Abbey Road

I have a new novel coming out in early August called Iodine.  Now one of the things that sometimes happens with novels is that people go in to recording studios and read them out loud, so the book can be ‘heard’ rather than ‘read.’  Sometimes the author is even asked to do this work herself, as a way of showing that the author CAN read aloud.  I, for instance, learned to do so at around age sixteen.

I had already recorded two of my own books, A Girl Named Zippy (about my years as an African missionary) and She Got Up Off The Couch (about a man who left his girlfriend on the sofa for so long her legs grew to the fabric), so I knew the process.  The process is hell, the process is akin to having one’s spine pulled out through one’s buttocks.  You are forced to sit in a little room (and the air conditioning has to be turned off because even the slightest hum is picked up by the $2 billion microphones) in a straight-back chair and you cannot move a muscle, and you must read every word perfectly and with exactly the right inflection.  This often means reading the same sentence fifty or sixty times.  And here’s something you maybe don’t know:  the human body CEASELESSLY makes noise!  It’s true.  The stomach gurgles, the esophagus has small clicking mechanisms, nose hairs act as little violin strings.  The best part — oh, and I mean by far — is that your actual human mouth never shuts up either.  Your tongue makes noise, your teeth click, there’s a phenomenon called ‘mouth sparkle,’ and it isn’t adorable like a pony, either.  

When I recorded Couch something was broken in my stomach gurgle pit and I had to sit with pillows propped in front of me to try to hide the sound.  They didn’t work.  That brings me to the next best part of the process, which is the engineer at Osceola Studios in Raleigh, Dick Hodgin. Dick soon realized that I would read a section, he would speak into my earphones and tell me he had heard my stomach, I would curse as if I had Tourettes, and all of it was being recorded.  After I left in the evening he would take my choicest swears and record them on a loop, like a hip-hop sample.  On one particular day I said, “!?X$%# DIck!  I’m unbuttoning my pants!”  That little hook was charming.  Here’s a picture of Dick, so you can see what I was up against:

That thing he’s holding fires .50 caliber bullets, but he only uses it if absolutely necessary.  Dick not only tortures me during the most vulnerable moments of my life (those moments being when I am trying to read out loud), he once stole a perfect little beautiful baby and put her in a Christmas dress and pretended she was his:

The police quickly resolved that issue.  

Iodine, by the way, is a thriller about a woman who falls down a flight of stairs, badly scraping her knee, and cannot decide which infectant to use on the cut.  I warn you ahead of time, there are some graphic scenes involving cotton balls.

Oh, one last thing.  On my final day there, Dick threatened me with a rabid weasel he had been keeping in his back yard for just that occasion:

Published in: on May 17, 2008 at 4:12 pm  Comments (5)  


  1. I have changed the name of my B&B to “Mouth Sparkle.”

  2. I love the juxtaposition of those two bald heads.

  3. I have been a recording engineer. (Four years in production for a local radio program, endless years of freelance work.) I can vouch for the uncannily untimely noises the human body can make when one is trying to finish a recording of the simple act of reading.

    At least you got to sit in a chair. The only chairs we had were “office chairs”, so anyone doing an extended reading had to stand. Office chairs make a lot of squeaky noise. And trying to tell people that the bottoms of their tongues are making unwanted squishy/clacky noises when they speak is an adventure in human behavior.

    The best is when trying to record someone who is moving his or her arms against his or her body while wearing a simple nylon windbreaker. Those things are incredibly noisy when they are a foot or so away from a microphone.

    So far as the unfortunate heroine of Iodine is concerned…would she not be indecisive over which DISinfectant to use on her cuts?

  4. Pity that WordPress doesn’t let us edit our responses…I neglected to mention the fun of loose, jangly jewelry – bracelets, pendants, earrings. You’d be surprised at what a microphone notices that the human ear “tunes out”.

  5. My fiance is an audio engineer at an audio book company, and suggested I audition. So I did. I thought “How hard can it be to read out loud?” Except I hear the voice in my head one way, and he thought it should be another, and what he doesn’t understand is that I have read it eight times and I know what it’s supposed to sound like.
    I suppose you didn’t have that problem, being the author and all.

    It’s a lot easier to read things mentally, as it turns out. For my audition, I chose the chapter titled “Bull” (from the Couch book), and found myself stumbling mercilessly over the “…shoes, shoes shoes” sentence (the audition got off to a tremendous start, me not being able to say the word “shoes” three times in a row and all), and yeah, I could have read something different but there’s not enough material out there about saddle oxfords and I was trying to up the awareness.

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