On April 15, the University Press of Mississippi released my new book “Stone Motel – Memoirs of a Cajun Boy.” To help launch it I had arranged a nearly three-week tour of Cajun Louisiana and New Orleans. The tour was to include appearances in bookstores, readings, book signings, media interviews, and a whole lot of travelling around in a rental car. I had also managed to cram into that schedule several days of recording-studio time to begin working on an audiobook version.
My good friend, musician and recording artist Isadar (aka Fabian Thibodeaux) had agreed to handle the sound engineering and lead the full administrative management of the audiobook development process, from soup to nuts.
But then, just a couple of weeks before the day that I was to board a plane from New York to Baton Rouge, the previously un-alarming rumblings about the arrival in the U.S. of the Covid-19 virus turned into full-on May-Day warnings, and the world started shutting down. I wasn’t about to get on a plane.
After more than a little bit of disbelief and denial, I rather quickly accepted that, clearly, there wasn’t going to be an in-person launch of my new book. I had to pivot. Feverishly I began to work on social media, which I had earlier envisioned as a supporting strategy to the in-person work, not the primary strategy. There was cold comfort in the knowledge that I wasn’t alone in this – all new book launches were going to have to happen the same way. Handling social media (which involved my blog, a dedicated Facebook page, posts on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and Liker, and the urgent recording and uploading of homemade videos to my new YouTube channel) was all very doable from my laptop, sitting at the dining room table.
What wasn’t so pivotable? The audiobook. Having never done one, of course I had imagined that, in the comfort of a professional recording setup with Fabian at the helm, it would be a piece of cake. I’d go in, record for a few hours each day, Fabian would take it from there, and then we’d wait for the magic.
The research about best practices in audiobook-making reveals some common must-haves: in addition to 1) a talented recording/audio professional (Fabian) and 2) a capable reader (Me, since it was important to me that the Cajun accents in my audiobook were legit); we would need 3) good, high-fidelity recording equipment; 4) a sound-proof room; and 5) lots of patience.
A quick phone conversation assured us that, were we to try to accomplish this at a distance, in our respective locations 1,500 miles apart, we already had items 1, 2, and 5 in place. It was reassuring to learn that getting item 3, a good high-fidelity recording device, was quite easy from resources online. The only deficiency (besides the fact that neither of us had any experience whatsoever in the making of an audiobook) was item 4, a sound-proof room in which to record.
Up here in the Catskill mountains, in the house I’ve been in since the shut-down began in the spring, there really is no soundproof room. Nonetheless, Fabian and I agreed to do the audiobook from afar, and that we’d give it our best shot. I would have to make do with one of the little bedrooms upstairs in the house. Because it has two windows, which let in lots of outdoor sound, I recorded in fits-and-starts, stopping when I heard birds beginning to chirp, our dog barking, or the loud rumbling of a fuel-delivery truck passing on the road. While this might not seem to be too big of a deal – it was THE biggest deal for me as I anxiously recorded myself reading the manuscript with my ears attuned to what was going on outside. This unavoidable reality meant that I would be recording, re-recording, and re-re-recording sentences, paragraphs, and full chapters, throughout the process. With the exception of rainy days (when the rainwater rushing down the gutters of the house meant there would be no recording that day), I recorded for several hours, seven days a week. This went on for weeks.
For his part, Fabian waited at his home in Louisiana for me to send him audio files each day (there are 44 chapters, a prologue, and an epilogue in my book). Once downloaded (we used Dropbox to get them back and forth through the ether) he had LOTS to do. In addition to adding pieces of introductory music to each chapter (from one of the songs in his extensive catalogue of original music), he would need to check for sound “blemishes” (like a bird chirping, “tsk”s, or mysterious pops) in the recording, determine if he could correct for those, or if I would need to re-record sentences, paragraphs, or full sections. Once I had gotten through all 46 parts (once composed, more than 8 hours of recordings), there was much more technical work for him to do to comply with the specifications provided by Audible, our targeted distributor. Even if we were to get everything perfect – which we had accepted as impossible – we were not given any assurances from Audible that they would accept the audiobook – so we were working on blind faith that all of our effort would somehow pay off.
After weeks of back-and-forth, including each of us listening to the edited files against the manuscript to make sure we’d not inadvertently lopped off something along the way, Fabian was able to send the final files to Audible in early July. Their pro-forma follow-up emails informed us that in about 30 days, we’d know if our project was acceptable as is, needed some re-doing, or was not up to snuff (ie: we’d need to start over or scrap the project altogether).
On July 24, nearing midnight, Fabian received an email from Audible saying that the audiobook was live and ready for world consumption. So, while we had some pretty harrowing times to get it to the finish line, the audiobook is now available for all the world to hear. It ain’t perfect, but Fabian and I are pretty damned proud of our work all the same (especially because it was accomplished during these surreal times).
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