Making Audiobooks

I am pleased to say that soon I’ll begin producing audio versions of my books. I have wanted to create audiobooks for a long time, and now it’s possible thanks to the ACX program, which lets independent authors create their own books and distribute them through Audible and iTunes.

There’s a big learning curve between me and the finished books. I am just now getting a studio set up. (Sounds glamorous. It isn’t. I’ll be speaking into a box lined with foam rubber and containing the microphone.) And I have to learn all about the recording process. It will be weeks or months before the first book is downloadable.

All the same, I’m excited.

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Talk to Michael

A coworker once told me a story that I’ve remembered ever since.

He used to work at a software company that kept a life-size cardboard cutout of Michael Jordan in one corner of the office. When an engineer got stuck on a problem they would walk over to Michael and tell him all about it.

Michael would listen carefully, and – ah-ha! – the engineer would walk back to their desk with the answer. Michael was awesome like that.

As smart people, we think the best way to help another person with a problem is to go after the answer: brainstorm for it, interrogate for it, provide it from our own experience – get it out there. But Michael knows that isn’t true. We can just listen and let the other person figure it out on their own. It doesn’t always work, but when it does it’s better, and it’s always the first thing to try.

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British Sketch Comedy Duos

For my American readers who love Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele of Key & Peele

British television has a long tradition of sketch comedy duos, going back at least as far as Peter Cook and Dudley Moore in the 1960s.

(Sidebar: If you’ve never seen Cook and Moore’s brilliant movie Bedazzled, check it out. Also the fantastic American remake.)

Here are a few of the more recent British duos, all streamable and/or rentable. I’ve been surprised at how my friends and coworkers don’t know them despite how good they are, and how easy to find. So, for your education and amusement, I’ve embedded samples of a few recent duos, to discover and enjoy while you’re waiting for the next season of Key & Peele.

 

David Mitchell and Robert Webb: That Mitchell and Webb Look

 

Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie: A Bit of Fry and Laurie

Yes, that Hugh Laurie, before Americans came to know him as House.

 

Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders: French and Saunders

You might know Jennifer Saunders from Absolutely Fabulous. She also does amazing sketch comedy with Dawn French.

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More on Meditation

Learning the practice of meditation has been a journey. To encounter thoughts that entered into the quiet space in my mind and let them go. To be at peace with my breathing and nothing else.

I have been making a certain kind of progress. Slowly. Little by little.

First there were the negative thoughts: what was going wrong in my life now, what might go wrong next week, and what had gone wrong ten years ago. I had to let them go.

Then there were the good ideas. While sitting in my quiet place I thought of story twists, blog posts, the solution to the problem at work, the name of that guy who was in that movie with the other guy. Creativity thrives in silence. But no, not this silence. This silence is dedicated only to being silent. I had to let the thoughts go.

And then the music crept in. I could dismiss the other thoughts, but I could not let go of the songs.

In time I realized that every song has a tonic, a base note, and that I could hold onto it and clear space for the emptiness again.

Be Bop A Lulaaaaaaa…ommmmmm.

Lastly there were the dogs. And the cat. Whenever I began to meditate, they came over to see what was going on.

I was letting go of desires.

They wanted to be petted.

I was focused on my breathing.

They were focused on eating and how I could help them with that.

They wanted to lean on me.

I wanted them to lie down and be quiet.

I had Om…

So did they: OMMMMMM.

I started by trying to make my Om louder than theirs. I’M…MEDITATING.

It didn’t work.

Now I am trying to make my Om quieter and clearer. Just Om.

Om…

I can let everything go. Om…

Then there’s my wife in my mind saying , “Good luck with that.”

Just Om, honey. Just Om.

Then silence again.

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The Shuffle

One of the best things ever invented is the shuffle beat. It can be fast, slow, pop, rock, jazz, and a million other styles and tempos. Here are just a few examples.

In some sense these are all leaves on the same tree. What binds them together is as important what makes them different.

Enjoy.

 

 

 

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A Concrete Image

When I’m trying to come up with a story, I often start with a specific image. It could be anything: an apple pie cooling on a stove top, a red bird flitting onto a snow-covered tree branch, water from the garden hose on bare feet, the echoing voice of a woman on a cell phone in a stairwell. Anything, just so long as it’s one simple thing that fills the senses.

I recently realized that this insight was a good subject for a blog post, and I pondered what more to write about it as I was driving to work. I could explain that concrete images help keep a writer grounded in physical reality instead of puffing up stories with abstractions that readers don’t care about. Or I could talk about how sensory images activate latent memories that pull readers deeper into a story.  Or I could show how sensory images resonate with our right brains and help us writers tap into our wellsprings of creativity.

These were all great ideas, and by the time I was half way to work I had thought out a share-worthy post.

But then I had to stop outlining and focus on driving past a slower-moving truck. It was long steel flatbed painted robin’s egg blue, and as went by I was able to see that it carried three gigantic cubes of gray cement, ten feet on a side. They must have weighed two tons each.

I clicked my mental camera shutter: an image of concrete.

I looked into the cab and the driver waved to me. I half-waved back, happy for the clear morning and the cheerful truck driver, but also sad that I had say goodbye to another brilliant but too-complicated blog post. Simple is best. Simple is always best.

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Gregory Crewdson

For anyone who hasn’t heard of art photographer Gregory Crewdson, let me introduce him to you.

Crewdson makes photographs with as much artistic vision as if they were paintings, and with as much technical precision as if they were movies.

His pictures are quiet and dramatic, simple and mysterious, and filled with the fantasy of ordinary life. They are works of high art that invite you to bring your own imagination to them.

Crewdson recently made a documentary called Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters, streamable on Netflix, Amazon, and iTunes. I invite you to watch it. Trailer below.

Enjoy.

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New Book Covers

I have upgraded the covers of several of my books and am proud to show them off here.

 

Childish Things Tic Tac Toe

 

Kites and Weddings - Photograph

 

Rough & Beautiful - Roses

 

Sugar on Both Sides

 

All of these books are available for purchase on Amazon. Rumor has it that the text is even more enjoyable when wrapped in a better cover. Try for yourself and tell me what you think. Feedback is welcome.

Childish Things: Stories of Growing Up

Kites and Weddings: Very Short Stories

Rough & Beautiful: Very Short Romance Stories

Sugar on Both Sides: Selected Haiku

 

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Something I Learned from the Audience

I recently gave a reading of some of my newest stories. I love readings. They give me a chance to listen for what’s working and what’s not working. This is trickier than it sounds. When I write to be funny, I can listen for laughter. But when I’m writing to express darker or more complex emotions, what should I make of the silence? I enjoy trying to discern the different qualities of audience attention.

The reaction to one story was particularly interesting. They enjoyed it but then they wanted to know what happened next, after the story ended. I didn’t know myself. The whole story was what I just read for them.

Now I get to figure out: were they right? Was the story I read just the beginning of a larger story, or was it already complete? And if they were right, what’s the rest of the story? The feedback was up to them and the response is up to me.

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The Books Teachers Made Us Read

The older I get, the more I think our literature teachers were playing a long game.

I remember some of the stories:

Ethan Frome

The Grapes of Wrath

The Old Man and the Sea

King Lear

Seriously? How many teenagers would understand these? It’s not their fault. It takes years of living to appreciate them, years that they haven’t got yet.

But they will get their years soon enough, and when it’s time, some of those students will remember the stories they read when they were kids, and they will come back to them, now ready.

And those teachers…they’ll be long gone. Maybe they’ll still be remembered. We can hope so.

Not all the stories I read in school were meant for later. I remember one book in particular, The Little World of Don Camillo by Giovanni Guareschi, introduced to our class by Mr. Patrick Sullivan. I have no idea how a book of short stories about a fictional village in post-war Italy made it onto the reading list for American high school students, but I have always been grateful. I enjoyed the stories then, and I still enjoy them now.

Mr. Sullivan was also the one who introduced us to To Kill a Mockingbird. What a lucky guy to have a job like that.

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