Aesthetic Drift #15 by Dale Lucas
An Out of Mind Experience: The Excellence of Simon Vance
It’s often said that writing should be its own reward. But, here’s the thing that people forget: there is another level of satisfaction and validation attainable only when the book is printed by kind strangers at faraway publishing houses, given a gorgeous cover by someone you’ve never spoken to, and weighs down bookstore shelves from Cleveland to Brisbane. Like a child graduating college, the work can finally live in the world, independent of its creator.
Chief among these pleasures: hearing a first-rate reader narrate your audiobook.
For those of us who adore them, audiobooks are a singular magic: the modern-day equivalent of being huddled round a fire, hearing a tale told by a master dreamweaver whose only tools are his voice and the right words. (Audiobooks also make commutes and treadmill-walking a mentally vital activity). A great narrator elevates even the most forgettable material; a lousy one can sink an immortal classic.
When Orbit Books asked me who I wanted to narrate the audiobook of The Fifth Ward: First Watch, the only reader I offered was Simon Vance, winner of 14 Audie awards and 61 earphone awards, named both the ‘Voice of Choice’ by Booklist Magazine and the ‘Golden Voice’ by AudioFile Magazine.
I didn’t mention him because I thought he’d actually be willing to read my book. But he was my absolute ideal, due in large part to his facility with voices and accents, his deadpan and sometimes hilariously understated delivery, and his glorious BBC newsreader’s accent. Even if Vance himself were not available, I simply hoped we could find someone who aspired to that level of versatility, subtlety, vocal range, and gravitas.
Some months later, Simon Vance emailed me, asking for help with my characters’ accents and the pronunciation of their names. My editor hadn’t even let me know that he was hired for the audiobook! Our brief back-and-forths over the course of several days, via email and text, gave me fascinating insight into what it meant to be a professional audiobook narrator: I was asked for pronunciation guides for almost every name spoken in the novel and was urged to cast real-world actors as my characters in order to give Vance a sense of how I imagined they should sound (and yet, in the end, none of those casting suggestions led to one note vocal impressions—Simon took my suggestions and extrapolated from them to give each of the characters a life of their own). The thrill of knowing that an actor of Mr. Vance’s caliber was about to interpret my work, to read it seriously—my tawdry, popcorny, beachy little modern-day pulp adventure—filled me with a sense of validation, a sense of success, that I’d never known before.
An artist I admire put his stamp on my work. I get to hear the Golden Voice describing a world that had hitherto only existed in my head, give life to characters who’d previously only spoken to me, and bring a world to life, filtered through his own worldview and skillset, that had, for years prior, only existed in my imagination. When I listen to that audiobook, I get to be just another listener, ready to be told a story and swept away. It’s an unusual sign that you know you’ve actually given something to the world—however modest, however humble—and that someone, somewhere thinks it’s worth a look.
Or a listen.
Dale Lucas, author of The Fifth Ward: First Watch (Orbit Books) and Doc Voodoo: Aces & Eights (Beating Windward Press), is a novelist, screenwriter, civil servant, and armchair historian. A graduate of the University of Central Florida and one-time teen movie critic for the Orlando Sentinel, his short stories have appeared in Samsara: The Magazine of Suffering, Horror Garage, and Futuredaze: An Anthology of YA Sci Fi. He lives in St. Petersburg, Florida.