Category Archives: audiobooks

Making of an Audiobook (ah-dee-oh-book)

I can finally answer the question Will Becoming Dr. Seuss be available on audiobook? with an emphatic yes. The team at Random House are hard at work to bring the book to audible life for you by May 7. And no, as the author, I do NOT read the book. Trust me, you don’t want that. Instead, that job goes to the hyper-talented Mike Chamberlain, whose voice I love for this book.

What I do get to do as the author, however, is sort through an enormous spreadsheet filled with the names of people, places, animals, and things, and write out–as best I can–phonetic pronunciations for each that can then be referenced by Mike as he’s recording. For the most part, it’s the names of real people (such as Mike Frith, Roy McKie, or Walter Retan) whose names we want to pronounce correctly (or, at least, make a good faith effort to do so) or places with foreign or just-plain-unusual names like Maastricht, Bastogne, or Agawam, Massachusetts. I send a lot of e-mails verifying the pronunciation of names, and I also rely on the audiobook producer to verify some of the foreign words (while I suffered through one semester of German in college, I wouldn’t presume to try to definitively pronounce Schutzenverein).

However, as you can imagine, when it comes to a subject like Dr. Seuss, the book is also filled with lots of made-up names and distinctly Seussian words that every reader might pronounce differently when reading it aloud. A word like Lorax is one thing; but even something like his dear Truffula Trees might be pronounced differently from reader to reader. I tend to say it as “TRUFF-uh-lah.” Others I know know say “truff-YEW-luh.”

What to do then? In this case, I referred to the 1972 animated special–produced during Dr. Seuss’ lifetime, with his involvement–where the pronunciation is . . . TRUFF-yew-luh. We were both close.

Still, in lots of other cases, it’s not so clear. What do you do, for example, with words like:

  • Dingleblader
  • Heumkia
  • Bvorlyjk
  • Mnpf
  • Grimalkin, Drouberhannus, Knalbner, and Fepp

These haven’t exactly entered the vernacular in the same way that, say, Sneetches or Grinch has. In these instances . . . well, I think any pronunciation you hear in your head when you read it is probably right. But for the audiobook, we had to make our best guess.

So if you’re one of the devoted audiobook readers of Becoming Dr. Seuss and one of the Seussian words doesn’t sound quite right to you . . . take comfort in knowing that our pronunciation is right. And so is yours.

What’s Up This Week

Happy Jim Henson’s Birthday Week!

Jim Henson would’ve turned 78 years old this coming Wednesday, September 24–and as always, there’ll be plenty of people commemorating his life and work all over the web and other media. Heck, I’ll be one of them. Here’s a bit of what’s in store for this week:

Today, I’m thrilled to be over on This Happy Place blog, talking Jim and Muppets with Estelle Hallick, one of the biggest Muppets/Jim Henson/Disney fans anywhere. You can see our conversation right here. As an added bonus, we’re also giving away an e-book, as well as a complete and unabridged copy of the audiobook — all 21 1/2 hours on 17 CDs — signed by Yers Truly.

On Wednesday, I’m taping a podcast with the crew at The Assembly of Geek, which should be available for you to listen to and download the next day.

And on Thursday, I think it’s high time I officially announced what my next project is — and on which I actually just completed the first chapter this past week. Stay tuned.

Credit Where Credit’s Due: The Audience Is Listening

17288885I have to confess to not being much of an Audiobook Guy. It’s nothing personal; I’m mainly just a Book In The Hand Guy (worse yet, I’m  a Hardcover Book In The Hand Guy), and if I have a choice between listening to a book and reading it, I’d rather just pick it up and read it rather than find my iPod, untangle the headphones, and listen to it.  It’s really just a matter of preference, and your taste is your own.  

All this is just set up to explain to you why it took me so long to listen to the audiobook version of Jim HensonMy first book, Washington Irving, never made it into audiobook format. But with Jim Henson, I was told on day one that the audiobook would be released on the same day as the hardcover.  That sounded pretty good to me–and I said so–then thought no more of it until early June 2013, when the audiobook process kicked in. To my surprise and delight, I was being asked to listen to a short audition tape from a potential audiobook reader — while I had no actual say over who could or couldn’t read the audiobook, it was really, really cool to be looped into the process and asked my opinion.

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The versatile Kirby Heyborne.

The producer for the audiobook–a talented guy named Aaron Blank–had a reader in mind from the very start: Kirby Heyborne, a versatile voice actor, singer, and comedian who, Aaron assured me, had exactly the sound the book needed. (Hey, wanna see Kirby starring in a recent Best Buy commercial? Here ya go.) I listened to the short digital file Aaron e-mailed me, and I did like it — but the particular sequence he had sent me was all exposition; there was no dialogue, no characters.  I e-mailed Aaron back and asked if it might be possible to hear Kirby reading as Jim, or maybe even a quick Muppet segment. Moments later, there were several digital sound files in my inbox of Kirby reading as Jim and Frank Oz and Kermit–and they were all terrific. I was sold.

I sent Kirby an e-mail saying hello and letting him know how happy I was that he was reading — and Kirby sent a very nice note back, and we dutifully followed each other on Twitter, because that’s what you do, you know — and there was much rejoicing. After that, the only other interaction I had with the audiobook team was a phone call in which we went over various pronunciations, such as “David Lazer” (pronounced like “laser”) or “Wontkins” (pronounced like “WON’T-kins,” and not “want-kins”). Everything was in capable hands.

Flash forward now to the fall of 2013. I received the audiobook along with the hardcover . . . and put it on my bookshelf, where it sat silent and un-listened to. I knew the audiobook was a hit — Frank Oz specifically asked for a copy, while over on Salon, Kyle Minor called it “one of the most pleasurable audiobooks I’ve spent time with this year”–but I still hadn’t found the right time to listen to the thing.

Finally, in January and February of this year, I had to make several lengthy drives into Virginia, and decided to take the audiobook along with me. (Is it considered gauche to listen to your own audiobook? I really don’t know.) From the moment I heard Kirby read the prologue, I was driving with a big smile on my face — Kirby had gotten it down perfectly, even reading some lines with the same beats, the same inflection that I had “heard” as I was writing them. And he does a great job giving every main “character” in the story their own voice, whether it’s the somewhat lyrical tone he uses for Jim Henson, a more cynical, tougher edge for Frank Oz, or his dead-on impression of Muppet performer Jerry Nelson.

There were also times he put on a voice that made me laugh out loud–while driving!–such as the Lorne Michaels impression that sounded like the one Bob Smigel used for his “TV Funhouse” cartoons on SNL (“Come back here with my shoooo!”) or the way he said drawrings (instead of drawings) when doing Labyrinth screenwriter/Monty Pythoner Terry Jones. And his David Bowie? Forget it; he killed. It was a lot of fun, and more than once, I found myself sitting in the car after arriving at my destination, engine off, just listening to the rest of a particular section.

And so: here’s my Official Thank You! to Kirby Heyborne for making me — and Jim, and everyone else — sound so great. Many thanks, Kirby — I truly appreciate it.

Can You Hear Me Now?

Ever listened to an audiobook and thought, “Reading a book out loud seems pretty cool.  I could totally do that, if only someone would give me an opportunity.  And man, I could so go for some pie right about now.” 

Except for the pie part, you’ve got your chance during the American Library Association’s annual conference here in Washington, DC.  Random House Audio will be setting up a recording studio inside OverDrive’s Digital Bookmobile — which will be parked right across the street from the conference site at the Renaissance Hotel on 9th Street NW — and inviting aspiring audiobook readers to come read a passage from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  Eventually, the audio clips will be edited together, in a sort of audiobook mashup, to create a “community sourced” audiobook that participants can download. Pretty neat, huh?

Anyone can participate — you don’t have to be attending the conference, though you do have to be in DC.   The Digital Bookmobile will be parked outside the hotel, ready for you to step up to the microphone, on June 25, 26 and 27.  Start practicing your Tin Man voice now.

For more information, go here.