On why voice matters.

audioman So I’ve been reading a lot lately, and I’ve also been listening. But those two words sometimes mean something different for an author, and today I’m going to tell you why.

When I say reading, I not only mean that I’m reading books, but also that I’m reading them aloud. With the release of Homefront, and various promotional efforts for Seasons of Truth, I’ve been performing my work out loud to audiences at bookstores and around the internet. And I have to tell you, I enjoy it.

I am by no means a professional orator, but in my career I’ve addressed quite a few people. Once upon a time I was paid to play Dungeons and Dragons, which more often than not meant that I was running games of D&D at conventions, game days, and kitchen tables around the world. That last bit’s not hyperbole, as I used to travel extensively for work. I’ve played roleplaying games in so many places that I’ve lost count of them all, but despite my excesses of the 90s I remember some pretty epic sessions. I always tried to bring something extra to the table, to reward the players for choosing me as their GM (or being stuck with me, as often happened). But even as a player I tried to make my characters distinct, and…

You sly dogs. You got me monologuing.

Before I kill you, Mr. Bond, let me tell you about my characters...
Before I kill you, Mr. Bond, let me tell you about my characters…

Even for introverts like myself, it’s easy to talk about something you love. And I am quite proud of the books I’ve written. But I’m even happier to hear how others read them, to listen to how the words resonate inside other people’s heads.

When Mark Teppo told me early in the writing process that Homefront would have an audiobook release, my thoughts naturally turned to possible narrators. I have friends who perform audiobooks professionally, and I’ve listened to quite a few over the last few years. The amount of preparation that goes into recording one is truly amazing, and while I have no idea how much they get paid, if my own experience as a GM is any indicator it’s nowhere near enough.

To continue this encounter, please deposit one cheeseburger...
To continue this encounter, please deposit one cheeseburger…

So who did I want? Clearly some top-notch talent, but the actual negotiations were not up to me. And while I had visions of Wil Wheaton or Mary Robinette Kowal immortalizing my words, what I setled on after some thought was that no matter who I was paired with, it needed to be a woman.

Sorry, dude.
Sorry, dude.

While Homefront is by no means a feminist manifesto, as originally concepted the story was told from more female points of view than male. Overwhelmingly so, thanks to the handy spreadsheet I prepared the day I turned the manuscript over. Over three times as many words were presented by female characters, and 36 out of 50 chapters had a woman as the prime actor. And while I have a lot of respect for male narrators, I’m more comfortable with a female voice presenting…well, a female voice.

Put aside the obvious fact that I myself identify as male, putting aside the fact that the words came straight out of my brain and onto the page, I didn’t write this book as a “woman’s book.” I wrote it about people, and their relationships to one another. Some of those people are men. Some are women. Some have four arms and are ten feet tall, and some can read minds.

While I can imagine all these things, I only have direct experience with one of them. And while most voice actors are also not genetically designed war machines, I figured that I should at least have one that could bring my words to life the way I should have written them.

Sorry, dude.
Sorry again, dude.

So when I got an email that casting had begun for Homefront, I reminded Mark of my earlier wishes and his response was everything I could have hoped for:

“Copy me (on the request), and I’ll follow through with a rubber stamp.”

Audible Studios was all over my request when I told them why, and a month later they told me the amazingly talented Allyson Johnson had landed the gig. As a fan of her work on David Weber’s Honor Harrington series, I knew that not only could she handle technobabble, but could also hit me right in the feels when the story called for it. She about floored me when she revealed that she really liked the book, and came to the project with some very detailed questions about characters and motivations, which as a writer I was only too happy to answer.

Homefront “officially” released last week, and the audiobook was up for purchase the same day. You better believe I loaded it up as soon as I could, and spent 12 and a half hours luxuriating in the sound of my words coming out of someone else’s mouth. Whatever voices I had in my head for my characters now must do battle with her versions, and I’m not to proud to admit that there are a couple places where her performance really improved the book. If I’m lucky enough to do this all again, I hope she’ll be available to do it with me.

Fair warning, she made me cry. And to close the circle, only one other audiobook narrator has ever done that.

Yeah, that's right.
Yeah, that’s right.

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