The other day on Twitter (where, it is established, Avon spends a lot of her time) someone asked the question, “What’s the first audiobook you remember listening to?” And I thought about it, because important questions like these deserve thoughtful answers, and realized the answer was…
Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews.
Okay, disclaimer, I’m thirty-nine so I grew up in the era when everyone read Flowers in the Attic, even those kids who didn’t read or whose parents were always trying to get books banned in your school. Someone inevitably had it and passed it around to “that one part” in the way of kids. Or, maybe I should say, in the way of kids in the late eighties. Now I guess it would be on Snapchat.
Anyway, my parents actually bought me two box sets of V.C. Andrews’ novels for Christmas when I was twelve – one with the Flowers in the Attic series (three books at the time, I believe) and one with the three-book Heaven series, which was actually my favorite. I have no idea why my parents thought these were appropriate books for a twelve-year-old, except that I read Sybil in the fifth grade and Pet Sematary in the sixth. So maybe they were like, “Dial it down, would you?” There’s a reason I found Bridge to Terabithia boring in school, LOL.
So long story short, I loved the V.C. Andrews’ books. When I was 13, my mom would give me a copy of a gothic romance novel and that was it, I was sunk and I ended up a romance novelist. (I still read a lot of V.C. Andrews along with the romance in my teenage years, I won’t lie. I gave up around Ruby though.) So I have a very vivid memory of checking the audiobook out of the library – they were cassette tapes, of course, because this is the late eighties. We also used to go on a lot of car trips when I was a kid, and my parents would stop at Cracker Barrel because you could rent “books on tape” there and then return them at any other Cracker Barrel, of which there are a lot – especially in the south.
(Apropos of nothing – I still refer to audiobooks as “books on tape.” I can’t help it.)
I remember spending a lot of happy trips listening to Lawrence Sanders’ Archie McNally series with my mom, about a PI in Palm Beach, Florida. And I remember listening to my favorite Disney story, “The Fox and Hound”, on one of those little record players for kids that were popular when I was small.
Recently I had the experience of listening to my own book in audio, as the narrator for Breakaway (Scott R. Smith, who is awesome!) sent me the files as he recorded them. It was one of the coolest experiences in my authorial career thus far, hearing a professional bring my words to life. I was lucky enough to get narrators for both that title and my first book, Let the Wrong Light In, who really sounded like the characters did in my head. Lane and Avery both have distinctive voices to me, and Scott and Derrick McClain (the narrator for Let the Wrong Light In) both nailed those voices to a T. And wow, Scott’s Jared is just to-die-for sexy, let me tell you.
I won’t lie, listening to someone read a sex scene I’ve written was…well, if you follow me on social media I think I posted a picture of me hiding under a blanket the first time I had to listen to one. It’s a similar feeling to the one I got when my mother-in-law told me she was reading Breakaway because…well, she’s my mother-in-law. (She liked it, though!)
One of the things that I really found interesting as I was listening was how much I hear the rhythm of my own words when I write them – and how the narrator “hears” them so much differently than I do. Not even dialogue, though that is a part of it, of course. It’s the non-dialogue bits, too – my own narrative voice, if you will. I had no idea how strongly I narrate the inflection in my head (since I never stop talking, this is probably a surprise to no one). And it’s not a case of right or wrong, good or bad — it just surprised me to hear how different it could sound.
It’s sort of the same feeling I get when people talk about my characters, and how different other people’s interpretations of them can be than my own. Lane was a character that people either really liked and connected with, or…not so much 😀 Which is fine! As an author, I think it’s sort of awesome when people have strong reactions to my characters, even if they don’t like them. I mean, Lane drove me crazy a lot. They all have things that drive me crazy, to be honest. I try to make them real people and that means they’re not perfect, even if I do tend to write everyone living in a land where people are tolerant and accepting because, well, that’s the world I’d like to live in and that’s a happily-ever-after I can totally get behind.
Writing and putting something out there is scary, but the rewards are pretty awesome – and I really do love the audiobook and hope people who enjoyed Breakaway will love it, too. It’s strange to think about myself when I was younger, listening to Flowers in the Attic or the McNallybooks, scribbling away at my own stories and not knowing one day I’d have the chance to listen to those.
I wonder if V.C. Andrews listened to her books. I bet I know exactly what part made her cringe, too.