Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Meg (not from "Family Guy")

So, I mentioned the other day that at the dinosaur museum they had a big recreation of a megalodon, the enormous great-grandad of the shark, which I assume was life-sized.
It had to have been, because I've seen people handling meg teeth, and they're huge.

For just a moment, I wished that out in the great big ocean, there could still be one of these big bastards out there.  It sounds like a made for the Sci-Fi Channel movie, except that then it would probably be called "Terrible Actress Versus Big Mutha Shark," and be spelled Syfy Chanell.

But I would really, really enjoy seeing a movie that was well-done and featured one of those things.

The C. Megalodon, or "Meg" to its friends, was between fifty and sixty feet long, resembled a roided-out Great White Shark, and only died out 1.5 million years ago.  However, the HMS Challenger discovered a megalodon tooth in 1872 that they claimed was only ten thousand years old (there was no way to verify that in those days).  Stories like that have lit a lot of imaginations on fire that there could still be a few out there that escaped extinction just waiting to show themselves when the time is right.*

You always get one of these douchey science-types who say, "No, we can't kill it, we have to study it!  Think of all the sexual positions it could teach us!"  But I think in this case, I would be one of those who'd say, "Hey, I know it just ate an entire Carnival Cruiseline of real estate brokers and reality show contestants, but couldn't we just catch this thing, since it's the last one in existence, and build a big habitat for it where we could watch it, and maybe build a whole amusement park around it?  Please?"

The photo above shows just how incredibly massive that creature would've been.  As terrified as my generation is of Great White Sharks, it's hard to conceive of a creature that could swallow a Great White whole.  But I enjoy conceiving of a world in which that creature still exists, and right now, is hungry for Republicans.

Rish Outfield, Shark Hunter

*My theory is that this is what happened to both Amelia Erhart and D.B. Cooper.  Oh, and Mikey the Life Cereal kid, Pop Rocks be damned.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Audiobook Adventures: Week 10

Ten weeks I've been doing this?  Am I insane?

Okay, so I've now, at the time of this writing, finished five projects (of thirteen), and have recorded some or all of the rest.*  It has been, well, not fun exactly, but "interesting," at least, to work on these things each day, choosing which one to work on, and for how long.

I definitely have my favorites.  The Western I talked about last week had several characters in it, which I did distinct voices for (any member of my family will recognize my impression of my dad's voice for the main character), and didn't want to have to keep straight, so I recorded the whole thing in a twenty-four hour period.  I finally marked as "Completed" the two projects I initially took on for the agent rather than the writer, and the last I heard, there are still issues with the sound quality (which, sure, are probably there, but these are projects I started in January, so they aren't going to be on the same level as what I recorded today), but as far as I'm concerned, they are finished and (hopefully) forgotten.**

And then, there's one of those early-on projects I accepted, a novel, that is just too long, and too unpolished for me to do too much of at one time.  There are so many typos and errors and moments when the text becomes present tense instead of past tense that it takes around a third as long for each chapter as it has for any other project.  And the thing is a NOVEL.  I realized this week that, to finish it before the deadline, I'd have to record a chapter a day, and have the one from the day before edited, and even then it'll be close.  I don't know what happens if you miss a deadline, but I'm pretty sure I'm gonna find out in this case.  Ah well.

Renee warned me back in January to do as she said (not as she did), and always read the story/book before agreeing to produce it.  That's good advice, Marty, but I wonder how one reads the complete work of something before the license-holder has sent it to you, and if anybody has that kind of time to kill.  Still, these works are all out there on Amazon.com, and if I had read somebody's review of a piece that said "This book is long enough as to feel endless, a million pages of rambling prose, with a typo on every single page, sometimes several.  You will pray for death before the end," well, I think that would've given me pause.

Even so, I have been productive this week.  I work pretty much every night on my audiowork, and though I've been discouraged, and it looks like I will continue to be, it's at least somewhat in my control (and wheelhouse), and I'll keep it up, at least until I finish up all my current projects.

And you know, the novel I've been slogging through has one thing going for it (besides a fantastic narrator, I mean): this guy at least tried.  He created something pretty unique, and that's what drew me to the premise in the first place.  It's not another book about zombies (the most over-drawn well in Horror today), vampires (the most over-drawn well in Horror within my lifetime), or serial killers (the . . . something); he created his own mythology, with different beings and boogeymen, with their own evil schemes and abilities, and threw a bunch of human characters in the mix to either join them or try to fight them.

I have to laud that.  You don't know how many times I have read the premise for a movie (or a podcast novel or audio drama) and thought, "Wow, that sounds really cool.  Too bad they had to use zombies instead of something else."  Okay, if you're Big Anklevich you know how many times I've thought that, because I've complained about it to him almost as much as he's complained to me about Santa Claus kids movies.

The thing is: Horror has a very low bar to clear, and most folks rely on the same-old same-old.  Hell, I was writing zombie stories twenty-five years ago, so I know what I'm talking about.  But to come up with your own monsters, your own mythology, well, that's more of a challenge, and it can crash down on you if you don't think it through.  The author of this book has tried his best to create an underworld of good and evil that's not just a carbon copy of what's come before (or sparkly poor excuses for what's come before).

That doesn't mean you should forgive typos and errors in the triple digits, but I am at least aware that there's a little sweet among the bitter.

And speaking of sweet: one person has bought a copy of my reading of "Dead End Street."  Big said it was probably the author's mother, but that $2.25 spends just the same.

Rish Outfield, Semi-Pro

*One project is in limbo, frankly, as I recorded the first fifteen minutes, uploaded it, and have waited, I don't know, three weeks?, without having it approved.  I ain't complaining, though.  It's nice to have one that I can continue to put off, while my myriad deadlines approach.

**Since writing this, I did get an email from the agent, listing the errors still in the recording, and that she didn't like me giving myself credit for the production, but those were quick and easy fixes.  So I wash my hands of them.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

"Dead End Street" Available on Audible.

So, my first audiobook reading is available over at Audible.com. I figured I'd say a few words about it (and each subsequent release) on this blog, and maybe on the Dunesteef, and maybe over at the 'steef forums. I haven't decided, though, whether I should be pretty terse and restrained on the Dunesteef, and go into a lot more detail on here.  I even considered engaging in a sort of "confessional" Q&A on the forums, spilling all my frustrations with each project, and what I thought of the piece and my work on it.

But I'm torn.  Y'see, these posts should really should be a kind of advertisement, encouraging (strongly?) fans of the Dunesteef (and my work) to go over to Audible and buy the recordings as they appear. Except for the book I finished yesterday, I get paid only if people go there and buy them, so it does me no good to say, "Hey, stay away from my production of 'Only Angles Have Vaginas' by Veronica C. Tobler, as it's a terribly-written story, I half-assed my way through it, and she spells 'Angel' as "Angle.' Also, I have it on pretty good authority that some large mammals do indeed have vaginas."

In the four years of doing the Dunesteef, Big and I have disagreed about this point, and I understand his position: if you've worked long hours on something, and it's your own name out there, it's counterproductive to say it's not good. I think my pal Jeff would say to call a spade a spade, but my friend Merrill says it's bad pool to criticize the work you're paid to do, like when Shia Unspellablelastname said that INDIANA JONES 4 was shit. 

But I have found it interesting--at least to me--to, if not criticize, at least critically examine, the stories we've recorded, at least for other podcasts. There was that one in the second person, that made me sit up and think about what exactly you're saying when you use it (see what I did there?), and I frankly wanted to talk about it.  Also, there was one story that was so morally objectionable, that I wanted to do an episode about where you draw the line, and if you can put your name on something deplorable, but not get any of the ichor on you.*

We record stories for other shows for free, using our own time, but yeah, I can see the editor of Podrapist saying, "Oh, they didn't like the story I deigned to give them, did they? Well, see if I ever let those bastards perform on House of Rape ever again."

There may be no correct answer, but I have found that I've learned things working on movie sets with bad directors, just as I learned what works with good directors like Sam Raimi, and as a writer, I think my talents benefit from reading books and stories that don't work, just as long as I recognize WHY they don't work.

There needs to be a middle ground between only trying to shill the books and outright bashing them, and I hope that someone out there appreciates that.  As an audiobook reader, I still give the best performance I can, even if I don't love the work I'm doing, and I think it's fair to say that a good actor can elevate a bad movie, or at least the scenes he's in.  That's just my opinion, though.

So, first out of the gate is "Dead End Street," written by Rick R. Reed. The man seems to have built quite a career for himself writing LGBT Erotica and Mysteries, but this is a straightforward YA horror book that reminds me, most of all, of a certain lad named Outfield, who digs writing about teens going to ordinary places and encountering creepiness.**

"Dead End Street" tells the story of five childhood friends, three boys and two girls, who as teenagers decided to meet weekly in the local reputably-haunted house, telling a scary story apiece. But their visits do not occur unnoticed.

What drew me to the story, as a reader and especially as a narrator, is that each kid tells their own story, and I could do it in that character's voice. That was probably my biggest challenge in this piece: deciding on a voice for each, and then keeping them straight.  For Pete, I chose a younger version of my own voice, for Dan, I chose a scratchy arrogant drawl, for Roy, the text says his voice has not yet broken, so he got a sort of irritatingly-high child voice. The two girls were harder, since I wanted them to sound different from one another. I did my typical female love interest voice for Erin, who's described as really attractive, and tried a snarkier girl voice for Marlene, who is the smart one, and pretty much ends up the main character of the story, so I hope she doesn't annoy anyone.

I ran my choices by Rick before starting, unsure how much back and forth there was supposed to be between the writer and the reader, but it seems the results vary depending on the writer. There have been a couple who are really hands-on and want every little thing their way, and there are a couple who have never said a word to me throughout the whole process.

The recording was fairly uneventful, and though the sound quality is not quite as clean as the stuff I'd do today was, it was a far cry from the first short stories that I edited without headphones (where you can hear every single breath and lip thaspk.***

It's not a long book (the reading ended up just over four hours), but I got to do at least eight different voices, and it's a good representative of what I do. Check it out, if you feel like it.  Yeah, I make money if people buy the book, but it'll get really old if I come on here every couple of weeks to try to get people to buy the pieces. 

The thing is, I enjoy talking about writing and recording as much as I enjoy writing and recording, and if the stats are true, there's only five people other than me who have ever even read this blog, and one of those was a piece of shit lawyer looking for a way to get me fired from yet another job.  The blog is for me, to talk about my experiences (hopefully in an entertaining way), and works as a journal that just happens to be publicly-available.

Having said that, I hope you enjoy it too.

Rish Outfield, Book Guy

*That conversation was never recorded, but strangely, the story itself never saw the light of day either, as the podcast I recorded it for seems to have gone the way of the that beautiful green frog from Las Vegas.  My guess is (and this is Not a joke) that the editor heard my recording of it, and felt exactly as I did when narrating (and editing) it.

**I wrote a story "New Year's Day" a while ago, that has a similar premise (of high schoolers going into the local haunted house), but I don't think it's similar at all.  With Horror, you can get a lot of mileage out of as simple a premise as "Girl is possessed," "House has ghosts," and "horny teens run afoul of psychotic albino."  

**No, thaspk is not a word, but is there a word for the smacking/slurping sound that a mouth makes when it opens? Of course, if that mouth is Emily Van Camp's I imagine the word is different than when, say, the Rancor's or my mouth makes it.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Pet Not-So-Smart

In yesterday's post, I talked about going to the dinosaur (or technically, prehistory) museum with my nephew and two preschool strangers. I don't know if I talked about how strange it was to be in a position of authority with those kids, and to have them (and other adults) look to me as the responsible one. I know I mentioned the slightly less than responsible act of losing one of those children, but I don't know if I talked about not knowing what I was supposed to do while driving them.

For example, the one four year old that had a carseat had one of those crotch-latches on it with the orange button. I'm talking about the carseat, not the boy. And I was really hesitant to reach down and pull the crotch-latch out from under the boy's bottom because . . . well, I don't know if that's something I should do or not. After all, with my nephews, I've changed their diapers and wiped their backsides and even showered with them a time or ten, and I figure that's alright, because I'm a pseudoparent in those cases. But with this child that is not only a stranger, but the son of other strangers, who didn't even meet me before entrusting me with their offspring's wellbeing?

Anyway, I latched the fooking carseat, morality be damned, and as I drove them toward the museum, I wondered if I was also supposed to entertain them. If I was allowed to turn on the radio or not (I know, but people are weird around here, and I once heard the next door neighbor tell my nephew to turn off the television in my house because he wasn't allowed to watch "Spongebob" at his house), if I should have them call me by my first name, or be Mister something.

I figured I might as well engage with them, at least to pass the time, so I asked them about their siblings, their favorite superheroes, if they were warm enough back there, and if their mommys were looking for a little something on the side. And at one point, as we were passing the Petsmart on the parkway before the freeway, I asked the kids if they like going to the pet store.

To my shock (I nearly said 'horror'), both Tyler and Henry said they had never been to a pet store. I clarified. "Ever? Any pet store?" Neither one had done so, and neither family had a dog or a cat or a goldfish.*

This may not be a big deal, I realize, but I'm going to pretend that it is. To me, it's not even a cultural or personal thing, like hearing when Sam Raimi's ARMY OF DARKNESS remake came out a couple weeks ago that many of today's children had never seen the 1939 WIZARD OF OZ. It's like riding a bicycle or going to a park or having an ice cream cone, in my mind. A pet store is such a simple, everyday pleasure a child could enjoy (without their parents even buying anything), that it sort of boggled my mind.

Isn't it like living in Memphis and never hearing of Elvis, or living in San Diego but never seeing the ocean, or living in Milwaukee and never having tasted beer, or spending a lifetime in Colorado or Montana or Utah and never once going skiing, or living in Vegas and never skiing, or being a New Yorker and not having been mugged, or going to Alabama and not once being called the N-word? Stuff like that?

Since I moved here, I'd say I've gone to a pet store about three hundred times, and that particular pet store, say, forty or more. Hell, it's such a unconsciously-integral bit of Americana (in MY America, at least), that I incorporated that exact Petsmart in two stories I wrote in the last year, "Baby Talk" (which I'll be forcing people to listen to in the fall) and "The Ugly Table" (which I should have been trying to convince listeners to buy for almost a year now. I may even have mentioned it in my holiday zombie story.

Again, I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with these kids' parents for never having taken them to a pet store . . . except I guess I am. My cousin Ryan friggin' hates animals (and used to torture them slowly as a youth in order to achieve erections), but I'd bet you any amount of money he's been in a pet store in the last four years.

Why the devil did I blog about this?

Oh yeah, because I don't want to edit or record audiobooks tonight.

Rish Outfield, Pet Store Advocate

*Shoot, it just occurred to me that when Tyler saw the goldfish they had swimming in the "stream" at the museum, he told me they were orange, not gold.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Babys--er, Chaperone of the Week

My nephew is in pre-school, and my sister asked if I wanted to accompany him on a field trip today, since she had an appointment that conflicted.  They were going to the dinosaur museum, which I'd never been to, so I agreed to go.  She told me the last field trip they'd gone on had had so many parents attend, that she had only had to take care of her own child, but today was not like that. 

I was assigned my nephew, and two four year old boys, both strangers.  One had a booster chair and one had a carseat, and I installed them in my sister's vehicle, but slower than all the other chaperones, so that by the time we got on our way, we were the last vehicle to leave (much to the displeasure of these children).  I haven't done anything like this in years, not since I chaperoned for my sister when she was a little kid, so I didn't know the procedure, but asked the boys their names, and whether they had been to the museum before (both had, but my nephew had not), and how old they were, and what their favorite dinosaur was.

I learned that the other two boys were named Henry and Tyler, and were both four.  Apparently neither of them knew my nephew, but are in the pre-school class that meets in the mornings.  Henry likes Spider-man, my nephew likes the X-men (although it was strange to hear him say so, since we've been so into the Avengers over the last year), and Tyler didn't like superheroes.  I wondered if they had as short of attention spans as my nephew did, and needed to be entertained, or they'd soon start twitching in need of a video game fix.  I drove onto the freeway, and we played a game where the kids had to find flags as we passed them. 

The dinosaur museum is a huge building right off the freeway, surrounded by nothing, but has been expanded on recently, and now houses the nicest movie theater in the county.  It's where Big and I saw BRAVE and BATTLESHIP, but is a bit too far to drive for my taste.  They have several 3-D IMAX-type dinosaur movies available, and I thought the kids were all going to watch one of those (which seems ludicrous in retrospect, since they cost a day's wages to get into, and are probably too scary for a bunch of four and five year olds).

They had skeletons--some of them massive--of dinosaurs displayed, with a representation of what they would have looked like alive on signs in front of each.  I loved dinosaurs as a kid, as every red-blooded, non-Commie American boy did, but a lot has changed since those days, and I recognized only a third of the dinosaurs named (my guess is, many of them didn't "exist" when I was a lad).  I think it was a bit too academic for two four year olds and a manic five year old, though, and every time I tried to read about an Ultrasaurus or Utahraptor, the boys were eager to move on to the next display.
There's something amazing, and truly humbling being in presence of bones--or indeed, anything--as old as these were.  Human beings have generally been taught that they are the center of the universe, and Americans typically believe the world only started to really spin in 1776, but to look at the sea turtle the size of a Volkswagen, or a Brachiosaur skeleton the size of a airplane hanger, or a sabretoothed cat skeleton and see they were around only ten thousand years ago . . . well, it made me feel small and newborn, not as a person, but as a species.

I don't know what age group the museum was made for, but it certainly didn't seem geared for pre-schoolers who couldn't even read the backgrounds on the dinosaurs (and often ignored the "Do Not Touch" and "Do Not Climb On Display" signs).  In fact, the only thing the children seemed really excited about was the fun with sand section in the middle.  It was a big activity area filled with sand, plastic plants, and plastic dinosaurs, and the kids could play in it with their hands.  It was all connected and a sort of roller coaster formation, and most brilliantly, they had installed tiny fountains in certain spots, that put forth a small amount of water.  The kids could make little puddles, or use the sand to channel the water, or even use a great deal of sand to dam off a section of the table.  Since I was in charge of three boys, it was rather Sisyphean to take one over to the sink, wash the sand off his hand (and sleeves), make sure he dried himself, and kept him from going back into the sand while I started on another one.

Most terribly, I started to help the kids dam up the very top of the table, using a ton of sand to block off the whole aisle, and watched the water slowly rise.  Before it could fill the sandbox and spill over, it inevitably broke through the maze, sending a torrent of water down upon all the other children's constructions, the wrath of an angry deity before our very eyes.

In the middle of this, Tyler, one of my three . . . wards, I guess, decided to run away.  I watched him go, and had to make a quick decision: go after him and abandon the two other charges before me, or let him go and keep overseeing the play of the other two (which included a child I actually loved).  I chose the latter.

After destroying the hopes and dreams of every other child that wasn't in our little group, I got the two boys, Henry and my nephew, relatively cleaned up, and we went through the rest of the museum, all the while my eyes open for Tyler, who I knew was four and had red hair.

There was an aquatic creature section that included the aforementioned sea turtle skeleton, as well as cool sea monster-type remains, and the only living members of the exhibit, some fish that were around fifty million years ago but are now used for McDonalds filet-o-fish sandwiches.*

Here's where we encountered the sole example of what I thought the exhibit would be filled to the brim with: a big representation of a prehistoric creature in actual size (with its skin on!).  It was of that unfathomable ancestor of the shark, the Megalodon.  I took a picture of my nephew sticking his head in its mouth (no one saw us), and then had him take one of me.
Remind me to talk about this monstrosity tomorrow or the next day (I am getting behind on my next audiobook deadline, but am enjoying blogging--and pretty much everything else--way more enjoyable than working on it).

The curators/designers had, unrealized (by me) until now, set up the museum to start with the oldest life forms and moving to more and more recent eras, until you get to the end, that includes human skeletons taking down a huge mammoth skeleton. 
This image entertained me in a way I express with words.
The last section showed photos of animals that have become extinct in the last couple of centuries, and several that are soon going to disappear (along with their estimated numbers left).  I could've stood there for a long, long time, and indeed, did return there and read about all the animals that have slipped away so recently, including a butterfly that disappeared in the Forties and a Las Vegas-area frog that went extinct in the Sixties.


At the exit of the museum was another child-centric display, a room-sized sandbox the kids could get into with little shovels, and dig for "dinosaur bones," which are scattered throughout the calf-deep sand.  This was the last part of the tour before you go home, and my nephew's pre-school teacher was there, making sure no children went beyond.  I scanned the various boys and girls excavating for fossils, and saw no red-haired boy. 

I asked the teacher if she had seen Tyler, and that I had lost him.  She told me she'd watch the other two boys while I went back through the exhibit looking for him.  I walked through, looking at the faces--and more, at the heads of hair--of every child I saw, but didn't recognize any of them.  It was at this point that I realized I would have to write a blog post about this, though I probably wouldn't have done so otherwise.  I made it all the way back to the start of the exhibit when I saw an employee of the museum walking with a little boy . . . a little blond boy.  "Are you Tyler?" I asked, and he nodded.

For some crazy reason, I was sure he had red hair, but it must've been the lighting in that first room that made me think so.**  The employee told me that the child had been outside the museum, apparently looking for a bathroom, and had been on his own ever since.

I took his hand and we went back on through.  When we emerged from the maze, all the boys and girls were gone from the sandbox, and most had gone home.  My two . . . whatever you'd call them, were still with the teacher, however, in addition to the three or four she was watching over.  I explained what had happened, and apparently that sort of thing is typical, because she didn't act like it was the end of the world.

I guess, if I hadn't found that little "red-haired" boy, it would have been.

Rish Outfield, Adult

*That part was a joke.  Apparently, Long John Silvers has the exclusive license on those particular fish.

**In my defense, I was looking through the photos I took, and there was one with him in it, and sure enough, he has red hair in that one.  Scary.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Audiobook Adventures: Week 9

I had a wholly positive experience this week.  I auditioned for a piece, and got an acceptance within twelve hours.  They sent me the manuscript, and I figured I'd just sit down and record the whole thing from beginning to end (yeah, I said that was foolish the last time, but I somehow justified it this time).

Kids, your voice changes depending on the time of day, how hydrated you are, how long you've been recording, whether you're tired, and whether you find Kristen Stewart attractive or not, so it's good to sit down and record at least to the end of a chapter before stopping.  If you stop in the middle of a section, then pick it up later, it will probably sound different, at least somewhat, so it's better to find a natural break in the story, so it won't be as jarring.* 

So, since it was a short story (a really short one, about a half hour total), I thought I'd record the whole thing, then edit the first fifteen minutes, and go on to the rest of the story once they'd signed off on that first fifteen.

Well, they had no issues with that first section, and gave me the go-ahead to continue, so the next day, I sat down and edited until the story was finished, then chopped it up, uploaded it, and hit "Done."  Within another twelve hours, I had gotten the whole darn thing approved.  The entire process took less than four days, and someday soon, that reading will be up on Audible, where maybe nobody will buy it.  We'll see.

But that's a pretty awesome experience; the kind of thing that would make me want to do this as a Job.  Of course, I have no friggin' idea how someone does what I do as a job.  Back in our hardest-working Dunesteef days, Big and I would record maybe five hours straight, and then HAVE to quit, because it is both vocally and physically exhausting to perform that long.  If I were to read something the size of a Clancy book, or worse, one of those gorram "Wheel of Time" monstrosities, I don't know how I'd do it.  I'd have people around me, handing me water bottles, reminding me there was an entire staff depending on me, forcing me to concentrate on the text, and showing me their cleavage, so maybe that would help.

Conversely, I still haven't finished with the very first project I signed up for, the one I've complained about often in these pages (too often?), where I'm dealing with an agent rather than a writer. On that one, she had quite a few issues with my work at the start, and I've done what I can to make things sound better since then.

In fact, I'd say that my trouble with that agent has raised the bar for all of my work this year. I've been cutting out breath sounds, listening with headphones instead of my speakers, even recording lines again if I THINK I may have made a sound with my mouth, or the chair, or the microphone, or my butt.

It's almost paranoid, but without Big in the room to listen for odd pronunciations, mis-said words, or funny deliveries, I've had to focus a lot harder on my narration than I ever did before.  I've become more and more intent on removing any roomtone from the recordings, and have strived to improve my work for all the audio-related projects I do.

I got another cash offer for a recording (bringing me to two, with all the rest being a royalty split deal) right after typing this up.  It's for a post-apocalyptic Western, and I think I can do some great things with it.  Plus, like I said, it has a dollar sign attached to it, and if you do something well . . .

Rish Outfield, Audiobook Guy

*Heck, I can hear the difference in my voice if I read a sentence and take a drink of water (or blow my nose) before reading the next sentence. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Audiobook Narration: Week 8

Well, I got to the end of another piece, reading-wise.  Now I've just got to edit it.  That's the slow, less-than-fun part of my job, but it's gotta be done.

I did have an editor who volunteered to do that part of the work for me, but I'm unable to bring myself to send him files that haven't been at least partially edited.  And so far, I haven't even dared send him that.  Guess I'm too much of a perfectionist.

That reminds me, though, of something that editor said to me.  He owns a publishing house (or he's their content editor or something), and he was talking about how "voice talent," as he puts it, create their art.  He told me that most men try to pitch their voices up to perform female characters (I most certainly do), but that Scott Brick, the greatest audiobook narrator in the world, actually pitches his voice down.  He said there was a video out there somewhere where he explains this, but I haven't tracked it down.

So, for a project with a ton of characters I've been recording, I thought I would do so with one of the female characters.  She didn't seem particularly feminine, so when it came time to read her lines, I pitched my voice down instead of up.  Figured it was worth a try.

I've just now reached the chapters where she appears in my editing.  The character sounds like a three hundred pound black man.  In a conversation with a man and a woman, your ear does not want to accept the voice with the lower register to be the female.  I feel bad about my choice, and I apologize to any listener who hears it and thinks, "the hell?" whenever she speaks. 

But I'm not going to re-voice, not for zero dollars an hour.  I'll just have to chalk it up to experience.

Well, I seem to have lost the rest of my blog post. I don't know how it happened, but I went to spell-check, and the program crashed. When I reopened it, it appears to have reverted to an earlier state of progress. Guess I'll try again.

Not sure what else I was saying, except that I did have another milestone this week: the first contract I've turned down.

I was offered the job of narrating a book of Korean religious poetry translated into English.  The rights owner wanted the book read in either an English or Welsh accent.

To me, that was a no brainer.*  I wrote them a polite note about me not being the right guy for the job, and declined the offer.  What's more, it was not for pay, but for a royalty-share scenario.  Another nail in the coffin, according to me.

And that brings me to something else I initially wrote, but is now gone.  I accepted a couple more contracts for short stories this week, and out of curiosity, I thought I'd check my stats.

I have done twenty-nine audition, and had fourteen offers.  That's a respectably impressive number, pretty much getting half of the jobs I tried out for.  Except that a couple of the offers have been unrelated to my auditions, such as the Korean poetry one. 

Still, it sounds pretty darn great to have that kind of record going.  It makes me sound kick-ass at my job.  But something I have learned in my few weeks of doing this is, only audition for jobs you really want to do.  My first batch of auditions were for whatever was available, or whichever names I recognized.  But now, I try to be more selective.  I read through the description of the piece, scrutinize the word count, and maybe check out reader reviews on Amazon.  There have been a couple auditions that I cut short while recording, or never bothered to submit, either because the subject matter wasn't my cup of tea, or the writing style (or talent) wasn't for me.  If there are typos or grammar errors in the bloody audition piece (which should be especially picked and edited beforehand), you know you're in trouble.

I auditioned for a self-help book when I first started it, and it was reeeeally difficult to perform, mostly because it was written like a textbook.  I thank my lucky stars I didn't get that gig.

Because the thing is: if you're the audiobook narrator (and editor), you will be spending more time with a particular story or book than ANYONE, save the author him/herself.  The amount of work required, even for a short story, can be substantial, and it's probably not good to be married to somebody you don't love. 

That's something I learned working on the Dunesteef, and believe it even stronger now that I'm doing this on my own.

The most enjoyable part of the process is the recording/performance part.  These stories/books are unfamiliar to me as I'm reading them, so it's been fun to discover where they're going.  Of course, I probably should be reading all these pieces beforehand.  If I voice a character in my regular voice, only to find out later on that he's elderly, or dying, or handicapped, or from Texas, well, then I'll either have to do it over, or chalk even more up to experience.  And it is always good to know where you're going, to know if something is going to be significant later, to know if you're building toward something.  I'd hate to read audiobooks the way Mariah Carey sings songs.

But I know what you're saying: "Rish, Mariah Carey has a beautiful voice!  And the Billboard charts say she's more successful than Elvis and the Beatles!  And how dare you put Texas and handicapped in the same sentence!?"

Yeah, she does have a pretty good voice.  But when you start out sing a song at a ten (in a 1 to 10 scale),  eff you as you go along.  As far as the Billboard charts and Texas, eff you on one and it was a joke on the other.

Think I'll continue editing now.

Rish Outfield, Narrator

*It's not like, "Well, Caroline is attractive and friendly and digs horror movies, BUT she also owns a Foster the People album."  It's more like, "Well, not only is Rachael arrogant, frigid, into crystal meditation, believes 'suck' is a profanity, has no sense of humor, despises all creative endeavors, bites her toetails, has an equine face, and watches MTV reality shows, but she told me she would take a crescent wrench to my genitals if I ever spoke to her again."  You know what I mean?

Friday, March 08, 2013

Writer in Progress

I've never been one for competition.  I could be perfectly content at an arcade watching others play without spending a single quarter, I could be perfectly unbothered lagging behind all the other runners in Gym class, and if everybody at a gathering was laughing and grabbing asses, well, I'd just go home and kill myself.

I do have a pathetic need, however, for praise and validation, which life--try as it might--has not been able to stamp out of me.  Not yet.

So, when Big started up his own podcast, talking about the story he's currently writing, and updating people on his progress, I couldn't help but notice.  Did people listen to it?  Did they encourage him?  Most importantly, did they really want to read the story when he was done with it?

Reader interest is extremely important for me.  I've finished stories I never would've considered because somebody asked me about them, wanting to find out what happens.  Conversely, I've had great stories-in-progress that died a cowardly deserter's death, mostly because I didn't think anyone would be waiting for them at the finish line.

But if it works for Big, and gives him the motivation to write, I guess I can too.  I've got a story I started last fall, then set aside, but in listening to Big's podcast, I've vowed to finish mine.  Maybe I can talk about it here and get some encouragement.


I wrote the above in January, and abandoned it, mostly because I finished my story rather quickly, and Big stopped talking about his.  I don't know what, exactly, became of Big's story, whether he felt like it was too big (he started referring to it as a novella, maybe a novel somewhere along the way), if there were narrative troubles that bogged him down, whether he felt discouraged and that nobody cared about his writing, or if something bright and chocolately drew his attention away, and he simply forgot it.

But now it's March, and Big and I are trying again.  At the end of last month, Abbie Hilton introduced Big to something called The Magic Spreadsheet, and Big in turn introduced it to me.*

Basically, the spreadsheet is a shared document where you and your friends (and total strangers) have to keep track of how much you write every single day.  You get a point for every 250 words you write, and rack up more points for every consecutive day you write.  Because everybody works off the same spreadsheet, you can see how well the others are doing, and they can see how you do.  In a way, it's a game or competition, but you're really only competing against yourself. 

Oh, and Mur Lafferty, but that's a discussion for another time.

Big thought the idea sounded fun, and sort of challenged me to participate in it for the month of March.  I agreed, and on March 1st, I began writing my short story "Baby Talk,"** keeping count of how many words I wrote on it each day.

I do manage to write every week, but it's usually on Wednesdays and Fridays, which are the two days I've set aside for three years now to make sure I write something.  That doesn't work for the Magic Spreadsheet, though.  Honestly, it's better to write 300 words a day for five days straight than to write 2000 words on Wednesday and 3000 words on Friday but no other time.  At least for the scores (I personally think 5000 words is probably better, mathematically, than 1500 words, but that's just me).  And what they're trying to do is get you in the habit of writing every day, which in the long run is certainly a better habit than mine of writing at least twice a week.

Writing motivation schemes are as wildly varied as dieting motivation exercises.  There was a Facebook group a couple years back where the participants vowed to write twenty-five stories in the fifty-two weeks of 2010, or else get rectal cancer.  I remember one from a few years ago where you had to write on a special website that kept track of your totals, your words-per-minute, and kept a kind of score . . . but, it had the absolutely infuriating and counterproductive penalty system where, if you stopped writing for a few seconds, it actually began to delete the work that you had thusfar accomplished.  I not only stopped using that particular program, but hunted down the creator of the program, and barbecued his children while I made him watch.

But this magic spreadsheet thing has actually worked for me.  So far, I've written eight days in a row, racking up 52 points, and apparently, 5912 words.  I'll admit that there were a couple of days where I absolutely did not want to write (especially since I had written over a thousand words on the first day, which should've earned me some free days later on), but did so because I wanted to keep my streak alive.

Also, 250 words is ridiculously easy to write, and can be done in no time.  For example, this blog post (not that it counts as writing), is already 1067 words long.  That's way more than would be required to get points on the spreadsheet.
I know myself well enough to realize that I'll miss a day, here and there.  But I've already pushed myself this month more than I would have, forcing out a few paragraphs after three in the morning, just so I could say I wrote before going to sleep.

Now, if I could only force myself to write better instead of just more often.  THAT would be magic.

Rish "Wordsmith" Outfield

*I'm reminded of the time in college when Big was trying to set me up with the lonely sister of his then-girlfriend.  "You'll love her," he told me one afternoon.  "She's got terrible eyesight and unbelievably low self esteem."  It sounded like just the sort of girl for me, so I went to her apartment to pick her up, only to return, dejected, to Big's place an hour later.  "What's the matter, Rish?" he asked.  "Wasn't she at home?"  "Yeah," I said, moping, "but when she came to the door . . . she was wearing glasses."

**Which is a title I still don't like, but what can you do?  My alternate was "Baby On Board," which I think I like even less.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Audiobook Adventures: Week 7

So, I finished editing (and uploading) all of the first book I read for Audible.  It was seventeen chapters long, and the total audio ended up being four hours and ten minutes.

That's not too shabby, really, and reading it through, I never felt that it was insanely long or anything.  In addition to the whole of the book, I'm also to record opening and closing titles, and am to include a five minute sample of each book that potential buyers can listen to to decide if it's up their alley.

This is actually a bit of a creative choice on my part, the last of the creative choices I can make, I suppose, in addition to voices, pace, accents, volume, and interpretation of description and dialogue.  To choose five minutes that best typifies the work is more challenging than I anticipated, and for the two I've done, I've had to edit a six or seven minute section down, to provide a five minute segment I feel confident in. 

It was with relief that I quickly got a response from the rights owner (the author, in this and most cases) saying that it was good enough, and required no further changes.  Actually, he said I'd done an excellent job, but I only hear the negative as y'all know, and that he had accepted it for final approval.

I'm not really sure what that entails, probably someone who listens to a sample, or puts it through their machines, to determine if it's up to snuff.  If so, it will be out there for sale at some point in the future.  I'll make sure to plug it when it becomes available.
It was a bit of a load off to be finished with one of these things and go on to the next step.  The first piece I completed was for pay up front, so I'll never know how well it does, but this one was for royalty-share, so my hope is that a bunch of people buy it and enjoy my performance.

I still have several projects in various states of completion.  Most daunting is a Horror novel that has been so slow going, I think I've only got a quarter of it recorded, and that in half of the time before the deadline.  I initially jotted down the typos and mistakes as I found them, to forward them to the author, but after filling a second page, I no longer bother.  I tremble at the thought of the March 31st deadline on that one.

Another short story I sat down and recorded from beginning to end as soon as I got the contract.  This was a mistake, I discovered, as the author had a laundry list of changes she wanted made, some as minor as an extra word in a sentence, but some as major as a character sounding too young and needing to be revoiced.  Next time, wait for approval of the first fifteen minutes before narrating the whole bloody thing.

I made a list of my projects and their deadlines and stuck it to my computer monitor.  The next dude date is for the first short story I was ever contracted to do, and should have been completed long ago.  It is also the project I've talked about most, since I've been dealing with the author's agent the whole time, and she's been harder to please than most.  Of course, that has forced me to improve my recording behavior, sound levels, my editing technique, and basically raise the bar for everything I currently do.*

Unfortunately, I sort of made a pact with Big to write every day this month (or at least see who could write the most days in a row this month), and that has derailed my audiobook work a bit.  Now, when I get tired and realize it's time for bed, I force myself to write a little bit before retiring, whereas last month, I'd force myself to record or edit.

I think I'll post this right now, though, and get to work editing something, before it gets too late.

Rish Outfield, Audiobook Narrator

*Well, except for That Gets My Goat.  No one gives a fig about that.