26 March 2019

Can You Hear Me Now?

Thanks to the fine folks at Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, a recording of me reading my Agatha Award-nominated short story "Bug Appétit" will be available online at the EQMM website beginning April 1st. (It's true. No April Fool's here.) When they asked me to make the recording, my biggest concern was technical. How could I get a good version of me reading my story in Virginia up to New York, from where it would get uploaded to the EQMM podcast site? That may sound like a no-brainer to many of you, but for me, well, let's just say I'm not really great with new technology. I'm still waiting for someone to teach me how to use the Bluetooth in my car.
Eventually things got worked out technologically speaking (thank you, Jackie Sherbow), so I was able to focus on my next worry: I have five speaking characters in my story. How was I going to make them sound different enough that the listener would be able to tell them apart? If you're reading the story on paper (or on a screen), you can see when a speaker changes, even without a dialogue tag, because you'll see a closing quotation mark, then a change in paragraph, and the next line of dialogue opens with an open quotation mark. You're not going to have those visual signals with audio. My friends told me not to worry--ha!--and said that surely it would all be fine.

"Bug Appétit" was in the
Nov./Dec. 2018 issue
Skeptical, I realized procrastinating was doing me no good. So I put those worries aside and moved on to the next ones: Was I properly pronouncing all the words in the story? Would I talk too quickly?--something I've been accused of in the past. Would I insert verbal tics (umms, etc.) without realizing it? To address these concerns I looked up the words I was unsure of, including researching regional pronunciations, and practiced reading out loud. Then I recorded the story, sent it off to New York, and now I wait anxiously for April 1st to arrive for the recording to be posted so I can see (or more precisely, hear) if I did an okay job.

In the meanwhile, here are some things I've learned from this experience:

(1) Even if you think you've written a funny story, you can't laugh at your own jokes while you read the story aloud. This is tougher than you'd think when you're a hoot. (Just saying.)

(2) While Alexa may be good at a lot of things, pronunciation isn't one of them. When I asked her how to pronounce "sago" (as in sago grubs), which I spelled out for her, she pronounced it for me--the same way I would have said it instinctively. Woo-hoo! But then she said that she's not often good at pronouncing things and while she's always improving, maybe I shouldn't rely on her. So much for technology.

(3) "Pecan pie" is one of those terms that is pronounced differently in various parts of the United States. Where I grew up on Long Island, it's pronounced PEE-can pie. (Every time I say it or think it, I can hear Billy Crystal saying it over and over in When Harry Met Sally. "Pee-can pie. Pee-can pie. Pee-can piiiiie." But on the West Coast, where my story is set, many people pronounce it pih-KHAN  pie. I had to practice to say it right.

(4) Practice doesn't always make perfect. When you read aloud, you instinctively say a word the way you've always said it, no matter how much you practice. Or at least that's what happened to me, which is why I had to stop and re-read that part for the recording. Twice. That pih-KHAN pie was hard fought.

(5) No matter how hard you try to remove background noise, when you're recording something, there will always be a plane flying overhead.

(6) And when you have a dog named Jingle, he will become velcro right when you want to start recording and then he will live up to his name, moving and scratching and jingling over and over and over, so you have to stop and restart the recording over and over and over. And over.

(7) Eventually you'll get so frustrated you'll tug his collar off and tell him to be quiet (perhaps with some expletives mixed in). When he finally does it and falls asleep, you'll sigh in relief, but beware: your bliss will be short-lived. Because within a few minutes the dog will start to snore. Of course he will.

(8) Effecting five different voices plus the one saying the internal monologue is not easy. I found that I physically tried to embody each character, stretching tall with my nose raised whenever the mother spoke, tilting my head sideways to get the amused dad's voice right, and internalizing the narrator's voice from season two of Fargo when I read the exposition. The only voice that came really easily was the grandma's--a woman who spoke her mind. Go figure.

(9) Reading a story aloud takes much longer than you'd expect. Much longer than reading it silently. Let's hope that means I read it slowly enough without any verbal tics. And, um, if I, um, included some tics, um, please don't tell me.

(10) If the fine folks at EQMM ever ask you to record one of your stories for their podcast, jump at the chance. It was a lot of fun. But first, arrange for your dog to go on a long walk before you hit record. The last thing you want listeners to hear while you're reading your story is someone snoring in the background.


  1. Excellent. It's great they gave you the opportunity. Look forward to hearing it. Good tips for everyone.

  2. Now I'll have to listen to it twice... once for your excellent reading, and once for the Jingle track.

  3. Congratulations- that will give that funny story a wider audience.
    The big problem I've had with podcasts is running out of voice and becoming desperately thirsty ways too far from the end.

  4. Looking forward to this! When I recorded mine, they were doing demolition to the adjacent (connected!) building—so my office "recording studio" literally shook sometimes! (Hope people couldn't hear it.....)

  5. Excellent advice. And I loved the story!

  6. Barb, congrats, and I look forward to hearing it (I have been enjoying audiobooks lately too). When Linda asked me to record "Snake in the Sweetgrass" for AHMM podcasts I had a lot of the same problems. I could never get through an entire reading without a screwup so they had to combine several takes. My narrator had an Appalachian accent so I had to decide how far to take that. The cool part was that since he was a fiddler my daughter wrote the title tune and my wife played it!

    About pronunciation. My friend (and sometimes commentor here) Peter Berryman wrote a song with his partner Lou Berryman called "Poniatowski" about a tiny town in Wisconsin that happens to sit on a major cross of latitude and longitude. ("Very hard to find in a book of county roads, ridiculously easy on a four-inch globe." Lou swears this happened: She called a native of the town and asked: "is it pronounced PoniatoWski or PoniatoVski?"



    "You're Velcome."

  7. Thanks, everyone, for stopping by and for your kind words about my story. I hope you enjoy the audio version when it's available.

    Janice, the nice thing about recording for EQMM is they said if I need to stop at any time, that it's fine. Just go back a sentence or two and restart and they'll make it all work. So I could sip some water or whatever in the middle--though I don't recall doing so.

    Art, wow, demolition is pretty bad and hard to avoid. But I don't recall hearing any background noise when I listened to your story. So yay!

    And Rob, you made me laugh out loud. Great pronunciation story!


  8. Things I learned from this:
    That you went for it; I know your voice and it's a good one, (unlike mine).
    That EQMM has been picking the best for their podcasts,(I love them!)
    Why you wanted to know how they pronounced "pecan" in different regions.
    That Jingles still never disappoints at being Jingles,(I laughed out loud over his snoring).
    Congrats, Barb!

  9. Thanks, Tonette. And yep, having a dog always keeps things interesting.

  10. Barb, I'm looking forward to hearing you read with all your voices! Good post.

  11. Funny and educational, Barb. You are a hoot.

    The readers of the Harry Potter series amazed me. Jim Dale for the US market and Stephen Fry for the UK created dozens upon dozens of indivuduals. (Why two readers, I don't have a clue.)

    I look forward to hearing your story, Barb.

  12. Looking forward to hearing the magic, Barb!

    Maybe my fav book on tape is Keith Richards' autobiography. It's long and there are a couple different readers, inc Johnny Depp. When Keith reads (not much), it's a little hard to understand.

  13. Thanks for stopping by, Mary Ann, Leigh, and Lawrence, and I hope you enjoy listening to the story.

    Leigh, as to the two Harry Potter readers, it's probably because the British version of the books was slightly different from the US version. See more hear: https://www.hp-lexicon.org/differences-changes-text/

  14. Looking forward to your podcast, Barb. They’re fun to record ... and fun to listen to!

  15. Hear, hear, Barb. I did not know that about the Potter books. Thank you for enlightening me.

  16. Enjoyed reading about your experience, Barb, and I look forward to listening to you. I've never been asked to read any of my stuff, but if I do, I'll come back here and read it again. I may have to ask you for any other tips.

  17. Thanks for stopping by, Josh and Earl. I hope you enjoy listening to the story.


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