Tell us about the process of turning your book into an audiobook.
I had Gary Furlong firmly in mind for my story of an Arctic exploration ship getting stuck in the ice. The characters range from American to British to French. I had already worked with him for my nonfiction series Cruise Confidential, where he nailed literally dozens of global accents. He was excited about this project—until he read the story! He admitted to being overwhelmed by the intensity of the horror tale and it affected him for a few days afterwards. I was secretly pleased, of course, because it’s supposed to be a bruiser. Belated apologies, Gary!
Do you believe certain types of writing translate better into audiobook format?
I think any story can and should be shared audibly. Perhaps this is because I’m a natural storyteller who insists upon telling every single experience to every single person I meet. It’s amazing I have any friends left at all. But yes, audio is even better than print when regional dialects come into play. They can really transport a listener to the correct time and place. It was a real pleasure casting narrators for the vastly different regions in The Gothic Shift.
Was a possible audiobook recording something you were conscious of while writing?
There are four stories in this book, ranging from 18th century New Orleans to the Civil War to the explorer-era Arctic to modern-day Chicago. I heard each of the characters in my own mind. Obviously it was my job to convey those voices to the reader, but it was a delight to hear others’ takes, especially from professionals. They are often superior to what I was imagining. If there is any way to transport listeners out of the present, its with a solid—and correct—accent.
How did you select your narrator?
Gary Furlong was foremost on my mind, and it was his suggestion to work with J. Scott Bennett, whose gravelly voice was precisely what I needed for the story of The Ghost of Naked Molly. I needed a man who could convey an aged, arrogant gravitas as well as a bear of a rough frontiersman. He excelled at both. For my tale of the Civil War I wanted a Southerner, as the story is told from a Confederate cook’s point of view. Thomas Stone was a fantastic find, a native Southerner who managed to capture the somewhat ‘slow’ sense of the main character. Finding a spunky young woman for the titular story was much more difficult. There aren’t so many teens doing audiobook narration! But Brittany Morgan Williams is a young actress who I was thrilled to find.
How closely did you work with your narrator before and during the recording process? Did you give them any pronunciation tips or special insight into the characters?
The narrators were all selected based upon the location of their stories’ setting, so most of the time they knew better than me. I’m amazed how all four narrators intrinsically understood what I was looking for in each character. It’s really remarkable. I’d like to think it’s because the text is that good, of course. The reality is that the narrators are that good. I was particularly smitten by how Brittany narrated her main character (in the titular The Gothic Shift story) as spunky but clearly overwhelmed. It really added a lot to the story.
Were there any real life inspirations behind your writing?
I am a globetrotter and was a travel writer for some time. Seeing all these amazing places and encountering the histories, the people, the myths, it was all too awesome to not share. The tales I weave and the mysteries therein are entirely from my own mind, but they are reliant upon some fascinating and disparate settings. I’ve sailed the North Atlantic, visited the old mansions of New Orleans, and been a waiter outside of Chicago. I know that latter doesn’t sound so fascinating, but believe me, the people you meet while doing so certainly are! The bizarre antics of Mr. Arno were observed. The final novella, about the Civil War, is a topic near and dear to me. I am a member of the Civil War Trust, preserving the battlefields to remember what happened and, more importantly, why.
How do you manage to avoid burn-out? What do you do to maintain your enthusiasm for writing?
It’s true I’m always in danger of burning out because I have too much on my plate. But that’s because I love what I do. I’m a slave to my passions. Maintaining enthusiasm is easy when so much of the world inspires you: just go see some! Logistically, however, I do switch from one project to another constantly (I have to) and that gets me excited all over again because they are all so vastly different.
Are you an audiobook listener? What about the audiobook format appeals to you?
I love audiobooks. I was a marathoner for most of my life and would listen to lots of books. They made the long, painful miles enjoyable. Well, at least somewhat enjoyable! I am particularly fond of narrators who can do multiple voices. It’s by no means a requirement, but I enjoy the theatricality of it. As I branch into narrating some of my own books I understand just how impressive such skills are!
Is there a particular part of this story that you feel is more resonating in the audiobook performance than in the book format?
In the Penultimate Mr. Nilly a ship is trapped in Arctic ice and the crew slowly goes insane. Having worked at sea I know how fundamental it is to the experience to hear the disparate accents from the crew. We all read in our own voice, I suspect, so hearing the different voices really emphasizes just how far from home you are. Gary Furlong has proven a master of dozens of accents. Dude’s amazing.
If you had the power to time travel, would you use it? If yes, when and where would you go?
This is a truly difficult question for a history lover, like identifying your favorite song: too much stuff gets you excited! I’m particularly drawn to the Victorian age and would love to see some different places in that era. I’d love to see some areas before we destroyed them (who wouldn’t want to see a herd of wild buffalo miles long thundering over a virgin prairie?). Likewise I’d love to see some of the Old West boomtowns in their heyday. I’ve seen ghost towns that once had tens of thousands of people and literally hundreds of saloons, but now just a handful of buildings in the weirdest, most desolate and remote locations. Ironically none of that is featured in The Gothic Shift, but they are in other books I’m writing now.
What’s next for you?
I am learning to narrate my own books for release in 2020, as well as release a series of historical fiction thrillers AND a series of romcoms. I’m way too busy and clearly in denial about being able to handle it. Loving what I do helps, of course. This winter will see From Romania with Love, (a romcom) and next spring The Widow of Half Hill (Gold Rush mystery).