I did it. I recorded the podcast that will accompany the release of TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE. The podcast, which I’ve named ELLEN’S VERY SOUTHERN VOICE: NOVELS TOLD WRITE, offers an extended version of the novel. Each of the 26 chapters has accompanying commentary with Helpful Train Hints and Fun Chicken Facts. The whole thing is, as they say, “in the can.” Soon, you’ll be able to tune in and hear my fabulous fiction in my very own voice. And it scares me to death.
I considered this fear as I drove to The OAM Network studio in Crosstown Concourse to record. Something about my fear was familiar, this feeling that I was hacking a path though the jungle with a machete. Podcasts are a thing; everyone listens to podcasts; podcasts are not unusual. But I know no one personally who has created a podcast to support her novel. So, for me, this was new ground. And I realized that this is the way it’s always been. This is the way I do things.
When I was practicing law in Mississippi in the 1980s and 1990s, male lawyers didn’t often make room for women to succeed along traditional paths. So I made my own way—I succeed by hunting for voids. The State Bar Association didn’t have a Health Law Section, so I created one and became its first Chair. The primary health law publication was dominated by a male lawyer, so I pitched a column to a different paper, and they launched a column with me as the contributor. When I hit a ceiling with my law firm—a firm I had dearly loved—I joined a new firm and established its Jackson office with me as the Managing Partner.
These memories helped me, really. To see a bigger picture and remind myself this is nothing new. I have been here before, and by “here” I mean that point when you’re in the middle of doing something you basically made up in your head and you look up and wonder, what the hell do you think you’re doing?
Entering voids, forging new paths, going your own way. Brave sounding, but also a bit like floating in the darkness of outer space tethered to the mothership by the slimmest of cords. Wish me luck on my re-entry.
If you’ve found us here through Podiobooks, welcome!
The release on Podiobooks is the latest step in a process that began last December. You can read the background on how I came to record my short story collection, Cain’t Do Nothing with Love, by scrolling over the ABOUT tab above and clicking AUTHOR Q&A. You can read more about the recording/story selection process at IN HER OWN WORDS under the same tab.
Sprinkled here and there on this blog are my plans for the future. My current writing projects, my woes wrestling with editing, and my exploration of life in general are at my EllenMorrisPrewitt blog. Here’s a photo of the creative synthesizer at work:
If you’re a writer on audio, let me know—I’m really interested in this process. If you’re a listener and you’d like to share your comments, I’d welcome that too. It’s a long road, this writing one, and I’m glad to have any companions I can get.
I don’t know where you are—based on my blog stats, there’s a good chance you might be in Brazil or New Zealand or Italy or India or Britain—but whatever part of the world you’re in, it might be raining.
That steady downpour that makes you hunt a sofa, a blanket, a warm cup of coffee or tea.
You need a nap, really, a chance to drop off to sleep, snuggled on the sofa, stealing a moment of doing for yourself.
But what to do until sleep arrives?
The TV has become boring, and you’re too lazy right now to read.
Here’s the ticket: listen to this story. Or this one. Or if you are one of those folks who takes longer to drift off, give this one a try.
Seven minutes, eight, you’ll be done.
Turning over, yanking the covers beneath your chin, you’ll sigh in contentment. Sleep will descend, and your dreams will make you laugh out loud.
The face behind the voice.
Tell me if this is what you envisioned when you listened to the stories.
If you haven’t listened, click on a story then tell me what you think.
That first part—the man singing—that’s not me.
I’m the one talking.
Sometimes I get so frustrated by the pace of my writing career, I Google the titles of my novels to see if something is going on with them that I don’t know about. This is an insane activity, as the novels haven’t been published. The only place they exist—other than a mention or two in contests I’ve placed in over the years—are in my computer. Yet, my lack of control over the excruciatingly slow pace—snail doesn’t begin to describe it; a snail could have traveled to Mexico, attended Carlos Fuentes funeral, and traveled leisurely back to Memphis via Omaha—has driven me to such wacko behavior.
Novels, you say. Novel. I thought she was a short story writer? Well, you see that’s the problem. Before this venture, I was “the woman who wrote that book about making crosses.” I loved my experience of the cross book, and then it was time to move on. I next chose, in effect, to self-publish as a collection these short stories that individually appeared in literary journals, my desire being to introduce folks to my fiction. Do you feel introduced? Are you ready for the next thing?
Maybe my problem is an above-average need for attention and acclaim, fanfare and fawning. But here’s the honest truth: I’m ready for the next thing before most people are ready for me to be the next thing. I’m already skipping down the sidewalk, and they haven’t processed my last chalk drawing. I can’t help it. I’m ready to bop. I want the short stories to do their work and, well-loved, subside into the background.
Lord, did you see what that snail did with Burnt Water? That’s what happens when a snail gets too much tequila.
Remember: You Cain’t Do Nothing with Love (or craziness)
This is the last week of the rollout. Look back: the first story launched on June 26 (of this year, as my friend from writing group would clarify.) We sustained a hiatus when my daddy died, then resumed with vigor. When the current week is done, we will enter PHASE II. The collection will be made available in full on other host sites. The work will enter the wider world. So let’s enjoy this last moment of intimacy. When it’s just you and me and the stories, whispering in your ear: “Listen, I want to tell you a story.”
I can feel it – I’m eating up track, finally in the groove for the story, and the week is over. Finished. Done. Time to move on.
A week is a short thing.
Stay tuned for a new story.
It involves Love.
And a man in a squirrel costume.
Everyone’s talking about e-book or print, self-publishing or traditional. I want to talk about something different. Following the advice of my favorite fortune cookie ever—try a different way or new approach—today, I’m beginning a conversation about a different approach: audio. That is, recording your work and making it available to listeners on-line.
I do not speak from a point of authority; I speak from experience. I am a long-time writer, winner of numerous contests, holder of a Special Mention from Pushcart Prize for a short story, contributor to Sue Silverman’s memoir-writing instructional book Fearless Confessions, author of a traditionally published book, Making Crosses: A Creative Connection to God. And I’ve just recorded a short story collection, Cain’t Do Nothing with Love, which is now available to the public.
The conversation will include questions to ask in deciding if recording is right for you, tips on getting started, truths I learned along the way, my experience with the listening public, etc. But today we are going to take a look at the fears that I encountered when I first clicked on the microphone and began to read my words aloud.
Thanks for listening, join in the discussion, share this blog with anyone who likes to try something new—glad to have you along.
Recording Fears, or Why Your Heart Might Skip a Beat
Your voice will sound stupid
Your voice will sound old
Your voice will sound JUST LIKE YOU
You will use a phrase that unbeknownst to you is slang for a pornographic sex act
You will mispronounce a word and not know it and your ignorance will be recorded for all the world to hear
You will no longer be able to pretend this thing isn’t important to you
Those who run the charities you’ve paired with the stories will be offended—now, we don’t want our name associated with that
A friend will ask to listen to the story while you’re sitting there, mortifying you to death
A really good writer will listen to the story and use it as the foundation of a blog entry on why we shouldn’t let amateurs have microphones
People will feel like they know you
You will have spent all this money for NOTHING
Someone will complain about your using Robb Pate’s music without compensating him even though he’s dead
Those who know you from your cross book will be shocked—I thought she was a religious person . . .
You will offend Black folk or gay folk or poor folk or Indian folk—what the hell were you thinking?!?
Your mother will hear you say a very bad word, out loud
People will give your upstanding husband the stink-eye just because his wife is strange
No one will donate to the charities
You are trying to market an approach (online, iTunes, YouTube, blog) to an audience too old (i.e. your age) to be interested, and the audience who gets the approach are too young to care about your work
Listeners won’t think the stories are funny, they won’t get it, they will find it just plain offensive
They won’t think anything at all because no one is listening, your voice echoing into nothingness
Stay Tuned for Part II: How to Overcome Your Fears and Forge Ahead
I am a child of the book. No more than five books from the children’s section of the library—what’s to be done? Not enough money to buy more than one book from the Book Mobile, thank God for Little Bear gifts from loving aunts. Summers spent in air-conditioned rooms lazing on beds, reading one Faulkner after another Welty after another, all in diamond-patterned or green-backed or crackly plastic covers. I grew up to discover paperbacks— The Bluest Eye and the Right Stuff: all right!—and when I got money practicing law, hardbacks.
So why record?
I loved the brown-edged pages, the stiff spines, the thick square paperbacks. I picked which Austin I wanted by which cover I liked. I opened the books and sniffed. I wanted to own that which I loved and I made shelves to hold them in my house.
So why record?
Why turn traitor?
Why abandon the book?
What’s fun is fun and what’s done is done. The stories are fun; the recording is done. The stories had been in print—literary journals, I know, right?—so take a Mulligan. Try something new, you’ve got nothing to lose.
But, seriously. I want the work OUT THERE. Even if that means no book.
Would I be sad if the world continues to change and by the time I finally get a novel ready to launch, the written book is gone, poof! Hell, yes.
Until then, you can go on-line. Hear me read, hear me roar.
And who knows—if the stories get popular enough, maybe I’ll put out the collection in a book.
My fiction is for those who like Flight of the Conchords … even though the show’s no longer on TV. Or “Trailer Park Boys” … even though it’s from Canada … and no longer on TV. Or Beck’s “Loser” … even though its real name is (Get Crazy with the Cheeze-Whiz). Or anyone whose favorite character on “My Name is Earl” was Crabman … even though it’s no longer on TV (ahhhh – I see a theme, and possibly why your fiction doesn’t sell.)
The stories are free, because so many of them have already been published in literary journals. To the extent I would be paid for them, I have been. So you get them for free.
There’s always a but, right?
It’s a little but, I promise.
Each story is paired with a charity, non-profit, or community organization. After you listen to the story, you have the option to donate to the paired organization.
$1. $2. $50. Whatever you feel you want to give.
Or give nothing. Just enjoy the stories.
Many of you have told me you’re listening.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Some of you have told me you’ve donated.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
If you’ve done neither, now’s your chance.
We are in a re-beginning. The roll-out of stories, interrupted by my daddy’s death and the grief that followed, is re-starting. To get back in the groove, we’re re-turning to the last aired story, “A Trip to the Lawyer.” It’s one of the shortest, 8 or so minutes. That’s a good thing when you’re re-warming muscles. Hope you enjoy it.
“A Trip to the Lawyer”
First appeared in print in RedHot ChickLit Review.
To contribute to Common Ground, a program of the YWCA devoted to conversations on race & communities in action, please follow the link here or visit commongroundmemphis.org
I opened the hand-addressed notecard. The graceful penmanship thanked me for my short story. I flipped the envelope and read the address: the writer was my neighbor. She had read “Just Now” in Memphis Magazine when the story won its annual fiction contest. I tucked the note away with other notes I’ve received over the years, those I want to keep. Of all the times my work has been published in literary journals, this note from my neighbor is the only time I remember someone in the wide world reading my fiction and responding.
Something different is happening now.
This summer, I am releasing my short story collection in audio, an initial four stories then one per week thereafter. I’m still at the beginning of this experiment; I’m only on story number 6. Yet, the difference in how I’m experiencing this publication experience is phenomenal.
I have people emailing me, Facebook messaging me, smiling at me when I run into them in the store. They are going out of their way to tell me how much they enjoy what they are hearing. They comment on the characters by name; they tell me the scenes that vibrated for them.
Why did I publish in literary journals? Because I was told to do so. Build your resume, they said, secure publications to include in your query letter—show agents you’ve got some chops. Better yet, maybe an agent will read your work and call offering representation. As a former lawyer, I saw the sense in this. Plus, to a certain extent, it worked. I have a “resume.” I made great contacts with editors, judges, etc. My work appeared in incredibly beautiful journals, themselves works of art. And, oh, my goodness, did I enjoy getting my work accepted by someone who had the background and position to call my work good.
“Ordinary readers” reading (well, listening) to my fiction takes things in an altogether different direction. The listeners are impacting the stories. For when I think of the stories now, I picture my friend sitting on the couch in the rain, listening to my words. Or another waking up, listening to my voice. Or laughing out loud at something I wrote. Or zipping down the interstate, repeating with gusto my quirky character’s mantra.
The readers are doing something I’ve read about concerning art, the artist, and those experiencing art, something about the triangle of relationship; the role the listener/viewer/reader plays in completing the work. I think this is why the reaction to my fiction feels so different from the feedback I’ve received over the years on my nonfiction book and essays. The listeners are making real something that otherwise is not.
This is brand new to me. Not to mention tons of fun, which was why I set out on this audio experiment in the first place: it sounded like fun. So far, so good.
Right now, at this very moment, we are five stories into a fourteen story experiment. Tomorrow, we will release a new story— “Drunk at the Foodland Again”—and we will be six stories in.
Many of you are listening to these stories as they are released. Some of you have subscribed at YouTube. Some subscribed to the podcast feed at caintdonothingwithlove.wordpress.com, and you receive an email each time a new podcast is released. Some are listening on iTunes. Some click through on the Facebook links and listen when I post information about a story or the charity the story is paired with.
Thus—so far—the experiment is working. i.e., Y’all are listening. Some are even donating to the charities.
Come September, we will have unrolled all fourteen stories. We will then offer the collection in toto (that means altogether, not in Dorothy’s basket in Oz) on Podiobooks.com and other audio sites. That will began a whole new experiment: literary short stories written and read by the (essentially unknown) author.
Thanks for being part of my literary laboratory. If you haven’t already, you might want to jump in the beaker. See what love has concocted.
“I don’t want to hear any more talk about heaven. Or Jesus,” my mom says.
Still, I think it was a sign. Jesus talking like a surfer dude, except saying “skate” instead of “rock.” The real thing. So I decided to become a rollerblader for Jesus.
My mom says, “Yeah, and before that, you wanted to retire the national debt.”
“Rollerblader for Jesus” first appeared in print in Gulf Coast Literary Journal. Listen to the story here:
Yesterday I joined the Podiobooks Mentoring Community. The Community is a Google+ site created by Podiobooks.com, a site offering free serialized audio books. Last year, when I was struck by this wild idea to record my short stories and make them available on-line for free, I found podibooks.com.
I hung around their community for days, reading all the posts. I learned how long each segment should be (20-30 minutes); what not to put in your intro (boring stuff); and, most importantly, the production had to be done at a professional level—yes, you can record in your closet; no, you can’t have uneven sound levels that gyrate all over the place.
My decision to not have a paper book; not have an e-book; but do audio on-line isn’t the norm. But doing something differently doesn’t mean you have to “go it alone.” I’m grateful for the professionals who helped me put together my podcasts, and I’m grateful to podiobooks.com for telling me I needed the professionals.
Launch date: Thursday June 27th
Time: 6:00 pm
Location: The Booksellers at Laurelwood
What it is: collection of award-winning short stories written and read by the author (me) and made available on CD
Launch date: earlier than June 27th
Time: anytime I choose
Location: on the ethernet
What it is: a collection of award-winning short stories written and read by the author (me) made available on iTunes, YouTube, my blog, email links, podcaster sites, my website – wherever sound is found.