Thursday, September 17, 2009

it is a kind of magic.

Currently Listening To: In These Arms by The Swell Season
Top Chef: is rocking hard this season. I pick Jen to win! Still no favorite on Project Runway.

Happy Thursday friends! Don't forget to leave a comment on Monday's post if you want your name tossed in the coffee cup for Andrew Peterson's new book North! Or Be Eaten. Too bad you won't have it by this weekend, because it's supposed to be kinda cold and rainy here (perfect weather for fantasy/fairy-tale stuff)*. This is my most favorite kind of weather (when I'm not going anywhere ...). Biscuit and I will be editing. I can do NOTHING else. Must. Edit. I'm about to go Zorro on this new projecto and rid the book of its suckage. And then I have a really cute new project I'm playing with in my down time. In order to take a break from writing, I write. It's truly sick.

When I say Biscuit and I are editing, of course, I mean I will be editing. I've been writing all week. Biscuit hasn't been helping me at all. She's been sleeping though:

Biscuit's job description seems to be 1.) Be cute, 2.) Be playful, 3.) Sleep. She excells at all those things. As I type this, she is sitting beside me. She was chewing on a tug toy but now she's about to fall asleep again. Tugging on a tug toy is hard work, no doubt. Most of the time she sleeps with the tug toy ... so that she is ready to play at all times. Even in her sleep. Evidence:

Wah! She's so cute! :) The red thing above her head (that looks like a stick of dynamite) is her chew toy. I gave her a cute little alien toy last weekend. She had the thing dismembered in days. I'm still finding parts of its squeaker all over the house. It's like Independance Day 3D.

I have something to talk about besides my dog though. I want to talk
audiobooks. I'll make it exciting, promise ;)

While driving to Georgia last week, I listened to the audio version of The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfeld. My drive was five hours long (five hours to/ five hours fro) and it passed like lickity-split because I was so engrossed in this novel. This audiobook was stunning. I don't know if they give awards for audiobooks (?) but this one deserves something.
The Thirteenth Tale is the story of a woman (30ish) named Margaret, who works with her father in an a store for rare and used books**. In Margaret's spare time, she dabbles in writing biographies of dead/obscure authors. Then she gets an invitation from Vida Winter, the most popular living writer in the world. The invitation asks Margaret to pen Vida Winter's biography ... a true rarity, as the woman has never granted anyone true information about her life. The book mostly follows the story of Vida Winter's childhood and young adulthood. All the hallmarks are there: Love. Loss. Murder. Ghosts walking through the misty moors of England. And then there's the actual 13th Tale, which is shrouded in mystery too. Does it exist or doesn't it? I kid you not, I was on the edge of the seat in my rental car trying to figure it out. I even stopped for Taco Bell and ate it in the car so I wouldn't have to stop the story.

The Thirteenth Tale has so many layers, and several wonderful characters. The book isn't wonderful in a warm fuzzy way, though. This book is dark, twisted, kinda weird. Loved it. There was also a twist I did not see coming. I literally gasped out loud in the car when I realized what was happening. I'd been duped, even though the clues were all there. So fab! And the setting ... wow. It didn't matter that I was in a car, driving through the muggy south. I felt like I was in England, in a dark old mansion called Angelfield, watching the rain fall ... *insert haunting music*.

The novel was truly breathtaking. When it ended, I had that really awesome high that comes from reading a beautiful book. Except I didn't read it, I listened to it (thanks for talking me into listening to it, mom!). That's what I wanted to chat about.

I've tried a few audio books before - while driving mostly. None of them held me very long. It just sounded like someone reading a book out loud, and for whatever reason, that didn't jive so well with my imagination. I don't really know why. I still remember my mom reading to me at night when I was little. She did all the voices and had this perfect inflection that fell over the words. Those are good memories. And I still love to hear people talk. Love to hear them tell stories. I used to hang out with my grandparents a lot and all I wanted to do was listen to them tell stories (also, I loved it when they took me to Flonnie's, a little hamburger place near their house :). I liked books on cassette tape when I was a kid. Did you have those? Audiobooks seem like a smash up of all those things I like, and yet they do nothing for me. Until I heard this audio book.

All the right stuff is in place.

For starters, the novel is a feast of beautiful words. In as much as it's about one woman's shadowed upbringing, it's also a love song to language. At one point Setterfield describes the curl of pencil shavings that spiral down to the floor. Everything is described very intricately here, and I realize that might not be your cup of Earl Grey. I might skim over so much description too if I had been reading the story. (I mean, hello. This was the abridged version and it was packed.) However, since all I could do was sit in the car****, I was forced to listen. I'm so glad I did! The writing was beautiful. If you're willing to soldier through a lot of detail, you won't be disappointed. It was the vocal component, however, that really made this thing shine. The readers for The Thirteenth Tale, Lynn Redgrave and Ruthie Henshall are phenomenal. Lynn Redgrave is a popular British actress. Ruthie Henshall has a background on the West End.***

In the spirit of Ruthie Henshall, let us tangent for a moment to talk about stage actors.

I've always admired stage actors for the work they put into their craft. It seems like a very refined (very difficult) art to throw your heart into. They study acting, obviously, for years. But I never really understood the work they put into vocal training until I met Kayla, a friend of mine whose goal is to play Elphaba on Broadway one day. Kayla has studied voice for-stinking-ever, learning all sorts of quirky alphabets and techniques, accents, and ways to make her voice carry and on and on. The result is pretty awesome. How you tell a story matters just as much as the story itself. It's not easy to tell a good story. Not so easy to write one either. I think what makes this audiobook rock is that all three artists, the writer and the readers, understand the musicality of language; the rhythm of a really kick-butt story. A tale that kicks tail.

One more tangent to talk about Rachel Maddow. I bring it all back around I promise!

There was a good article about Rachel Maddow in the January issue of Vogue. The reporter asked Rachel why she got into broadcasting in the first place. She talked about her dad, and how he watched so many televised sports when she was growing up. She said:

"I think it was formative for me in, like, some deep, subconscious way that my dad used to watch sports on television without the sound on because he wanted to listen to the radio sound ... so he'd have a transistor radio in his lap and the TV with the sound off, even when they were out of sync."

This made me smile. I grew up in East Tennessee, very close to Knoxville. Even if you aren't into football, there's no way you can live here and not know about the fandom surrounding UT. If you were to ride over Knoxville in an airship on a Saturday in the Fall, you might believe the entire state was being taken over by oompa loompas. It's like a sea of bright orange. The game is on every TV, in every house you drive past. Some people load up and go to the game (Recommended! The games are a blast.). I don't follow UT football like I did in high school and college, but I still think it's a really fun and cool cultural quirk. I still think it's great to be a Tennessee Vol :) So it's no surprise one of the most distinctive voices from my childhood belongs to a man named John Ward.

My dad always watched the UT game on television, but he muted the sound and listened to John Ward, the radio announcer, call the game. And I always wondered ... why doesn't he just turn up the TV and listen to that announcer? Ya know?

Rachel Maddow answered the question for me in her interview:

"And I thought, Oh, right, radio is harder. He's getting a higher-level audio experience from people who know you can't see the picture. I also just thought, like, Oh, my dad's awesome; he has higher standards."

(From the January issue of Vogue, article by Robert Sullivan)

(I'm really glad I didn't throw that issue away! :)

The same principle applies to this audiobook. The same principle applies to any kind of storytelling, really. While I was listening to this story all the way to the farm and back, I thought about how awesome the art of storytelling is and how it's changing. And I thought about how it might continue to change for a generation who expects, who demands, to be visually stimulated.

Example: one of the leads in the novel read
Jane Eyre as a girl. I read Jane Eyre earlier this year. When I read it, I think I was probably drawing on movies I'd seen from that time period to understand dress, mannerism, etc. Maybe I thought up some of it on my own, but I think subconsciously I was pulling from what I'd seen in movies. But where would someone alive before movies/TV/internet draw from? I think it's so awesome to think there really was a time an imagination was a blank canvas. All you had was a story, a voice, and your personal experiences to start painting this wild new world across your imagination. I think it's cool too that there was a time storytelling was the primary means of passing down a family history - not pictures, but stories. There was a time everybody paid attention to the traits a person possessed - a sparkle in someone's eye, an inflection in an accent, a lop-sided grin. You had to remember, because you would know your memory is the only picture you would have once the person is gone. In some ways, that's still kinda true.

Anyway. The Thirteenth Tale was great for my long road trip. Not only did it keep me hooked, but it made me even more grateful and thankful I get to mess with words all day long. I'll never be that good at sharing them, but I'm grateful all the same.

People disappear when they die. Their voice, their laughter, the warmth of their breath. Their flesh. Eventually their bones. All living memory of them ceases. This is both dreadful and natural. Yet for some their is an exception to this annihilation. For in the books they write they continue to exist. We can rediscover them. Their humor, their tone of voice, their moods. Through the written word they can anger you or make you happy. They can comfort you. They can perplex you. They can alter you. All this, even though they are dead. Like flies in amber, like corpses frozen in ice, that which according to the laws of nature should pass away is, by the miracle of ink on paper, preserved. It is a kind of magic. (from The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield pgs. 20-21)

So. Audiobooks. Like them? Hate them? Ever listened to one that you care to recommend? Did you have a favorite book on tape (that made the little dingaling sound when you turned the page? :) Does your dog dismember alien toys or is it just a Biscuit thing? Hope you have a happy weekend :)

* Then again, I guess it's only cold and rainy if you live here ...
** I've always wanted to live in the upstairs of an old book store. One of the first novels I tried to write was about a girl who lived above a bookstore. Eventually, I realized the novel had no ... what do the pros call it ... plot? :) It was just about a girl who lived above a bookstore and sold books. And that's it. Like a literary Sims.
*** That song always makes me teary. Love this: "But the tigers come at night. With their voices soft as thunder. As they tear your hope apart; as they turn your dream to shame."
**** And point the Kenny Finger at Atlanta drivers.


  1. I've actually never listened to an audiobook before. Is that weird?
    I hadn't heard of the Thirteenth Tale but I really like that snippet and will look out for the book.
    Finally, I will confess (well, maybe it's not much of a confession) that I don't like rain at all. The gray sky, the thickness of the air, the creatures that crawl out from the's very traumatizing for me ;). BUT, when it's a proper rainy day (as in, one where there is no place to be) and I can sit, read and stay in PJs all day, I am quite content.

    Oh, one more thing! That chronic ailment you have? The writing to stop writing? I believe it's called Writer-itis. And, to be quite honest, I don't mind that you have it. I can't wait to read your novels soon :)

  2. I've never listened to an audiobook, either. I've been tempted to sometimes, when I really want to read a book, but don't have the time or the energy (such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which I'm struggling through again). But I feel sort of guilty when I even consider it. Like I'm betraying books, because I'm not taking the time to really read them. I don't know how to explain it, I'm just a book person who feels the need to hold a physical book in my hands and read it. I can't get into the idea of one of those "Kindle" things, either. I do have the Focus on the Family radio theater for the Narnia series. I read the series a few times a year, usually, but I thought I might start listening to those CD's when I'm sewing. =)
    I did love those Disney books with the cassettes when I was younger, though. =) We had "The Aristocrats," "The Jungle Book," and a few others.

  3. When I was in fourth grade, I listened to all the Harry Potter books, (that were out then), on tape. I think it was up to the Goblet of Fire and I loved the way the man on the tape read the books. It was so fascinating. I kid yo unot, my entire class would stay in from recess to get an extra hour of listening to harry potter. It was wonderful. I hvae since read all the books at least twice through. The older ones much more than twice, but the newer ones only twice.
    Both my dogs tear up everything. Especially my feisty Yorkie named Chloie. She's nuts. She pulls stuff out of trashcans, laundry and recently chewd through my sister's flip flop. It was kind of funny. Lucky we're twins so she can wear my shoe size. ;p
    Oh and by the way I received your book today!! Paper Doll looks to be an awesome read and I'm so excited to dive in!
    I will have to check out the Thirteenth Tale. I love books that are kind of dark. They give you a feel of something else other then happy all the time fiction.
    Thanks for sharing :)

  4. It's fooootbaaaalll time in tennesseeeeeee!!!

    BeBe chews apart anything cloth and/or with a squeaker. I highly recommend the Kong as an indestructible toy.

    We always rent audio books from cracker barrel... We were listening to some stupid mystery book narrated by Tom Wopat on our drive home once, and we still had 1hr left of it when we drove past the last cracker barrel nort (in New Jersey), so we ended up having to buy it because we didn't return it. wasn't worth it.

  5. btw... seen this?

  6. I LOVE audio books. But I am very picky about them. Highly recommend: I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosely. It's a book of quirky and hilarious personal essays. And Sloane reads them herself. It's amazing. I had a hard time driving because I was laughing so hard.

    Also, since you are a Gaiman fan, basically anything of his is great in audio format. He also reads his works himself, and he's got a great sense of his own story (hey, not all authors can read their own stuff). And he's got a gret English accent. :)

    Also, The Princess Diaries series (by Meg Cabot) is read by Anne Hathaway who played Princess Mia in the movies. Really fun, short listens for ya.

    I second thisisntjimmy: any toy made by Kong is great for dogs. If you get the original Kong (a snowman-shaped thing with a hole in the bottom), put a little peanut butter in it, freeze it for an hour or so, and then watch your puppy be amazed. George and Izzy go nuts over these.

  7. Natalie Hi!

    My name is Tiffanie Riley. I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed reading the Instep articles you wrote for Brio once upon a time...pretty amazing stuff! I'm so glad you use your heart and God given wisdom to share the truth or beauty and love from Jesus to all of us young women in the world today. It is so greatly needed. This world is definitely blessed by people like you! I can't wait to read PaperDoll soon! Keep being a light for Jesus, and thank you so much for being who you are in Him.

    Blessings, Tiffanie.

  8. Sarah, definitely give The Thirteenth Tale a shot on audio. It takes a bit to get into it, but once you do it's a fun ride :) And it's okay not to like rainy days. I hate driving in the rain. I like most other things about it though :) Thanks for the writerly encouragement! I can't wait to read your novel either :)

    Kristin, I know what you mean about the physical comfort a book brings :) I like holding them, pulling them off the shelf, carrying them around. They're like grown up security blankets. That said, I think I could get hooked on a reader. At this point, they aren't any more convenient for me than just buying a book (I cant' justify the expense). But I think it would be cool to have one for most purchases, then splurge occasionally on the books I'm particularly wild about (with awesome covers ... :) You should definitely try an audiobook while you sew!

    Steffanie, my brother frequently sings praises of the audio Potters. I need to break them out for my next trip Maybe it's the British accent that hooks me on an audio book? Hmm. :) I hope you like Paperdoll!

    J and Carra, checked out the Kong today. Thanks SO much for the reccommendation! I kid you not, it's awesome having dog experts at my disposal :) I need to look online to see what size she needs. Technically she's a small, but the small one looked really tiny ... she's only 18 pounds but still. I don't want her to swallow it. Do you guys put the Kong treats in it or just regular dog treats? Or no treats?

    Also J, thanks for that link! I can't WAIT for Wild Things. I also like the site Cory Godby does, something yellow eyes. Know what I'm talking about? Also, I find it wonderfully hilarious how Tom Wopat is a recurring character in your life story :) Too bad it isn't John Schneider. He was the duke brother with all the class.

    Carra, I had no idea Neil Gaimon read his own stuff! Love his accent. I watched some of the stuff he did for Coraline. There's a commercial where he talks about button-phobia and it's great. Just a snippet, but he has a perfect reading voice. I can't wait to see how Biscuit reacts to Peanut Butter! She goes wild over treats ... :)

    Tiffanie Marie, thank you so much for dropping by the blog and leaving such a sweet comment! It truly made my day :) I'm really glad those articles encouraged you. As sappy as it sounds, hearing from In Step readers always reminds me I'm never processing all the hard questions by myself. Thanks so much for taking the time to say hey on here. I hope you like Paperdoll. :)

  9. Tom Wopat has punched a special place into my heart for himself.

    Kong... any treat will do... dog biscuits fit fine. Sometimes if BeBe isn't eating her food, I'll put a handful into the kong and she'll eat it. A smear of peanutbutter... and like Carra said, you can put the PB in and put it in the freezer for a bit and they like that.

    I must go hunt for the Cory Godby site now...