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Re-experiencing Fiction

June 6, 2011

I’m very big on re-reading books that I enjoy, but I never figured I’d be one to re-listen to a podcast novel or audio book, no matter how much I like it.

To be honest, it surprises me that I ever got into podcasts in the first place. My brain tends to freeze up when confronted with spoken language; I’m the type of person who sometimes has to ask someone to repeat themselves four or five times, not because I can’t hear or because I’m not paying attention, but because the syllables seem to get all jumbled up as soon as they get past my ear and to my brain. I started listening to podcasts with the fear that I wouldn’t understand half of what I was hearing, which is true on some days, but the more I listen the easier it gets to process. Podcasts have become a part of my life that is here to stay.

But I surprised myself last week when I found myself wanting to listen to Quarter Share, the first book of Nathan Lowell’s Trader’s Tales, for the second time around. I still prefer print to audio, and the first three books in the series are out in print, so why not just pick up the paperback instead of reloading the podcast onto my iPod?

Format vs. Media

This is coming at the same time as I read the new print version of Embers, book one of Abigail Hilton’s Guild of the Cowry Catchers, which was my introduction into the world of podcast novels. The book is beautiful, and I’m enjoying reading it on the page, but it brought something home to me that I hadn’t fully grasped before. Print and audio really are two different media.

This may seem obvious, but it’s a little murkier when you’re talking about the same exact story with the same exact words and sentences in the exact same order. I had been thinking of print vs. audio as a difference in format rather than a difference in medium. If I read the same book on paper and on a screen, the only difference is how quickly my eyes get tired. But listening to a podcast and then reading the same story on paper is a different emotional experience. This is especially true for full-cast productions, but it applies to solo narration as well.

Comfort Food

Re-reading a book is like having a nice, big helping of my mom’s pot roast. It’s comfort food — safe and familiar, as well as tasty. Re-listening to audio fiction, as it turns out, is the same way. Yes, I want to remember bits of the story that I’ve forgotten since the first time around. And yes, I do want to search for some of the clues I missed leading up to the controversial conclusion of the Trader’s Tales series. But what I find myself wanting now is the emotional experience, almost nostalgia, of returning to a place I have been before. So while I fully intend to buy and read the print versions of all the Trader’s Tales books, for now I return to the original experience, and I press play.

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. June 6, 2011 5:09 pm

    Thanks for the kind words, Anita.

    I see podcasting as an opportunity to get back to the old ways, a chance to return to the campfire and weave the spell of story with the voice as well as the word. It’s immensely gratifying to me when it works.

    And terribly frustrating when it doesn’t.

    Enjoy the ride.

    • anitaking permalink*
      June 6, 2011 5:51 pm

      That campfire feeling is one of the things I really enjoy about podcasts. I think the Trader’s Tales are particularly suited to that, partly because of the first person, conversational style, and partly because of the intimacy of Ish’s story and growth as a character. Thank you for letting us share your campfire.

  2. June 6, 2011 5:27 pm

    I’ve never heard any book on tape except for a full-cast Lord of the Rings way back when I was a wee one and my parents had to shut us up for car trips. I remember being really confused at a lot of what was going on, because I couldn’t keep the characters straight. Of course, I prefer being read aloud to by certain people because it’s a special treat: it’s a shared experience.

    This is an interesting thing to think about, because I’m an audio learner, not a visual learner, so I wonder why I haven’t caught on to audiobooks yet?

    • anitaking permalink*
      June 6, 2011 5:57 pm

      I think you’d really enjoy audio books. One of the great things about podcast novels, in particular, is that they’re almost always read (or at least narrated, in the case of full-cast) by the authors themselves. Let me take a look through the ones I’ve listened to, and I’ll come up with a few recommendations for you.

    • June 6, 2011 8:34 pm

      I know most of the podiobooks pretty well …

      For Fantasy, try John Lenahan’s Shadowmagic – short episodes but fast moving story and John is a pro.

      For literary fiction, try Joe Cottonwood’s Clearheart

      Military thriller – Basil Sands’ 65 Below

      Then there’s
      Tee Morris’s Billibub Baddings / Singing Sword
      Philippa Ballantine’s Chasing the Bard
      Scott Sigler’s The Rookie (he has a lot of stuff, but I think The Rookie is his best)

      ….

      That’ll get you going. Do you have a favorite genre?

      • June 9, 2011 9:02 am

        Thanks, Nathan! Not necessarily a favorite genre, so I’ll check those out and see how it goes!

  3. June 9, 2011 8:46 pm

    Hey, Anita. 🙂 Thanks for buying the print version of Cowry Catchers! Those 2 mediums *are* very different. Cowry Catchers was written to be read. I did not know about podcasting when I wrote it. However, by the time I produced it, I’d done over 30 episodes of story, listened to a lot more, and I knew it needed a full voice cast. There are elements of the text that get lost in audio, and there are elements audio brings to the story that don’t exist in text. It’s the same words, but, yeah, a bit different. I hope you still enjoy it.

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      June 10, 2011 7:51 am

      I’m definitely enjoying it, Abbie. I think I’m getting a stronger sense of Thessalyn’s character early on from text than I did from audio. I was a little surprised by the chapter length; what I suspect is a combination of my reading speed and the multiple chapters per episode gave me the impression that they were longer.

      It’s funny, I’ve heard you talk about the differences between print and audio often enough in interviews, but I only understood it on a surface level. Cowry Catchers is the first thing I’m experiencing both ways, and it’s rather eye opening.

      • June 10, 2011 8:34 am

        Thessalyn’s voice actor did not want to read the whole story. Unfortunately, this did affect the quality of her lines. *shrug* I can’t really make people with only a few scenes read the book, but I saw a profound difference between voice actors who understood the nuances of what was happening in their scenes vs those who didn’t. I tried to summarize for people, but there is no substitute for reading the actual story.

        Chapters – I personally like short chapters. I have found, over the years, that people will finish a manuscript faster when it’s divided into short chapters than they will finish the same pile of paper divided into longer chapters. The logic goes something like this – “oh, I’ll just read one more; it’s not very long.” And again and again, and before they know it, they’ve read the whole book in an evening.

        My chapters average about 1800 words. 30 minutes of audio is 5-6K, so about 3 chapters per episode.

      • Anita M. King permalink*
        June 10, 2011 8:49 am

        I’ve been trying to write shorter chapters for that very reason. In the past, I’ve usually had long chapters, rarely shorter than 3k and often longer than 5k. The novel I’m revising now needs a pretty thorough overhaul and a lot of rewriting from scratch, so part of my plan is to rewrite with shorter chapters in mind. Hopefully that’ll help with some pacing issues as well as making the reading more like eating potato chips than trying to down a whole potato in one gulp.

  4. June 10, 2011 10:12 am

    LOL – whole potato! *gulp*

    When I wrote my first novel (I was 14/15, and Panamindorah didn’t exist), I took my structural cues from my favorite book at the time – Watership Down. It’s a hefty novel split into tiny chapters of about 1800-2000 words. I trained myself with that first 250K story, and 4 epics later, my chapters just fall like that. That’s my rhythm. I also personally like variety in chapter length. I’m not afraid to have some chapters that are 3,000 words and some that are 650. I personally enjoy encountering that sort of thing in books. I remember encountering a chapter in an Agatha Chrisy book that was only a page long. It made me dreadfully curious! Some degree of variation in chapter length makes the story feel organic instead of cookie-cutter (to me).

    Every writer I know has a different rhythm, and I don’t think you should worry about it too much. Organic is better than forced. Most people’s chapters are longer than mine, especially in S&SF. Those books get read.

  5. June 13, 2011 7:07 pm

    I love rereading novels. I do it all the time, and every time my dad asks me why I’m reading the same things over and over again and I always tell him it’s because I pick up little nuances that I missed before, or things I had forgotten. For instance, when I started reading those X-Wing books that I loaned you I had forgotten who many of the characters were, and much of the plots, they were new, despite having read them twice before.

    I haven’t read any podcast novels, but I did buy one audio book copy of one of the Star Wars books I read, mostly to see how they pronounced “Jacen”. I actually found myself disappointed in that particular audiobook because they left out a lot of the story. Not just a few words here and there, but obvious gaps that I was able to notice even though I had read the novel months before.
    My mom loves audio books though. For a while she would get them to listen in the car because she didn’t have time to read some of the books she had to for her library.

    It can be fun to head the different voices for different characters. I should scrounge around the house for the copy of the Bible read by James Earl Jones that I bought for my grandpa. (Yeah, I’m a dork.)

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      June 13, 2011 10:06 pm

      Nathan Lowell left some good recommendations for podcasts earlier in the comments, and my links page has some more, if you’re interested.

      Does your mom read/listen to a lot of classics? She might be interested in checking out LibriVox, which is a volunteer-based program to read and record books that are no longer under copyright. It’s where I get my Jane Austen fix.

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