Category Archives: Lands of Hope

Can You Hear Me Now? The Audiobook Adventure Continues

Since my last post in April, I have become increasingly absorbed by the effort to convert my tales to a-book format and I thought I’d report on that for anyone considering the same. This and following blog posts will be my answer to What I Did Last Summer, when fall 2018 arrives.

What in the Lands Am I Doing?

To be clear:

  • I’m leveraging the Smashwords-Findaways partnership announced earlier this year, where I can drop a finished product in the queue and they will handle distribution to two-dozen-plus outlets on their own. So that’s not the work I’m doing, I’m taking advantage of the offer for someone else to handle that.
  • As I said before, I absolutely insist on reading the narration myself. THIS is the work I’m doing now. As a day-job dilettante, my limited time can only go so far, and I feel a
    Spartan helmet optional. Coffee, so not.

    bit stuck on the next novel anyway, so this has been a good alternative (as well as a fun outlet for a desperate ham actor such as myself).

If you’re not interested in the first bullet, these posts are probably not for you. If you don’t feel you can handle the second, then this is not your work, but I still feel you should consider this outlet for your tales; there are of course many ways to get a narrator on your own and oversee their rendering. If folks want I could bring in some fellow indies to comment, and I did have the pleasure of interviewing Ms. Karin Gastreich once upon a time who had a terrific experience of doing just that. Perhaps in a later post we can check in with her again and see how it’s going.

But for the most part what I’ll be commenting on here relates to the points above:

  • Later on, I’ll post to report about how the distribution and sales appear to be going on the books I record.
  • Over this summer, while that is still baking I’ll talk here about the challenges and fun of actually creating one’s own audio book. You heard me (well, you read me)– you can do this if you like. Or you could just laugh at me trying to do it, that’s always an option.

Try, Try Again: the Need for Equipment

My first announcement turns out to have been a bit premature. The files I submitted, from my a-book version of The Ring and the Flag, were based on a recording I had done years ago and which, as I discovered, were not adequate to Findaway’s technical guidelines. The microphone I used to record the tale at that time was one of those omni-directional sticks that came for free with some computer game I bought back before Pentium was a thing. I swear to you, it said “Made in the Philippines” on one side, and on the other in very tiny letters “Viva Marcos”. So, yeah, poor quality.

Where is that noise coming from?

This was an epic struggle all by itself: I searched my entire house for the best room to read

in, made multiple tracks of each paragraph, and slaved away on my editing software (Audacity, by the way, fabulous program, high marks) to get the whine, the hiss-noise, the white fuzz out of the background. No soap, I sounded like Demosthenes trying to speak over the roar of the sea. Honestly, it could not have been less than a hundred hours that I spent altogether, for six chapters of around a half-hour each, to get one decent take of each section where my voice was louder than the whine the mike produced, from nothing, just from being that ridiculously cheap.

“This time my instrumentality is unbreakable.”

This was the product that Findaways rejected, probably for purely technical reasons like the kbps of the output. But I can admit now, it truly sucked. I cannot bear to listen to that version anymore.

Fortunately, I now have a dazzling-great Pronomic microphone sent to me by the incredible omnivorous publisher Katharina Gerlach at the Independent Bookworm, and I cannot begin to describe how much easier this job is now. I plug it in, open Audacity, and hit record. Then I start to read the tale And. That. Is. All. Background fuzz, white noise all gone: I used to have to keep my mouth in a range from the mike of about the width of a quarter, or I’d over-amp and under-amp. Now I can gesture, rock back, turn my head as I speak; and the mike picks it up, don’t get me wrong, but it sounds on the track just as if I had gestured, rocked back, turned my head. Background is clear and clean.

I’ve raved about it on my Facebook page, and at least two people have asked me where they can get one. Unfortunately, this brand (Pronomic) doesn’t seem to be available in the US, and I’m no expert but I’m sure products of similar quality are available. I can only recommend that you ask around to someone who knows recording equipment; the investment is absolutely crucial, but it’s a once-and-done and a pearl beyond price if you are thinking about doing this.

Does the Job TOO Well?

Some of my frustration (hardly worth mentioning compared to the old days) came with the mike picking up too well. I record with headsets on and they are noise-cancelling. So if one of the cats saunters into the room for a post-breakfast snack, I don’t hear it. But on the replay I laugh out loud; every dish-clink, each lip-smack is clearly there. I recorded the last scene of The Ring and the Flag, where Justin reaches the end of his mission, on a quiet Saturday afternoon with my ladies out of the house. On the opposite end of the ground floor here, thirty feet away, I had left the back porch door open a foot to let in the air. Across the back yard, maybe another thirty YARDS away, a single songbird was chirping how happy she was to have young ones in the nest or something. I heard nothing until the replay of course. Here I am, laying down the track of a marvelous city parade to the arena :: cheep! ::, with guards and litters and cymbals clashing :: chirp-eep! :: and Justin racing against time to reach the conference before the :: cheepy-cheep :: voting… OK, Take 2.

But all this moaning to make a point. It’s easy to do again. And I’ll talk about that next time.

How Long Will it Take?

I haven’t made precise measurements of the pace, but based on recording sessions I’ve done on this go-around, I would say you are going to be recording for roughly an hour per five thousand words of text. Your technique will probably vary and I’ll have more to say about the way I do it next time. That is what you’ll need to get a usable version of each sentence/paragraph. Editing that 5k section should take another hour, maybe two, and then if you wish to add F/X like music, echoes, etc. that’s rather open-ended. Personally, I love that stuff and can’t say enough about the resources of a site like Freesound. But you may want a purer track, fewer distractions, or maybe you haven’t really thought about your options there. I would liken the use of sounds in an a-book to that of word-art in an e-book. My tales on paper have ink-splotches, larger font when heroes are speaking, bloody marks on letters, and more. Something to consider.

Read the Tale Aloud– Not Selling Yourself Short

I have long been an advocate of authors reading their drafts aloud as a means to improving the work. Yes, I’m a ham actor, it’s true, and a Game Master of long standing and while we’re at it, probably the most ridiculously extroverted non-celebrity you’ll ever meet. So sue me. But when you read aloud, you catch repeat words, bad construction, breaks in the flow, and things that just don’t make sense. Habits you’ve become blind to in your enthusiasm, or fatigue: mistakes you are either leaving to a beta-reader to catch, or letting slip through to your readers to cluck their tongues at. I don’t argue it’s the only way. Just the best one I’ve found.

And now– see, this is the genius– if you decide to go a-book and narrate your tales… it’s also rehearsal!

Don’t try to kid a kidder!

Do you ever plan to be a famous author? And what would that entail, hmm, perhaps a public reading of your work in a library or bookstore? An excerpt to thrill millions on radio, whenever Terry Gross interviews you on NPR? Think about it, people. No sense dreaming of the Powerball if you don’t buy a ticket. Read your work. Out Loud.

And after you’ve done that a while, leave the microphone on.


More reports soon! Let me know what you’d like to, um, hear about my audiobook adventure.

Fate of the Darlings

Good news is sometimes almost as stunning as bad news can be. I finished my series Shards of Light this week, and feel dazed to think that something I started a big chunk of a decade ago is now completed. It’s a time of reflection for me, and of course anticipation too, because soon I’ll finally be able to move on to a new chronicle of The Lands of Hope. That’s good for Advent.

The work involved in bringing four novellas to fruition, my first real series as an epic fantasy tale, was far greater than I figured. That’s what happens when characters demand attention and you give into them. I triggered recently on that old saw about “killing your darlings”, a phrase I took an instant and lethal dislike to. It’s apparently as old as the hills, and just as hard to get over. Where the hell would I be if I had taken a step in the direction of such advice? It’s not a rhetorical question, and there are people who follow such advice and I imagine are very successful. My best wishes to them. But I wouldn’t be among their number, as any kind of author. Killing my darlings has been off the table from day one for me.  I have three quarters of a million words in print, more or less, because I followed my instinct instead of market wisdom. Only the reader can decide if I’m any good, but I couldn’t have written a postcard with a broken heart.

What’s it Even Mean?

My two cents: “kill your darlings” was presented to me as a euphemism, a wise-person’s code for being a “real pro writer”. Some folks think it’s about making sure that characters die in the course of the book. We in epic fantasy have a phrase for that: Game of Thrones. Works for him!

But if only it was as mundane as the idea that you should write your characters into death scenes. No, this was more about taking a treasured character/ theme/ plotline, more or less BECAUSE you treasured it, and just cutting it out completely. Highlight and hit delete.

And throw it away forever, as much as the advice giver cared.

Being a Pro

Because a big-time writer, you see, supposedly equals the ability to dump what YOU cared about (full of emotion, no common sense, I mean jeez these are things you LOVE after all), and instead being able to follow the trends, change the genre and length and scope of your writing from month to frickin’ month. The only way to write like a pro is to do what THEY want. As in the readers, this week. To jump on the market of Now. To be on the cutting edge. To serve fads.

Kill your darlings was the litmus test of whether you were a grown-up, or just a dilettante, a whining amateur, and most importantly, a loser. Before you can submit your work, find some aspect of it that you loved, that if you were still being honest with yourself, you would admit brought you to the blank page to begin with. Then cut it. Trash-delete it and forget it. If YOU wanted to write that, it can’t be what people want to read.

Why am I Doing This Again?

Which is probably true. In the same way that surveying the damage of a battle scene would teach you the truth, that the defeated side were the losers and must not really have known what it took to win this thing. It’s faux-adult behavior (and if you can’t tell, I hardly loathe anything more); it’s cruel and unhelpful but it soothes the advice giver because they already sold their soul based on the mistaken belief that writing, by itself, doesn’t have any rewards. It can only be about money. And since NOBODY is making any money, they can derive the bizarre satisfaction that at least they are doing it right.

Sorry for the long rant, I’m an epic fantasy author and I don’t even use Twitter!

Nurture and Follow The Characters

I have followed a different path with my writing. I see the connections between characters and plots, and I recognize how messy and asymmetrical it can get. And I tell their stories anyway. I look at it as a challenge. And no question I learned a ton by working on Shards of Light.

The Ring and the Flag: Straight Up, with Some Wrinkles

After finishing my first big novel and getting roundly rejected, I fell into the arms of a supportive online group called Write Stuff Extreme. There I was exposed to the idea of e-books and the notion of shorter formats. I figured I was no good at a true short story, but when I heard that series were all the rage it hit me. I knew there was one heroic deed I had witnessed that ran the reverse of the usual plot. Instead of the heroes gathering and going on the quest, these three began completely separated and only much later become aware of the others’ existence, moving into closer and closer orbit while the clock runs down. I called it a Surrounded Plot, and I realized I could pull out each tale on its own (at least at first), bringing them together only in the finale. Captain Justin was clearly the first up. The Ring and the Flag is a classic tale of heroic fantasy with a flavor of military history. Only in a few places along the way to his crisis and response– shortest of the four books by far– are there a few hints dropped of something more going on beneath the surface. I could see a great standalone ending for his story, with several of those hooks already in the water if the reader wished to continue. {Psst! Makes a dandy holiday gift!}

Fencing Reputation: A One-Man Band

The concept I had in mind involved the characters overlapping slightly in time and showing crossover scenes from first one, then the other perspective. With the second book, I shifted to a very different kind of character in Feldspar the Stealthic, and used a new voice to tell you about him. I don’t want to give away too much but suffice to say when you go inside this guy’s mind you’re not going to get lonely. The way I see it, if a fellow who normally pursues gold and glory and doesn’t give a damn about politics decides to risk his life to help his people, then something must be happening. This tale can also be read as a standalone, in fact you could read the first two books in either order without much confusion. Still an heroic fantasy, still a happy ending. But by now it’s clear there’s more to the picture, loose ends that one could tie up.

And eventually I did.

Perilous Embraces: “You” Wouldn’t Believe

Introducing the third hero in the set proved to be the toughest challenge I faced as a writer. From third person narration in book 1, I move to first person in book 2, and now– yes, I went there– the tale of W’starrah Altieri comes in second person. I believe there are very good reasons for this and I hope you enjoy reading the series long enough to discover them. The plot definitely thickens, and the combined weight of writing about a female main character, taking in the impact of future-sight on current action, and finally getting into the conspiracy facing the North Mark… all those things slowed me to a crawl in my chronicling. At times I thought maybe I’d stopped altogether. I started The Eye of Kog later (200k words, the sequel to Judgement’s Tale) and almost finished it first. But Perilous Embraces ended with a bang, and it’s a safe bet the days of standalone endings are over. In fact, word to the wise, it is a completely unashamed cliffhanger.

That made it all the more important to get the finale written. And now it is.

Shards of Light: Harvest Time for the Character Crop

The final chapter, as it turned out, wasn’t nearly as hard to write as the one that came before it. By the time I started some of its characters had been on paper for six-plus years. I knew them intimately, saw the plot-arc clearly, found my way until quite near the end when of course everything starts to happen at once. I was very pleased to realize that I could now identify to the reader where they were, which character they were with, just by the voice I had been using throughout the series. Third person, first, second– as soon as the identifier popped up you were “there”, and I have sections where the switching is almost a paragraph at a time. Is it for everyone? Would the “pros” have accepted something written this way? I’m very sure, no. But I made the decision to write what I had seen and stay true to the tale. I’d compare the amount of labor and pain up there with anyone who highlighted an entire theme and hit the delete key. I cherished my darlings, and that produced the tale you see now.

Which is not to say that I didn’t kill any of them. But heroism like theirs, not to put too fine a point on it, survived everything. The passage of time, feelings of doubt, confusion and dismay, perhaps even death. It did not defeat them. Justin, Feldspar and W’starrah have been my Shards of Light for seven years. Now I recommend their story to you. They didn’t follow the trends, but they struck a mighty blow for Hope and I believe you’ll enjoy reading about their valor, ingenuity and above all their love.

Final Word About Artwork

My publisher the unsinkable Katharina Gerlach listened to what I wanted for the covers, added her own good sense about what would sell, and then found the ones you see sprinkled across this page. Just a while ago she showed me the finale cover art and asked “are you happy with it?”.

Happy? God as my witness, I could hardly breathe. Look ye on the scene:

People I’m telling you. That’s Cryssigens, that’s my city on fire there. Which of course is exactly what happens. This talented artist discovered by my publisher calls himself The Rafa and you can find him on Deviant Art. If you need somebody who can execute monsters, heroes and cityscapes, you could do worse. With that, here’s my cover reveal for the Shards of Light finale, curiously entitled Shards of Light. Enjoy! It will be available soon.