Thursday, February 28, 2013

Fix Flix 37

Haven't checked in with these guys in a while.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Audiobook Adventures: Week Six

Here we are, talking about recording audiobooks again.

So, remember how I said last time that I had been letting some of my book duties slide, and concentrating on the ones that were more fun?  I may or may not have voiced my fear that eventually the deadlines would sneak up on me, and I'd have no more time to slack off.  Well, it's a valid concern, but it must not be a major one, because instead of working on my current projects, I spent last night auditioning for new ones.

As it stands, I have had six contracts.  One was for a short story I have completed and have been paid for.  Another was for a short story I have already recorded, and am slowly editing.  Another had the first fifteen minutes submitted and are awaiting approval.  Two were for the same agent, and I did resume work on one of them this week.  One of the novels I accepted I have recorded completely, and have been uploading the chapters as I finish editing them.  I accepted two more project offers today, which brings me to eight total.

This may be madness, but it's also an extension of what I said before.  It's fun to read about new projects, and send in my auditions for them.  What's not fun is sitting in the dark, editing out mouth noises, breaths, and trying to fix stutters, or worse, microphone sounds.  But that's the part of the job I can do anytime; I have to have silence to actually record audio, and in a house with two children (and three miles from an airport), it's sometimes hard to find that silence.

I oughta just concentrate on one piece, work on just that, finish it, and then plug it here.  That would be new, to be able to talk about the art instead of the work.  It would also be fun to talk about the projects I've done on my podcast, as they become available.

I will try that, with the book I have recorded.  Hopefully, it'll be done and awaiting approval by the time I next blog.

Oh, and yes, here's more nonsense.  I almost forgot.


Rish Outfield, Audiobook Narrator

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Loss in Translation

This is a topic I'll probably talk about with Big in an upcoming episode, since we chat so often about writing (heck, I may have already talked about it and forgotten), but I haven't been blogging about anything other than audiobook reading, so I figured I'd go ahead.

I was recently invited to be the "featured writer of the month" for a horror podcast, which basically selecting a story and performing it for a show that will, coincidentally, air on my birthday.  I thought it was pretty freaking cool that someone would give me the honor, so I immediately tried to think of a story that was a) appropriate for the show, b) potentially effective with me doing all the voices, and c) short enough to qualify for their guidelines.

Ultimately, I thought it would be best for me if I wrote a new story, since it accomplished two nice personal goals that way.  I started to think about it, to come up with a horror story that would work.  Of course, it being me, I ended up coming up with the same story I always write*, just set in a desert instead of the woods.**

But I was pretty thrilled with this version of that old story.  In my head, the pieces started to come together, and in a drive to Jeff's house, I had the beginning, middle, and end, and two twists, one good and one bad.  It feels great to create, and I was pretty happy with this one.

BUT . . . I'd not actually accomplished anything yet.  As I've discovered over the decades, my brain is really good at coming up with scenes, interchanges, scenarios, and even endings, but it's up to my body to write them down.  And it's not just writing them down that's needed.  Somehow, I have to translate the images and blobs of thoughts in my head to words, specific words in a specific order, restructuring those amorphous ideas into something concrete, something specific.

And therein lies the rub, sir and ma'am.  I think--Think, mind you, with a capital T--that this is a really good idea for a story, basically three students unloosing something evil, and a really good angle at telling it, basically a lonely old man going back to the place where his life fell apart, just wanting to see her face once more before he dies.  It has the potential to be both scary and impactful, and I have something personal to say about it, since I am that old man, just with more hair.

But how do I tell the story?  Do I start with them young, then move linearly to the old man's story?  Which is the main story and which is the coda/prologue?  How much dialogue and interchange can there be in there and still fit into the podcast's time requirement?  Does my original unhappy ending work, if I really think about it (ultimately, I decided it did, with a minor tweak)?  Do I have to end it unhappily?  Is the story even scary?  What do I name the ancient evil?  How about the character names?  Can I refer to erections in a story like this, since appears that half of America's population sees those as the true boogeymen in life?

This is a struggle I have with, say, one in three or four of my stories.  Usually, I just write them, thinking, "This might be a cool story, let's see what happens."  But every once in a while (heck, it might be rarer than one in four), I come up with something and think, "This is great!  Wow, did I come up with this?"  And then have the uphill climb of making the great idea into a great story.

In the last year, I wrote two stories like that, both based on great ideas I had bouncing around in my head.***  The first, "The Calling," came to me while driving down to my cousin Ryan's house.  It felt like my brain was playing Tetris, or putting a puzzle together in my head, and I was all but bursting to talk about it when I got there.  I told him the story, from beginning to end, and he replied, "That's pretty cool.  Was that a movie you were describing?"  I guess that was a compliment.  I tried hard when writing that one out to keep it tight and rein in my excesses, but it ended up being pretty long.  My biggest challenge on that one was to figure out how to convey the enormous amount of exposition I had without just relying on what Abbie Hilton calls an Info Dump.  I came up with a structure I was happy with, and basically created three separate info dumps, which I hope didn't bother anybody. 

"The Calling" was really well-received, as far as it's been read, and I suppose that means I was able to translate the great idea to a great(ish) story.  Mission accomplished.

The second story was about a kid in a casino and his best friend, playing Texas Hold Em, and the kid has had too much to drink.  It was a horror story that I, unwisely, chose to call "Know When To Walk Away, Know When To Run."  It was another great idea in my head, but as I wrote this one out, it just wasn't working.  It was short and sweet in my imagination, and really scary.  On paper (or on pixels, I suppose, since I never printed it or wrote it longhand), it just didn't work.  It wasn't as sad or confused as I wanted it, and it certainly wasn't scary.  I couldn't figure out how to fix it, either.

I consider that one to be a failure, although at least one person who read it said that he liked it.  And as sad as I am about that, I keep referring back to it in conversation and my podcasts, as if I learned something from it.  And what I learned was: it's hard to translate something from my head into written English.

So, back to the Great Idea at hand.  I think I know the structure I want to tell it in (basically bookends with the present, and the majority of it told in the past), and it seems like I can keep it short, even with a paragraph or three about loneliness (and yes, one sentence about erections).  I believe I'll try to make it a horror story with dramatic elements, rather than the opposite, which it could easily switch to.  I think I'll call it "Unreleased," which for once is not a pop song title, and I'm certain I can write it out, revise it, record it, and have it edited by my June deadline.

Whether it becomes a Great Story, however, is up in the air.

Rish Outfield, Writer

*This is an oversimplification.  I think I probably write three stories over and over, but this was definitely one of them.

**Sadly, it looks like this one is going to start in the woods too.  Guess that makes me a hack.

***I originally had "great ideas" in quotation marks, but eff it, they were great ideas.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Audiobook Adventures: Week Five

So, I've been at this for over a month now, and it's been a learning experience.  I originally wrote an insanely long blogpost last week that talked about my accomplishments and struggles, then talked about auditions, but I split it up so it didn't read too much like a novel.  Here's the second part.

I probably said this before, but I really feel like, if I could do this for a living, it would be something I could do well, and would be a great fit for my particular talents. Of course, every job is work, and even if you love what you do initially, you find that wanting to do something and having to do something feel very different. Because I currently have an out-of-character positive attitude about this, I've been sending out quite a few auditions.

Auditioning is something I have never enjoyed, and never being very good at. Over the years, I auditioned for a handful of plays, and a couple of movies and TV shows, and it unnerved and depressed me. I hate putting myself out there for others to judge, and it probably shows, since I never got much real work from auditions. I imagine wearing a Speedo on the beach is a similar experience, though you might at least get a tan doing that.

In audio, though, I can be anyone. I can pretend to be tall and muscular, I can pretend to be English or from a big city, I can pretend to be an older man or a teenager, I can pretend to be cool, handsome, and confident, I can pretend that my schwanzstugger just barely fits in my Speedo. It is freeing and empowering, and I've auditioned for many audio dramas over the last two years, actually winning a couple of sought-after roles.*

The audition process for Audible.com is really easy and straight-forward, and I have submitted over a dozen. Last night, I discovered one where they were recording in audio a bunch of horror stories written for pulp magazines in the '30s, and I was so excited about it that I didn't go to bed until after four, trying to get mine recorded, edited, and submitted before I went to sleep.

I don't think I got the job, which my ego can barely comprehend, but I did get a mysterious email from the rights holder that may lead to more work. We'll see.

When I first discussed this with her, Renee Chambliss told me there was initially no self-published work available to record for Audible.com, because they were trying to keep the quality of the material they offered high. But now, greed must have softened their lil' hearts, because that has recently changed, and Renee told me to make sure I read things through before I volunteered to record them.

I had one I was auditioning for last weekend that was so full of bad grammar and nonsensical sentences, that I finally had to stop recording and simply abandon it. If I agreed to produce it--and I can't imagine any actual professionals beating me to it--in addition to reading and editing, I'd have to go through and insert commas where there were none, and fix sentences and bad phrasing so that it sounded natural. So that it sounded like English.

And even if I were willing to do that (which I'm not), does bad writing make me sound like a bad narrator? I wonder if it's possible to do harm to myself by accepting everything that comes my way. After all, Renee said she regretted producing one of the books she's done. But at the same time, there was one I saw the other day that said that while the book was weak, her narration was excellent. So I don't know.

Which reminds me, I got an invitation to record a romantic short story (the subgenre was Big's favorite, the "Paranormal Romance"), and I considered turning it down. It's told from the female lead's point of view (it's a little like that Meg Ryan/Hugh Jackman movie from a decade ago, I forget the title, but Sting got an Oscar nomination for the theme song), and is awfully sweet and x-chromosomey.

I sent the writer an honest email, telling her that, while I would do the work if she really wanted me to, in reading it over, I felt it would work better with a female narrator, and that listeners would be jarred every time I voiced the main girl's thoughts, in my "oh-so-manly" voice. Somebody like Renee or Scribe would make it work better, or if we could do it with a full cast, it would be perfect.

We'll see what the author says.
***
I initially wrote that last week, and have since heard from the writer.  She agreed with me, and said that if I had a woman around me, I'd be unstoppable.  I'm not sure what that means, but she did end up giving the part to someone else.  I don't regret that, since it would have sounded awkward to have me reading it, like getting Sir John Gielgud to record a Western, or Val Kilmer to read a Batman book.   Optimally, a man and a woman in the same studio, alternating between male and female characters on the same recording would be an incredible achievement.  But to do it separately, with, say, Renee recording in California, and me recording here, then having to edit the two together would be a Herculean achievement.  I'd do it for a short story, yeah, but a novel would be dealbreakingly difficult.

It's hard to determine how much work to put into this.  I've currently got several projects in differing states of completion.  Obviously, the ones with the closest deadlines will probably get the most attention, but I have been trying to cycle through every single one of them, recording a chapter on one today, editing a chapter on another tomorrow, etc.  As I said when I got my first contract, they give us plenty of time to get these bad boys done, but I have to admit that there are a couple that I give more attention to than others.  And the criteria for that choice is simple: which one is more fun?

That's no way to run a business, I know.  I'm frankly still a bit sore about the multiple rejections I got from the agent, however deserved they were, and I haven't touched one of those projects in going on three weeks.  That can't be professional (which is ironic, since the reason I nearly canceled the contract was because I didn't like being told my work was nowhere near a professional level).  There are literally hundreds of things that compete for my attention, each and every day.  I am not good at sticking with a task.  Heck, I've got four files open right now, in a state of mid-edit (one story, one novel, one Dunesteef, and one for bloopers), and instead of working on any of them, I'm typing on my blog.

Alright, I've convinced myself.  I'm going to open a fifth file, the one I've left alone since January.  I'll work on it for an hour or so.  Who knows, maybe it'll be fun again.

Rish Outfield, Audiobook Narrator

*Though not the one I really wanted on the "Firefly" podcast, which as far as I know, never even aired a single episode.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Audiobook Adventures: Week Four

Hard to believe I've been doing this for a month now.  But for me, anything I start and am still doing four weeks later has to be an achievement.  I even stopped killing drifters a while back, and have not resumed the pastime . . . yet.

So, this week, I actually had two milestones of sorts.  The first was that I finished recording and editing one of the projects.  It was a short story, so it wasn't a monumental achievement, but I recorded it, and spent several hours trying to get it in perfect shape (which, I'm sorry to say, was just not possible, not unless I wanted to re-record a couple of lines here and there, and then have them not quite match the dialogue around them, which would, again, prevent perfection), and finally uploaded it all yesterday.  If all is accepted, it will be out there for absolutely no one to listen to within weeks.

The second milestone was concerning that agent I had been dealing with since my very first day with the company.  She sent me two contracts, but I was never able to get her a sample that could please her.  I believe I mentioned that I went out and got a new cord, and recorded the first chapter for the third time, edited it, and sent it to her, adding a note that I was satisfied she would be satisfied with it this time.

Alas, she was not.  She said there was still too much background noise, and when I played the sample back on my system, I heard nothing.  I had submitted two other fifteen minute samples to other authors, and neither of them said anything about any noise, instead showering me with praise and giving me the go-ahead to finish the recordings.. 

I threw my hands up in the air (probably just metaphorically, since I'm more of a kicker than a hand-thrower), and sent the file to Big Anklevich to see if he heard any noise.  He listened with headphones, suggesting I do the same, and sure enough, there was the sound of my computer fan mucking things up for me.  But he was able to isolate and eliminate that sound, and when I sent the file in that he had cleaned . . . I finally, amazingly, had the sample accepted.

This was good news, except . . . 

Except that I was now at the mercy of my friend, my generous, but busy and overworked friend.  I have been in partnerships before where I was able to do a ton of work, but I had to depend on another for that work to go anywhere.  And it sucks, because I can't really accomplish what I need to that way.  And this audio work was intended to be something I could do myself, whenever I got some free time and (much rarer) ambition, without having to depend on anybody else.  Guess I don't play well with others.*

I sent Big a couple other recordings, asking him to clean them up for me.  In the meantime, I tried it out myself, attempting to replicate what he did, this time using the other story sample the agent had rejected.  It was just a matter of lifting out the subtle sound of the computer hum, but not so much that my reading sounded garbled.  I sent in my cleaned-up version, and this too was accepted by the agent (although she did mention that my sample didn't sound as good as my friend's, which I disagree with about a hundred and twenty-seven percent, but ah well).

So, I'm finally going forward with those two projects (one of which I've read the first chapter of four times, and never read further), and I hope to have those two finished before February is over.
This has the potential to be good for me.  I have five contracts to do work so far, and an author told me she liked my audition and had something she wanted to hire me to record for her after the weekend.

So, this has been a good week, and I'm looking forward to the next one.  I am enjoying it, for the most part, and I know a lot of people can't say that about their work.

Rish Outfield, Audiobook Guy

*This is also a stumbling block for me when it comes to self-publishing my stories.  I've had a couple of people say they'd be happy to put something together for me and see if I couldn't sell my writing on the internet somewhere, and while I appreciate that, what I need is to find a template where I could enter the text of the story/stories, upload/draw something for cover art, and put it out to be purchased myself.  That way, I could proofread a story, and put it up to be purchased every month or so.  If it didn't sell, ah well, but if it did, I'd be motivated to put up another one, or a collection, or write new stories solely for the purpose of self-publishing them.

As it stands, I can't depend on others to do it, no matter how generous they are with their time.  Without knowing how to do it myself, it's doubtful I'll get any of my work out there.  It's more likely that you and Taylor Swift will ever, ever get back together

Friday, February 01, 2013

Audiobook Adventures Part 3

So, this is my third week, trying to be an actual, professional audio book narrator.  On the positive side, I got a contract sent to me to do my fourth book* and I'm starting that one today.  It seems easier than the others, since it's closer to the sort of stuff I write, which I'll elaborate on when I've finished it), and is not long.

On the negative side, the agent that rejected my first three fifteen minute samples hasn't gotten back to me on my "final" reading.  She did send me an email asking if I was going to send in another fifteen minutes for the second book they contracted me to record, though.  I, however, wanted to hear if my newest attempt passed or failed before I recorded anything else for her.  I said "final" in quotes above (though I suppose I could have capitalized it) because I decided not to do it a fifth time if the fourth was rejected.  They could go ahead and give their zero dollars to somebody else, you know?

It's been a learning experience.  I have found that there is a bit more to doing these recordings than just an unbelievable, nearly-unearthly talent for voice work.  Apparently, you must also have equipment that does not suck, a quiet (preferably silent) work environment, patience, and the ability to inhale without making a sound, even in the middle of character acting.

Did I mention patience?

The bit of instruction Big and I stress most often to writers who want to read for audio is to READ THE PIECE ALOUD before considering it done, or worse, sending it out for publication.  In these readings, I have discovered a number of typos, incorrect words, and a sad couple of sentences that make no sense.  I've been noting them down to send to the authors, because I would want someone to bring that to my attention if it were one of my stories/books.  I did hear back from one writer, though, who said it was "a bit late" to make any changes, since, I don't know, the book was on shelves in every home in America, next to the Bible, "Treasure Island," and "Fifty Shades of Grey."

This weekend, I got to "The End" of my first recording.  Which is to say, I got to the last page, since no audiobooks actually finish up with the words "the end."  Yet another thing I will never get about professional narration (usually, they'll just go into the Author's Note or copyright legalese, and sometimes they'll say "you've been listening to 'I Know Now Why The Caged Butt Sings' by Gerald Q. Anklevich," or even "This is the end of 'To Mock a F**ckingbird' by Navin G. Marshall."  But in what way is that better than "The End?").

The recording, before editing, was just over six hours long.  I've now gotten it to 5:05.  With final editing, I think it'll end up at four and a half, maybe shorter.  My goal is to have that done this week, get it uploaded, and move on to the next one.

I believe I may have intimated (or outright said) that the author of this first book is not a published professional.  If so, I didn't mean it the way it sounded.  I merely meant that, in my first two contracts, I only dealt with the writer's agent, never with the writer herself, and this was someone who was representing himself, and who I assumed had self-published the book.  I have since discovered that he's written several other works, many of which have been critically praised.  I'd hate for him to think--or somebody who hears me talking about the process--that I think the book is poorly-written or unprofessional.

I'll talk about the book when I'm finished, but I really enjoyed narrating it, and I'm hoping it ends up being a fun listening experience for all involved. 

Renee and Bryan both mentioned that there was a learning curve for them as they first began the process of audiobook reading, and Renee seemed outright embarrassed by her first recording, so, if I can keep up the . . . work (I nearly said "good work," but that just ain't me, despite my opening paragraph), I think the experience can get quicker and less painful.

We shall see.

Rish Outfield

*I had a feeling I'd get this one, since the author put the entire first chapter out there as his audition piece, and my guess is, very few would waste that kind of time just to audition.  Of course, if you got the job, you'd already have your first fifteen minutes ready to upload.