A few weeks ago we received an email at the office from a Macmillan Audio publicist on behalf of children’s author, Magazine contributor, and all-around friend-of-The-Horn-Book Jack Gantos. Sir Jack (honorific mine) would be in Boston at Soundscape Studio recording the audio for his upcoming book From Norvelt to Nowhere (Farrar, Sept. 2013), sequel to his Newbery and Scott O’Dell award-winning Dead End in Norvelt (Farrar, 2011). Would a Horn Book representative like to come to the studio to chat with Jack about his process? Yes, please! I Katnissed my way into being the one to go, my recording-engineer husband in tow to ask the tough techie questions.
When we arrived, Jack was in the booth, reading. His character, Jack Gantos, and Miss Volker are in Washington, DC, at the Lincoln Memorial. Jack, per usual, is being schooled by Miss Volker — this time about Lincoln, Marion Anderson, Eleanor Roosevelt, the DAR, and racism’s tangled web. Then Jack lets slip that Miss Volker is packing heat (and you know what they say about a gun; you don’t show one in the first act…). When I’d left Jack and Miss Volker, having read the four-chapter preview that Martha kindly brought back from ALA, they were on their way to Hyde Park to pay their last respects to Mrs. Roosevelt. How did they get here? And what would happen next?
Jack (the author) took a break to chat with me about the book, his writing process, historical fiction, sequels, Joey Pigza, high-spirited boys, and whatever else we could think of, while the very patient studio founder and engineer Michael Moss and Macmillan Audio producer Robert Van Kolken talked to my husband about microphone placement, soundproofing, child-sleep techniques, and the like. Here are some highlights.
On sequels: Jack knew about halfway through the first Norvelt that he had a second book to write. Not wanting to marginalize (or stigmatize) the first book, he kept book two under his hat. Dead End in Norvelt “got some buzz,” and he was off. On the horizon: one more Joey Pigza book; he’s not quite done with Jack Henry yet either (but almost).
On intertextuality: Look for echoes of — and direct references to — Moby-Dick, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Tom Brown’s Schooldays, and more in From Norvelt to Nowhere. Also amaze your friends with historical fun facts galore (and not-so-fun facts; Lincoln wasn’t always such a great friend to the Native Americans, for example). Oh, and if you think you’re certain about what happened to all those dead old ladies, you might want to think again.
On audiobooks: The author performs his own audiobooks, which isn’t something every, or even very many, people do. It’s kind of a long story, dating back to the 1998 National Book Awards. Joey Pigza was up against Holes, and destined for runner-up status. The night before the awards announcement, each finalist reads aloud a brief selection of his or her work. “I’m making the most of this,” vowed Jack, and proceeded to read the hell out of chapter 1 (“Can I get back to you on that?”), much to the chagrin of the dour poet on deck to perform. Tim Ditlow, then at the helm of Listening Library, approached him to read the Joey audio. “But I can’t stand the sound of my own voice!” protested Gantos. “You don’t have to listen to it,” said Ditlow.
Audio engineer Mike and producer Bob were generous in their praise of Gantos, having also worked with him on other projects. The consensus: This guy knows what he’s doing. He doesn’t need a ton of direction, and there’s no drama-queen behavior (nary a fancy lozenge, pretentious scarf, or designer water was in sight). Jack would be camped out at the studio for two days, in and out, minus time spent with pushy, chatty Horn Book editors, then on to the next literary adventure.
But before we go… here’s a sneak peek at Papa Norvelt performing From Norvelt to Nowhere. You’re welcome!
This post is part of Audiobook Week on Out of the Box. For more, click on the audiobooks tag.