Four-and-a-half years. Don’t they pass in a blink?
In late 2009, a crazy thought entered my mind. Could Epic make the jump to audio? Other writers were doing it. It was kind of the thing to do. And so I leaned back in my chair, propped my hands beneath my chin, and wondered 1) is this a smart idea, and 2) could I even feasibly do it? The answer to both questions, resoundingly, was no. Naturally, I did it anyway.
The decision to create an audiobook version of Dawn of Destiny was much like deciding to jump out of an airplane blindfolded and without a parachute. I’m a person of many a spontaneous idea. This was, without a doubt, the most recklessly I’ve dived into any of them. I am not an audiobook person. I don’t enjoy listening to them. With rare exception, I don’t like it when people read stories to me. But I like movies. And people always say Epic should be a movie.
This is how reckless ideas become long-term investments. I decided that if I was going to do something boneheaded, I was at least going to do it right. No narrator reading everything. I would absolutely, positively not read it myself. But I would cast it. Like a movie. With characters, and music, and explosions. Like Michael Bay, but smart. And yes, I would need a narrator to reel it all in–to be the gel that holds the whole thing together. But he would supplement the action. He wouldn’t say what didn’t need to be said. This was sounding better by the minute. And so on January 3rd, 2010, I posted a project audition on numerous voice-over websites. “Come work for me, and I’ll pay you next to nothing.” It sounds cheap, but it’s what I could afford. I’m not Michael Bay. I’m an independent writer from Des Allemands. “Next to nothing” was still gonna break my bank. I didn’t expect to turn many heads.
Over 200 applicants later, I realized I was creating a monster. People wanted to do this. Good, talented people. Okay now…this thing might could be done. Fast-forward ten thousand dollars USD, and I had twenty-five voice-over artists and a stockpile of music and sound effects. I was ready to rock and roll. The only things I needed now were five clones to work on it.
I spent the next months getting the dialogue recorded. This is a process that can be easily explained. Pick up a novel. Catalog everything in quotation marks. Having fun, yet?
It struck me sometime during the fifth hour of producing the first minute of a 9+ hour audiobook that I might be in over my head. I had files and files of recorded dialogue to sift through and decide upon. Do I like the way Scott says “Yes sir,” in this take, or in that one? Or in the one after that? Or the one after that? Now let’s hear Colonel Lilan’s takes. And so on, and so on. Now let’s add music. But the music track is too long. So let’s deconstruct parts of it and create a musical Frankenstein by copying and pasting certain notes in certain places. Then, after that, discover a new song that fits the mood better and is perfectly sized, thus making all your previous hard work moot. But at least it sounds right, now. Two weeks later, and the first five minutes are sounding pretty nifty. Too bad the file sizes are so big that your computer can barely store them. Time to buy an external hard drive. Keep all the files there. Only import the ones you need. Now I have multiple files of the same name on multiple hard drives. Do I keep them both, or junk the old ones? Junk ’em – no use keeping obsolete files when I’ve put days into making them better. Drag to recycle bin, empty. Oh, wait. That was the new one.
It sounds like I’m complaining, but I’m actually not. Yes, this project gave me lots to complain about, none of which I should receive sympathy for, because I did this to myself. But my intent here is to try and convey why this project took four-and-a-half years. Mix into that having a full-time job, and getting diagnosed with cancer, and having a first baby. Mix into that life, because believe me, in that four-and-a-half year stretch, life kept happening. Not to mention in the midst of all this, I was feeling the pressure of having to finish the 160,000-word behemoth, Epic 4: The Glorious Becoming. I’ve had a lot of folks (very politely) ask when the audiobook will be released. While no one has straight-up asked, “Lee, why the heck are you so freaking slow?” I’ve nonetheless always felt the pressure of answering that question. And so here’s the answer: creating an audiobook like this was the kind of project that no person in their right mind ever should have attempted on their own. The best way I can describe it is to say, imagine if you signed on to build a Corvette from scratch in your garage. That’s about as close as it gets.
There are two individuals who singlehandedly (doublehandedly?) saved this project. The first is Patrick Quance, the audiobook’s chief narrator. About a year-and-a-half or two into this project, the audiobook’s original narrator was lost, not in the literal sense, but in the sense that he was no longer involved in the project. The details of that breakup don’t matter, but the gut-wrenching part of the ordeal was that I literally lost a year’s worth of work on the audiobook, as every single thing I’d done would have to be done again, with a new narrator. The absolutely wonderful, fantastic, can-barely-believe-it-happened part is that I discovered the best audiobook narrator humanly possible for Epic: Patrick Quance.
Patrick’s voice is like a mix of Leonard Nimoy and Jean Shepherd (the iconic narrator of A Christmas Story). He has an almost unreal ability to become the text; you’ll hear this difference when you compare his battle narration to his more tender readings. His voice conveys what the words make you feel, and that’s priceless. Of even more critical importance than that…Patrick is a outstanding human being. The experience of getting to know him during this project has been one of the highlights. I want this audiobook to succeed as much for him as I do for myself (I feel this way for all my actors). After the most demoralizing stretch of the project, when it was literally on the verge of completely crumbling, Patrick not only made it bearable, he made it outright a joy. I cannot imagine there was a more appropriate voice or person for the role of narrator. So he’s person number one on my two-person list of saviors.
The second person is Natalie van Sistine, Dawn of Destiny‘s dialogue editor. Without going into full-on gush mode, Natalie is the reason you’re going to be hearing an audiobook in your lifetime. Her role has a simple definition, and an exceedingly, exceedingly tedious process. Natalie patched together every line of dialogue in the project from Chapter 5 (where she came onto the project) to the end. That is what I hate to do. I love getting dialogue; I love hearing it. I hate patching it together. But Natalie doesn’t hate it. In fact, she loves it (or she did before facing this gigantic beast!). She delivered me every chapter of the audiobook in mp3 form, missing only sound effects and music, my bread and butter. Though you don’t hear her voice as prominently as the other actors in this project, you’re hearing her impact every time a line is spoken. So when you see “Natalie van Sistine likes this” on Epic’s Facebook page, take a moment to appreciate that this is a person whose efforts made this project real. Take a moment to thank her for it, because what she did for this audiobook is pretty special.
There are scores of other actors and actresses whose contributions were also vital to this endeavor. Though I hope to get into more detail about them in future entries on more personal basis, I want to at least mention them here. The ridiculously long list of cast members for this project is as follows: Stewart Cummings, Michael Paladine, Joshua Samson, Robin Egerton, Rick Tamblyn, Jake Eberle, Rick Simmonds, Paul Bellantoni, Al Wood, Charlie James, Elisa Eliot, Brian Fish, Gabriel Wolf, Jesse Cox, Steve Bailey, Jake Eastman, Kevin Frazier, Holly Larkey, Chetachi Egwu, Charles Lipper, Roosevelt Sims, Ellen Sowney, Wendy Podgursky, Xander Mobus, and Billy Sage. Counting the voices of Patrick and Natalie, that’s twenty-seven voice-over artists for this audiobook project. It’s enough to roll bonafide credits.
Here’s what I have to tell you: all of the above was written to detail the blood, sweat, and tears that went into this project. And sitting here now, listening to the final results of this labor, I can honestly tell you that it was worth every moment. This audiobook sounds special. If you plug in your headphones and close your eyes, you will be there. I’ve often referred to this as more an audio “experience” than a book. That holds true. Every single person listed above, to a T, has been sensational. More for them than for myself, I want this audiobook to succeed. They deserve it.
So what happens next? Just like with my novels, this audiobook is going to go through a “beta” process. Friends, family, and fans will listen to it and give me feedback. This is all a part of quality control – any product would go through this. If any adjustments need to be made, they’ll be made, at which point this thing will finally see the light of day. Just don’t ask me how, yet. I can pump out a novel on Amazon, but actually publishing audiobooks is new territory for me. So while my betas are listening away, I’ll be doing my research and examining my options to get this out there in the best way possible. This has taken 4.5 years. It won’t be rushed at the finish line. We’re going to do this right.
So sit tight for a little while longer while we sort out the finishing touches and plan the release. It will be worth it. It has already been for me.