Ah! She Recorded Me…I Didn’t Recognize My Own Voice

The audiobook for Multiple Exposure is available for purchase: Go to iBooks or iTunes and type in Shana Thornton, you’ll see the book. Also, buy on Amazon, Audible
I said that I wouldn’t read Ellen’s book again. Technically, I’m the author, but to me, the story in Multiple Exposure belongs to the narrator, Ellen Masters, and I read it so many times while writing it that I told myself I wouldn’t again, not cover to cover, for years… decades. Maybe never again.

I told an audience recently, “I think writing this book gave me post traumatic stress disorder.” No one was laughing. I was serious.

Then, I had an opportunity to record an audiobook version with recording artist, musician, technician, and producer, Gwendy Joysen, who gave me a reason to read the book cover-to-cover again and in the best voice I’ve used, and all while making it a better book. Gwendy has many more skills, but these were the talents that helped me record my audiobook–technical and creative skills combined with openness, psychological vulnerability and wisdom, and positive praise–suddenly, Gwendy was helping me into a new phase of my life that I wasn’t even fully engaging.
Walking into her recording space, the big mic waiting for my voice, waiting for the story, I was intimated to read the book again. When I flipped open the first page, I shuddered and cleared my throat. Faltered. When I heard that first line played back in my voice, I heard a flat tone. I closed my eyes and imagined an audience. Gwendy said the same thing when I thought it–to imagine telling my story to people. Don’t focus on the headphones and microphone, on the wires and levels and controls that I knew were there, just make the story come to life from the words on the pages.

As soon as that began, the need to shift and adjust became clear which lent the story extra clarity and tighter prose. Little clean ups: tags, words that just sound weird when said aloud together, verb shifts, and more. All those editing chores, considered “boring” by many but like tilling and weeding to me, were happening again. Ugh, I was exhausted after our first session. My legs were swollen and my lungs hurt. I found new admiration for singers and the physical demands and challenges required for singing and vocal performance. I was feeling how fragile I was when I wrote the story. I saw my own past pains and stresses reflected in the words.

When I least expected it, Gwendy asked me to sing–first, “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby,” and then, “Precious Memories.” Only the title of the former and a couple of lines from the latter, but I was recording my singing voice–oh, geez, while this lightened our recording time (Multiple Exposure is a heavy book), I’ve only considered myself a road trip crooner and fireside accompaniment, as far as singing goes. Gwendy volunteered to be my vocal coach, too, for those little bits of song. First, we listened to a couple different versions of each song until we found the one that seemed right. Gwendy quickly chose one and then, she sang and sang, instructing me to blend in with her voice. We sang the lines over until she dropped out when I captured it enough times to record my solo voice with the correct tone and melody.

My diaphragm and abdominal muscles were sore after reading for 4+ hours, and this showed me how taxing it can be for singers and musicians when they are in the recording studio. My feet ached from standing. Gwendy insisted on breaks and drinking water. I sipped coffee most of the time to soothe my sore throat.

During our breaks, we naturally learned about each other, and Gwendy connected to my character’s PTSD struggles, since Gwendy recently emerged from a traumatic and abusive relationship that lasted a few years. I finally felt like Ellen received some validation, and that I did as an author.

We shared stories about overcoming anxiety issues and allowing art to carry us through the highs and lows in life. That ever-changing landscape, the sand painting of living the life of an artist and trying to make a living, looking for validation for your artwork and not wanting to need it but needing it, and the moments of being swept up in the exhilaration and escape of the creative process–we shared all those experiences in life. By being her own open, honest self, Gwendy helped with the inspiration for a new book and creative project that’s currently in the works.

Multiple Exposure was recorded, mixed, and mastered by Gwendy Joysen. I highly recommend her services! Her website: http://www.gwendyjoysen.com
I narrated. Recorded in Tennessee, spring 2014. Please, buy a copy: Go to iBooks or iTunes and type in Shana Thornton, you’ll see the book. Also, buy on Amazon, Audible

Cover Design by Steven Walker, http://www.stevenMwalkerImages.com

Cover Design by Steven Walker, http://www.stevenMwalkerImages.com

Some Stories Choose You as a Writer

“Don’t you think some stories choose you?” I was asked this question after expressing my frustration with readers’ questions about why I wrote a book about a military family. So many people assume that the main character is me–that I was once married to a soldier. However, reading and listening informed me more than my personal experience.

I’ve read War/Military fiction since I was in junior high. Much later, I began writing the novel, Multiple Exposure. I began writing without realizing my personal influences on the work. If I consider only one branch of my own family tree, I can begin in the Revolutionary War with my great-great-great-great grandfather, Jeremiah Brown, who served in the North Carolina Militia. In that tradition, many of my relatives have served and do serve in almost all branches of the military.

But, it’s more than that. I’ve met soldiers and found myself listening for hours to details about many aspects of daily life during wars, skirmishes, the waiting, the wanting, and more. I’m often completely surprised by the disclosures and don’t expect them. My husband’s grandfather, Glen, gifted me with his story, and I wasn’t aware that he had been a soldier, even though I had been writing letters to him for about five years. Glen was awarded a Purple Heart for his service during WWII. I met Glen for the first time on my wedding day, and after that, I wrote many letters to him. He enjoyed my stories, and even though I tried my best to get him talking, Glen wasn’t a man of many words. He appreciated my letters about college and our new home in Memphis, our time in the Netherlands, and our struggles to find work after college. The last time I saw him, we went to a Mexican restaurant and drank a big pitcher of margaritas. I was having doubts about becoming a “real writer”. That’s when Glen told me that I could do anything and not to let people hold me back, and then he told me more about his life than my husband had ever known. He described what it was like to get shot in WWII, and how he didn’t realize it at first. He chuckled, and said, “The book in my pocket saved my life. Very small book, but it saved my life.” That book turned out to be a Bible. I don’t think it was complete, but maybe one of those “half” Bibles–The New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs. I quickly noticed that most of his stories were loaded with symbolism like that–little, but weighted. They contained heft.

I’ve applied his metaphor over and over… until, in my own mental story realm, that small book is ragged, creased, and over-used. Though, he was correct. The small books save my life. They save me from boredom, fear, and anxiety. The small books inspire me with their raw truth and courage. I made a promise to myself to write about war with consideration for how inconsiderate the very idea of war is in our lives. And when considerations are maintained in war procedures, it doesn’t seem possible that considerate humans could still be at war, which means killing one another, among other activities. With that promise and those considerations in my heart, Multiple Exposure wasn’t an easy book to write. The story definitely chose me one scene at a time along the way.

On this 4th of July, Many Thanks to soldiers who serve honorably. My gratitude goes to their families.

To read more about war/military fiction offerings, visit http://www.thorncraftpublishing.com

Southern Festival of Books

SFOBposter3_small final

25TH ANNUAL SOUTHERN FESTIVAL OF BOOKS, October 11-13, 2013. Thorncraft Publishing will be an exhibitor at the festival. I will be signing copies of Multiple Exposure, and Beverly Fisher, author of Grace Among the Leavings, will be signing copies of her new novella. The Southern Festival of Books is FREE and open to the public. War Memorial Plaza, Nashville, Tennessee. Stop by the Thorncraft booth and visit us!

Festival Times:
Friday, October 11, 2013: 12:00 noon – 6:00 p.m.
Saturday, October 12, 2013: 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Sunday, October 13, 2013: 12:00 noon -5:00 p.m.

The Art of Letter Writing & Postal Fidelity

Ink pen explosion–all over my hand and fingers. That hasn’t happened in a long time since the computer took over and I usually type out most of my work. I was addressing an envelope to my friend who inspired the concept of postal fidelity in the last chapter of my novel.

I’ve been writing letters since I was in third grade. First, to my pen pal, Victoria, who actually goes by the shortened name, Tori, and has for many years (decades in fact) but I’ll always know her as Dear Victoria. She made the writer in me materialize early. Complete with a penchant for exaggeration, her name inspired reverence and intrigue. I was really putting letter writing to practice by addressing someone as Dear Victoria. And, she was mysterious and exciting simply by living in California, with the name Victoria. California was a state I had never visited and doubted I would ever visit since a weekend in the Great Smokey Mountains was as far as my parents were going in our Ford Pinto at that time in their lives. Now, they’ve followed me much farther than they ever imagined.

Though we no longer write letters, Dear Victoria kept me writing for decades, trying to tell her stories about my life and make it seem more exciting. My letter writing expanded to include friends in school and elaborate notes with secret codes and nicknames. Love letters to a boyfriend and recorded cassette tapes of poetry readings and love songs, my letter writing grew and grew. Envelopes addressed to soldiers from my family–in Germany, Kosovo, Iraq. I bought quill pens, wax seals, and parchment paper—got all fancy. I decorated the envelopes & called it Happy Mail. And then, email came along and took over. Facebook status updates. Tweets. I lost my touch, and put all my efforts into fiction and editing. Writing interviews.

I finally saw letter writing as a prelude to my creativity with a longer work. However, my mailbox (the real one by the road) was empty for too long. Sad even, flag always down. A friend from graduate school moved away and sent a postcard, and I sent a card back, and then a letter arrived, and I scurried to write a response. And one of my close friends deployed to Afghanistan, and I berated myself for not writing to her enough.

Hand-written letters allow us to get lost in writing, to forget about editing, to avoid our reliance on the delete key, and to allow the ink to flow across the page. Within letters, I can see the way my friend’s pen strokes show that she is tired, or annoyed, or angry, and they also show how excited or frantic she might be. A sealed envelope invites anticipation and personalization that email cannot offer.

Now, my grad school friend and I write back and forth with dedication for a while, but life takes over periodically and we stop writing, then we pick it back up again. We’ve written two letters in about a month. The pen explosion felt like an old signal, the start gun of a long run with writing and creating.

What gets your creativity in motion?