When I was first writing the essays in There’s a Hamster in the Dashboard: A Life in Pets, I was reminded by many that I should consider turning the manuscript into an audiobook. It did make sense. I have had a successful career in broadcasting and had narrated other projects before, although not books. But it seemed a natural project to work on, considering my background. Still, narrating your own work is a daunting idea. I am a broadcaster and radio journalist, but I am not a professional book narrator.
“She read books as one would breath air, to fill up and live.” —Annie Dillard, The Living
It takes a special talent to bring the words off the page. Some of the best at it are the VERY best. They take narration into the stratosphere. It’s not as simple as it may sound. Still, I believed no matter the task, I should be the one to tackle it. After all, the book is memoir, these are my stories, and who else should be conveying their meaning in audio than me?
The book’s publisher—Dream of Things in Chicago—relinquished the audio rights to me and I set out on the journey. I won’t get into every nuance of the work, but I must tell you it’s not just a matter of reading into a microphone. It takes a skilled engineer and a top-notch studio. But most of all—it takes a brand new familiarity with your words. Sure, you wrote them and you should know them better than anyone else on the planet. But interpreting them in sound is another level of knowledge, one that only reveals itself when you begin to read aloud.
Like many writers, I have done readings at book signings and the like, but there is an audience at these events. It is a very different dynamic. You can play off the audience, sense their vibe, connect with them as you read. It is not the same inside a small sound booth with only your engineer on the other side of the glass.
Hamster is roughly 45,000 words. A short book, relatively. Still, it took nearly nine hours of studio work to produce a three hour audiobook. Professional book narrators tell me that’s not very long. I would assume my background helped compress the time. Still, I could not work more than two hours at a stretch. I found my concentration and energy level dramatically waning if I would try to push it any longer. At the end of each session I needed a nap.
The final audio files are being produced and the audio version of Hamster will soon be available at Audible and Amazon. I’m proud of the work, proud of the stories, grateful to my very talented engineer, Pfil Fujiwara, and thrilled with the final product.
I hope to do more audiobooks of my other works in the future. As long as I can still get in the occasional nap.