From Page to Audio: An Author's Perspective

It’s no accident that “Pope Joan” is a Recorded Books title. My whole family and many of our friends are loyal Recorded Books subscribers. They cannot imagine commuting to work or taking a road trip without the fun of a well-told tale from Recorded Books (we have been renting from RB for 25 years!).

So when the time came to sell audio rights for Pope Joan, I knew where I wanted those rights to go. Unfortunately, the first offer came from a rival audio-recording company. My agent wanted to accept this very generous offer, but I was adamant: I wanted Recorded Books.

My determination (my agent would call it reckless disregard of bird-in-hand) paid off: RB made an even better offer, which I joyfully accepted.

Next on my wish list: secure the brilliantly talented Barbara Rosenblat. As the winner of many Audie awards, Barbara is very sought after. But having enjoyed her performances for so long, I wanted her, above anyone else, to narrate the story of my adventurous, inspirational heroine.

Shameless as a Washington lobbyist, I begged Barbara to meet me, offering the bribe of a blow-out dinner. As luck would have it, she was going to be at the RB studios that day and graciously agreed. We talked for a while, then Barbara went into the recording booth to read a short piece from the novel (a scene where Joan’s father beats her for the “crime” of learning to read).

It was a “cold read”--meaning Barbara hadn’t previously read the book or the passage. Nevertheless, her reading moved me to tears. When she exited the booth, I was down on one knee, holding out my wedding ring in mock proposal (when my husband reads this--and he will, for he always reads RB catalogs--won’t he be surprised!) I continued to woo Barbara through a merry, talk-and-laugh-and wine-filled dinner until finally she said yes!

The result is extraordinary. Barbara’s thrilling voice, her genius for ferreting out every nuance of dialogue and text, led me to discover new meaning in my own words.

One anecdote that might amuse RB subscribers: at the end of my novel, there’s an Author’s Note with information about the 9th century as well as startling evidence in favor of Pope Joan’s historical existence. And RB asked me to read it! Boy, was that ever fun! But when you listen, you should know what was going on while I did it.

I arrived early to hear Barbara record the final pages of Pope Joan before starting my own taping. Slipping soundlessly into the studio, I listened, enraptured, until I got an overwhelming urge to cough (I was recovering from a bad cold). I jumped up and made for the door. Alas, I had forgotten to take off my earphones. The cord tightened, knocking my chair over with a loud crash, wrenching the earphones off my head so they bounced against the recording console in horrifying cacophony.

After my red-faced apology, the recording resumed. This time I took cough medicine my doc had prescribed--a teaspoonful dose, but with no teaspoon available, I sipped from the bottle, “guesstimating” the amount.

Big mistake. Within moments, I felt woozy. Still, I made it through the end of the recording, and I’m so glad I did, for Barbara was at her very best voicing the emotional ending of my novel.

Next up: I am led to a studio to narrate the Author’s Note. I have practiced, so all goes smoothly for ten minutes. Then the “obviously-more-than-a-teaspoon” dose of cough medicine made it imperative to rush to the bathroom to…how to put this politely?…donate the contents of my stomach to the NYC sewer system. I returned to recording for another ten minutes, then off to the bathroom again! Happened three times in all. So when you listen to the Author’s Note, wear an “insider’s” smile as you contemplate the conditions under which I recorded it!

End result: The Author’s Note came out okay (thanks to editing and re-takes). Barbara’s narration is nothing short of brilliant. I’m very proud of this recording, and I can’t wait until my family and friends see Pope Joan in the RB catalog. Then they will believe that I and this novel, long labor of my heart, have finally arrived!
Link here for information about purchasing the Recorded Books audio version of Pope Joan.

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1997- Donna Woolfolk Cross
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