Back before I started in publishing, I remember listening to an audiobook and briefly considering a career reading audiobooks. I thought it would be the perfect way to combine my college experience and interest in radio with my love of books. Of course, this was just a whim and I never seriously looked into it, and even after getting my job in publishing, I never learned that much about the audiobooks business.
So when Listening Library Publisher Tim Ditlow called me to see if I would be interested in sitting in on the recording of the audiobook for Firegirl by Tony Abbott, I jumped at the chance. So last Wednesday I was scheduled to have lunch with him, Tony, and one of the producers, and then we would go to the studio to listen in.
The experience started off a bit unexpectedly--as I walked down the street towards the restaurant, I saw several fire engines and firefighters gathered in the street, and as I got closer, I noticed that the restaurant was completely empty and dark. I found Tim in front of the restaurant. There was a faint chemical smell in the air. "The restaurant is on fire!" he said. Crazy. We went back to find Tony and the producer Jacob. "Kind of apropos, isn't it?" Jacob said when we told him the news. We found a different restaurant to eat lunch, and then went up to the studio where the recording was in process. They were on page 80. We met another producer who was overseeing the actual recording, who served as the director of the audiobook, and we met the actor who was recording the book, who told Tony appreciatively how much he loved Firegirl and related to the main character Tom, because he had been an overweight kid himself with a crush on the most beautiful girl in school.
It was fascinating to hear the actor interpret the book, and wonderful to hear it brought to life. The producer would stop the actor every few lines and ask him to redo a line here and there if she felt that he wasn't interpreting it in the way it was intended--asking him to take a line slower, to not be so perky, to sound a little more unsure. I hadn't realized that she would be so hands on. At the end of the chapter, she turned to Tony and asked him if she was interpreting the text correctly and he told her yes, that he thought all of her comments were great. He also prepped her on some of the future scenes and how they should be interpreted.
I commented later that the actor and producers and later the person who had to go back and piece together all of the "good lines" would get to know the book as well, or even better than me and Tony. Tim and Jacob told us that that is why they were so selective about the type of books they signed up, that they had better make sure that they loved each one because they'd be hearing it over and over and over--sound familiar? This is the same thing editors think about when signing up a book on our end. Tim and Jacob also told us that the producer and actor may have different interpretations on how to handle the text, and that there was a balance between imposing the producer's interpretation on the actor, and letting the actor's vision shine through, too. That it was a collaborative process.
I loved hearing the text that I had read over and over brought to life, and was heartened to see that a whole new team of people had fallen in love with Firegirl as I had. I'm looking forward to hearing the whole thing when it's done.