Six Stories, Told at Night released its first episode yesterday! If you’ve heard it, you’ll know that it’s a strange sort of hybrid piece: it’s sort of like an audiobook, but it’s really more a one-woman play, and it’s really comprised of six discrete short stories, while simultaneously being one cohesive whole…
It’s weird. It’s wonderful, and I think we’ve hit on a really interesting form of audio fiction, and also, it’s weird.
Which is fine—I’ve joked that Submissions Grinder needs to develop a filter for fiction labelled “weird af,” since that seems to be what I write. Not intentionally, necessarily—it’s just that with every story, you need to find the best (or often, only) possible way to tell it.
Look at Six Stories: the story that emerged—this story of Sam and Joëlle, of loss and friendship—was always meant to be voiced by one person. That’s what it demanded—this story of stories within stories.
So, cool. An audiobook with extra bells and whistles, a straight read supplemented with sound effects. Right?
It IS a story that absolutely must be performed aloud. It loses a layer of meaning if you’re reading it on the page, the same way that scripts only spring to life when you get them on their feet. And I choose my words very carefully: performed aloud, not read aloud. There’s a difference in energy and intention. It’s subtle, but it’s there:
“If this was a regular stage play,” I told Blythe, “it’d be black-box studio theatre, with a minimalist set.”
“I treated it like I was onstage,” Blythe told me, after. “It was different than Heartstealer.”
So. Not quite an audiobook. But not quite a conventional audio drama, either. Basically, I took that lovely taxonomy I developed at Stonecoast and threw it out the window. We have something new, I think. A weird, hybridized, emergent art form.
Because that’s how this particular story must be told.
We instinctively make these choices when we start noodling ideas. Is it a play, or prose? Short story or novel? First person or third person? Linear timeline, or jumping all over the place?
Sometimes we only find out by writing. Sometimes we change our minds halfway through. Sometimes we change our minds at the very end, when we’ve given the draft a cold, hard look.
In the end, though, it always falls to the demands of that particular piece. “This is the only way I could think of to tell this story,” is a perfectly valid reason for making certain artistic choices.
Even when they’re weird af. 😉
What I’m Listening to This Week
Good news, everyone! The audiobook version of HEARTSTEALER is now available from Audible.com! If you recall, I spent a good chunk of this off-season editing this thing, so it’s delightful to have it out in the wild, ready to be purchased.
Blythe does a fantastic job narrating. Naturally, she was my first choice. Both for sheer talent, and also, becomes this book comes from such a specific period of my life.
“Grief hadn’t made me weak. It had made me stronger than I’d ever known I could be.”
It was such a strange, full-circle feeling, hearing her speak those words. Because it’s true. I figured that out about grief a long time ago: I believed it then, I believed it when I wrote it, and I believe it now.
The thing with spending 130 hours listening to someone read your words aloud is that you hear more in them. Yes, HEARTSTEALER came from a place of great grief…but also from a place of great love. Love for a place, and love for the people I found there.
So, thank you. Thank you to everyone who’s had a hand along the way…and thank you most especially to Blythe. I know it was not an easy project—luckily, I also knew your talent would be more than a match for it!
Now before we get too maudlin, here’s some fun statistics:
Total word count: 105,000
Total running time: 12 hours, 9 minutes.
Total editing time: 130 hours (best guess)
Total time between first handshake and audiobook release: Seven months.
Distinct speaking characters: 61
Distinct voices: 65
Distinct voice actors: 1
Buildings gleefully borrowed: I count 10, but probably more.
Voice talent cursed: Lost count.
Voice talent praised: Also lost count, but it was more.
So—check it out, tell your friends, and most importantly:
If you enjoy it—either the story, the performance, or both—please, for the love of Cthulhu, leave a review. It honestly helps so very, very much. And in this case, it helps both me and Blythe. So hey, boosting two artists for the price of one. Sounds like a deal I could get behind.
Or very craftily and deliberately orchestrate. You know. Either way.
Cheers, everyone. Thanks again, and enjoy the ride to this remote northern village, full of old hurts, older magic, and things that stalk the night…
What I’m Listening To This Week
MOAR VERDI AND TRAVIATA!
La Traviata is still my favourite opera. When I hear the prelude, I’m fifteen again. Because I was a really, really cool fifteen-year-old, obviously. Anyway, the prelude pretty much encapsulates the entire opera in three minutes. The first minute or so is super moody, delicate strings with a wilting-flower melody (spoiler: La Traviata does not end well).
Alfredo is our main romantic man here. His theme starts around 1:20. Hear how earnest he sounds? Only then—scary minor chords at 1:53. This is the operatic equivalent of going DUN DUN DUN. Our lady Violetta herself follows at 2:10 or so: a lovely, flippant little tune. You can practically see her bare shoulders and flipping hair. Listen to the contrast between the two…
The opera in a nutshell. 🙂
Editing the HEARTSTEALER audiobook continues apace. As with every new type of project, I’m learning lots: some things about particular voices, some things about my own idiosyncrasies in writing (they’re a lot more obvious when read aloud…).
Blythe’s narrating, of course. It’s been fascinating for me, because the two characters that blow me away are the two I never would’ve pegged her for. Naturally, she’s doing stellar work with the entire novel – but these two broken, fragile, hard-edged women are standout performances.
Naturally, that got me thinking, and I realised something:
I write best when I get out of the way.
I’ve had this nagging insecurity for a while. When I write characters for Blythe to voice, they’re…well, they’re good. They’re funny, sad, scary, whatever. But we’re not getting to that same depth I’m seeing in HEARTSTEALER.
And I finally realise:
When I write like that, I’m not giving her space.
I sing the praises of collaboration all the time. How different artists bring different aspects to the piece. How no one has to carry the entire piece alone, because the others are there, giving their support. How they are some things an actor or composer can do that a writer can’t, and so the words don’t have to try to do everything.
I’m not doing that.
It’s almost like I write to a certain level. There’s a ceiling. This is what I’m giving you; this is what you can do with it. It’s very difficult to rise past that level, because there simply isn’t enough there. Perhaps for the reader; not for the actor. It’s like how in prose, you have to leave room for the reader to bring something: otherwise, you smother them and there’s no engagement. You can’t resolve the chord for them.
So what makes Evelyn and Charlotte different?
I never wrote them to be performed aloud. I never wrote HEARTSTEALER with the intention of releasing it as an indie audiobook. And they are not the well-loved character types I’ve seen Blythe play a hundred times before.
You know that saying, “Dance like no one is watching”? That’s how I feel about them. I wrote like no one would be acting. I wrote them because I wrote them. They are what they are because they are, not because I think it’ll be challenging, or funny, or show off a particular strength.
They don’t have ceilings. There’s room to breathe.
A quick survey of my stable of short stories shows the same. The best stories are the ones I just wrote. Not the ones I wrote to further some grander design, or to vent, or because someone asked me to. I wrote as though no one were listening – I wrote for the story.
It’s hard. I’m looking at Six Stories, Told at Night (Secret Canadian Folklore Podcast: we got OAC funding!), and the play I’m noodling, and I wonder. After this long, how do you not write for a specific voice? Once you’ve seen the basilisk, how do you un-see it?
A line from Eliot comes to mind: “Teach us to care and not to care.” It’s a balancing act: giving the actor enough to chew on, not enough to choke them. Which means trusting more, I suppose. Trusting their art, trusting what they bring.
It also means letting go, a little. Focusing not on the other voice, but your own writer’s voice. Paradoxically, I think that’s how the actor finds theirs: when you half-forget they’re there. You may write assuming one actor or another will play the character, but it mustn’t affect the writing itself.
“Teach us to care and not to care…”
I’ve learned to care. Now, teach me not to care. Teach me to sit still.
What I’m Listening To This Week
I know this clip is 20 minutes long. I’m only listening to the first minute and a half. I looked, but the only recording I found of Eleanor Daley’s “Requiem Aeternam” is bundled into the entire requiem.
This piece haunts me. The choir sounds like passing bells: a hypnotizing chant, over and over. But it’s the words that get me: a setting of Carolyn Smart’s “The Sound of the Birds.” It captures grief and loss so very well, it’s like glass to the heart.
“Each night, I listened for your call.
And I but witness to the end.”