Saturday, January 29, 2011

Check out this illustrated audio clip from Be Different

In my last post, I wrote about making the audio. In this post, you can follow this link and listen to the result.

For my last book, Random House made a widget that played a clip from the audio book. I always wanted images to go with the audio, though, and that's what we have done for Be Different. Alex Plank took the audio and 100+ images from my past and combined them to make a wonderful ten minute video.

There are pictures of me an my mom, when I was just a few days old. Me and my dad camping, and on my grandpa's tractor. At the Mulberry Tree Nursery School, with the kids you met in Look Me in the Eye. You'll see me with KISS, and on my motorcycle, at 18, and with Cubby when he was little. The images continue right up to the present day. It's a remarkable piece of work and I can't thank Alex enough for making it.

You can pre-order Be Different here. The link has hardcover, Kindle, and audio CD editions listed. An audio download link to Audible and iTunes will be put up soon.

I hope you like it.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Creating the audio version of Be Different

Have you ever considered making an audio book?

This is me, narrating the audio version of Be Different at Armadillo Audio in Amherst, MA. January, 2011

The dream of writing a book is very common. In today’s world, though, not everyone reads with their eyes. A significant and growing portion of the population ingests their literature audibly, rather than visually. Fifty years ago, people like that got their thirst for literature satisfied by having someone who could see and speak read to them. Today, auditory readers buy audio books.

We have seen some major shifts in publishing this past decade. When I was younger, the only path to publication was through a conventional publishing house. You submitted work, got it accepted, edited it, and saw it appear in print some months or years after beginning the process. Today all that has changed. Anyone can write a book, and offer it for sale in downloadable form on Amazon and elsewhere.

Much the same thing has happened with audio books. Anyone can create an audio book, and offer it for free or for sale on Amazon or iTunes. But how do you do it? I’ll show you . . .

The audio book begins with a script. In my case, as with other conventional print authors, the script is made from the print manuscript. That edited manuscript is read carefully and changed where appropriate for audio. Most changes are small. For example, in the print book you might say,

When you read this . . .

In the audio version, that becomes, When you hear this . . .

You also need what they call an intro and an outro, short passages to open and close the audio book. My intro goes something like this:

Be Different
Adventures of a Free Range Aspergian
Written and narrated by John Elder Robison

In a print book, the author is always identified, even though he may be writing under a psuedonym. In an audio book, it’s customary to identify the narrator as well. Many people like to listen to audio books that are narrated by their authors. There’s something to be said for hearing an author read his own words. Other people like hearing professional actors read stories; sometimes you find famous stars narrating some surprising works of audio.

Next I narrate the production and copyright; a few short lines:

A production of Random House Audio
Story copyright 2011 John Elder Robison
Production copyright 2011 Random House Audio

From there, we skip over the title pages and publication data that make up the first few pages of the print book. I read the dedication:

For Cubby, the very embodiment of Being Different.

I skip the contents, and go right to the first “story.” In this book, that’s the introduction. I begin reading:

Madison Square Garden, 1979. The New York concert was the high point of KISS’s Dynasty tour, and we kicked it off with a bang and a flash. The band played loud enough to make your ears bleed, and our pyrotechnics would burn your eyebrows off if you got too close. We were five songs into the set. “Firehouse” had just ended. We killed the spotlights and got to work. Buzzes and clicks from the sound system suggested activity, up on the blackened stage. The applause was over, and low ripples of noise washed through the audience as they waited for the next song.

I do this reading at a professional sound studio, which is the best way to get a voice recording that’s free of background noises and consistent in volume and sound quality. You can certainly record an audio book right in your bedroom, but the sound quality will probably suffer. If you are serious about audio, I suggest using a rear studio.

I’m lucky to have such a studio right in my town. Armadillo Audio is run by Peter Acker. He’s been the engineer for the audio versions of both Look Me in the Eye and Be Different. He’s done a fine job for me, and I’d recommend him without reservation if you want to record a book. You can find him here.

The engineer’s job is to handle the technical details. He is responsible for listening carefully and making sure I am recorded at a consistent volume, and there are no untoward pops or hisses from my breath. He listens to make sure passing trains and planes are not audible in the background, and he turns the recording into digital files that are sent to the editors.

Sitting next to Peter in the control room is the director. Be Different was directed by Louis Milgrom, an award-winning director who drove up from New Jersey to record my story. His job is to make sure I read at the correct speed – not too slow, and not too fast. A rule of thumb is that a finished audio book will flow at about ten thousand words an hour. That is, a sixty-thousand-word book will be six hours long as an audio book.

The director makes sure I pronounce words right, and also ensures that I follow the script. If I deviate from the script, he notes the changes and we make sure that’s what we want to do. Here he is:

If I make a mistake, or if there’s an unwanted noise, the director or engineer will stop me, and we’ll start reading again. We also take breaks in reading the script; no one could sit in a chair and read in a constant voice for eight full hours.

For me, a sixty-thousand-word story takes two days to narrate in the studio. That’s pretty normal.

It’s great having two people fill these engineer and director roles, but for many lower budget productions the engineer also serves as the director. Peter has done that many times. Once the recording is done, we move to the next step – editing.

Random House uses a single company – John Marshall Sound – to edit all its audio books. The editor tosses out the mistakes and pauses, and chains all the different takes together into one continuous audio story. That process takes a day or two for most books. The editor may also add music to the beginning and the end, and he may make subtle alterations to the tone to get a better sound quality.

At that point, the audio is ready for sale. In my case, it goes back to Random House, where they package it with the cover art, and distribute it to all their audio marketing partners. In fact, you can pre-order it online now

You’ll be able to see how my most recent effort turned out very soon. I’ll have a clip from the audio book up next week, and the whole book will be available for download in less than two months.

It’s coming fast . . .

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The making of Be Different - Pull Quotes

One of the stylistic things that separates Be Different from Look Me in the Eye is the use of what’s called pull quotes. Pull quotes are passages the editors deemed significant. They copied the quotes in little boxes on the pages in which they appear.

Here are a few of the Be Different pull quotes . . . see if you can imagine their context . . .

It doesn’t mean anything. I felt like I’d been punched in the gut.
p. 11

My differences turned out also to include gifts that set me apart.
p. 18

For me, failure wasn’t permanent state of being.

Something that seems like a pure disability can actually have components of gift, too.
p. 23

Competence often excuses strange behavior, especially when you get older and have an established reputation.
p. 25

Find life and work settings that minimize your weaknesses, and find your strengths and play to them.
p. 26

I learned to accept the way other people do things even if I’m sure that they are wrong.
p. 28

Rituals become a problem whenever they prevent you from doing the stuff you’re supposed to do, or when they get you in trouble.

For as long as I can remember, people have commented on my strange names for things. I maintain my names have a sound logical foundation…
p. 40

‘Normal’ often simply means ‘well mannered.’
p. 43

Aspergians like me are notoriously logical and straightforward, and much of the time, manners are neither.
p. 45

I came to understand that I benefited from compliance with the social rules, even when they seem illogical, wasteful and nonsensical.
p. 46

I’m glad my family kept up the fight, trying to train me in manners even if it made no sense at all to me.
p. 46

Why bother? I bothered because I’d learned that having someone to love and cherish was the most important thing in the world
p. 59

After long and careful reflection I concluded that monsters may be real, and I was wise to be wary. Faced with a world of threats, what else is a tyke to do?
p. 63

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

My beliefs about autism, research and more . . .

In a recent article on About.Com, Lisa Jo Rudy asks who, if anyone, should speak for the autism community. That raises the question . . . speak to whom? And for what goal?

Throughout history, when we read of “speaking for xxxxx,” it’s in reference to some oppressed or marginalized group, whose cause is advanced before a reluctant government or church.

For example:

Who speaks for the Arab population in Israel?

Who speaks for Gay soldiers in the Armed Forces?

Who speaks for migrant workers in California?

In almost every case, someone “speaks up” to obtain some semblance of wage or life equality for the oppressed group. I do not see myself as such a spokesperson. I’m not political, nor am I any kind of activist. That said, I am aware that I have a good many readers. So whatever you call my activity, I’ve got an opportunity to speak out for what I believe in.

So what do I believe in? I thought it might be appropriate to use this column to state some of my beliefs, which are always subject to change as my knowledge grows and I continue to evolve . . .

First of all, I recognize that the autism spectrum is very broad, encompassing verbal, commercially successful, eccentric geeks at one end and non-verbal, unemployed, disabled individuals at the other. There is a broad range of humanity between those two extremes, and their wants and needs are not only different, they are often mutually exclusive.

I believe some in the autism community waste a great deal of time arguing for or against the concept of cure. Let me state my position on “curing autism.” While I think autism is a naturally occurring brain difference, and is not “curable” in the way an infection might be cured, I believe we should develop tools to remediate autistic disability. For example, I believe we should develop ways to help non-verbal people communicate. I also think we should try to develop therapies that will minimize the impact of (for example) genetic differences that lead to autistic disability in infants.

I am very much in favor of using science to make the lives of autistic people as full and satisfying as they can be. I don’t call that a cure, but other people may use that word for the work it encompasses and I hope we can accept that idea without fighting over semantics.

At the same time, I am opposed to forcing any treatment or therapy on anyone against their will, and I am opposed to programs that lead to development of genetic tests for the purpose of abortion.

I believe all people deserve to be treated with respect, and I believe there is room in this world for many different points of view.

I think autistic people deserve the right to advocate for themselves, and make their own decisions with respect to therapy or treatment to help fit into society. That said, I understand that some autistic people cannot do this, and others need to look out for their interests.

I recognize there are many ethical dilemmas in the autism world, such as who needs a guardian and who doesn’t, or what right parents should have to choose controversial treatments for their children. I don’t have absolute answers to those questions but I’m willing to contribute to the dialogue.

I believe the medical community has a duty to search for ways to remediate the disabling aspects of autism, and I support their efforts to do that. I recognize some autistic people will embrace new therapies, while others will choose to live as they are. I believe we should respect both paths.

I think the causes and cures for autistic disability are going to be complex and hard to find. If there were easy answers, we’d have them already. I believe we need to put more money into research, while also finding family services and accommodations.

To that end, in addition to medical research, I believe psychologists and mental health professionals should develop new strategies to help autistic people succeed and be happy.

I believe employers should do more to accommodate autistic workers. Autistic people bring a unique set of skills to the workplace, along with unique challenges. I think much more can be done to help our autistic population find satisfying and meaningful employment.

At the same time, as an autistic person, I recognize that we need to learn to behave in ways that will be acceptable to the general public. Businesses should make reasonable efforts to accommodate us, but we need to take our own steps to fit into the workplace as best we can.

I believe in the power of early detection and intervention. Study after study has shown that autism’s disability is minimized through early intervention. I support research into detection and intervention in toddlers and infants.

I believe schools can do more to develop programs for autistic kids. My Aspergian son and I are both high school dropouts, and I’d like to see that sort of thing come to an end.

I believe the scope of autism therapy and treatment covered by health insurance should be dramatically expanded.

I believe autistic people should have greater representation on the governing boards of organizations that purport to serve them. I believe this to be true in both the public and private sectors.

I believe in the value of mentoring, and the value of positive role models.

I welcome your comments and thoughts