Author Interview: Errin Stevens
Tell us about the process of turning your book into an audiobook.
Well, I went to the ACX web site and did a LOT of internet research while I considered how to best approach my projects. I decided I don’t much like how often we all get asked to create on the if-come, so even though it was expensive for me, I carved out a section of Updrift for use as a script and put the project up as a paid gig through the ACX production system. I got such wonderful responses from some truly talented narrators and was so agitated about choosing the right one. I co-opted the opinion of a longtime friend and actress to listen with me to help me figure it out! She told me to go with the one that pulled the “right” emotional response as I felt it… and since she and I both thought Sean’s read was the most compelling, I made him an offer. Thankfully, he accepted.
Sean was an amazing professional to work with. He made every edit I requested, did everything smoothly and beautifully, and the second I could amass my next pile of cash to produce the sequel, I contacted him to see if he’d be interested, and he jumped all over it. Same with my third. I’m really grateful for the care Sean took with my stories and can’t recommend him highly enough.
Do you believe certain types of writing translate better into audiobook format?
My short answer to this is ‘yes,’ although with the caveat that I still prefer reading on paper because that process blurs a certain divide between my conscious and unconscious and results in the experience I’m seeking when I read. But. I’ve listened to a few audiobooks - it saved my sanity on two cross-country drives! - and I think the experience was similar enough to “reading” that I’d do it again. I think any nonfiction would play well (I adored “In a Sunburned Country” by Bill Bryson); and I think a good narrator will know how to bring a story across as the writer intended.
Was a possible audiobook recording something you were conscious of while writing?
No, but I found when I listened to auditions I did in fact have beliefs about how my characters should sound. As I write my fourth - and having produced three audiobooks at this point - I can say I do think of it, now. And it’s a helpful perspective to have, has helped me refine my own narrative voice on the page, I think.
How did you select your narrator?
Sean was one of several people who auditioned for Updrift on the ACX platform. His audition really stood out to me and my actress friend.
How closely did you work with your narrator before and during the recording process?
Very closely, and Sean was the consummate professional throughout. He may remember the process differently, but just as proofing a written manuscript results in copy edits, the same little things come up in voice narration. I think there have been only two sentences in the whole of all three works where I asked Sean to re-read with a different tone. The rest was small stuff.
Did you give them any pronunciation tips or special insight into the characters?
I did. I’m sure different narrators prefer different levels of involvement… and while I didn’t provide a ton of background on the characters, I gave a little bit and that seemed to be enough for Sean. If there were pronunciation changes, I provided audio links to demonstrate.
Were there any real life inspirations behind your writing?
Although my stories are not at all retellings, the inspiration for Updrift was The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen. The little reflection of it I hope people see/enjoy is in the form of a character twist, since I modeled my bad guy after the original heroine. I.e., he was the one who risked everything and suffered the most for what he wanted.
How do you manage to avoid burn-out? What do you do to maintain your enthusiasm for writing?
I don’t! Lol, no, really, I do write every day, although I’ve taken a few weeks off on occasion to let a piece rest or get a translation going or, ahem, audiobook produced. I also read a lot, and that always gives me ideas on how to storytell, too.
Are you an audiobook listener? What about the audiobook format appeals to you?
Audiobooks are a secondary go-to for me but I have very much enjoyed the ones I’ve listened to. They’ve been invaluable during long trips in the car, and they likely appeal to me because listening feels a bit like when my parents used to read to me when I was little.
Is there a particular part of this story that you feel is more resonating in the audiobook performance than in the book format?
Oh my goodness, yes. Sean’s voice is just this terrific blend of compelling goodies, prompts for the listener to envision the story as well as hear it, and to feel more viscerally the tension the characters feel. And then I think his rich, resonant delivery does a much better job bringing both my hero and my antagonist to life.
If you had the power to time travel, would you use it? If yes, when and where would you go?
Okay, so my imagination has been completely captured by the Starz series, Outlander, and as long as I could bring soap and moisturizer with me, I’d go back to 18th century Scotland in a flash!
If this title were being made into a TV series or movie, who would you cast to play the primary roles?
Oooo, that’s a hard one. I think I’d cast Mads Mikkelsen as Peter, Colton Haynes as Gabe, and Saoirse Ronan as Kate.
What do you say to those who view listening to audiobooks as “cheating” or as inferior to “real reading”?
Try it! Especially on a long drive or if you have a headache! Seriously, hearing Sean read Updrift and Breakwater and Outrush was like listening to my dad read A Wrinkle in Time to me when I was a little girl. The human voice is a powerful storytelling tool, and while it needn’t replace traditional reading, it can add an amazing dimensionality to a story.
How did you celebrate after finishing this novel?
We had a Canadian Rockies trip already planned, so we took a train ride through some really stunning terrain and ate ourselves into a coma.
What gets you out of a writing slump? What about a reading slump?
The questions are a bit funny to me because each is an answer to the other - reading makes me want to write and vice versa. But with what I do, writing is a job and I make myself do it every day, shooting for 500 words, which I sometimes don’t quite get to and sometimes surpass. Exercise is important to me because my walks are where I dream through some of my writing problems… and you just have to stay with it. Not very exciting, I know, but the real answer is to keep at it.
In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of writing a stand-alone novel vs. writing a series?
A standalone is just that: a completely contained story with all major loose ends tied up. A series lets you explore the lives of peripheral characters or corollary issues the original story did not address, and when done right I think results in a deeper relationship with the narrative.
Have any of your characters ever appeared in your dreams?
Do you mean have I been haunted?!??? YES!!!! Since I started writing these books, I seriously think about them all the time, even when I’m supposed to be paying attention to something or someone else. I’m pretty sure I’ve annoyed every single one of my family members and friends who have to repeat portions of their conversation to me. And yes, I think about scenes and what-ifs even in sleep!
What's your favorite:
Food - Anything nutritious someone else has prepared that I don’t have to clean up after! I often request Thai, however.
Song - This changes, but my current fave is Fear Inoculum by Tool.
Book - I always have two or three going - am way in love with Gentleman from Moscow at the moment. So beautiful.
Television show - Outlander on Starz. Swoon.
Movie - Have you guys seen The Shape of Water yet? Guillermo del Torro is a freaking genius.
Band - They’re old school, but I still love U2.
Sports team - Skol Vikings!!!!
City - I love Paris and London and New York… but I daydream about moving to Chicago, of all places. It’s the right blend of big and small, fabulous dining and shopping, and it’s only an hour flight from where I am/family.
Are any of those things referenced in appearance in your work? Strangely, no. Except for my occasional francophile-ness. I was born in France, speak fluently although less so the more I’m away, and I snuck a couple of French things into my stories, particularly with Captain Benet in Breakwater. Here’s a line from him I ended up cutting out: C’est quand-meme pratique de connaitre quelques poissons.
What bits of advice would you give to aspiring authors? Do it. Share your first draft VERY carefully and give yourself ample time to digest advice before you act on anything someone else says you need to change. Your story is yours and you have every permission to write it. But seriously, adopt the butt-in-chair technique and just write the dang thing. :-)
Do you have any tips for authors going through the process of turning their books into audiobooks?
If you can, pay your narrator rather than offer a royalty share. It’s a cleaner deal, it gives creatives just like you a little income, and you’ll get more response for your audition. Plus you’ll hear a ton of good options, capable professionals you’d want working on your baby.
What’s next for you?
I’m going to finish a fourth for this series, Crosstide, if it kills me. And it might. Seriously, I think my brain got broke last year… ;-)