Back home in Virginia for Thanksgiving, I found myself in a competitive game of hide-and-go-seek with my two youngest nephews. My knowledge of the old house availed me well–I settled into remote, cobwebbed hiding places that made them giddy with confusion. One of these ventures led us all to stumbling across my parents’ old collection of VHS tapes.
“What are these again?” the oldest brother asked, an earnest expression of curiosity on his face.
I explained, with the kind of self-conscious horror that people in my generation feel when they realize their childhood was of an ancient analog past, that they were an old way of watching movies before DVDs. “You would need a VCR to watch them, “ I added. They looked at me wide-eyed for a moment. I might as well have been telling Spotify subscribers about phonographs.
It’s not entirely ridiculous to wonder if books won’t soon become artifacts of another era themselves. Many collections will survive by force of sentimentality, sure, and perhaps a leatherbound volume will have refreshing novelty as a Christmas gift in the year 2055–but as a commodity? Printing presses may soon gain the same status as VCRs.
These are the kind of thoughts that routinely haunt a published author nowadays. “Am I not a sociological relic of the past myself, writing books and what-not?” you ask yourself. “Maybe I should switch industries!” Look what happened to Blockbuster, after all. Vanished. Yet here I am, still spilling ink on the page as if a horse-drawn carriage was parked in the car-port.
Please don’t be offended by my cynicism: you have to understand, I’m a literary writer, which makes my situation doubly difficult. Chimera was a kind of experiment in literature for me, a business of tinkering with instruments, vials, and solutions, a process of back-engineering the technology of storytelling. Terribly interesting, right?
For the average consumer looking for the cheap thrill of mystery or romance…not so much!
There’s no doubt that Chimera can be a challenging read. (The utter hopelessness in the eyes of one or two of my foreign readers still brings a grin to my face.) It is at times a fiercely literary text defiantly grounded in the relative terra incognita of its influences. Parts of it can only be enjoyed by a limited readership. Chimera, however, is also a book of many faces, which has made it hard to pin down to one particular genre.
What I’m getting at here is this: by virtue of several factors, namely the waning market for printed books along with Chimera’s (occasional) verbosity, I decided to record an audiobook and essentially digitize the text. In today’s world, if something can’t be played through headphones it doesn’t exist. After a year of fervent work in Chiang Mai recording studios, I can say that Chimera now truly exists in the digital age.
What does recording an audiobook look like exactly, you might ask? It certainly lacks the explosive catharsis of recording music. When you record yourself reading a book, you have to remind yourself beforehand that this is what you intend to do. For an author, the process has its small pleasures, but it is overall a somewhat quiet and tedious task. There is nothing of the rock-star feel in it. Still, the play-backs are satisfying!
Most authors hire a narrator to record their audiobook for them. I thought it was important that Chimera be delivered in the voice of its writer. On the one hand, I suppose that fits into the DIY, self-published ethos of my campaign so far, but really I think there is a special authenticity and even intimacy in hearing the prose read by the author himself. The story is told by the storyteller and no one else. There is nothing that can replicate that kind of magic.
Yes, making an audiobook was part of my calculation to avoid the mounting obsolescence of being a book-publisher. Bridging the gap and all that good stuff. There is also a more artistic or romantic hope on my part that the sound of my voice reading the words of my strange stories will help listeners connect to Chimera in a way that they couldn’t just by reading it. Maybe the stories will come alive in a different way.
Some say that the written word is an endless pursuit to rediscover the magic of language as it existed before the written word. In this case, the process is a little backwards. The words are taken off the page to become sounds painting the air with vibrations. We become listeners sitting cross-legged in the space of myth once more…
And you know what? If this whole audiobook thing goes well, maybe I will put it on cassette tape somehow. The analog child inside of me would be very happy…!