As a New Yorker born and bred, I feel entitled to kvetch, and I may have never kvetched more than in dealing with the fate of my Paris memoir. But for once I have something to kvell about: Breathless now exists as an Audible book! (Imagine a smiling emoticon here.)
I’m happy about this venture into the land of book listeners. I’m also happy about part of its backstory.
By the time we entered into negotiations, I knew from a novelist friend that Audible was not always flexible about the selection of the narrator. Nonetheless, I started doing some online research to see―oops, to listen to―the various voices available so that I’d be ready with my own preference, even if my taste didn’t ultimately prevail over what the production team wanted.
Many of the books in the memoir section were self-help books: how I overcame my anorexia and other personal challenges. Those books were self-narrated. For the overcoming of suffering to sound convincing an autobiographical performance seemed appropriate.
It was hard to find a first-person nonfiction book that was not of the self-help bent read by a woman. But I finally found what to me felt the perfect choice: the narrator of Orange is the New Black, Cassandra Campbell. In the first few minutes of the sample it became clear that Ms. Campbell had two qualities that mattered to me: a sense of irony and the ability to pronounce French words.
At first Audible was reluctant to commit to my choice, and I feared that they might impose a voice that felt wrong to me. Like a good New Yorker, I prepared to argue my case. But before the choice of narrator blossomed into conflict, the conflict evaporated. Not only did the team agree with my choice of Cassandra Campbell, I received lovely email message from the Director of Business Affairs. “As a side note,” he wrote, “in learning about you and Breathless, I read up a little on What They Saved. I watched an interview you did on TV and so much of your story reminded me of my family and some digging my brother did into our family tree.” In closing, my correspondent apologizes for sharing all the autobiographical (and quite interesting) details of his family history, and concludes by saying, “I just had to share.”
And I just had to share his share. There was to me something incredibly delightful about having made this kind of warm connection in the process of doing business. Almost everything I’ve had to do in order to bring about some favorable attention for my two recent memoirs has been draining or shaming. I could not believe my good fortune in the interactions I had with Audible. My pleasure was not purely about getting the contract. What made me smile, was the writer’s sharing of his story, further proof, it proof were needed, about why memoir is a relational genre (my academic hat).
A friend recently asked me whether I wouldn’t have preferred to narrate the book myself. Audible did not offer me that choice and I was glad. Creating the voiceover for the book trailer showed me the limits of my acting skills; nor did I love hearing my New York accent through my written prose.
Now I’m watching Orange is the New Black, the hugely successful memoir made into an equally successful television series. I can’t say that I identify with the heroine, even if we in some way share a voice. But I am thrilled to share our narrator. I love hearing her voice tell my story.
I’m all ears.