Why I Love Audiobooks, and what I learned recording Some Nerve

Patty in the sound booth

In the booth – Meg Ryan was here!

I love audiobooks. David Sedaris has commuted with me, Bill Bryson has kept me company in waiting rooms. I’ve cried my way through Cheryl Strayed’s Wild while trying to drive, I’ve held my breath listening to Lee Woodruff‘s In an Instant while waiting for kids to go to sleep. I have laughed out loud to Stephen Colbert at the gym and smiled my way through several of the the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books. There is something primal and satisfying about being told a story. It offers tone of voice and pacing that words on a page don’t, but it also requires you to pay attention in a different way because the words will disappear once uttered. I hang onto every word.

So I was thrilled when Gildan Media bought rights to the SOME NERVE audiobook, and I asked to audition to read it myself. It was an act of boldness and desire – I wanted my written voice to be my own voice – but I had no idea how to actually do it.

In the studio at John Marshall Media in New York City, what director Stephanie Cicatiello said over and over through the intercom was: “Slow down. Take a sip of water. Breathe.” That was easy.  Then: “Remember. Remember what this felt like, what your friend sounded like, what went through your mind when you thought this for the very first time.”

Recording my memoir was one of the most intense experiences of my life. For much of it I was sitting alone in a booth (the same one where Meg Ryan and Wally Lamb recorded the same week). Stephanie, engineer Nathan Rosborough, and three-time Grammy award-winning executive producer Paul Fowlie of Common Mode sat in the control room.  Yes, I was intimidated. I didn’t want to know what they were thinking so I didn’t look out at them often.

At the control board - Nathan Rosborough

Engineer Nathan Rosborough – Is he laughing? Is he listening? I don’t want to know.

The lamp lit up the words on the music stand in front of me and I tried to light them up from the inside, as if everything – the moment I stood on the edge of the diving board, the time I fell in a river when I was a teenager, the feeling of stepping into an almost frozen lake – was happening right then. Hours and hours went by, where I was nine years old, then thirty nine, where I was the most frightened or the most exhilarated I’ve ever been.

For several scenes I was joined by the talented Alysia Reiner. She plays the villainess Fig on Netflix’s Orange is the New Black – which makes her an epic actress considering how nice she actually is!  Her rendering of people relating their toughest times or their greatest triumphs kept me on the edge of my seat. People I love, their eyes twinkling, said the funniest things to me – they made me laugh just like they did in real life.  Gosh it all felt so real.

Patty Chang Anker and Alysia Reiner

With Alysia Reiner

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After each session, I tumbled out into Times Square, completely disoriented. I had been afraid of how I would sound – if I’d pronounce things correctly, if I could sound like my daughters (or my husband or friends), if I’d get too tired, or become a drone. I’d heard that recording an audiobook could be “torture” that doing take after take would make me hate my own words.  I was worried about hiccups, and giggles, and stomach gurgling.  I worried whether we’d all be better off if a professional actor did it all.

With Stephanie and Paul Fowlie

With Stephanie C and Paul Fowlie of Common Mode

 “It’s not about reading words,” Paul Fowlie said. “We’re capturing your soul on tape.”  So I put on the headphones and spoke into the mike. And what a realized is when you write a book about facing fears, you find people (including yourself) at their most vulnerable and at their most proud – at their peak experiences.  Recording the audio, I got to relive them.  What a trip.  And with the recording, one I can take again and again.

Audio book cover

Audio book cover – I wonder where I can get that gold swimsuit?

Some Nerve: Lessons Learned While Becoming Brave (Gildan Audio) is available for download at Audible and  iTunes.