By now you’ve read the story (I hope) of the germination of the idea to release the second edition of my mom’s book, The Flames Shall Not Consume You. If you haven’t you can read it here: The Flames Burn Brightly – The eBook. It started with a message from a young woman from Peru asking about the availability of mom’s book and suggesting it be released in digital formats. That message exploded into a project to publish an ebook version that became an Amazon Best Seller. While that project was in full tilt, I started another project to produce an audiobook version.
The ebook project was filled with amazing moments! To quote me:
Call them serendipitous moments, call them gobsmacked moments, call them just a coincidental moment, or, as my old friend Melva calls them, divine coincidences…the project to publish the second edition of The Flames Shall Not Consume You has been full of such moments. I mean, who can’t see the handiwork of the universe in a young woman from [the country of] Peru reaching out inquiring about the book?
The audiobook project began with an epiphany on the Fourth of July holiday. An audiobook needs a narrator. Seems pretty obvious, right? But who? I had narrated my previous book and had a great time doing it. It didn’t seem right for me to do it. It had to be a woman’s voice. I considered using Audible’s royalty share program. I had used that program when the outstanding Ron Fox narrated my first book. This program enables an author to produce an audiobook using professional voice talent with no out-of-pocket expense. The author and the narrator agree to split the royalties, with no advance and no guarantees. Pretty sweet program (says the author).
I REALLY wanted it to be someone that I knew. I felt strongly it needed to be a woman in her 40’s…the same age that mom would have been when the fire occurred. As I sat watching the fireworks at our neighbors’ house, it suddenly came to me…why not Amy Brown? I’d known Amy since she was a kid. I was her Junior High School Sunday School teacher. Her parents were one of the first people that welcomed us into the church in the ’80s. My parents loved her parents. Amy is a woman of faith, my mother was a woman of faith. Amy is an incredible business person and champion of women in the workplace, especially in tech, my mother was a trailblazer for women, especially minister’s wives. I knew Amy’s mother, Carol, had an empathetic soul, my mother had an empathetic soul…and I was betting Amy did, too.
Then the doubts crept in. No way would she agree to do this. She is the CEO of a new tech start-up, she is a mother of young kids, she is a wife…when would she have time to do this? I barely knew her. Yes, I knew her as a teenager, but we had barely seen each other in 25 years. Aside from Sunday School and a youth group canoe trip, I bet all our conversations could be contained in less than an hour.
I argued with myself for a couple of days, finally, on July 8th, I sent her an email.
Subject: An “out of the blue” question for you
I am working on a project that I need some help on…and I thought of you.
As you may know, my mom published a couple of books about 40 years ago. Because of the era in which they were published, they were not available on digital platforms like e-books or audiobooks. I have worked with her original publisher to have the publishing rights released to me via her estate.
My plan is to publish second edition versions in e-book and audiobook format. The latter is where the question for you comes in. Would you consider being “my mom’s voice” and narrating her books for the audio version?
I know that is a huge block of time and believe me when I say if you can’t give up that much time or otherwise don’t feel like you want to do this, I will totally understand if you say no. …
…Of course, we would need to discuss compensation for your time. This could either be an hourly rate or a royalty share of the sales of the audiobook.
Within 45 minutes I had her answer.
First let me say that I am completely honored that you would ask me to do something so personal, so important. One of my first reactions when reading this email is a “why me?” sort of question—(with a tone of humility, not annoyance).
Second, it is true that my time is super super thin but this sounds like a project that would be very fulfilling for me. If we could work very collaboratively on scheduling and there would be ample flexibility I would certainly be open to doing this with you.
An idea on compensation. . .what if, instead of compensating me for my time, we instead devoted a % of the book to a charity or organization in honor of your mom? We could promote that?
After a few more emails back and forth, we agreed to meet at the recording studio to do a one-hour session. This would give Amy a chance to experience the process. I wanted to give her an “out” if she tried it and decided it was not for her.
The First Recording Session
I don’t know if Amy was nervous, if she was she didn’t show it. I, on the other hand, had jello for knees. We were using 416 Wabash Recording Studio with Mitch Lohman as the engineer. I had worked with Mitch and 416 to record my previous book, so I knew what to expect. For Amy, it was all new. The recording studio is a part of 416 Wabash Event Center. When there isn’t an event, there is very little lighting. The style of the Event Center is kind of industrial. It always reminds me of Gotham City in the Michael Keaton Batman movies…dark…industrial…foreboding.
When you step into the studio, the first thing you see is the control board with thousands of dials, buttons, and sliders. To a former wanna-be rock star it is pretty cool! Behind the board is a couch. That would be my spot during the recording. Just past the board is a door as thick as a bank vault door, through that door is the sound booth. Mitch helped Amy get comfortable with the set up of the boom microphone, headphones, and teleprompter. We were all set.
Ready to begin…
I took my place on the couch and Mitch swung the sound booth door shut. From where I sat, I could not see Amy. Mitch and Amy could see each other through a window in the wall of the booth. After a few sound checks, Amy began. We started with the Acknowledgements section, challenging because of all the names mom mentions, but pretty straightforward. We were ready for Chapter 1.
Ladybug, Ladybug, Fly Away Home
January 4, 1980. A date as indelibly engraved on my mind as the day of my birth. It began like so many other days. The alarm went off at 5:45 a.m. I dragged my body to the shower to the music of WXTZ—the “old people’s radio station,” my rock-fan sons called it.
I was transported. Transported in place and time. Suddenly, I was back in 1980. I was listening to my mom tell the story. Tears welled up in my eyes and began to stream down my face. After a few minutes, Amy paused. She started again and paused. “I need a–I need a moment”, she said. Mitch stepped out of the studio to give her some time. I opened the door to the sound booth, tears in my eyes, and approached Amy. Her eyes were filled with tears as well. I could only croak, “Thank you” as we embraced. This would not be the last time tears were shed during that session and the sessions to come.
When we finished with the hour, the three of us paused in the studio.
“Amy, thank you so very much for this. Now that you see what it’s like, go home and think about it for a few days. Let me know if you’d like to do this.”
“Jeff, I don’t need to think about it, I’m doing this!”
Let’s Do This!
The next morning I sat down at my desk and found an email from Amy in my inbox.
Good evening Jeff,
I wanted to share this with you in person today but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to share it without getting choked up again…
When you asked me to do the audio-recording of your mom’s book in July, I was both honored and terrified. But here is why I knew this was something God wanted me to do….
I consider 2017 to be one of the most spiritually pivotal years of my life. That year, in January, I chose a special word to be my “beacon” or call for the year. Actually, the word chose me. The word was “fire.” And the scripture that was placed upon my heart when God gave me that word in 2017 was the scripture of the burning bush and particularly the line about the flames not consuming you.
Fast forward to your request, and it was as though God was calling me by name. Today being in that sound booth, I truly felt the presence of your mom and dad. It felt like holy ground. Thank you for inviting me into this sacred place.
INCREDIBLE! Another one of those “moments”.
Isaiah 43:1-2 “But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”
Exodus 3:2 “And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed.”
English Standard Version
In my return email, I told her the story of the cover design and my dad’s ashes. I had not told anyone that story except for Carmen and Brad.
As we progressed through the next several recording sessions, we shared more tears. Truth be told, I think Mitch might have shed a tear or two. It soon became obvious I had grossly underestimated the number of sessions it would take to complete the book. I assumed the book to be about the same length as my books, yet after four sessions we were not even halfway. With a great deal of apprehension, I checked the manuscript…over 63,000 words! Mom was a prolific writer, my books were only 35,000. Now, I really was apprehensive as I sent an email to Amy telling her how many more sessions were needed!
I gave her the out. She could stop, no hard feelings, I would totally understand. This was a huge commitment in the first place…now it was twice what I initially told her. Her response? No way am I stopping! What if we made each session 90 minutes or even two hours?
Can I say INCREDIBLE one more time!
Doe a Deer
We continued to share the experience of bringing mom’s words to life…
…when the book told the story of the nurses encouraging mom to sing to help her endure the pain of the dressing changes, the only song mom could think of was “Doe, a deer, a female deer”. When Amy read the passage, she paused and asked quietly, “Do you want me to sing it?” And then she did! (and it was beautiful).
…when mom confessed to swearing at her mother, “Bull–”, Amy again paused and asked, “Do you want me to say the whole thing? “Bullshit!”
…when mom’s vocabulary stumped us all and Mitch had to Google pronunciation after pronunciation.
…when Amy would stumble over a phrase and have to repeat it…and repeat it…and repeat it…and we all laughed! Trust me when I say, it is easy to get tongue-tied when you’ve been talking for two hours straight!
…when I learned Amy was doing the narration cold…no rehearsal…because she wanted to experience the emotion as the story unfolded. Uh, amazing! I don’t know if you have ever tried to read out loud, in front of an audience (even an audience of two), and have it recorded but it is very difficult to make it sound like you aren’t reading, it is even more difficult to put the emotion in your voice and the emphasis in the right place when you don’t know what is coming next. I am a professional speaker and narrated my second book and I certainly rehearsed. I am in AWE.
…when Amy got to the chapter about, well, about my mom and dad’s sex life after the fire. I was VERY glad I could not see her at that moment. I was 50 shades of…red!
As we neared the end of the book, Amy arrived carrying three boxes. She gave one to Mitch and one to me. Nestled in paper inside each box was a stone…a red stone…carved to look like a flame. “I wanted each of us to have one to remember this experience.” Mitch proudly added his to the curio shelf in the studio. Mine is sitting on the desk in my office. I see it every day. I think of Amy, I think of Mitch, and I think of mom.
You would think the story would end with the last audio wave of the recording…but this story was to continue…