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Articles

The exercise of listening

If you’re a “remote narrator” like me, it’s very likely that you work much of the time without a director.  Indeed, aside from my demos, I’ve never worked with a director.  It’s the trade-off for the privilege of working at home all the time, and never having to deal with traffic or burning your gas.

But there are options.  The great teacher Patrick Fraley developed an entire course of study on “self-directing.”  It’s a skill that more and more narrators need as the home studio grows in popularity.  Recently, I stumbled onto a simple (though time consuming) exercise that was very informative for me as an audiobook performer.  I’ll call it the exercise of listening, and I thought I’d share it here.
New or innovative?  No.  As narrators we’ve been told for years that listening to audiobooks is an important and worthwhile discipline.  But I’m going to be honest here – I don’t listen.  Not much anyway.  I just don’t have time to plug into a 10+ hour recording and do some serious, engaged listening.
I know what you’re thinking.  Just grab some snippets!  There are great lessons there!  True.  But honestly, I was seeking more of a long-haul lesson.  Something that spoke to duration, maintaining the mojo over the course of a week’s worth of sessions.  And for me, anyway, I needed to hear it in one sitting.  As luck would have it, a road trip was on my calendar.
Phoenix to Ft. Worth was just about the perfect trip for nearly any work of fiction.  But what title to select?  I wanted to hear a great story, sure – but I mostly wanted to learn something.  Hopefully a lot of somethings.  So I made a short list of narrators who met the following criteria:
* specialize in the same genres I do
* widely recognized today as a top talent
* are a fairly close match to my personal style as a narrator
I found my narrator, and a title that was also widely recognized as excellent.  I bought and downloaded the audiobook.  But for the experiment to be as informative as possible, I needed something to compare it to.  So I grabbed a book of mine that I recorded last year; one that I believed was pretty good but was received with less than, um, enthusiastic praise.  The final piece of my mobile laboratory was my lovely wife.  She’s an honest soul, and would provide great feedback.
To be clear: this was not an exercise in “just do everything he does exactly as he does it.”  I was listening for enjoyment first, and wondering if I could recognize clues in the performance that could make me better.  Perhaps, I might identify little techniques that I could apply to my world somehow.  I decided I’d listen to his book on the trip out, and mine on the return trip home.
As I write this, I’ve been home three days and I am still jotting down nuggets.  My wife Jan had an amazing list of observations from a consumer standpoint.    The vast majority of these lessons (and this is the point of all this) were old, bad habits that I’ve very slowly fallen back into.  We all have them, and our coaches and teachers have made us aware of them.  But in the course of a busy recording season, these seemingly harmless little habits can creep back into the booth, and potentially wreck a performance.
So I’m going to do two things.  First, once complete, I’m going to post my “craptacular habits list” right in the booth.  And before I open the mic each and every session, I’m going to review it.  Be aware of it.  It will make my performance better.  DEMONS OUT!
And secondly, and unfortunately much less practically, I’m going to do some more comparative listening exercises.  Which means I need to plan more road trips, I suppose.
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D-day – and what made victory possible

D-day – and what made victory possible

June 6, 1944.  It’s known as “D-day” in the history books.  The day when Allied troops did the impossible – stormed the beachheads of Normandy in France, and took the first bold step in driving Hitler backward, and ultimately to defeat.  It was an invasion that literally saved the free world.  

June 6 is not a holiday in America, and as such it often passes by unnoticed in the busyness of early summer.  But 71 years ago, the Allies, under the command of Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, went for broke, and launched a mission with a very slim chance of success.  The cost in human life was staggering, as we know.  We’ve seen the movies about it.  We’ve heard the speeches.
There aren’t too many survivors of D-day left today, which is a shame.  Because just as fascinating as the events of June 6, are the events of the days that led up to arguably the most incredible military action in modern history.  The heroes who fell on or near the beaches of Normandy are heralded and honored, and rightfully so.  But the improbable success of D-day would not have been possible without cunning strategy, careful planning, and ingenious engineering.  
Rear Admiral Edward Ellsberg was there, and played an instrumental role in the days leading up to what we now know as D-day.  In his amazing book, The Far Shore, Ellsberg recalls in stark detail just what it took to equip the boys who would charge those beaches, and the creativity, courage, and manpower it took to achieve one of freedom’s greatest and costliest victories.
It’s been some time since I had the privilege of bringing the Admiral’s remarkable story to audio, but ever since I learned of what happened in the days before June 6, 1944, D-day has taken on a whole new meaning for me.  As you’ll hear, a million things could have gone wrong – and many of them did – and yet the courage, genius, and never-quit spirit of the people who were there preparing on the near shore were crucial to the Allies’ ultimate success on The Far Shore.
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A conversation with author NgTo

A conversation with author NgTo

Not long ago, my paths crossed with a Boston playwright turned author who told me he wanted his work on audio, which of course made me very happy!  Little did I know what I was stepping into – a world of biting satire, hilarious comedy, bizarre characters, and a boatload of “did he really just say that?!”  There are probably dozens of ways to aptly describe his writing style, but I would simply call it “escapism.”  His very first audio novel, Unethical Therapy from a Not-too-distant Galaxy, is available now on Audible and the iTunes Store.  In it, the author takes a satirical swipe at psychotherapy and politics.  And like any good yarn, there’s an alien mucking up the works!  And I promise – the cover will make sense after you listen.  To call this book “fun to narrate” would be the understatement of the century.  Or at least the day.

He calls himself “NgTo,” and I think he’s a guy you’ve just got to meet:

John McLain: OK, I’ve got to ask. The name “NgTo” is not on your driver’s license. Where’d that come from?

NgTo:  Just something my brothers called me when we were kids. No one has a clue what it means, or under what circumstance it arrived in the world.  One of those things that come out of the mist of time, which worries me… I mean what the hell is that mist stuff anyway?

JM: Beats me, man.  Unethical Therapy From A Not-too-distant Galaxy is your first book to come out in audio. As an author, what appeals to you about the audio format?

NT: I spent decades writing for the theatre, and as anyone who has written plays knows, the script is only the beginning.  Necessary but insufficient.  It takes ‘breath’ so to speak, the human voice to bring the language to life.  In the beginning was the word, the Good Book says; and the end I’d guess is silence.  It’s what comes in-between – the breath forming the word and the word breathlessly uttering, what the f*** are we doing here?

JM: No shortage of satire in your work. Do you have a message, or are you just having fun?

NT: Life is too pretentious not to kill it with an overdose of laughter.

JM: Well, this book definitely has some, let’s say…”interesting” characters running through it. When you wrote them, especially their dialogue, did you hear their voices in your head? Because I did.

NT: Voices rattle in my head, but where those voices come from is anyone’s guess.  If from the writer, the voices are an affliction; if not, divine inspiration.  A third possibility: divine affliction.  The fourth and most probable: plagiarism.

JM: (laughs) As a narrator who appreciates good comedy, I was really struck by the many wonderful moments of comedic timing throughout Unethical Therapy. Does that come naturally for you as you write, because if so that’s really unfair!

NT: At the risk of being tribal, I’d say the comedic timing comes courtesy of my Jewish heritage.  Being on the run from your enemies, or hiding in some sinkhole because the Cossacks are on one of their annual pogroms, you’ve got to pick your moments.  A word ill-timed could get you killed.  A pause timed just right – nothing less than salvation.  Now that’s a good laugh!

JM: You live in Boston, and your stories happen there.  Anything in particular about the city that inspires you as an author?

NT: I’m a history nut and Boston is nothing if not history… history to its very architectural bones.  And given the current affairs of the country, I could either lament the loss of our Republic or laugh all the way down.  I prefer the latter and besides, laughter, not lamenting, ameliorates the vertigo.

JM: We’re working on your next audiobook together now, Cowering In Place, and Mark Greene, the hero from Unethical Therapy, is back!  Be honest – is he you?

NT: Only in the sense that we’re all thrown in the world willy-nilly and thus we are, if we’re honest with ourselves, straight foils for a hell of a Comic.  So Mark Greene stumbles through life, hoping beyond hope for a smidgeon of happiness.  That’s all of us, right?

JM: Um…sure, ok.  But it’s time to get serious.  Tell me one thing that you think will fix the Red Sox.

NT: A rain delay of Biblical proportions.

____

Listen to Unethical Therapy by NgTo today!  Just don’t do it while enjoying a beverage, unless you want to wear it.  Available now from Audible.com and the iTunes Store.  And watch for NgTo’s Cowering In Place, coming late summer 2015!

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June Is Audiobook Month!

June Is Audiobook Month!

It’s hard to believe, but June is almost over again!  Summertime is a wonderful time to enjoy great listens, what with all the road trips and long flights going on.  Perhaps that’s why we celebrate audiobooks each June.

This year, I was delighted to participate in a wonderful project called “Going Public…In Shorts.”  The project, conceived and developed by the excellent audiobook narrator Xe Sands, and produced by Blackstone Audio, is a collection of public domain short stories across a variety of genres.  Best of all, proceeds from the sale of “Going Public…In Shorts” benefit a great cause, Reach Out and Read – a literacy advocacy group.
In addition to narrating a story for the project, I had the opportunity to partner with one of the many terrific audiobook blogs, Narrator Reviews and Audiobooks.  You can read Jennie’s thoughts about the project, and audiobooks in general, there at her blog.
For full information about the Going Public…In Shorts project, click here
Articles

APAC is back!

I’m preparing for my annual trip to New York for a great time at APAC and the Audie Awards presentation.  It’s been a great year and I’m excited to find out what everyone else has been up to!  It’s shaping up to be another busy summer of audiobooks.

June Is Audiobook Month is coming up, and narrator Xe Sands has spearheaded a really cool project called “Going Public” to celebrate.  It’s a collection of public domain short stories, selected by narrators in a variety of genres.  Look for updates, tweets, and blog posts as June Is Audiobook Month approaches!  
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A funny thing happened on the way to the Audies

A funny thing happened on the way to the Audies

It was June 5th, 2012.  We were ready to go.  At long last, the wait was almost over.  I was attending my first Audie Awards Gala.  I was a Finalist for the first time.  I had treated myself to a snazzy new bow tie for my tuxedo.  Jan and I stood in our compact, Manhattan-sized hotel room and studied the mirror.  OK, let’s go.

A man in the elevator, noting my black tie and Jan’s glitter, asked, “Broadway?”  No, I said, not tonight.  Tonight, we are heading to the 17th Annual Audie Awards.  The night had started out with precision – all of our clothes had made it to New York in great shape, we didn’t forget anything, and my shoes were even shined.  And, as luck would have it, we walked out the front door just as an empty cab was rolling up – it was even an SUV, easier to climb in and out of in fancy duds.  A quick flick of the wrist, and we were on our way down 41st Street.
“Where to?” the cabbie mumbled, and I told him.  I was prepared to answer with the address, name of the venue, even the cross streets.  I love it when a plan comes together.  After a spirited jaunt through Manhattan traffic, the taxi slowed to a stop…the intense greenery of Central Park on the left, and a very grand building at the curb.  It was immense – white with massive columns, and a very impressive bronze statue standing watch in front.  I gazed at the total displayed on the meter, tipped generously (I’m in a tux, after all) and helped Jan out of the cab.  At last – we’re here.
The wide, library-style staircase was lined with friendly ushers, welcoming us to tonight’s event.  One of them even seemed to be especially impressed with our attire – unusually so.  As we entered the beautiful antique wooden doors, we merged into a huge chamber packed with people – each holding a drink and chatting.  Two dinosaur skeletons were displayed, towering over the sea of attendees.  Another usher greeted us, gave us an inquisitive look, and said that registration was to our left.
“We’re overdressed,” said Jan.  The Audies are “black tie optional,” though I was told that there would be many who would so opt.  But as she made this observation, I too noted that we seemed to be the only ones in the room in black tie.
Nevertheless, we made our way over to the registration table.  Another usher met us there, and pointed out the signage above; A thru G at this table, H thru N at that one, and so on.
And that’s when it all began to make sense.  Because posted prominently above the “H-N” was another, very stately sign that read, “WELCOME, CORNELL SCHOOL OF HOTEL MANAGEMENT.”  Oh, jeez.
No biggie.  Feeling like we were 20 years late for the prom, Jan and I slinked our way back toward the entrance.  We spied a couple a security guards off to the side (and mercifully out of view.)  After showing them the address on our invitations, they happily pointed out the correct building, just one block down.  Down the steps we went, laughing out loud as we strolled down to the REAL New York Historical Society building, where everything suddenly made a lot more sense.
We had a grand evening, met tons of great people, posed for dozens of photos, and laughed a lot.  By the way, we didn’t win the Audie.
But as we rode back to our hotel in a cab at almost 2am, bow tie dangling following an incredibly fun after-party, I felt like the biggest winner in the world.  I had my wife of 17 years by my side, beaming with pride all night long.  I do what I love, get paid for it, and I’m really good at it.
As exhausted as I was, it took me quite a while to get to sleep that night.
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AudioFile: The Vow a “splendid interpretation…”

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”Nat Turner Pt. 1″ is an Audie Award finalist!

I’m honored to be a finalist for the 2012 Audie Awards!  The Resurrection of Nat Turner, Part 1: The Witnesses by Sharon Ewell Foster was nominated in the Inspirational / Faith-based Fiction category.  I’m excited for Sharon, and the wonderful team at Oasis Audio.  It’s an astounding story that even the author herself admits she didn’t expect to write.  

Now we have the long wait until June, when the winners in each category are announced at The Audie Awards and Gala in New York.  So many wonderful titles have been honored once again this year.  Plus, it will be fun to just get together with peers in the audiobook industry and celebrate!  This wonderful storytelling medium is growing leaps and bounds, and the future is bright indeed – for publishers, authors, listeners, and yes – narrators. 
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New release!

New release!

I’m delighted to announce the release of my latest audiobook title – “The Resurrection of Nat Turner, Part 2: The Testimony” by Sharon Ewell Foster!  Available now from Oasis Audio!

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Re-priorities in the New Year

It’s everywhere this year, as it is every year.  New Years Resolutions.  Should we?  Will we?  How long will they last?  On and on.

Lots of folks will tend to shy away from making resolutions because they know, deep down, that they’ll fail to keep them for very long – and would rather not deal with the shame of failure.  That’s too bad, because I believe that anything that motivates us to think about making our lives better is a good thing that should be embraced, not run away from.
So if there’s something you need to change, call it something else.  Instead of using the R word, call it a life change, or shifting gears, or turning over a new leaf…whatever.  I choose to use a different R word: re-priorities.
Let’s face it – we all have the same 24 hours in each day to accomplish whatever we want.  Most people divide that time into thirds – 8 hours to sleep, 8 hours to work, and then 8 hours for everything else.  That’s the basic framework that many feel bound by.  But what if we thought of it differently?
Like the old adage says, anything that’s truly important enough to us will get done.  Why?  Because we’ll prioritize it that way.  Most people will watch their favorite TV program, come hell or high water.  For some, it’s watching the game.  Riding their bike.  Taking time to read to the kids.  I will dare to wager that most anything that “we just can’t seem to accomplish” is simply because we haven’t prioritized it highly enough within our own given 24 hours.  Fair?
I try to keep a list, usually on my phone or my whiteboard.  It looks like a task list, but really it’s a priority list.  The order of the items on the list is very important.  First things first.  I’ll happily admit that a lot of the minor stuff on the bottom of that list never sees the light of day.  And that’s just fine.  
So if I really, really want to drop those extra pounds this year, I put my exercise time near the top.  If I want to deepen my relationship with a family member or friend, I put spending that time up there.  There’s only room for a few at the top spots.  And that’s where the prioritization comes in.  Stephen Covey teaches the power of prioritizing our time by helping us imagine time as a finite container.  Any way you slice it, the 24 hours in a day are a constant.  But how we choose to use them is a variable, and it’s up to us. 
So for me, as 2012 approaches, I’m not looking at “resolutions.”  I’m taking a hard look at my priorities – and how I can seize the power of re-prioritizing my days to improve my life, inside and out.  I hope you’ll do the same, as we look forward to an exciting and fresh New Year!