*Afterthought #84 – More Spoken Word

headphonesFollowing my interview with Violet Phillips, about narrating my memoir, Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance, a reader asked a question I hadn’t thought to ask. Here’s what Violet told me about how long it took her to record the manuscript.

As with so many creative efforts, it depends: on deadlines, schedules, and studio and engineer availability. For this book, which has a playing time of just over six-and-a-half hours, Violet described the following steps to record it.

I read for at least two hours each day. At that pace, it took a week altogether—to just do the recording.

The next steps are all the audio engineering: 1) editing the files and 2) doing the post-production. This all took about another week and a half. So, it basically took about two weeks.

I find what people don’t really know about narration is that there are steps involved. The reading is one component. The audio engineering is another—usually much longer—part of the process. It’s all about hitting the deadline and planning out the recording/editing time needed to get the book done.

Thanks again to Violet for her skill and passion for speaking the words writers like me have written. And thanks as well to Homebound Publications for making my memoir available in paper, e-book, and audiobook.  I hope you’ll consider listening to Violet’s beautiful voice. You can order the audio version here:  Hiking Naked – audiobook.


*Afterthoughts are my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning’s worship. I’ve adopted the form here for last-day-of-the-month brief reflections on headlines, quotes, books, previous posts, maybe even bumper stickers and refrigerator magnets.

Photo above courtesy time.com.




Spoken Word

You’ve likely listened to your voice on a recording and thought, “I didn’t know I sound like that!” It’s a bit strange, and unsettling.

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Voice-over actor Violet Phillips

I recently learned that it’s equally strange to hear someone else’s voice reading words I’ve written. Strange in a good way, though, especially when the voice belongs to professional narrator, Violet Phillips.

I first heard Violet’s voice on an audition tape forwarded to me by Homebound Publications. stack of books (1)Violet was one of the four finalists in the press’s search for a narrator for my memoir, Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance. My job was to listen to all four tapes and choose the reader I wanted to record the audiobook.

When I learned that Homebound planned to produce an audio version of Hiking Naked, people asked if I’d do the voice myself. While I’ve read short excerpts from the memoir many times at author events, I suspected recording the entire manuscript required skills I don’t have. I’ve also been interviewed for radio programs, and I know for that medium, microphones and soundproof rooms are best. Although I have a home office ideal for writing, it doesn’t include recording equipment, and it’s in no way soundproof.

All the narrator candidates had strong, professional reading voices. With two, I detected slight southern accents. Although I grew up in southern Illinois and Indiana, if I have any accent, it’s more of the nasal tone of my birthplace of Chicago; hearing my words with a bit of a drawl didn’t sound right to me.

Ultimately, there was something about Violet’s straightforward, warm voice that resonated for me. And then, there was her first name.

violet crayon

I couldn’t resist hearing “Violet” read “Iris.” I notified publisher Leslie Browning that Violet was my choice.

I was surprised—and delighted—that Violet asked to talk with me before she began recording. Prior to our phone conversation, we each made lists of words and place names that might need pronunciation clarification. After comparing notes, Violet offered her perceptions about some of the characters. She was right on.

Since then, I’ve learned a bit more about why she’s such a skilled narrator. Violet grew up in New Jersey and earned a BA in English from the University of Pennsylvania. She began working as a writer and editor, focusing on health care, and was an editor at Rodale Press. Now, she’s a voice-over actor, a writer, and a creative director. Violet has been doing corporate voice work for the past 10 years, voicing all types of videos, instructional pieces, industrial assignments, and audiobooks (including mine and How to Be a Healthy Vegetarian).

Once the recording was completed, I wanted to know more about this art form. The following interview with Violet takes you behind-the-scenes of an audiobook.

Iris Graville: You told me you’ve been doing “voice work” for some time. I’d like to hear more about what that involves and what drew you to it.

Violet Phillips: Voice work is interesting because either it’s something people come to, say, with being on the radio, or people are told they have a beautiful voice. I was told that by an actor about fifteen years ago, so I just started exploring it, taking classes, and working with a coach. I worked in an advertising agency and did a lot of videos as well as hiring voice talent and auditioning people. I really began to understand how it works from the other side of the glass [of the recording studio].  

 IG: When did you start narrating books?

 VP: This was the first project like this I’ve done. My voice teacher encouraged me to audition. I loved your book so much, and I really wanted to do it. So when the email offer came in from Leslie [Browning, publisher], I was sitting at my desk just beaming.

IG: I did the same when I listened to your audition tape! How do you find out about narration opportunities?

VP: Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACEX) is a clearinghouse for people to have audiobooks produced. It’s also a place where narrators get work–all books are posted there for narrators to search. The staff at ACEX are very helpful about how to make it work. ACEX is owned by Amazon, but now there are also producers of audiobooks who are responsible for the whole production. And some large presses have their own production companies.

 IG: Please describe the process of recording a book.

 VP: A voice actor I know describes it as the “marathon” of voice-over work. There are many components to it. First, there’s prep work with the audiobook—I had to read the book, then I had to work on pronunciation of place names and figure out the characters. The actual recording requires a lot of concentration and time. There’s pacing involved, because your voice gets tired. Your book had a lot of variety for me as a narrator and a wonderful sense of purpose. I worked with an audio engineer, so I went to a studio he works in, and we recorded there.

 IG: What are some of the challenges of recording books?

VP: A lot of things happen when you’re reading. You may have to stop and correct something, take a break. So many cognitive and physical things are going on at the same time.

 IG: And the rewards?

VP: When the book is complete and I’ve worked on all these different aspects, it’s like I’ve been on a big storytelling adventure. To be that voice that’s in the room or the car with someone is very rewarding. And there are long-lasting rewards, too, because people could be listening to this book years from now. It’s very personal, and it’s delightful to be in that close of a position with people listening.

IG: I’m delighted with your voice narrating my memoir, Violet. Thank you for auditioning and then doing the work to record the book.

VP: You’re welcome! It’s a wonderful art form, almost like producing a film or a play. I love the idea the voice is helping to sustain a story. All of my teachers, coaches, and sound engineers talk about how the sound and the voice do something that very few other things can—they create a vibration in someone’s body that can directly influence their feelings. I think sound is fascinating because this is a human being reading to you, and what is lovelier than that? Voice is connecting, is bringing humanity to people.

IG: What’s next for you with voice work?

VP: I’m finishing another audiobook!

I imagine there will be more of those in Violet’s future.

You can decide for yourself if Violet was the right choice for narration of Hiking Naked by adding the audiobook to your favorite device (you can even listen to a sample if you follow the link). I know I couldn’t be happier that she’s the one who spoke my words.

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*Afterthought #83 – A Virtual Twist

christmas branch at nightOn this last day of December, and of 2018, our Christmas branch still twinkles as I continue to reflect on Christmas 1994 in Stehekin. Here’s a short excerpt from Hiking Naked about that celebration with Jerry’s family.

~   ~   ~   ~   ~

We filled the next few days with cross-country skiing, baking, and Hearts, the card game we always played at family gatherings. On Christmas Eve night, we all gathered at our house to read the story of Christ’s birth, share blessings, and sing songs by candlelight. While logs crackled in the woodstove and snow again started to fall, we concluded the evening with another tradition instituted years earlier by Donna and Dale. One by one, each family member dumped little wrapped packages out of hand-made stockings; the rule was every item had to cost less than a dollar and had to fit in the sock. As always, laughter filled the room as everyone discovered miniature bottles of shampoo and French soaps lifted from hotel rooms, pens and note pads from pharmaceutical companies our pediatrician cousin picked up at medical conferences, individually-wrapped fruit leathers and chocolates, and an assortment of kitchen gadgets including a wide variety of closures for snack bags.

 Matt, Rachel, and [cousin] Leslie were well past the age of believing in Santa Claus, but waking to eighteen inches of fresh snow on Christmas morning was just as magical. Its powdery whiteness brightened the pre-sunrise hours as we opened more gifts, sipped lattés and hot chocolate, and ate orange twists and an egg-and-sausage casserole.

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Yep, that’s beardless Jerry holding scones, and me with orange twists (wearing a pin hand-carved by Matthew)

~   ~   ~   ~   ~

Ah, those orange twists. They appear frequently in my memoir, as they were the pastry I most enjoyed making (and eating) when I worked as a baker at Stehekin Pastry Company. Still think they’re one of the best treats, and it’s been fun to share them at various author events for Hiking Naked.

On Christmas Eve this year, I rose early to make a few batches (including a gluten-free version) to gift the crew of the M.V. Tillikum, the interisland ferry where I serve as Writer-in-Residence.

I knew they’d be working on Christmas Day while I spent time with family, so orange twists seemed fitting to express my appreciation (this is the same Kitchen Aid mixer we barged to Stehekin; it’s a character in the memoir, too).

IMG_2772And yes, I did save a few for our own breakfast the next day.

A couple crewmembers couldn’t wait until Christmas, so I was able to hear their appreciative comments before I returned home. But sorry, the recipe isn’t available for sharing. You’ll just have to try them for yourself at Stehekin Pastry Company—or one of my author events.

Here’s hoping all the twists of 2019 are sweet.




*Afterthoughts are my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning’s worship. I’ve adopted the form here for last-day-of-the-month brief reflections on headlines, quotes, books, previous posts, maybe even bumper stickers and refrigerator magnets.

Wildfire Season


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Lopez Island, WA ferry landing, August 2018


Smoke from wildfires throughout the western U.S. and Canada has curtained my community for nearly two weeks. We know what to do with the gray in this marine climate, but air that constantly smells like campfires and vistas engulfed in haze leave us off-kilter. And coughing. Though there’s a visual beauty to the smoke’s effect on the atmosphere, I know from personal experience the terror of wildfires for people working and living in their midst, as well as for those fighting the blazes.

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Stehekin Landing, August 2018



The first summer my family and I spent in Stehekin, WA during our two-year sojourn there, fire surrounded the community. With the exception of a few days, wildfire smoke permeated every pristine inch of the valley nestled in the North Cascades all season. A recent photo from my friend and fellow writer, Ana Maria Spagna, shows a repeat of what we experienced in 1994. Thankfully, fires creating this smoke don’t threaten Stehekin, but they’ve become the summertime norm in recent years.

I learned in Stehekin just how complex fire prevention and management are. And there’s no doubt in my mind that our changing climate further complicates actions to protect homes and businesses, wildlife and people, air quality, and fragile ecosystems.

We were safe from harm in 1994, and we’re safe now, but my distress about fire devastation remains. My thoughts have returned often to wildfire season in Stehekin, and I’ve included an excerpt from my memoir that describes it.

hn coverExcerpt from  Hiking Naked – A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance, Chapter 9, “Wildfire Season”

Wildfire season arrived in the North Cascades after a two-week run of rainless, one-hundred-degree days and lightning strikes in the nearby Okanogan National Forest. The blazes dropped a thick, dingy curtain on the shoreline, but despite the haze and smoldering campfire smell, the Lady of the Lake kept sailing. Her crew brought news that a crack of lightning can change lives—ski slopes in Leavenworth in blazes, and three hundred people evacuated from the town of Chelan.

The thunder and lightning storms of my Midwest upbringing must have immunized me from fear when lightning cracked in ridges above the Stehekin Valley, because I wasn’t aware that we in Stehekin were in danger until a community meeting on July 29.

This was our first meeting with Alan Hoffmeister, one of the many specialists from the National Park Service who would come to Stehekin to try to outmaneuver the fires. Alan looked over the faces in the crowd, his index finger steadily pointing to four darkened areas on a map. “Although the fires are several miles away,” he said, “they’ve already encompassed a thousand acres and are burning erratically.”

He predicted pines and firs, parched from diminished snow melt and eight years of drought, might burst into flame and roll down dehydrated ridges, spreading the firestorm into the Boulder Creek drainage area just a mile northwest of us. “If necessary, fire crews and equipment will be brought to Stehekin by boat or air. We’re doing everything possible to stop the fires.”

Then Alan suggested that, even though evacuation was unlikely, we should begin thinking about it. Nervous laughter floated through the cramped room as he encouraged us each to pack a single bag weighing no more than seventy-five pounds. I searched the faces of the long-time Stehekinites in the crowd, trying to read their expressions. Were they worried? Scared?

“These fires are more fierce than at any time ever in this region,” Alan said. “You might have as little as fifteen minutes to catch a boat to leave. Don’t wait for an evacuation notice to pack.”

That night, images of a cyclone of fire intruded into my sleep. Every sound in the dark mimicked the crackle and hiss that I imagined echoing through the forest. Jerry snored softly beside me, and I could hear the kids rustling in their beds. What a fool I’d been to expose our family to these dangers. During our years of visiting Stehekin, I’d learned that the potential for natural disasters is part of everyday life here. Nearly everyone had stories of floods, fires, avalanches, and backcountry accidents that had destroyed property and claimed friends and family. Firs scorched by lightning marked the cycles of their lives. Now I was experiencing this reality first-hand, faced with a situation I couldn’t control. I tried to loosen my grip with deep breathing and prayers.

Sleep finally came, and a gentle wind during the night sent the smoke another direction. The next day’s clear dawn made it easy to forget the force devouring forests just a few miles away. The respite was brief. Within hours, neon-yellow fliers describing the “Stehekin Evacuation Contingency Plan” blanketed the valley. National Park Service rangers had hand-delivered the bulletins; with no phones, and no television or radio transmission, the pony express-like system was the only way to get the word out.

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Sikorsky Sky Crane in Stehekin, 1994

The next day at work, trying to convince myself that I could handle life in the wilderness, I tried to imitate my bakery co-workers’ casual attitudes. At the end of my shift, I retreated to a public dock to watch a red-and-white Sikorsky Sky Crane, a military-style helicopter, pull water from the lake. A bucket, swinging on a rope from the chopper’s belly, hauled up two thousand gallons of water with each dip. All afternoon it showered me as water slopped on its way to the flames on the peaks above. The rhythmic whirl of rotors was both unsettling and comforting.

The report at that night’s community meeting was as feared; fire had advanced to Boulder Creek, just a couple miles from where we sat on the valley floor. That inferno demanded two helicopters, eight hours a day, to cool it down enough so fire crews could get up there. After a few days of water drops, [the incident commander] told us the fire at Boulder Creek was too widespread and hot for crews to extinguish.

“It won’t go out completely until snow falls,” he said.

Some days over the next few weeks, the smoke cleared to reveal blue skies. Other days, we’d hear the helicopters again, smoke would fill the valley again, and my fear—that this place and way of life would be destroyed—returned.

Rains in late August weakened the fire’s strength. We unpacked our evacuation bags. Another Incident Commander directed mop-up efforts, and local Park Service employees handled flare-ups that waxed and waned all through September. By the first week of October, the fire-fighting teams rolled up the hoses and barged them out, along with their shovels, axes, tents, and trucks. After weeks of being prepared for fire on our doorsteps, these tools of protection disappeared, leaving in their place a deeper understanding: no matter how hard I worked, I couldn’t eliminate all the threats to life any more than Mike Monahan could end the fire at Boulder Creek.

I awakened one morning in mid-October to a white glisten on McGregor Mountain, just visible through the living room window. Fortunately, the season’s first snow had come early; the tension in my neck eased with this proof that the fires were over—at least for this year.

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Smoke-filtered sun at Orcas Island ferry landing August 2018