I’ve never listened to audiobooks.
But I have now! And I have to say, I understand their power!
As I wrote two weeks ago, helping to create an audiobook of my debut novel, The Dark Thorn, was great fun. Nick Podehl narrated it. He is the person responsible for bringing to life many audiobooks including The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. And he brought my characters and story to life with the amazing talent of his voice.
Nick also read the Tad Williams story in Unfettered, my anthology. I decided to set up an interview with him, along with Patrick Rothfuss. The anthology audiobook is out now via Audible.com and it features some of the best narrators in the business reading some of the work by the best writers in our genre.
Here is that interview, where we talk about a bunch of cool things concerning audiobooks:
AUDIOBOOK INTERVIEW: PATRICK ROTHFUSS, SHAWN SPEAKMAN, and NICK PODEHL
Shawn Speakman: THE NAME OF THE WIND and THE WISE MAN’S FEAR have been translated all over the world. They have also been adapted into magical audiobooks. In your opinion, what makes a great audiobook?
Patrick Rothfuss: Honestly, I think some books are just better suited to be adapted into audio. I think mine work pretty well in that format because I pay very close attention to my language, and I’m writing in first person, which always helps. Other books, probably ones that rely more heavily on long description or exposition, I don’t think they work as well in the audio format. ??But the key of course is the audiobook narrator. That’s the heart and soul of it right there. Anyone who has ever listened to Garrison Keillor talk about not much of anything knows that performance is 9/10ths of what makes an oral story so compelling. ??I wish I was better at reading my own stuff aloud, but at this point in my life, I am, at best, a skilled amateur. I’m better than I was three years ago, but I have a long, long way to go before I begin to get close to someone like Gaiman or David Sedaris.
I’m curious, Nick. How have you developed your craft over the years? Is it mostly practice, or are did you do things to specifically develop your skills? Like accent training and things like that? ??
Nick Podehl: A lot of what I do I draw from my imagination and from being a mimic. I hear voices in movies, cartoons, on the radio, or just in people I talk to in everyday life and think I have to remember that one and recall those voices in the studio when I come across a character that (in my head) sounds like that voice when I am preparing a book. My wife and I watch a lot of movies and I get inspiration for many voices that way. I draw on my theatre training as well for manuscript preparation and character diagramming in order to get a good understanding of intention and the motivations for characters
Shawn, where do you get the ideas for the characters and setting of your story? They delve so deeply into the world of the Celts; what brought you to write a story including these characters from Celtic mythology? Did you have clear ideas when writing what these characters would sound like?
Shawn Speakman: The process is different for every writer. For me, it always starts with a lone question. A hundred more questions happen after that initial answer and all of a sudden I am on a journey to find hundreds of answers that may—or sometimes may not—be discovered.
The characters exist because I need a vehicle to discover those answers. I think about the characters a lot before I begin writing because they are the most important part of the story. And I absolutely know how they sound. I’m a little like Pat in that regard: I know my world and characters better than anyone, obviously, and that includes speech, vernacular, accents, etc. I was thankful to have you on the project, Nick, because you took the time to get it right.
When it came to THE DARK THORN, my debut high/urban fantasy hybrid novel, the initial question was: What if the first religious crusades were not in fact against the Middle East but instead against very real fey creatures in the British Isles? I developed my broken modern-day knight Richard McAllister after that question to explore it. Readers seem to like the answers he finds.
Pat, your US audiobooks and reviews on those books not only mention your wonderful story but the talent Nick brought to it. How difficult was it to let another person work on Kvothe’s tale, albeit in a different way from writing?
Patrick Rothfuss: It has been hard. I’m a little obsessive, and very much in control of everything that goes into my books. Letting someone else pretty much entirely take over and present the books in their own way… it’s a little terrifying for someone like me. Part of me wants to be in the recording booth when they’re doing this so I can say, “Wait, stop. The emphasis on that last sentence should be on the word “husk” and can we try to get more ennui into his tone?” ??No. I shouldn’t be involved. I’m too obsessive. Besides, while I know the story, I don’t know much about the craft of assembling an audiobook. I’m not foolish enough to think I could write an A+ version of my own screenplay. I need to know when to leave well enough alone and let the professionals do what they do best.
Speaking along these lines, I’ve got a question for Nick. Have you ever tackled a job that made you really nervous? Or have you ever done a book and then had an unfortunate encounter with the author? I’m not looking for you to name names or anything. I’m just curious what it’s like from your side of the fence.
Nick Podehl: Thankfully, I have not had a really bad experience yet. Most of the authors that I have worked with have been very gracious and excited to hear what we do with the audio. There are some authors, like yourselves Mr. Rothfuss and Mr. Speakman, who have been very involved in the process with character input, pronunciations, and the like. The ones that make me really nervous are the authors who don’t give me any input. Then I feel as though all the weight falls on me to do what they want without any idea of what it is they actually want. I much prefer the collaborative efforts of a group project. I think it turns out the best performance and the richest experience for the listener.
Shawn, after going through the process of me hounding you for characters, pronunciations, and a general dissection of your book, would you do anything differently if you could?
Shawn Speakman: There are always things I would do different with every project I encounter. I’m new at this and learning. We had two long conversations on the phone a week before you went into the recording studio though and they were great. You asked fantastic questions about accents, voice sounds, accents, and motivations.
In retrospect though, I wish I had started the conversation earlier. I used to speak and read the ancient Celtic languages due to my college studies but a lot of time has passed since then. I tried calling in one of my former university professors into the process to assist with proper pronunciation but he was in the thick of midterm exams and couldn’t contribute to our cause. We did our best, Nick, and I’m proud of the work we put into the audiobook. But I suffer from the same problem Pat mentioned earlier: If something is going to be done, it has to be done absolutely right with absolute confidence.
If we missed a proper pronunciation, it’s on me. I haven’t had nightmares yet about it so that bodes well!
Pat, Nick called me with a lot of questions about pronunciations on THE DARK THORN. Fantasy is filled with odd names for characters and places. Were there any such names in the Kingkiller Chronicle that you really hadn’t thought about how to pronounce but Nick jumped in to help???
Patrick Rothfuss: I think I had something along the lines of 15 pages of pronunciations I needed to clarify for The Name of the Wind. I spent a couple hours on the phone, and they recorded me saying each of them as a reference. Most of them weren’t any trouble. I know how to pronounce all the people and places in my world. “Kvothe” and “Elodin” and “Imre” it’s all very firm in my head. ??That said, a couple of the pieces of the Fae language in the book. That was hard. I had designed the language to be very Other, and It didn’t exactly trip easily off the tongue. ??Sorry about that, Nick. ??What do you do when you can’t get the author to use as a reference? Or what do you do when there are languages in a book that you’re not familiar with? Like if someone in the book speaks a few lines of Gaelic or Hebrew?
Nick Podehl: I think it is great when authors use more obscure languages, even made up ones! I think it adds so much depth to a story. That said, it can be very difficult when trying to figure out how to pronounce those languages. If the author does not know, then I have to turn to a network of resources to try and get the pronunciations. In the audiobook world, narrators and directors have “people” they turn to for help. They have an Italian guy or a Yiddish lady, people who they know who are experts or native speakers. If it is a really obscure language, we look up pronunciation guides for similar language sets as guidelines. There are also great resources out there online that showcase native speakers pronouncing words and phrases. We do our best to be as thorough as possible because as I am sure you guys both know, fantasy fans are very meticulous and detailed. If we get something wrong, they will call us out!
Shawn, when you started off writing THE DARK THORN, did you think that it would be made into an audiobook? At what point in the process did you learn that your book would be narrated?
Shawn Speakman: I never dreamed that THE DARK THORN would be turned into an audiobook. That was very far from my mind. When I started the journey of publishing the book as a hardcover, I was wrapping up cancer treatment. You could say I was thinking about other things. When I put the UNFETTERED anthology together to pay off the medical debt I had accrued from not having health insurance, I was approached by Audible for rights to both books.
I’m super excited about the audiobook of THE DARK THORN. It’s a wonderful way to experience a book and it was great seeing the process from the creative side.
Nick deserves all of the credit for the work he’s done though. He was amazing to work! If you haven’t heard his work, definitely try a sample from THE DARK THORN or THE NAME OF THE WIND. You won’t regret it!
To end this interview, be sure to visit some of the writers online! They are holding giveaways for audio copies of the anthology!
Until next book…
Shawn Speakman is the author of The Dark Thorn, an urban/epic fantasy hybrid novel bestselling author Terry Brooks calls, “a fine tale by a talented writer.”