Now their official currency is the U.S. dollar. How did we get so lucky? Actually, Zimbabweans will accept almost any currency: dollars, rands, euros, socks. They really like socks. Most of our group left a pile of clothing in our rooms when we checked out. Now these are educated people with a strong work ethic. They're stuck. Their government is disfunctional and elections are rigged.

While in Johannesburg, we toured Soweto, the district where riots made international news in the 1970's. Soweto is looking better. They still have some squalid tin-and-cardboard camps, but now they they're full of refugees from Zimbabwe.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

"First find the lion, then I'll give you a blanket."

No one's ever said that to me before.
But last week in Kapama Game Reserve on the western fringe of Krueger Park in South Africa our guide, John, came out with that statement and I said, "Okay." As the Southern Hemisphere heads into winter, temperatures in the bush plummet when the sun goes down. Pleasant during the day, cold at night. We'd been exploring the brush and washed-out ravines since late afternoon in our Toyota Land Cruiser, challenging its four-wheel drive to the limit.

John was on the radio with another guide a mile or so away and learned they'd spotted a pair of lions sleeping in the tall grass. Nearby they'd also found a fresh wildebeest carcass and both lions had bellies rounded by their big meal. These lions are wild, but life on the Game Reserve has accustomed them to people. People in Land Cruisers, John told us, the lions don't consider worth their notice. People on foot are dinner.

Of course, we wanted to find them. That's when John looked at us, now shivering in our lightweight shirts, and said, "First, we find the lion, then I'll give you a blanket."

We took off down dirt roads without markers, then veered off into untrodden bush, bouncing over small acacias as we went. There they were. Mr. and Mrs. Lion, lying in the tall grass a few feet apart, and so oblivious of us they hardly blinked when our spotter shined a spotlight right in their eyes.
What a life!

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Cape of Good Hope

I'm back from a wonderful trip to South Africa and Zimbabwe, on crutches and without my luggage. It was a "pinch me, I can't believe I'm here" experience with something astounding every day. I'll post photos in the next few blogs, but today's pics are from Cape Town and the Cape of Good Hope, as they are the ones I have on my iPad. The others are on my camera which I can't recharge until I get my wires and things. They are in my luggage which is in Spain.

In Cape Town, we stayed at Southern Sun The Cullinan, near the waterfront. Gracious, airy, and staffed by some of the nicest people you could ever meet, I could have spent the whole time there. My four friends and I started with the Green Market, where we went wild haggling and buying things for which we have absolutely no use, but what bargains!

The first official day of our tour took us to the Cape of Good Hope, the southwestern-most tip of the continent, where I expected to see whales and seals, but what we actually saw were penguins (Jackass penguins, so named because of the noise they make), ostriches, baboons, cape zebras, and dassies. Dassies are the only living members of the genus Petromus, and we found them among the rocks at the top of Cape Town's Table Mountain. Very cute.

Next, we visited Boulders Beach and its colony of Jackass penguins. They are severely endangered and like all penguins, TOO cute.