The Magic Shop Audiobook and Narrator Interview

The Magic Shop Audiobook and Narrator Interview

The Magic Shop is out on audiobook format today for the first time! If you don’t have audible yet, you can click this link for an audible 30-day free trial and get The Magic Shop for free. If you want to check out an excerpt of the audiobook version of The Magic Shop, check out this post.
Equally awesome news is that the wonderful Steve Barnes (narrator of The Codex) is back to narrate the cast of crazy characters for The Magic Shop. I recently caught up with Steve to ask him a few questions about narrating books, and the process he goes through to bring them to life. 

Steve Barnes – The Mii version 🙂

Tell us a little bit about yourself?
steve barnes

Real picture of Steve Barnes—Not a Mii.

I feel incomparably lucky to have existed this long without having been eaten by anything yet.  (On the whole, that’s an unusual privilege.)  On top of that, there’s interacting with goats, and looking at stars, the Internet, and built-in imaginations, for God’s sake – it’s absolutely incredible.  Um… you’d think that might not be specific to me, but feeling as though I’ve apprehended the situation in that way probably is the jumping-off point for my choices in life.
What was the inspiration behind becoming a voice actor?
I’m relatively new to published voice work – I’ve spent a lot of time working on music, art, stage shows, films, web pages, games… all of which function as gateways to allow someone to swim around in the imagination of someone else.  (And: oh hai, VR.)
I probably received the inspiration for audiobooks specifically through other performers.  I remember planning to record a Terry Pratchett novel or something just for fun before Audible existed.  I love the format itself because it combines an actual performance with intimacy and virtually limitless leisureliness which film versions of books can’t afford.  (In a way, one of my favourite films is that ages-long episodic adaptation of Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth simply because it seemed designed on the principle that it should match the book detail-for-detail; it evidently treats the author’s words as the truth about the universe rather than some kind of malleable brainstorm, which I think is how it should be.  If an author says something happened, then it happened – it doesn’t even matter whether it makes sense.)
Can you tell us a little bit about the process of narration? What does your recording setup look like (what kind of mic, audio software, etc.) and where is it located?
I’ve been asked by curious people whether equipment is prohibitive, and it’s not.  As with most things audiovisual, reaching a technical quality of 90% of professional requires a little money, but approaching 100% requires a lot.  And it’s better to skillfully use okay equipment than to unskillfully use great equipment.  I’ve tried a few mics for narration, and I’m just using a sub-$100 cardiod mic at home – again, this has mostly been something I’ve done in my spare time for fun.  I hear narrators often experiment with crannies and closets to optimize their recording conditions.
What has been your favorite book to narrate?
I’m not sure I can pick one.  I’ll always have a place in my heart for Michael Wallace’s Starship Blackbeard universe – a sort of futuristic British Empire world with a colourful mixture of regular and transitory human and alien characters.
Any funny or interesting things happen while recording?
Perhaps funny to bystanders if they saw how stifling, haphazard and bizarre the internal journey can be – improving within countless hours of recording sessions feels robust and gruelling.  It’s amazing how quickly you become aware of your own idiosyncratic speech habits, and how many of them you discover up and down a seeming hierarchy of subtlety.  And since it all happens in isolation, it’s possible (and useful if done wisely) to become obsessive in examinating and updating them.  I’ve never done a novel without having felt like I’ve improved, and the “improvements” are usually the ticking-off of another handful of such subtleties.  Not to mention your awareness of external noises – I’ve never felt so much like anthropomorphizing the neighbour’s faucet or passing internal combusion engines just so I could momentarily be angry at them.  As though we needed another reason to applaud renewable energy.
How do you get into a book/story?
Occasionally time has only allowed me to sit down and cold-read – one perfectly respectable approach to narration is to read the text pleasantly and clearly with minimal interpretation – but I really prefer the chance to ingest a book, become a fan of it, envision the world, and most importantly, envision and empathize with the characters.  In theatre, it’s rare not to spend weeks on just one role, so it seems almost jarring not to take time preparing to perform an entire book by an author you may just have met.
How do you prepare for all the different characters and their tones/vocal ranges, and/or do you have a “library” of voices that you’ve created that helps you match voices to characters?
Audible listeners seem to have adopted the term “character differentiation.”  I’ve come to think of character voices as multi-dimensional things which vary along individual axes; the more aspects there are to vary, the more voices you can potentially create that a listener can distinguish.  Suppose pitch is a basic one – a listener can tell a higher voice from a lower voice, all other traits equal.  But if there are three or four characters, not so easily.  That calls for another attribute along a second axis – high-pitched and gentle, low-pitched and gentle, and low-pitched and irritable.  And so on, until you’re able to be as specific as “low-pitched, frontal, somewhat nasal, irritable, hurried and articulate.”
And even that’s pretty technical compared to the ideal of just feeling like you “know” a character, which for me sometimes happens over the course of a few chapters.  (Sometimes I’ve re-recorded certain characters’ earlier chapters for that reason.)  And that’s not even to mention regional dialects, which add another distinct dimension when appropriate.
What’s the best piece of voice acting advice you’ve received?
I’ve seldom sought acting advice, except maybe to listen to what the narrators I consider models say when they talk about it.  (Though I’ve worked with hundreds of interesting actors.)  I think that’s because I’ve done so many kinds of things previously that I’ve concluded the only real mistake you can make is to forget your own whimsy is the main ingredient.  Anyone relying overly on advice could forget that.
If you could choose any book to record, which one would it be? And which would be your worst nightmare?
Maybe a hypothetical book written by one of my closest friends, all of whom I think would be great authors.  I’ve enjoyed projects least which feel like attempts to capitalize on readers through flashy marketing in lieu of substance, or which neglect conventions and aren’t well-edited.
Any other projects you’re working on now, or recently finished?
I’ve hardly ever taken a break since starting, so I’d suggest anyone genuinely curious just search Audible.  Surprisingly, I’m still the only Steve Barnes narrating Audible releases – I don’t imagine that will last long.  (I once had a phone invitation to speak at a convention on the understanding that I was Steven Barnes, the sci-fi author.  Perhaps accepting it would have been a smart career move.)
There you have it. You can check out more of Steve’s voice work here if you’re interested! Don’t forget to check out The Magic Shop on audiobook here
Crimson Pact Author Interview

Crimson Pact Author Interview

I was recently interviewed among a handful of other Crimson Pact Authors. I’ve included the interview below, but if you’d like, you can visit the original page on AlliterationInk’s site here.    

Roundtable interview with ten of the Crimson Pact Authors!

  As Halloween, All Saint’s Day, All Souls’ Day, and the Day of the Dead swing by, how better to celebrate than demons? Or at least, getting into the heads of authors who brought you the demons of The Crimson Pact. We’ll be running this interview in four parts through Saturday… and check out down at the bottom for a special deal! Participating in this roundtable interview are ten authors, who between them have stories in all four volumes of The Crimson Pact. After reading the interview, stop by their blogs and websites and say hi! The authors in this roundtable are (in no particular order): Chanté McCoy,Elizabeth ShackJM PerkinsKE McGeeJustin SwappMichaele JordanRebecca BrownRichard Lee ByersSarah Hans, and Stephanie Lorée. How do you cope with writer’s block? Sarah Hans: I don’t really believe in writer’s block. If I’m reluctant to write or unhappy with my current project because it has taken an unexpected turn, then I deal with that by taking a few days off and thinking about it until a solution comes to me, and then I return to the project with fresh eyes. Or, if the deadline is coming up, I just power through and keep writing. A lot of writers will tell you to write every day, but I find that makes me miserable. I only write when I have something to say. I frequently take a week or two off from writing if I’ve got too much else going on. Elizabeth Shack: So far, I’ve had no reason to believe in writer’s block. Maybe it’s my journalism training—when you have to fill 10 inches, you have to write 10 inches. Not inspired? Stuck? Too bad. I also juggle multiple projects—short stories and pieces of a novel—so I can jump around when I need a change of gears. Eric Bosarge: What’s that? No, seriously, I’ve never had it last more than a day or two and, usually, if I don’t know by then, I force myself to write and find the answer as I go. Justin Swapp: Change. Writer’s block happens because something isn’t right. Maybe I don’t like something about my most recent writing. Perhaps I get down on myself. Maybe I read a negative review, and I begin to doubt myself. When that happens, I do something different. I try to identify what might need an adjustment, and I add the change. Also, I change what I do throughout the day. Maybe I drive to work a different way so that I expose myself to something new. Maybe I write in the evening instead of in the morning, like I usually do. I just start changing things. I might even just start writing something new. Typically that will get he juices flowing again. Michaele Jordan: I always have several things in process. When I get blocked on one, I jump to another. Sometimes I have to jump several times. Sometimes I have to start a new story. Occasionally I have to write a story about what’s going on in my life that is so thinly fictionalized I can’t use it. But I’m always writing something. Chanté McCoy: Staring at my computer rarely cures my moments of writer’s block. I become frustrated or bored, then wander off and do laundry. The best way for me to break through and brainstorm is to go on a hike by myself or to walk my dogs in the neighborhood. I hit on an idea and – by the time I return home – I have a scene practically written. Once I walk in the door, watch out: I’m hell-bent on getting those ideas on paper before they flutter away. Rebecca Brown: I’m not sure I ever get writer’s block – I’ll just keep reading and writing until _something_ ends up on the page… or else, I’ll take a break, do something else and come back to it. I’ll have blanks on a piece I’m trying to write sometimes. When that happens, I’ll do another quick project, maybe something in an entirely different style or genre. I’ll write haiku to get myself started some days, or sonnets. Limericks about people I know or things I’m going to do. Anything, as long as it gets me going. K.E. McGee: I pick the person in the room most likely to be a serial killer and write a short story about them. While writing, do you take drugs, smoke marijuana or drink alcohol to beef up your creative imagination? Why or why not? Sarah Hans: I write sober. I’m imaginative enough without it. Alcohol makes me tired and silly and easily distracted, which makes writing difficult. Michaele Jordan: No. I have no particular objection to altered states, but those are the wrong states for working. Elizabeth Shack: No. Two of those are illegal, and the third doesn’t help. Alcohol clouds my brain, and I need all the brain I can get. For beefing up my creativity, I prefer sleep. What are the most important attributes to remaining sane as a writer or editor? K.E. McGee: Is coffee an attribute? Elizabeth Shack: Patience, self-confidence, and being a natural optimist. I’d add perseverance, but that doesn’t help with sanity, only with getting the work done. Justin Swapp: Find the part that you love, and try to do that most of the time. For me, its being creative. I like to come up with the ideas, and to connect the dots. I like to create a sense of mystery. I hate editing though. When its time to edit, I try to motivate myself to get through it as quickly as possible by remembering that I want to get back to being creative again. I look for ways I can be creative in my approach to editing as well. Rebecca Brown: Sane? What’s that? I think it’s important to take breaks from your writing and remember that there’s only so much time you can devote to it. There are people who know me who will read that and demand that I listen to my own advice… But then, I never claimed to be sane, did I? Sarah Hans: I avoid reading the bad reviews, but when I do catch them, I take them as a challenge. I try to be better the next time. You can let the bad reviews and rejection crush you, or, as my friend Patrick Tomlinson says, you can let them hone you into something sharper. It’s easier said than done, obviously, but keeping that in mind helps me get back up after each fall. Rejections and bad reviews are, unfortunately, inevitable. Another tip: if opportunity doesn’t come to you, make your own. Reach out to other writers, editors, publishers to see what projects you can get involved in or start. Attending conventions is great for this, but twitter, facebook, and google+ can be great tools as well. There’s so much competition out there, you can’t wait to be discovered. You have to be proactive! How do you react to a bad review of one of your books? Michaele Jordan: Heavy sigh. JM Perkins: I’m not sure I know what you’re talking about… *cough*Try to cycle through the five stages of Grief as quickly as I can*cough*. Can you tell me about a time you worried that someone would recognize themselves as one of your characters? Rebecca Brown: I’m _always_ worried that someone will recognise themselves as one of my characters, even if the character isn’t based on them at all! If I’ve recently had a falling-out with someone, I’m very reluctant to write any character who is similar to them in case they think I’m taking out my frustrations through my writing – which I do, of course. It’s a creative _outlet_ after all. On the other hand, some of my friends know I’ve written characters based on them and they love it. Sarah Hans: I wrote a flash story on my blog called “The Cupcake Tattoo” and included an analog of my cousin. It was a very personal story, and I knew there was a chance she might be offended, but I told myself not to worry about it because I didn’t think she read my blog…well, apparently she does. Fortunately she found the story touching and left me a really sweet comment. It meant the world to me and opened me up to writing about my life, and characters that are more personal to me, which I think makes my writing better. So if you’re hesitating to write about your personal life, don’t. Tapping into those relationships and emotions can give your writing authenticity and resonance, and you might be surprised by the reactions of those whose likenesses you’re borrowing. Thanks again to all the authors in this roundtable: Chanté McCoyElizabeth ShackJM PerkinsKE McGeeJustin SwappMichaele JordanRebecca Brown,Richard Lee ByersSarah Hans, and Stephanie Lorée. Remember, this rountable interview goes through Saturday the third, just like the discount at Alliteration Ink! Use code ALLSOULS for 10% off your entire order of ANY eBook if you buy it directly from the Alliteration Ink digital bookstore (ePub/Kindle formats for all titles, many with PDF as well).

Interview for “Inside Monastic Walls” — A Crimson Pact Short Story

Recently I did an interview with author Chanté McCoy about her story in the first volume of The Crimson Pact. Her very interesting story is called “Inside Monastic Walls.” The transcript of our interview follows.

Interview for “Inside Monastic Walls”

Okay, so walk us through your story. Can you give us a synopsis?

“Inside Monastic Walls,” is set in Greece at one of the monasteries atop the otherworldly Metéora. A priest arrives on the scene, and then strange things begin to happen. The story is told from the perspective of a naïve pre-adolescent boy, who has a limited understanding of what is happening, but the reader picks up on clues, that quickly suggest demon possession.

I particularly liked your description of where the first priest is holding his hand over his chest and his eyes are rolling back. Very interesting description, very vivid.

Thank you.

Where did you get the story title?

The title refers to the setting which is in a monastery. I woke up too early one morning, hoping to fall back asleep. Instead, as my mind jumped around, I started thinking about Metéora, this cool UNESCO site in Greece that my husband and I visited a few months earlier.

Metéora is this collection of tall, pillar-like mountains, and a handful of monasteries perch on them. The mountains alone are interesting, but add in the isolated Greek Orthodox monasteries, and wow. What a fascinating place.

I started thinking about what life must be like there. Then, because I’m free associating and apparently have a bit of twisted mind in the wee hours of the morning, I thought about, what if one of the priests were possessed? I’d recently drafted a novella on a variation about zombies, and the cross-over with demon possession, is that, at the heart of both story types, there is a sudden personality change, that new capacity to hurt even those who are closest.

So, that was the starting point, the germination of “Inside Monastic Walls.”

Very cool. I loved the setting, very easy to get involved in your writing, into the environment. So do you plan to write a sequel?

Why, by golly, I have written a follow-up short story. The story continues down in the village, at the foot of the mountains. Phideas is on the verge of “giving birth,” but he manages to find Darrius Papadas. Unfortunately, Darrius isn’t who Phideas imagined. He’s a goat herder and whether he can help do anything is a big question mark.

So, is it a flash piece or is it a short story?

It is a short story.

So, I was reading a little that you’ve been writing for a while as a corporate writer?

Yeah, I’ve been writing for a long time. That’s like asking how old I am.

Oh, I wasn’t trying to go there. I read in your blurb after your story in “The Crimson Pact,” the first volume, that you’re a corporate writer and that you prefer writing the good stuff as opposed to the technical stuff.

Oh, yes, I much more enjoy what I think of as “creative” work. I certainly never intended, as a child, to become a technical or marketing writer.

I started dabbling with short stories and really bad poetry about horses in fifth grade. I guess I received enough feedback to continue and have been writing since. So, it’s been awhile. I don’t want to throw a number on it because it makes me feel ancient. Suffice it to say, I’ve made a living as a writer, albeit a corporate one, but now I’m seriously submitting my fiction and articles, and getting the ball rolling on writing that I find more interesting.

I also read that you’ve published some children’s literature. What have you published?

I’ve published a handful of pieces, including an article in “Boy’s Quest” and some stories in “Confetti.”

Why are you switching from children’s fiction to more adult fiction?

I’m planning to continue with the children’s also. Going to try to juggle both.

Very cool. That’s kind of fun. I’m glad to see your flash in Crimson Path. It’s a great story.
At the end of the story, do I understand correctly that the boy is pregnant?

Essentially, he is carrying another life within him. He’s not pregnant in the traditional sense. Obviously, he doesn’t have an uterus.

What projects are you currently working on?

Well, I have two big pieces brewing. I mentioned earlier the novella with the zombie variation. “Scabbies.” My take on them is that they’re not brain-dead and slow. On the contrary, they’re still intelligent and fast, which I think makes for a far more frightening antagonist.


It has a comic tone, so I had a lot of fun being cheeky with it while building this apocalyptic world.

At the center of the story is a relationship breakup because the protagonist’s girlfriend has turned. So, it’s more personal too, not just some deranged stranger out to get him.

Here’s the quick pitch for “Scabbies”: Dealing with the end of the world is hard enough, but dealing with heartbreak might be the death of Jim. Hell hath no fury like a Scabbies woman, and his ex-girlfriend has set her sights and dinner plans on him. If he survives this break-up, he swears, really, seriously this time: no more relationships. Next time, he’ll get a cat.
“Scabbies” is in the polishing stage, so I expect to be submitting that soon.
My other project is a novel in the works, tentatively titled “Summer of the Pine Needle Bonfires.” I don’t have a nice, neat pitch for it yet. It’s a coming-of-age tale about a young girl in the summer of 1974, as she deals with the fall-out from her infamous father’s imprisonment and escape. While her father pays the price for his crime, a price is exacted from his family too. The girl, buffeted by events and the whims of adults, resorts to imaginative outlets to deal with all this, to create a safe place and to survive. It’s part fairy tale, part reality, where the edges begin to blur.

You’ve been busy. [laughs] The novella, the novel, the flash…

Well, I’m easily distracted.

Well, I’m very interested in reading all your stories.

Thank you.

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