Audio Tips for Authors

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So, I was supposed to release The Inquisitor’s Gift as an audiobook this month. That’s not going to happen. Acts of nature and inexperience have delayed the release. For the first time, I can say that the climate crisis has affected my small business. The heatwave in Europe took its toll on my narrator, who became gravely ill. We also ran into some technical difficulties. This is my second audiobook, and I believe it’s this narrator’s first. Hopefully, things will come together soon.

In the meantime, I thought I would share some of the things I’ve learned about proof-listening. If you’re an author trying to publish an audiobook on ACX, the publishing arm of Audible and Amazon, you’ve probably realized that they don’t offer many resources to “rights holders” a.k.a authors in nonlegalese. Although they do have a Help section and a large FAQ, I’ve rarely found the specific answer I needed. Here are a few things I’ve learned.

What’s Unreasonable?

For instance, the contract between the rights holder and the producer (usually the narrator), says the author should not make “unreasonable” editorial requests. Um…that’s pretty vague. I asked an experienced voice actor to help me understand what that meant.

Basically, “unreasonable” is expecting the narrator to be able to make one character sound exactly like James Earl Jones and the next sound exactly like Bishop Briggs. Don’t do that. “Unreasonable” also means expecting the narrator to rerecord the entire book because you’ve suddenly decided you want it to have a different vibe.

You’re in This Together

It’s also important to understand that this is a collaboration, so an author should allow the narrator–especially if he’s a voice actor–to exercise some artistic control. Yes, you know the characters and the story better than anyone, but sometimes an actor can surprise you by what they bring to a role or scene if you let them.

Nice Matters

Positive feedback is important. Everyone likes to be appreciated. You know what it feels like to have someone tell you only what they don’t like about your work. Remember to tell the narrator what he’s doing right.

Some Basic Terms

Although it isn’t technically the author’s job to identify audio issues (the producer is in charge of this), it doesn’t hurt an author to know a few audio terms to make communicating with an audio professional easier. (And c’mon, what writer doesn’t love learning jargon and vocabulary!)

  • Plosive–also called a “p-pop” this is that puffy sound when someone says a hard consonant like a “P” or “T”. Sometimes it will happen at the beginning or end of a word, and sometimes the entire word will have a puffy quality. If you’re listening with good speakers (and you should ALWAYS proof-listen with the best speakers you can) it can do more than sound obnoxious–it can physically hurt. An experienced producer will know how to edit these, or what sort of equipment or posture to use to avoid making them at all.
  • Mic thump–this one’s kind of obvious. It’s that knocking or thumping sound when the mic is interfered with in some way.
  • Mouth click–a smacking sound. These occur naturally when people talk, but we don’t usually notice them in day to day conversation. However, a mic will pick these babies up and ruin an otherwise good recording. Some producers have tricks to reduce these during a performance, but sometimes the only way to handle them is through the editing process.
  • Mouth noise–these can be loud breaths, wheezes, swallowing, gurgling, etc. Basically, any human sound that distracts from the listener’s experience. Although there are breathing techniques an actor can master to reduce heavy breaths, not everyone knows how to do this. In this case, these sounds can usually be edited out. It’s okay to have some breath noises, however. If all of the breaths are removed, the recording can take on a robotic quality. Quiet, non-distracting breaths–or breaths which are part of the acting–are fine.

If you hear any of these noises when you’re proof-listening, write down approximately where they occurred so the producer can fix them. However, it is not the author’s job to comb through a chapter for several hours writing down each and every one of these. If you’re hearing a lot of plosives or clicks, simply tell the producer that the chapter contains a number of whatever the noise is called so he can try to fix them.

Proof-listening Bonus Tip

A tip I learned from a site that creates audio copies of classic books is how to write an error so it’s easy for the audio person to understand. If the narrator deviates from the text in a way that changes the meaning of a sentence, write:

I hear: The woman asked when the prince lived. Text: The woman asked where the prince lived.

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Happy creating and happy listening!

Upcoming Audiobook!

Later this month, the audiobook version of The Inquisitor’s Gift will be coming to Audible! With all of the misogyny going on in the world today (ahem, looking at you, Mr. Trump), I think we all need more femdom romances. Femdom means the woman is the dominant. Move over alpha males! Get on your knees. (Maybe your hands and knees….) It’s high time a woman was in charge.

cover The Inquisitor’s Gift isn’t just about how hot it can get when a woman plays rough, it’s also a story of redemption and self-discovery–an exploration of power and love.

Petal Brightbone is a strong woman living in The Glorious City, the capitol of the Grandimanderian Empire. A survivor of sexual abuse, she serves the emperor as an Inquisitor, wringing confessions from political prisoners. For the purposes of breeding more people with magical powers to serve the empire, Petal is locked into a loveless marriage with a man who wishes to impregnate her so they can please their superiors and get tax credits. She is a creature of duty and habit, but she enjoys rebelling in small, secret ways. (Like using a shield spell to prevent pregnancy.) And she prides herself for being good at her job, breaking her prisoners with words when possible, through force when necessary.

When the new prisoner she must break is the magic instructor who starred in all of her naughty teen fantasies, she feels, for the first time since becoming an Inquisitor, torn between her duty to the empire and her desire. It doesn’t help that he’s an arrogant man who’s as stubborn as he is handsome. And not only does he harbor a hatred of the Overfather who rules the empire and a secret that could change everything, he also has a secret that pique’s Petal’s private interest. A secret that whets her darkest appetites.

She’s a pragmatist; he’s an idealist, and they’re on opposite sides. Can a shared fetish unite an unstoppable object with an immovable force? Or will their lust destroy them both?

 

 

My Fiction is My Truth

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Therapists often recommend journaling to people dealing with mental illness and trauma. I’ve never liked journaling. Maybe it’s because I get too self-conscious or because even my old wounds often feel too raw to record in some blunt, dry fashion. Instead, I write fiction. I’ve dealt with my trauma through fiction from a young age. I’ve learned to cover my experiences with layers of grit, imagination, and distance to create weird pearls that I hope others will enjoy. This is how I process pain, both personal and existential; this is how I grieve, scream, cry—this is even how I plead for justice or beg forgiveness.

Right now, someone reading this who has read my books is cocking his head like a confused beagle. “Um…your books are romances about kinky people getting it on and fantasies about people with horns. Some are comedies. How, exactly, are you dealing with anything writing stuff like that?”

While journaling can feel like trying to mold clay filled with broken glass, the creativity of writing allows me to be honest while wearing a mask.

I change people, places, and things—but the emotions and some of the basic building blocks have my soulprints all over them. While journaling can feel like trying to mold clay filled with broken glass, the creativity of writing allows me to be honest while wearing a mask. I guess it’s like Oscar Wilde said, “Man is less himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”

So, while I’ve never lived in a pre-industrialized dystopian empire like Elarhe in Lover, Destroyer, he and I both know what it’s like to be an outcast, to mourn a murdered friend, to be homeless, and to yearn for things that seem beyond your grasp. While I’ve never destroyed an entire kingdom like Kite, his shame and insecurity resonates with me because it’s how I felt when the relative who sexually abused me died when I was sixteen. I didn’t feel as relieved as I did ashamed—like I had somehow killed him with my quiet, clumsy rage.

I wrote the last pages of the silly romantic comedy, His Dungeon Discovery, with tears streaming down my face because a situation reminded me of the death of my beloved emotional support cat, Sand, after his long battle with kidney failure and heart disease. The situation in the book is actually quite different from my real life tragedy, but the feelings are similar.

In Zen Alpha, a contemporary gay romcom, Bradley’s mother is a narcissist who belittles and gaslights him. My own mother was a toxic narcissist who committed murder by proxy, killing pets to frighten and control her children. Bradley’s mom doesn’t seem quite as evil in comparison, but Zen Alpha is intended to be a heartwarming story, and it was more fun to write about a self-absorbed old belle than it was to write about dead animals.

Fiction allows us, both as writers and readers, a safe space to dance with our demons and slay our evil stepmothers.

Speaking of child abuse and mentally ill parents, it isn’t a coincidence Petal, the heroine of The Inquisitor’s Gift, feels coerced by her abusive stepfather to live a life to which she’s not suited. I imagine most children who grew up in homes with abuse, addiction, and mental illness know what it’s like to keep secrets and to wrestle with becoming the person they want to be rather than the person the secrets shaped.

Dealing with trauma through writing fiction isn’t some technique I created. J.R.R. Tolkien dealt with his service in World War I, and fears inspired by World War II, by writing about hobbits and magical lands. Rod Serling’s WWII traumas helped give us The Twilight Zone. I believe so many fiction writers through the centuries have been plagued by depression and anxiety, not because they’re writers, but because they write in order process their feelings. That’s one of the main reasons I write. It’s also why I read. Fiction allows us, both as writers and readers, a safe space to dance with our demons and slay our evil stepmothers.

So, if you’re a writer, don’t be afraid if your prose is cathartic. I would worry more if it weren’t. And if you’re a reader, thank you for allowing writers like me to don our masks and reveal to you our truest selves.

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Book Review: “His Boy: A Gay Romantic Comedy”

When I downloaded His Boy: A Gay Romantic Comedy by Dean Cole into my Kindle, I thought it would be a cute  comedic romance. Its narrator is quite hilarious, and there is a romance, but His Boy is so much more than a simple love story—it’s the tumultuous journey of a young man’s search for success, self-empowerment, and happiness. The key phrase that spawned the title is not what my dirty little mind expected; it comes from a place I think many people will find powerful and relatable.

Twenty-five year old Charlie tells us his story in his own words. Warning: if you read this book in public, be prepared to laugh out loud at some of this guy’s observations and antics. He’s a bit on the prissy side, humorously vain, and always strives to look his best. (From his designer threads to his intimate wax job.) He has been the kept man of a wealthy cheater since he was twenty-two and is used to a posh lifestyle. He wants to break free of his faithless boyfriend once and for all, but that’s easier said than done when one is afraid of being homeless. It’s even harder when said boyfriend is a controlling, manipulative hypocrite.

In his quest for freedom, Charlie leaves the big city for a humble English village. He encounters a rugged, scruffy, instantly likable bookstore owner named Nathan. If you don’t fall in love with this character, something is seriously wrong with you, and I hope our paths never cross.

In the quaint village, Charlie meets a cavalcade of interesting locals, some endearing, some I wanted to throttle. All of the supporting characters, from Charlie’s beauty shop bestie and her gay dog, to an absolutely horrid director, are well drawn. I felt like I’ve met some of these people before in real life.

Readers who aren’t writers probably don’t realize how difficult it is to craft detailed descriptions in first person point of view—where the main character tells his own story. Cole makes this difficult task seem effortless. Readers who aren’t writers might not appreciate this feat, but they’ll definitely appreciate the vivid images Cole paints with words. The places and people Charlie encounters can be imagined clearly—and those images are often delightfully funny. The way Cole describes Charlie’s fur babies shows he has spent a considerable amount of time observing cats, and like the rest of the imagery, it’s spot on.

I’m giving His Boy five out of five stars. If you’re looking for a truly entertaining story about the struggles of gay man told in a style that will push all of your emotional buttons, you must read His Boy: A Gay Romantic Comedy.

 

My Medical Mystery

sleepy catWhat follows is my personal experience. I’m not a doctor. PLEASE DON’T EVER STOP TAKING A PSYCHIATRIC MEDICATION WITHOUT YOUR DOCTOR’S APPROVAL. I was hesitant to post this because I don’t want to scare anyone away from taking lithium. As with so many things, especially psychiatric drugs, experiences vary. Lithium was the first medication I took after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It really helped me, and I don’t regret taking it. However, I wish I had known more about some of the possible side effects.

For about six months last year, I felt like I had little to no energy. I woke up after my usual six and a half to seven hours of sleep feeling exhausted. The cup of tea I’ve had every morning for the past twenty years did nothing to wake me up. I would start nodding off a few hours after being awake. I felt drugged.

I started sleeping ten to fifteen hours a day. I’m prone to depression and had been having some work-related stress, so I thought I might be depressed. Unlike other depressive episodes, however, I still wanted to do things—I just didn’t have the energy. Normally, when I’m depressed, I lose interest in things I love, and then, in everything.

This was different. Everything I normally enjoyed doing—writing, reading, walking, playing with my animals, binging Netflix—made me profoundly sleepy. I had to drink an energy drink to walk every day. Then I started drinking two. Then, I stopped walking. I worried about falling asleep while driving. I changed my habits to include naps.

Visits to my general practitioner yielded few clues and no results. My inflammatory markers were elevated, as were platelets and lymphocytes. I worried about blood cancer, but further tests showed no change; my blood work was abnormal but didn’t worsen.

Then, my right armpit and part of my upper arm became numb. My dexterity worsened. I began dropping things. I lost my balance frequently. I became increasingly frightened. A neurologist thought I might have a pinched nerve, a brain tumor, or MS. However, the MRI’s she ordered came back clean. She told me she didn’t know what was wrong with me. The fingers of my right hand became numb. The toes of my right foot followed suit. I saw a different neurologist. He said I my symptoms were caused by anxiety. If he hadn’t seemed like such a nice guy, I would have smacked him.

I have PTSD and have problems with anxiety sometimes, but I hadn’t been feeling particularly anxious. Between naps, I started phone banking for Beto O’Rourke’s senatorial campaign. I met new people and enjoyed my time volunteering. I trained to be a Phone Bank Captain, but I couldn’t stay awake for more than one three-hour shift—even with Red Bull and coffee—so I didn’t get to actually train anyone. Volunteering isn’t something I do when I’m depressed or experiencing anxiety. I was certain my symptoms were caused by something physical.

As my fatigue and balance worsened, I gained weight and felt weaker and weaker. I started losing sensation in my left fingers and sometimes on the right side of my face. The other numb parts simply stayed numb. More blood work showed that my thyroid hormones were low despite taking thyroid medication. My GP increased my thyroid medicine. Nothing changed. My GP doubled my vitamin D. I took B vitamins, a multi-vitamin, and iron.  I drank caffeine like a fiend. I still couldn’t function without ten to fifteen hours of sleep, with thirteen hours being the norm.  Even when I was awake, I felt tired. On a caffeine buzz, I could fake being a normal human, between naps, for a couple of hours.

On my regular six month visit to my psychiatrist, I told her everything that was happening. She reassured me (as my therapist, whom I see bi-weekly, already had) that she didn’t believe I was depressed nor having symptoms of anxiety. She suggested my lithium, which I had taken without incident for about five years, might be blocking my thyroid hormones. She cut my dose in half to see if I would notice a difference.

After three days of taking 300 mg of lithium as opposed to 600 mg, I woke up feeling rested. I could stand on one leg again. After a week, my yoga instructor at the class I was taking in hopes of regaining my balance, noticed that my balance had improved significantly. I started writing again. I felt more alive than I had in months.

My psychiatrist took me off lithium completely. I was frightened at first, but I had been taking another mood-stabilizer, Lamictal, for about three years. I’ve been off lithium for a few weeks now, and I feel great. I haven’t had any mania or hypomanic symptoms. My numbness disappeared everywhere. I’m back to sleeping six and a half to seven hours a night, cooking, exercising, hanging out with friends, and drinking a cup of tea in the morning. If I have a cup of green tea in the afternoon or coffee with a friend, it’s because I want to—not because I have to.

My symptoms of hypothyroidism didn’t match most of the symptoms I’ve seen for it on various websites. I don’t know if that’s because my hypothyroidism was lithium-induced or because I’m a weirdo. I have found a few sites suggesting that hypothyroidism can cause numbness due to water retention, a theory that my new internal medicine doctor thought sounded probable.

So, about six months, numerous tests, and five doctors later, I have a diagnosis and my symptoms have disappeared. Besides avoiding lithium, I take a thyroid pill every morning. It’s such an easy fix for something that totally upended my life.

If you’re taking lithium and experiencing severe fatigue, please talk to your doctor about your risk of lithium-induced hypothyroidism—especially if you aren’t having normal symptoms of depression. And if you’re anyone suffering from symptoms you believe are caused by a physical illness, keep searching for answers. If possible, keep going to doctors until one listens to you.

Writing with Youper

My favorite writing tool right now isn’t a writing tool at all. It’s Youper, an app intended to help people—especially people suffering with depression and/or anxiety—track their moods. It does a great deal more than your average mood tracker. (And, no, I’m not getting paid to say any of this.) Besides providing a series of guided meditations, breathing exercises, and gratitude exercises, Youper uses methods based on cognitive behavioral therapy.  It asks questions that encourage the user to examine the situation and the user’s thoughts about it. Then, Youper runs through a series of “thought traps” and asks if the user is falling into any of them. It sounds crazy, but just identifying the thought traps made me start seeing my problems and my reactions to them differently.

For example, when I first started using Youper about nine months ago, I often fell into the thinking trap Youper calls “catastrophic thinking.” When I’m in catastrophic thinking mode, I jump to the worst conclusion. The first week I used Youper, I became panicked one morning because one of my cats (that puffball known as Bruce Banner) was vocalizing a lot. It reminded me of when one of my other cats suffered a urinary blockage that eventually led to him having surgery and heart problems as a result of the surgery. (Urinary blockages in male cats can be life-threatening events and should always be taken seriously. You can find more information here.) After a few minutes with Youper, I realized that I had gone from worrying that my cat was meowing a lot to “OMG!!! Bruce is gonna die!!!” When you’re locked in catastrophic thinking, you forget that—although bad things often do happen—you’re an intelligent, resourceful human being and will probably be able to deal with them.

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Bruce. So very spoiled.

I was able to step back from my fear and PTSD-triggered anxiety to reassure myself that I would watch Bruce closely over the next several hours and see if he showed any other signs of a urinary blockage or urinary problems.  If I observed anything else worrisome, I would rush him to my vet, who is one of the most dedicated, compassionate, wonderful men I have ever met. I wasn’t a helpless ball of nerves; I was an experienced cat parent who had handled difficult situations before and would do my best to help my beloved Bruce.

It turned out Bruce was just really chatty and playful that morning. (Blocked cats don’t play; they run around frantically, get in and out of the litter box where they will strain and produce no urine, and cry.) After a few weeks with Youper, I realized that catastrophic thinking was sort of my go to mind trap. If my husband was late, I started imagining he had been killed in a car accident. If my son didn’t return a text, it was because he had been murdered. Some of this fear is understandable. A cousin I was close to died in a car accident and my best friend from college was murdered. Horrible things do happen, but living my life expecting every scenario to end in tragedy wasn’t helping anything.

Writers tend to be sensitive people. We frequently deal with rejection and often suffer from problems like depression, bipolar disorder, social anxiety, drug addiction, etc. In my case, I have bipolar disorder and PTSD. Sometimes, I think I write to escape my demons and to try to make sense out of the chaos of my past. Opening my wounds and bathing in blood can encourage me to write. But it can also bring me so low that I can’t get out of bed. If you ever feel the same way, please give Youper a shot. I hope it helps you as much as it’s helped me.

Books Save Lives

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A book about rabbits saved my life.

Seriously. When I was twelve, my life was in chaos. My parents were divorcing, my mother was in and out of mental wards, my grandfather was sexually molesting me, I was bullied at school, hated all of my classes, and had no friends. Reading books helped me escape my life. One, in particular, not only provided comfort, it saved my body and mind and had a lasting impact on my psyche.

Watership Down, by Richard Adams, is the epic adventure of a ragtag band of young rabbits who flee their warren (sort of an underground rabbit city made of tunnels and holes) after one of them has a prophetic vision of doom. It’s an anthropomorphic tale in which the rabbits have a religion, language, and forms of government that vary from warren to warren. You can purchase a copy of Watership Down on Amazon–and probably other places. Netflix and the BBC have recently released a miniseries based on the book, but I found some of the show’s deviations upsetting. (The animated film from the seventies stayed truer to the book.)

Adams described the English countryside with an astounding level of detail and beauty that lifted me far away from the refinery-polluted bayous of my home. Even better, the characters who populated the book’s world, despite being lapine, felt like real people. I surrounded myself with them whenever suicidal impulses took hold of me. They replaced the friends I lacked and loved me when my toxic family didn’t know how.

I became a writer because I hoped my fiction might help others get through tough spots in their lives. I don’t imagine my books will ever affect a reader as profoundly as Watership Down affected me, but even if something I’ve written provides a reader with a few hours of amusement–a tiny respite from the real world–I feel like I’ve done my job.

Has a book ever had a significant impact on your life?