RectorWriter

Adventures in storytelling by Bob Rector


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LETTERS FROM THE FRONT NOW AVAILABLE IN PRINT & KINDLE

For years it was only available as a script on 8-1/2 x ll 3-hole punched paper, and only to those who actually worked on the show. This is better.

For years it was only available as a script on 8-1/2 x ll 3-hole punched paper, and only to those who actually worked on the show. This is better.

What’s the difference between writing novels and writing plays? Both involve the ancient craft of storytelling. Both use words as the essential building blocks. Beyond that, well . . . Having done both, here’s what a play means to me.

Standing Os. Cheers. People coming up to me and shaking my hand, saying thank you, telling me what my play meant to them. Face to face. Night after night.

Wouldn't it be nice if this was happening when people read our books?

Wouldn’t it be nice if this was happening when people read our books?

We seldom get that response with our books. Perhaps at a book signing. Or when somebody writes a particularly flattering review. With my play Letters From The Front, I got it after every performance, year after year, all over the world.

I wish every writer was able to experience that.

MargueeHutchinson

After releasing my one (and so far, only) novel Unthinkable Consequences, I’ve often wondered how people responded when they read it. A few have been kind enough to leave enthusiastic reviews, but that was after they’d read the entire book and had time to analyze their feelings toward the work.

It’s very different with a play. The reaction is spontaneous and continuous. Night after night I sat in the dark with hundreds of others and watched and listened to their reaction while the performance was in progress. A laugh here, a tear there, a gasp, a groan, shuffling in their seats when their attention wasn’t being held completely, leaning forward when it was.

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Do people react that way while they read our books? No doubt they do. We’re just not there to see it. Its been hard for me to get used to that.

That little observation aside, what is Letters From The Front about?

It’s been called an emotional roller coaster. I’ve watched audiences ride that roller coaster enough times to know that there’s evidently some truth to the statement. CBS Evening News called Letters From The Front “A patriotic tribute to the men and women who so bravely serve.” NBC’s Today called it: “A wonderful show.” The Shreveport Times said it was “A tear-jerking, hand-clapping, mind-blowing stroll through history.”

I guess it’s all those things.

A scene from the show. Katharine Hartgrove (Melanie Collup) reminisces about the war years in an opening letter to her grandson in Vietnam.

A scene from the show. Katharine Hartgrove (Melanie Collup) reminisces about the war years in an opening letter to her grandson in Vietnam.

Here’s the official blurb: This play weaves actual letters to and from soldiers and their loved ones going as far back as Valley Forge, into a story set during the waning days of WWII. The personal themes in the letters are honestly reflected, as is the commitment of everyday Americans to preserve freedom.

Popular essayist Katharine Hartgrove, whose son is fighting in Northern Italy, has been commissioned to write a play based on these letters. She enlists boyfriend, Johnny Chastain, America’s favorite radio wise guy, to assist her. He provides an unseen twist to the story, along with plenty of comic relief. When the laughter and tears subside, Johnny is the most unlikely of heroes and Katharine is healed from emotional scars that have haunted her for 20 years.

A scene from the show. Katharine Hartgrove (Della Cole) gets the phone call she's been hoping for. Beside her is boyfriend Johnny Chastain (Bob Curren).

A scene from the show. Katharine Hartgrove (Della Cole) gets the phone call she’s been hoping for. Beside her is boyfriend Johnny Chastain (Bob Curren).

Letters From The Front is a heartfelt and surprisingly humorous story of heroism, hope, and redemption.

Okay, but to me what the play is about is better summed up by a statement made by Katharine Hartgrove midway through the show:

“To me, this play isn’t about individual wars or the politics behind them or who was right or who was wrong. It’s about the fragile and precious nature of life. It’s about everyday people who suddenly came face to face with their own mortality, or the prospect of losing a loved one. It’s about people reaching out to each other, maybe for the last time. Each of these letters was affirmation on the part of the writer that at their darkest moment they were not alone.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself. It’s about people, what’s in their hearts, who they love, how they deal with life’s adversities. At the core is a conflict of massive proportions – World War II. Millions are thrown into the conflagration.

A scene from the show. Katharine Hartgrove (Michele Rosen) shares a poignant war letter with Johnny Chastain (Neal Matthews).

A scene from the show. Katharine Hartgrove (Michele Rosen) shares a poignant war letter with Johnny Chastain (Neal Matthews).

But Letters From the Front focuses on just two people as they struggle to understand, adjust, put events into some sort of meaningful perspective, and discover the depth of their love for each other.

Maybe the song As Time Goes By captures the sentiment best: “It’s still the same old story, a fight for love and glory.”

Inside the playbill handed out as people enter the theater there is a comment card. Over the years we’ve collected tens of thousands of them. Here are examples of comments from people who have seen the show.

Inside the playbills are comment cards

Inside the playbills are comment cards

~~ “I was touched beyond belief. I am a better person for having seen your show.”

~~ “I have never been so deeply touched as I have been with this production. You have brought the reality of the home front to light with such clarity and tenderness.”

~~ “You broke my heart and brightened my day. Fantastic!!”

~~ “Some of the best theater I have seen. Better than most from Boston and New York. Impressed!”

~~ “Uniquely heartwarming, tearjerking, hits home hard. Thanks.”

~~ “At the base of every conflict is the men and women who have fought it. The wants, needs, desires, and fears never change no matter the time or place. Your group presented this in a truly memorable way. P.S. I cried about ten times.”

~~ “It was without a doubt one of the most touching and patriotic shows I have experienced. It was filled with humor, tears, laughter, sadness, and a wonderful sense of being an American.”

~~ “Hits close to home, close to the heart.”

Della Cole originated the role of Katharine Hartgrove and was an audience pleaser for many years.

Della Cole originated the role of Katharine Hartgrove and was an audience pleaser for many years.

I hope you’ll take the time to read Letters From The Front. Being a play, it’s a fast read. It’s available both in print and Kindle at http://goo.gl/ZQQGqN at a special introductory price of $2.99 for Kindle and $8.95 for print. You can learn more about the play itself at the blog https://lettersfromthefronttheater.wordpress.com/


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IMPAKTER EZINE FEATURES MY ARTICLE ON “THE JOURNEY DOWN THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD”

10 September, 2014 at 09:32

IMPAKTER is a classy new international Ezine about culture, style, society, and philanthropy. Here is my article as it appears in Impakter.

Scene from The Long and Winding Road starring Alva Sanders (maiden name)

Scene from The Long and Winding Road starring Alva Sanders (maiden name)

My previous Impakter article ‘The Birth of Music Video TV’ tells how The Now Explosion TV show was created and how I landed my dream job of making music video-films for the show.

’The Long and Winding Road’ by The Beatles was my first assignment. And almost my last. I had exactly one day to turn it into a music video-film.

That’s right. Twenty-four hours.

This was my audition piece. I wouldn’t be paid for it and the show was under no obligation to hire me if they didn’t like what I came up with. I was provided raw stock and processing. Everything else was up to me. No problem. I was a bull pawing the ground ready to charge.

A photo of me about the time I made The Long and Winding Road in spring of 1970

A photo of me about the time I made The Long and Winding Road in spring of 1970

THIS IS A BLOW-BY-BLOW ACCOUNT OF THOSE 24 HOURS.

You might say I couldn’t I miss with a Beatles song, right? Wrong. In 1970 The Beatles were the biggest phenomenon in pop music. It would be easy for my film to get lost in their shadow.

I had to do something special, something that complimented the lyrics yet stood on its own as a narrative, something that would still be compelling even without hearing the music.

Otherwise my career would be over before it got started.

I hurried home and loaded up my 45. Not a pistol, a record player. There was only two ways to listen to pop music in 1970: radio or 45 RPM records.

I played the song over and over trying to find the heart that The Now Explosion’s young audience could identify with. To me, it was about the loss of the first true love of your life, and the devastating heartbreak when that person rejects you.

I had two things going for me. I knew the perfect location: a winding country road not far away, and I knew who I wanted to be in the film: Alva Sanders.

Tight close up of Alva Sanders as she appears in The Long and Winding Road

Tight close up of Alva Sanders as she appears in The Long and Winding Road

I had worked with Alva on a short experimental film a few months earlier. She was lanky with long black hair, pretty, and had a graceful way of moving. When I called Alva, I didn’t ask her if she wanted to be in the film; I told her she was going to be in it and that I’d pick her up at 4:30 the following morning. She was quiet for a moment then simply said, “Okay.”

We arrived at a field of wildflowers near the country road location a half-hour before sunup on Friday morning, twelve hours before my deadline. It was late March, chilly and a little misty. Alva was wearing a thin shirt and bell-bottoms, and was shivering.

The first shot was a dreamy long lens angle of her running out of the rising sun toward the camera in slow motion. I positioned her and the camera directly in line with the sun. I asked her to tie her shirt up leaving her belly bare, a popular look of the time. Good thing 16mm is not high resolution enough to show goosebumps.

This became the iconic shot from The Long and Winding Road. The morning sun and Alva did all the work. I just turned the camera on.

This became the iconic shot from The Long and Winding Road. The morning sun and Alva did all the work. I just turned the camera on.

When the sun was above the horizon, I cued Alva and she started running, her long hair flying out beautifully. We got it in one take. We continued working through the shots depending on sun position. The scenes of the road itself we shot last because I needed the sun higher.

Alva didn’t just strike a pose and look pretty. We had talked on the drive that morning about what I was trying to accomplish. She listened quietly, asked a few questions. When I started rolling film, especially for the close ups, she was clearly channeling something inside and it comes across in the footage.

By 10:30 we were finished and drove back to her house. Her mother made lunch for us then we shot the scenes of her at the window. I had no artificial lights so had to rely on the natural light coming through the window. Fine with me. I wanted her to be almost in silhouette.

I was worried whether Alva could shed real tears for the camera and was ready to use artificial ones if needed. No problem. When I started rolling film, tears streamed down her cheek, but she didn’t over-emote, just stared out the window, the pain and sadness in her eyes appearing honest and real.

I grabbed a few more shots in downtown Atlanta, took the film to the lab, and an hour later was pulling into Ch. 36 on Briarcliff Road, the Now Explosion studios. My deadline was three hours away. The producer showed me to a closet-sized editing room and within minutes, film was flying.

16mm editing station very similar to the one I used to edit The Long and Winding Road. The equipment shown is exactly the same.

16mm editing station very similar to the one I used to edit The Long and Winding Road. The equipment shown is exactly the same.

As stated before, when the show’s creator Bob Whitney saw my finished film, his response was hardly enthusiastic. I also explained why.

I was devastated. I’d had my shot at my dream and blew it. I went home very morose and consoled myself that it would be run at least once or twice over the weekend. Come Monday I’d start looking for another job.

The show was broadcast “live” at the time with audience members calling in their requests – just like Top-40 radio. The DJs chucked and jived with them while a technician cued the videotape.

An hour or so into the broadcast I heard DJ Skinny Bobby Harper say, “And here’s a new one by the Beatles, The Long and Winding Road.” There it was on TV. My film. I just stood there and watched with mouth open.

Then something remarkable happened. The Long and Winding Road started running over and over again. It became the most requested film ever shown on The Now Explosion. The producer called the following day, told me I had the job and to report to work Monday morning.

That was 44 years ago. I still get emails today from people telling me how much the film touched them and how it has lingered in their memories for decades.

Blows my mind.

Not bad for a day’s work.

Thank you Impakter and Michele Bonanno for allowing me to contribute to your fine ezine.


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IMPAKTER EZINE FEATURES MY ARTICLE ON THE BIRTH OF MUSIC VIDEO TV

 

http://impakter.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/NowExStudioShoot1970.jpg

THE BIRTH OF MUSIC VIDEO TV

on 24 July, 2014 at 09:00

IMPAKTER is a classy new international Ezine about culture, style, society, and philanthropy. I was introduced to its editor Michele Bonanno through a mutual friend in Rome. Here is the article as it appears in Impakter.

You may think Music Video TV began with MTV in 1981.  Think again.  That honor belongs to a show called The Now Explosion which first aired 14 March 1970.  It was the brainchild of Bob Whitney, a Top-40 radio jock.

How do I know?  Because I was there.

Whitney’s dream was to create TV programming that continuously played big rock hits featuring the hottest artists of the time.  The Beatles.  The Rolling Stones.  Jimi Hendricks.  Steppenwolf.  The Doors.  In other words, Top-40 radio with pictures.

Major networks scoffed at the idea.  In 1970 if it wasn’t a western or a sitcom, forget about it.  Forget about cable or satellite too as a means of distributing the show.  Didn’t exist.  Programs were delivered on telephone lines or on 16mm film reels and heavy 2” videotape reels via conventional freight.  No FedEx back then, just trucks, buses and airplanes.

BobWhitney1970

In the photo: Bob Whitney

Whitney decided that if he couldn’t sign a deal with a major network, he’d create a network of his own.  He successfully strung together a number of independently owned UHF stations located around the country.  They loved the idea of youth-oriented programming occupying a massive block of airtime from noon till midnight every Saturday and Sunday.

Voila!  Music Video TV was born.

The Now Explosion was an instant hit.  Teens around the country danced in front of their TV sets every weekend.  The UHF stations that ran the show became the ‘cool’ channels.  And there was no more avid fan than yours truly, watching the show on WATL Ch. 36 in Atlanta, GA.

NElogo

I was a twenty-two year old stock clerk at a big department store at the time and had dabbled in amateur 8mm filmmaking as a hobby for years.  When I discovered that the show’s production offices were located in Atlanta, I could hear destiny calling.  I immediately quit my job, much to my wife’s dismay, and sped off to Briarcliff Road, home of The Now Explosion.

NowExStudioBriarcliffRd1970

No appointment.  No resume.  Not even a cheap suit.  The producer’s door was open so I marched right in and explained to her that I wanted to make films for The Now Explosion.

She said they weren’t hiring

I said I could do it better than the ones who were currently shooting

She said they weren’t hiring

I said I had some really great ideas that I was sure their young audience would love

She said they weren’t hiring

I said I’d do it for free

She said you’re hired

On her desk was a stack of 45-RPM records and she handed me one.  “Here’s a new release by the Beatles that’s starting up the charts,” she said.  “See what you can do with it.”  She then gave me three 100-foot loads of 16mm Ektachrome EF film and told me the address of the lab they used.

I looked at the 45’s label.  The Long and Winding Road.

AlvaLWR-Freeze

By 5:00 PM the following day I delivered to her the finished edited film.  I had started shooting at sunrise that morning, had the film in the lab by noon and on the editing table by 1:30.  It was screened for Whitney who merely grunted and said they’d include it in the weekend’s roster and see what the response was.

Why the tepid reaction?  My film told a non-linear story of a young woman mourning the loss of her true love as she reflected on the long, winding road they had traveled together.  It couldn’t have been more different from the formula established for the show, mainly young gals and guys dancing against a Chroma key screen with splashy psychedelic effects added.

I thought I had been pretty stupid; that I should have stayed with the format, but that weekend my film was by far the most requested.  The producer asked me to come in Monday morning then hired me full time, complete with salary.

For me, The Now Explosion was a college degree in filmmaking that I got paid for.  In all, I made approximately 100 films.  I wrote the scripts, cast the players, found the locations, then directed, shot, and edited the films.  I was given free rein to do whatever I wanted as long as I turned in five finished films per week.

UGA16mmFilmInsp&Prep

I didn’t hit a home run every time.  Far from it.  When you’re cranking out films that fast, you accept that you’re going to strike out a lot.  But overall I had more winners than losers.

The golden time for me was when I screened a film I’d just finished for Whitney and his eyes would light up and he’d turn to the entire staff and say, “Now that’s the kinda stuff we need more of!”

I’m gratified that forty-four years later people tell me how much some of The Now Explosion films I made still touch them, particularly The Long and Winding Road.  I believe the reason is because most of my films focused on story and character rather than just music.  I’ve always been a storyteller.  Still am.

Sadly, much of The Now Explosion programming was scattered to the wind and lost forever.  The good news is that the remaining films and videotapes are being archived, restored and digitized by the University of Georgia Media Archives department.  Bob Whitney asked me to help him preserve what’s left and I’m happy to do it.  It’s an important part of American TV history.

RectorWhitney&VidJockBobTodd2013   In the photo: Bob Rector, Bob Whitney and VidJock BobTodd 2013

The Now Explosion launched my career in films, TV, and stage that continues to this day.  It launched a lot of other careers too.  Today, music video production worldwide has become a major component of the entertainment industry generating hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue annually.

It should never be forgotten that the vision and genius of Bob Whitney made it possible.

NowEx.1-13_WEB

 


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SO YOU THINK THE DECK IS STACKED?

WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?

Recently author Claude Nougat posted an article on her blog entitled, “The Author-Reader Amazon Revolution: Mirage or Reality?” I commented with a few personal observations and Claude thought they warranted a blog of their own. It has gotten very good response and so I thought readers of my RectorWriter Blog might also find them interesting.

Claude, your blog post The Author-Reader Amazon Revolution:Mirage or Reality? is a very informative and sobering article that once again leaves my head spinning about the book market today. But also conjures up some memories along similar lines.

The joys of shooting in the great outdoors. That's me in the plaid shirt.

The joys of shooting in the great outdoors. That’s me in the plaid shirt.

A little less than 40 years ago I jumped through these same kinds of hoops but in a different medium: film. I was part of a small production company that decided to make a low-budget feature film for theatrical distribution. The timing was right because several G-rated low-budget ‘outdoor-adventure’ films had done very well, chief among them was Grizzly Adams. The attraction to this genre for the filmmaker was that Mother Nature provided all the sets and most of the players (wildlife) for free. All you had to do was get the cast and crew to a really spectacular location and tell a reasonably entertaining story about a hero single-handedly fighting man’s abuse of nature. 

I was chosen to write, direct, and edit for the simple reason that I had more experience than anyone else involved, plus I was still riding on my fame from The Now Explosion. The film was titled Nature’s Way but before its release was changed to Don’t Change My World.

We made the film for next to nothing, just like today’s indie authors produce a book. In its initial screenings audiences responded very positively but to go into wide release, we ran into the same obstacles that indie writer’s face. We weren’t MGM or Universal or 20th Century Fox and they owned the game.

No animal was harmed while shooting the film. Not true of the cast and crew. We all had our share of bites and scratches.

No animal was harmed while shooting the film. Not true of the cast and crew. We all had our share of bites and scratches.

The major studios had long-established relationships with movie theaters around the world, as well as marketing and distribution operations that ran like the proverbial Swiss watch. On the other hand, we were, in effect, knocking on the door of each individual theater. They didn’t want to deal with someone who only had one film to peddle and no marketing machinery behind them. We eventually did sign with a small independent distributor who managed to get our film released nationally but playing at only one or two markets at a time, so the money generated trickled in and seldom covered expenses. Plus the theaters, since they were dealing with a small fry, slow paid, and sometimes no paid, us – something they didn’t dare do with the majors. When we protested they simply said, “So sue us.” 

The sad fact of life was that the audiences who saw the film loved it, but getting it in front of an audience was a constant uphill battle that cost more than we could possibly make, especially since much of the time we never saw the money that came into the box office. By the time the theater took its cut (much more severe than Amazon’s take) and the distributor took his cut (always with extra expenses added) and the advertising agencies took their cut, nothing was left (sound familiar?).

Producer George Macrenaris makes friends with our star. Behind him is the shack of the bad guys. These scenes were shot at Grandfather Mtn., NC.

Producer George Macrenaris makes friends with our star. Behind him is the shack of the bad guys. These scenes were shot at Grandfather Mtn., NC.

The film finally generated significant revenue when it went into non-theatrical release, primarily on cable channels like CineMax (HBO). It was also broadcast by the BBC and several other operators in Europe.

The US Navy purchased a hundred or so 16mm prints for showing onboard their ships. A specialty distributor who provided inflight movies for airlines licensed its use. Same for a distributor who supplied films for college campus theaters. And finally the film was released to the newly emerging home video market. The point being, we had to search out and broker all these deals ourselves.

Do these guys look beat up or what? I'm 2nd from the left, front, and next to me is future wife Marsha Roberts. We'd just met a few weeks earlier.

Do these guys look beat up or what? I’m 2nd from the left, front, and next to me is future wife Marsha Roberts. We’d just met a few weeks earlier.

And the same is true for indie publishers/writers. Anybody who has been in business, whether it’s selling books or selling paper clips, knows that it’s never easy and you have to work at it continuously. 

Selling is ALWAYS job one. During the 15 years we toured our play Letters From the Front around the world, selling and marketing was a nonstop daily job – and I mean every single day.

So I guess I come to this issue with a little different and perhaps more cynical (based on experience) but realistic perspective.

Editing. The part I like best. Just me and the film. Similar to writing.

Editing. The part I like best. Just me and the film. Similar to writing.

If there’s money to be made, then big money is going to control the market. Always. Never been any different since the beginning of commerce. Might makes right. 

Will fair play come into play? Don’t count on it. 

The question to indie writers/publishers is: what are you going to do about it? Throw up your hands and say the deck is stacked and I don’t stand a chance so to hell with it? Or, I have right on my side but I can’t win so I might as well not play? Are you going to take Amazon and the other major players to court and sue them for what you believe are unfair practices? Good luck. They each have teams of lawyers just waiting to bury you. 

Before you jump to the conclusion that I’m being dark or negative, please don’t. 

As the old saying goes, there’s more than one way to skin a cat (although why anybody would want to baffles me). Most of my professional life has been spent finding alternate routes around established institutions, with varying degrees of success. My first rule is to never let somebody else define my pathway to success.

Poster for "Don't Change My World"

Poster for “Don’t Change My World”

If I’m going to fail, I want to fail on my own terms. As far as indie publishing is concerned, my wife (a fellow author) and I are still experimenting and searching out alternative paths. It will take time but it always does. I’m confident that we’ll find a way that works for us. We’ve done it many times before.

The threshold we’re shooting for is not just to make money for ourselves, but to make money for somebody else, preferably a large well-funded organization. That’s what we’ve done before. We found a way to make money for major companies with our product, lots of money. Then they started writing checks to us, big checks. I’m not saying this is the only path. We’re all supposed to be creative people — so be creative about this too!

To be exceedingly trite, we don’t look at this as a problem, we look at it as an opportunity. A huge ground-floor opportunity. And we don’t expect anybody or any organization to do the heavy lifting for us. Maybe we’re naive. We’ll see.


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SO YOU WANT TO MAKE AN AUDIOBOOK

The good news is we got it done for Miz Marsha’s book “Confessions of an Instinctively Mutinous Baby Boomer” and it’s up and running and sounds great AND IS ACTUALLY SELLING!

The cover for Marsha's audiobook version of her book

The cover for Marsha’s audiobook version of her book

The bad news: It’s a hell of a lot harder than we had any idea, and we’ve spent most of our professional lives making films and videos in varying lengths from TV spots to features. Even a feature is only around 90 minutes long. The final running time on Marsha’s book was just over . . .

SIX HOURS!

And her book is a moderate 65,000 words.

A six hour show! Nine hours for a 100,000 word book; twelve hours for a 130,000 word book.

Those are long shows!

Marsha and I created and toured a play that was just over two hours long. Believe me, that was a big show. Two hours.

A six hour show? Staggering.

A twelve hour show? Good Gawd Almighty!

Many of the first recordings ever made were audiobooks

Many of the first recordings ever made were audiobooks

Now that I’ve gotten the enormity of what you’re about to attempt (I’m assuming that’s why you’re reading this) out of the way, how exactly do you do it?

There are basically two approaches to take in creating an audiobook. Whether or not you continue reading will depend on which of the two approaches you decide upon.

First approach: Find somebody with a pleasant voice and good diction (yourself, perhaps?), put him/her in front of your computer, open your handy-dandy recording app, flip to page one in your book and have them start reading. When done, edit, probably with the same app, and presto, you have an audiobook.

If this approach appeals to you, there’s no point in reading any further. Go with God.

God help you

God help you

The second approach is to create your audio book the same way you created your written book.

Professionally.

Your most important choice? Voice talent, the kind that can bring your book alive with nothing more than his/her vocal artistry. Great voice talent is readily available. Most will have samples you can download. Fees will vary enormously from no charge with a piece of the action, to thousands of dollars.

Time to play ‘Lets make a deal.’

The person you choose to record your audiobook will be your most important decision

The person you choose to record your audiobook will be your most important decision

Sometimes the price will include professional recording facilities. Convenient perhaps but pointless if you don’t get the reading you’re looking for.

Why is finding the perfect voice talent for your audiobook so important. Won’t any experienced professional do an adequate job?

Well, let me ask you a question. Did you know the original choice to play Rick in Casablanca was not Bogart but George Raft? Wouldn’t that have been a disaster, even with the same script and director? Or imagine Bette Davis playing Scarlet O’Hara, Laurence Olivier playing Conan the Barbarian.

Can you imagine anyone else playing Bogart's role?

Can you imagine anyone else playing Bogart’s role?

Old Hollywood axiom: Casting is everything. Same is true for audiobooks.

Marsha and I decided there was only one person who could do justice to her book: Della Cole. We’ve worked with Della for over 25 years in numerous film and stage productions, most notably Letters From the Front, in which she originated the lead role of Katharine Hartgrove. Much of Marsha’s book recounts our adventures with this long running show which toured the world for 15 years. Della was there for much of the time and knew most of the accounts first hand. Who better to tell the story?

Della Cole (right) was our one and only choice to record Miz Marsha's audiobook and as usual knocked it out of the ball park

Della Cole (right) was our one and only choice to record Miz Marsha’s audiobook and as usual knocked it out of the ball park

Besides casting, you’ll have to make many other choices. Scheduling, for example. Tricky considering the program length. To get all those hours of oratory laid down, a number of recording sessions will be required over a period of days, weeks, even months.

It took us six months.

Not continuously, of course, but all involved had very busy schedules. Sometimes weeks would pass between recording sessions.

Why does that matter?

Consistency.

Recording levels, EQ, audio formats, media, microphone placement, and room tone have to match from session to session. You might assume that the recording engineer will take care of all this.

Typical voice recording studio and sound-proof booth for the talent. Gone are the days of reel-to-reel tape recorders. It's all done digitally today.

Typical voice recording studio and sound-proof booth for the talent. Gone are the days of reel-to-reel tape recorders. It’s all done digitally today.

Don’t count on it.

During the course of working on your audiobook, he/she will be working on a number of other projects, all with different recording settings.

End result?

It’s very easy for your audiobook to sound like a patchwork audio quilt and ACX (Amazon’s audiobook production division) will reject it.

If these folks aren't happy with how your audiobook sounds -- off with your head!

If these folks aren’t happy with how your audiobook sounds — off with your head!

That’s right. ACX won’t accept just anything you send them. If it doesn’t fit their specs, your audiobook will be rejected. Fortunately they provide detailed spec sheets and a very helpful ‘how to’ section. You can access them here.

What does all this mean?

It means that, congratulations, you are now a producer.

If you do not feel comfortable being a producer, there are professionals you can hire to do that job too. An experienced producer can make up for their fees in the money they’ll save you on wasted time, poor scheduling, and ensuring that everyone does their job properly. They know when and how to crack the whip. You don’t.

I see you’ve already got your calculator out trying to estimate how big a dent this is going to put in your children’s college fund. Next question: How much recording time will be required?

With the production of your  audiobook you'll be adding up more than word count

With the production of your audiobook you’ll be adding up more than word count

Again this can vary greatly due to many factors, the most important being what quality level is acceptable to you. When you were writing your book, think how many times you scoured every word and sentence, every line of dialogue, until your manuscript was the best you could make it. Nothing less was acceptable.

Same applies with an audiobook. To get it exactly the way you want it will require a number of takes, even with the best voice talent. Often the talent will ask for another take if they don’t think they got the best out of a line or segment. Only an idiot would refuse their request.

Oh, and did I mention Whispersync?

Just when you thought you knew everything . . .

Just when you thought you knew everything . . .

What is Whispersync?

Whispersync is a very clever little magic trick developed by Amazon that allows customers to synchronize their content across various devices so they can pick up right where they left off.

In other words, somebody listening to your audiobook can at any time pick up their Kindle and it will be positioned at the exact spot where they stopped listening. Crazy, but it works and people buying your audiobook will want it to be Whispersync compatible.

What does Whispersync compatible mean to you and the production of your audiobook?

It means your recorded book will have to be word-for-word accurate with your written book. If it’s not, Whispersync may not work. Not good.

From your original manuscript to all the ebook formats to audiobook. What's next?

From your original manuscript to all the ebook formats to audiobook. What’s next?

It means someone will have to pay close attention during recording to ensure that the voice talent performs your book with word-for-word precision. Remember, they’re focused on performance. During playback it’ll need to be checked again.

This may seem like no big deal but take it from me, it is. You’ll be surprised how much stuff will escape your scrutiny; contractions where there should or shouldn’t be, dropped words, superfluous words added, repeated words. Catching them all becomes a bit nerve racking.

Okay, back to how much recording time will be required. For Marsha’s book, at 65,000 words, we recorded a little over 30 hours of original audio. In other words, a 5 to 1 ratio.

But there’s recording time and there’s session time. Session time includes the actual recording time plus playback time to check performance level and errors. It also includes slating, room tone, potty breaks, water breaks, takes ruined by noisy vehicles outside, doors slamming, or myriad other disturbances. It’s all part of the process.

A diesel firetruck with horns and siren blaring will trump the best sound insulation of any recording booth and be picked up by the microphone

A diesel firetruck with horns and siren blaring will trump the best sound insulation of any recording booth and be picked up by the microphone

One other thing to consider: Even professional talent can seldom record beyond a three hour session. Fatigue naturally sets in and the quality of the recording sags. If you’re lucky, and schedules allow, you can record two sessions in a day.

The information I’ve given here is based on personal experience. You may do better, you may do worse. As I said earlier, I spent years as a professional filmmaker so I was one-up on the game. Cutting audio tracks – dialogue, sound effects, and music – is an integral part of the film editing process. Been there, done it. A lot.

But with an audiobook all you’ve got is dialogue. No sound effects or music to cover up mistakes or distract the ear from ‘presence’ fluctuations or other recording anomalies. Your voice recording is front and center, bare-ass naked. Better be slim, trim, and flawless.

This is just one of the many reasons I found recording and cutting an audiobook to be an arduous task. I’ll do better on my next one. Practice makes perfect. Or at least better. I hope.

As writers, we're used to working alone. An audiobook is a production and productions require collaboration. Relax. It's not as bad as it sounds.

As writers, we’re used to working alone. An audiobook is a production and productions require collaboration. Relax. It’s not as bad as it sounds.

So at last the recording is done. It’s clean. It meets ACX’s recording specs. The voice talent’s performance hopefully exceeds your expectations.

Time to break out the champagne.

Go ahead. You deserve it.

Go ahead. You deserve it.

But wait! There’s more!

You now have to edit it.

But I’m going to cut you some slack here and save that for my next blog. For the time being, relax and enjoy your champagne.


9 Comments

MY INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR DANIELLE DEVOR

Danielle DeVor is one of my favorite writers. I’ve read two of her books so far: ‘Dancing With A Dead Horse’ and ‘Constructing Marcus’. Both prove she is a master storyteller who writes with flair and a narrative flow so well constructed that the pages fly. I particularly admire her skill with dialogue. When guys speak, they don’t sound as if their words came out of a woman’s mouth – a pet peeve of mine.

DancingDeadHorseFB

Thanks for agreeing to be interrogated, Danielle. I’ll start off with my favorite series of opening questions. They may sound familiar. First, who are you really?

I am an android from the planet Zotz. No, actually, I’m just a semi-normal American girl who loves creatures and animals.

I buy you being an android from Zotz, but being semi-normal, not so much. Next question, what were you before?

At one time, I wanted to be a professional ballet dancer. I still help people with fitting of pointe shoes and moderate on a ballet message board.

DanielleBallet

What did you do?

I have also worked as a make-up artist, costume designer, and have directed and written plays.

Ah, a fellow playwright! I kinda guessed that after reading your dialogue. And finally, what did you think?

I enjoyed writing and directing plays, and hope one day, that one of my books will get picked up to be made into a film.

I think they’d make a terrific TV or cable series aimed at the teen market. I’ve never read anyone who can get into a teen’s mind as convincingly as you do – the way they think, act, and speak. Having raised a couple of teens (boys) and having been one myself (long ago in a galaxy far, far away) the ring of truth is loud and clear in your work. Talk to us a little about this special ability you have.

My favorite film of all time is The Breakfast Club. Hughes was a master at getting into the teenage mind, and I have really tried to do what he did. With boy voice, it helped that at one time, our house was the go-to house for all the teen boys in the neighborhood. Mostly, I think, because I tell ghost stories and we let them be themselves without being judgmental. For girl voice, I just try to tap into my younger self.

I love your author picture. How did you come up with that?

DanielleDevor

I wanted something striking, and since I love all things vampiric, and I used to be goth, I dug through my closet, my friend Tabby’s closet and went out into the woods. Tabby took several pictures, and that was the one that turned out best.

Although your latest book ‘Dancing With A Dead Horse’ is a straight-out whodunnit, and one of the best I’ve read in a while, your other books delve into vampires and the paranormal. Why do you think there is such a great interest today in stories about vampires, zombies, and the otherworld?

I think the interest has always been there. Look at history, the Witch-burnings, the Vampire craze in Europe. In fact, legends about vampires date back to the early days of Christianity and in other ancient religions. I think it happens in flux. There was a huge jump when Stoker’s book first came out, then less than a hundred years later the first film of his book was made. 1922’s Nosferatu. Then, Universal Studios had their monsters all come out. A lull occurred until the 1960’s and then Hammer Studios took over in England with Christopher Lee. Then, Frank Langella reprised his role of Dracula where he’d been performing on Broadway in the 1970’s. The 1980’s had a lot of vampire comedy films like Vamp with Grace Jones. In literature, the 80’s spawned the juggernaut Anne Rice. So, I suppose you can say that vampires rear their heads roughly once per decade. People are saying that vampires are dead in literature, but they aren’t. They will never be dead. MWahahahaha.

TailOfDevil

Some say our business has always been full of bloodsuckers, but we won’t go there. Your books are so intense, I wonder if you do anything special to prepare yourself for a writing session.

Being a confirmed horror film addict, I have a lot of weird thoughts going on in my head all the time. So, that part isn’t too unusual for me. When I sit down to write, I just pull out the steno pad and pens and get started. Though, I always know the main character before I sit down. And, a situation I want them to be in. The rest just comes on its own.

I especially admire your ability to write convincing dialogue, regardless of the character’s gender. Guys speak like guys and gals speak like gals. There are so few writers who can do this believably. Do you have a secret?

I think it helped that I started out writing plays. Plays are all dialogue, so I got used to making it believable as to how people talk. Also, when I question something male-related, I ask my father. He’s was a gunnery sergeant in the Marine Corps during Vietnam, so he’s a really good sounding board for that.

Agreed. I’ve suggested here on my blog that novelists who want to improve their dialogue skills should try writing a play. If you gave yourself a pen name that none of your friends or associates knew you by, what kind of book would you like to write?

Ooh, that’s a hard one. Maybe a western? That would be something different. Though, I’d have to have a male sounding pen name for that I think.

If money was no object, what would you do with your life besides, or in addition to, writing?

I would hire a helicopter, go to Romania, and visit the REAL Dracula’s castle. The one currently for sale is one they fixed up because it was easy to get to. He only stayed like one night there. Whereas the real castle, it is in ruins up on the side of a mountain. I would probably try to spend the night to see if something was really there. Guess if I met Dracula, I’d probably not be here anymore. LOL.

SorrowsPoint

Why must you write and what would happen if you didn’t?

I can go times without writing. In fact, I didn’t write for about ten years after I stopped writing plays. Though, now that I’ve gotten used to cranking out several books per year, I’d drive myself crazy because I would know I should be doing something.

What writers have influenced you most and why?

Richard Matheson definitely. His book, I am Legend, is a masterpiece. Also, Anne Rice because Lestat is probably the most awesome vampire ever. (I know. I so sound like a kid there. LOL.) And, of course, Stephen King. Well, because who can ignore the awesomeness of The Shining. Though, contrary to what King thinks, I love Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of Jack Torrance.

What were your adolescent years like? Are any of your books drawn from that time in your life?

I had a very angst filled adolescence. I am a severe asthmatic, and spent a lot of my junior high and high school years at home because I was so sick. This also is what stopped me from being able to be a dancer professionally. So, I tended to hang out with people older than me and learned to people-watch. That might be why dialog is easier for me to write as well.

DanielleTeen

Yes, I wonder if some writers ever listen to how people really speak. How do you go about formulating your plots?

I never have a full idea as to how a plot will go. I just know when I start that I want my characters to react in a certain situation. In Dancing With a Dead Horse, I wanted Jason to react to the murder and the subsequent accusation. In Constructing Marcus, I wanted Emma to fall in love with a spirit who isn’t a ghost.

How long does it usually take you to write a book?

I can do NANOWRIMO. But, I try not to be that hard on myself. I usually get the rough draft done in roughly 1.5 months. Then, I have to go back and add all the description. I still write mostly dialogue and not much else when I first start. That is one detriment to beginning writing plays instead of prose.

‘Dancing With A Dead Horse’ is approx. 67,000 words. Is that the length you shoot for? If so, why?

I tend to start out with wanting to hit about 70k. But, I also take market ideals into account. YA, you can get by with smaller word counts. But, I also write adult fiction, so for those, I shoot for about 70k. I’m about to start a science fiction project, so that one will need to be above 80k.

Why did you decide to become an indie writer/publisher?

Big publishers are so out of reach for most people. Literary agents tend to go with trends instead of taking chances on new authors. So, I went with smaller publishers that will take chances on new stories. And, I also have self-published a short story of mine. There is freedom with self-publishing, but it is hard too.

ConstructMarcus

Tell us your thoughts on the world of indie publishing as it stand today. What’s good about it? What’s not so good?

I think it is good that with indie publishing, readers don’t have to wait for a small amount of books to come out every year. At the same time, though, because there are now so many people publishing, it is hard to stand out.

What changes would you like to see take place?

I think there needs to be a better way to market books to people. Most people still browse. They may buy ebooks, but they like to browse too. So, I think it would be awesome if someone would make a bookstore of a different type with placards that have the cover art and description. Maybe a few sample pages. Then, they could take a card under that piece and go to the front desk to either have their selection printed, or downloaded onto their ebook. Think about how many books that people could see if a large book store only put book space for one copy? So many more books for people to see.

Writing is a job that often involves isolation for hours, sometimes days, at a time. How do you deal with that?

I’m not really an isolated person. I get up before everyone else in the house and usually have my word count and promo done before noon. Then, I have the rest of the day to do what I need or want to do. The bad part about that is that I am a night bird and getting up early kind of sucks. But, it is the routine that works for me.

What advice, or tips, would you give a writer who is about to write their first young adult novel?

Get to know some young adults. Pay attention to their mannerisms. Pay attention to what is important to them. Ask them questions about it. Really get to know them.

How supportive are your family and friends about your chosen vocation?

My folks sell my books more than I do, I think. I have to give them bookmarks to keep with them because they will go to a store and start talking about their daughter, the writer. Inevitably, they leave a bookmark behind. And, my friends and family all buy my books, so that’s nice too.

If you could travel to any time period and any place, what and where would they be and why?

Herzegovina

I think I would like to go to what my father calls, “The Old Country”. His side of the family is from what is currently Herzegovina, but at the time that his family came to America, it was still part of Austria. It was prior to World War II, so I think it would have been interesting to see where my grandfather grew up.

What are your favorite non-writing activities?

I love to read, watch movies, go to Indian restaurants. Sometimes, I like to bake.

What else have you got to say for yourself, Danielle?

It was great being interviewed by you, Bob. Thanks!

My pleasure, Danielle. My 5-star review of Constructing Marcus can be read here, and my 5-star review of Dancing With A Dead Horse can be read here. For those of you looking for a great weekend read, I highly recommend both of these.


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MY INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR MARSHA ROBERTS

Okay, full disclosure. Besides being an accomplished bestselling author, producer, film editor, operating room nurse, etc., etc., Marsha Roberts is also my wife. Together we raised two sons, ran a fairly successful business for a lot of years, and shared many adventures all over the globe. So to keep this from bogging down into sentimentality and sycophancy I’m going to try to paint as objective a picture as I can of this woman who has captivated me (and legions of others) for more years than I’m allowed to tell you. If I get interjected into the narrative, well, you can understand why.

MWRCASTLv2

Marsha, I happen to know that your connection with show business goes back to your childhood. Tell us about that.

Show business is in my blood, that’s for sure! My Dad, Warren Roberts, was a local celebrity and I had the good fortune of being a girl during his heyday in the late 1950’s and 60’s.

MouseEarsDadReads

When he retired, he’d had the longest continuously running radio show in the Southeast. For many years he also had his own TV show “Warren Roberts Presents” that ran on Sunday afternoons and he hosted what was called the “All Night Singing” at the Atlanta Civic Auditorium every Saturday night for more years than I can remember. One of my most vivid memories was being backstage, peeking through the curtains at my Dad on stage, the lights silhouetting him, the audience applauding. It was thrilling. Another highlight was when the theme song he opened up his shows with, “May the Lord Bless You Real Good,” which he had written, was used in a Dean Martin movie, Ada.

ADA-main title
ADA-Warren credit

I’ll never forget sitting in the MGM screening room at about 8 years old, watching Dean Martin sing my Dad’s song. Wow. That made quite an impression!

As a child, did you see yourself pursuing a career in the entertainment business?

No, not at all! I just wanted to have an adventurous life – see the world! I used to be on my Dad’s TV show as a kid all the time, doing live commercials, singing, sitting in his lap listening to him tell a story, that sort of thing.

MWR&WarrenTV

But by the time I got into high school, I would cringe whenever he would ask me to be on his show. What I now realize is, I was meant to be backstage, that’s where I always felt at home.

Scrapbook photos show that you were a cute little girl that eventually metamorphosed into a drop dead gorgeous young woman, but there was a period of several years between those two phases that you were, well, an ugly duckling. Tell us about that period and how it affected the way you felt about yourself and what you thought your future might be?

Now Rector, you know how I’m going to respond to the drop dead gorgeous comment! You’re a little prejudice and I never saw myself in those terms. However, I do look back at my young-stuff photos and wonder how I didn’t know how pretty I was, but I didn’t.

MRW-Jailbait

And I think the reason is because of all those years when I was a fat little girl with glasses who wasn’t anybody’s idea of a cute kid. My awkward years lasted longer than most, I’d say from 8 through about 14. Six long years of being ugly! My Mom used to say, “I can’t believe I have such a fat, ugly girl. But, it doesn’t matter, Marsha, you’re the smartest girl I’ve ever known and you can do anything.” So I grew up thinking I was ugly, but smart! I relied on my smarts and that was a really good thing. When I eventually grew out of my ugly phase (thankfully!), I was a young woman who didn’t depend on her good looks, I relied on my brains. Still do.

What made you decide to become a nurse and how did that come about?

NurseMarsha.

I started out in college as an Art Major. Not that I was an artist, I just knew I wanted to do something creative. At the end of the first semester my Mom was diagnosed with cancer. This was 1970 and basically a death sentence. Dad had changed jobs and her treatment wouldn’t be covered by insurance for two years, so he didn’t have the money to keep me in school. I had to come home and get a job. What’s a quick job to come by for a young woman? (no wise cracks here…) A waitress, of course! After several months of that, I observed that most of the other gals didn’t like waiting on people, they found it demeaning. I didn’t. I liked serving people’s needs and making them smile. It occurred to me that being a nurse was sort of like a well educated waitress and I knew I could always get a job with a nursing degree. It was a very logical choice and one of the smartest things I did as a young person.

What was your most memorable experience in the operating room?

Early in 1975 I was in my scrubs one morning checking the first patients into the OR. When my patient was rolled in, I looked at her chart and her name was Susan Chalkley. Her head was bandanged and she looked ravaged by illness, her face lined with pain. She was an older woman, but when I looked at her birth date I thought she looked older than her years. In spite of that, there was something so very familiar about her and I said so to my supervisor. She whispered, “No one is suppose to know, but that’s Susan Hayward.” Then I could see it, underneath the suffering, the great beauty was still there. We couldn’t do much for her, basically relieving the pressure from the fluid around her brain. It was quite poignant for me, this beautiful actress who had starred with Dean Martin in the movie my Dad’s song had been in. I had watched her on the screen when I was 8 years old, she had been “Ada.” Now, only 14 years later, she was my patient and so very sick. What a life lesson about how fast it goes by and how fragile it all is.

Hayward&Martin

I guess you should tell how we met and how that ultimately affected your career choices. Don’t get sloppy.

This is an easy one. You were directing a feature film, “Don’t Change My World,” and there had been a call for extras at a barn dance. The cinematographer was a good friend of mine and his mom had a bit part in the movie. She asked me to join her that night, said it would be fun. Who knew that the simple choice to go with her was going to change my life?

It was really cold that night and raining. You had been standing in the rain for several hours getting a shot of the actors arriving and the coat you had on was soaking wet.

Yeah, and as I recall, when the lead actors go in you’re standing right here at the doorway. First night we met and its captured in a theatrical movie. How many people can say that?

And we hadn’t even met yet. I stayed until the shoot was over, about 3:00 in the morning when you finally called “Wrap!” When the heat of the film lights went out, you were sitting in a chair, shivering from the cold. I walked over, sat on your lap, put my arms around your neck and said, “You look like you need someone to keep you warm.” It was the first time we had spoken all night. And, as you know, I’ve been keeping you warm every since! How’s that for keeping the sloppy out of it?

As for career choices, you introduced me to the magic of movie making. Telling stories to people in theaters. It was just the beginning…

Tell me about overcoming the stigma of being the ‘director’s girlfriend’.

First off, for those who don’t know what that means, it’s basically the ditsy gal who works on a film even though she doesn’t have any skills and everybody resents her. Now, as for me, I was immediately fascinated by the filmmaking process and was determined to be part of it. If you recall, Rector, you said “No way” because you didn’t want me to be perceived as the “director’s girlfriend.”

Bob&MWR-B-Barfield2

I waited until you were out of town and rearranged everything in your editing room, saying it needed straightening up. You couldn’t find anything without me being there. Ha! What a female thing to do! As far as being on the set was concerned, I just worked harder than anyone else and never heard a word about the “girlfriend” issue.

You’ve often been described as Sarah Lee: nobody doesn’t like you. How did that come about?

Like so many things in my life, Rector, I believe you coined that phrase! I know how you hate it when I’m humble, so I’ll try to address this phenomenon as honestly as I can. I genuinely like people and I truly believe that life is a daily miracle. I am an extremely positive person (I work on it!) and it seems to be contagious. I think people sense my love of life and my acceptance of them and are often effected by it.

Probably the understatement of the year. What was there about film editing that revved up your creative juices?

It was such a puzzle! There were all these different scenes, multiple takes, sound tracks, seemingly endless choices. The complexity of how it all magically came together in the hands of someone who knew what he was doing fascinated me. Still does.

BobEdit-1

Was film editing where you learned the fundamentals of storytelling (I know this is a leading question but I’m not withdrawing it)?

I’ll never forget the first piece of film I put together myself, after being your assistant for a couple of years or so. We were making a documentary about black bears and there was all this incredibly cute footage of the little bears playing, rolling and tumbling all over the place. The footage had been shot over a period of days and there was no clear storyline to it. That’s often the editors job in a documentary. Well, I worked and worked on it, finally bringing you in to take a look. I started to explain what was happening on the screen and you told me to be quiet, that if I had to explain, it wasn’t on the screen. When you finished watching it, you turned to me and said, “Start over. It wasn’t on the screen.”

That’s it in a nutshell. When you’re telling a story, whether on film or in a book, you won’t be there to explain how interesting it is to your audience. It either works or it doesn’t. Film editing taught me how to bring little bits and pieces of ideas together into a cohesive whole. Yes, film editing did teach me the fundamentals of storytelling. Film editing is the hardest job I ever had to learn.

How and why did you make the leap from film editor to producer?

This was the time during the late 1980’s when commercial filmmaking as we knew it was coming to an end. 16mm film production was quickly being replaced with video tape and it changed our business dramatically. You had clients for years that had routinely recommended your services as a cameraman, director and editor to others, so you never really had to go out and sell jobs. It would have taken us hundreds of thousands of dollars to get into the video business and we weren’t interested in it anyway. Regardless, the phone wasn’t ringing as much because of this and we knew we had to do something. One of us was going to have to get out and sell jobs. I knew absolutely nothing about selling, but we both knew I had the type of personality that could make it work, so I jumped in to figure it out. Reluctantly and scared to death, I might add!

We started working with a company out of Atlanta called Score Productions. They primarily did audio programs to use as premiums, like an exercise tape that came with a pack of vitamins, that sort of thing. Occasionally they needed a film and I became sort of an apprentice to a great salesman there. One day I was out pitching a film job to one of their clients and the head of that company told me he really liked our work, but they didn’t need a film right now. He said, “Do you know anyone who does Corporate Theatre.” Before I even thought about it, I blurted out, “I can do that!” although I had no idea what corporate theatre was. Well, I got the job and we figured it out. The show was a great success (thanks to you writing an extremely funny skit!) and I became a producer practically overnight, forming a company called Produced By Marsha Roberts.

ProdByMarhsa

I remember it well. I still had a few clients who refused to abandon film and had just returned from shooting a wildlife documentary in Alaska when you hit me with the corporate theatre thing. It didn’t interest me but your enthusiasm, as always, was contagious and I soon found myself writing corporate theater scripts. For the sake of those reading this, describe what corporate theater is and the kind of shows you produced.

Microcom

Corporate theatre is live productions that are developed to sell a product at a trade show or other venues or to assist the corporation in teaching their employees something new. If it’s done right, corporate theatre can be a great way to entertain the audience while conveying the message you want them to hear. It’s called ‘infotainment’. I loved producing corporate theater; it was a blast! The shows we did were incredibly zany (thanks to your wacky scripts), rather like Saturday Night Live, and people got such a kick out of them. They ranged in length from short, sketch-type comedy to full theatrical productions. The most extensive we did was a 65 minute, 3-act play that had three stages and about a dozen performers. It was grand!

Who were some of your major clients for both film and corporate theater?

Revlon, IBM, Coca-Cola, Dominoes Pizza, Georgia Pacific, and a bunch of software companies who have been bought out so many times that people wouldn’t recognize their names now, but they were big players back in the late 1980’s. I was also personally chosen by Mary Kaye to direct her new inspirational audiobook. What a powerhouse she was and what a blast it was working with her.

MWR&MaryKaye

What was your most memorable experience with corporate theater?

Going to Rapallo, Italy on the Italian Riviera and performing for only 18 people: the major European distributors for that company. It took us several days to set up, a day to put on the show, a night to party and then we took off for two weeks to explore northern Italy and up into Switzerland, with a stop off in Venice. We had the time of our lives!

MWR&DelRapallo

Yeah, I’ve still got a hangover from that one. We literally closed down the bar at the hotel, then went into town and closed another bar or two. Okay, enough of that. Now we come to the big one: Letters From the Front. What is it and how did it come about?

For anyone not familiar with Letters From The Front, this may seem like a tall tale. It’s not. It happened just like this.

Corporate theatre came to a quick end with the recession that began in 1990. Jobs we had been contracted for were cancelled and I went into a complete “blue funk” as the saying goes. At the same time, America was deploying troops to Iraq. We watched the news every night and prayed for their safety. It occurred to me that the scenes of soldiers waiting for letters from home had been repeated throughout history. I didn’t know these were seeds being planted for what was to come.

After months of no work I found myself in a deep depression. I dropped down on my knees and prayed that God would give me something to help me believe in dreams again. Not long after that I was awakened in the middle of the night. I saw the words “Letters From The Front” hanging in the air like a neon sign. At the same time the idea of a play based on letters from all the American wars was placed on my heart. It was an assignment from God, plain and simple.

LFTF-FullPoster

I woke you up and told you what I had seen. We had been together for a long time by then and I had never woken you up with a vision. You believed me absolutely and we began the long process of bringing Letters From The Front to life. You wrote it and directed it, I produced it.

What is it? It is a Broadway-style theatrical production that blessed hundreds of thousands of members of our military, their families and veterans, touring military bases worldwide. We were awarded so many commendations that it came to be known as The World’s Most Decorated Play.

We toured Letters From the Front to hundreds of military installations around the world for 15 years and had many grand adventures in the process. Tell us about your favorite or most memorable.

LFTF-STAND-O

Oh Bob, you know that’s impossible! Too many experiences to pick just one. We had incredibly grand escapades touring “Letters,” but what stays with you for a lifetime is the people. Mainly it was the experiences after the show with our military audience, pouring their hearts out to us as if we were family, telling how their own stories related to the play… thousands of people who were so touched by our work. I don’t believe there was ever a theatrical producer who was more appreciated for what she did than I was. Those are precious memories.

producer@andrews

Many of your answers so far can be found within the context of the stories in your book, Confessions of an Instinctively Mutinous Baby Boomer, etc. etc. What prompted you to write it and what made you think you could?

For the first time in my adult life, I was in a quiet place with time to do as I pleased. I found a true short story I had written a few years earlier on a legal pad called “The Parable of the Tomato Plant.” I knew in my heart I had something other people could relate to, other parables about overcoming obstacles in our lives. The rest just started pouring out of me. What made me know that I could? That’s the mutinous in me – I always thought I could do whatever I put my mind to!

How long did it take you to write your book – and where did you write most of it?

It took me four months to write the first draft. It took me seven months to write the second draft and another three or so months to polish it. I started submitting it at that point, but still needed another rewrite, which I did about a year later, which took two months. Where did I write most of it? On a mountain top in Tennessee!

MWR&Shawl

This being your first written work, what did you find most difficult about becoming a wordsmith?

The discipline of finding the right words to express the exact emotion, the exact thought I wanted to convey.

Everybody asks this question so I guess I’ll conform and ask it too: do you listen to music when you work? What is your workplace like? Elaborate as much as you feel necessary.

I’m a real rocker and love to have my music on when I’m driving, doing house work, gardening, but not writing. Writing is a quiet thing for me. I wrote a great deal of my book outdoors, either under a large tree in our yard, where I had placed a chair with a little table beside it, or on the top of a mountain. On this mountain there is this fantastic park that hardly anyone knows about, so I often had the place to myself, especially in bad weather. There’s a covered picnic table that overlooks the river valley and the mountains beyond. I would go there, stare off into the clouds, my pen and legal pad in hand, and the words would just start coming. When I finished for the day, I’d come home and type what I wrote into the computer at my desk, revising as I went along.

If money was no object, what would it be?

Green, yummy stuff that I could roll around naked in – because there’s so much of it!

That’s an image I will always treasure.

MBBCover

Back to your book. Although it hits on themes that most people can identify with, it is also very personal, sometimes painfully so (well, to me anyway, being among the primary cast of characters). What made you decide to be so . . . honest and open about OUR lives?

That’s a really tough question, Rector. It’s kind of like “Letters From The Front.” It’s what I felt I was supposed to do. We had been through so many trials, things that mirrored in many ways what people were going through across the country. Tough times. But, perhaps because of the business that we’re in, the experience we had in bouncing back, reinventing ourselves, we had the emotional and spiritual muscles to deal with it. Not everybody did. I just felt that it was something I was obligated to share. If how we found the strength to deal with these difficulties could help someone else, then I thought I should do it. I felt compelled to, as you know. Thank you for understanding and allowing me to be as honest as I felt I had to be about what we went through. We came out OK, though, Rector. We are survivors!

Yeah, that’s one thing we’re pretty good at. Your book has been called inspiring and uplifting, but also hair-raising. Why hair-raising?

I think people find the chances that I took (that you and I took together, Rector!) a bit unnerving. Most people don’t risk it all for what they want to do. We did. In the process we got our noses blooded several times, but we sure learned a lot and had extraordinary adventures in the process! Heck, it was hair-raising for us at times!

dg-sign

I know for a fact that you feel God’s presence in your life every second of every day. Tell us about that.

I believe that every molecule we breath is God. I believe that the protons and neutrons in every cell in our bodies is God. That’s what connects us. We are all made from God-stuff. Of course I feel God’s presence in my life every second – God IS life. For the rest of it, read my book!

What made you decide to self publish?

A very kind agent that took the time to tell me the truth. I had submitted my query and/or proposal and/or manuscript to about 100 agents. Several had responded enthusiastically, but nobody signed me. Finally an agent took the time to write me a very detailed email. She explained how the publishing industry had changed and that although she would love to represent me, she didn’t think she could sell my book to a publisher because I didn’t have a large enough “platform.” She said that a publisher expects an author to be able to sell at least 20,000 copies of their book right off the bat because of a pre-existing audience.

At the same time, a friend had sent me an article from The Wall Street Journal about how self publishing was becoming easier and mainstream. I thought, well heck, if I have to sell 20,000 copies on my own anyway, what do I need an agent or a publisher for? I decided to do it myself and have never looked back.

Tell me your observations about the world of indie publishing, where it stands now, and where you see it going? Twenty-five words or less.

Changing constantly. Problems with the fact that so many unprofessional writers are in the mix and readers have a hard time discerning the quality ones. Grand possibilities, but you have to hang tough and realize it’s not going to happen overnight. I think I ran over 25 words…

What projects are you currently working on?

MWR&DelPromoFB

Just released my Mutinous Boomer book as an audiobook and I feel like a proud mom! The actress who toured with us for so many years with Letters From The Front, Della Cole, is the narrator and she does a wonderful job. She was there for many of the stories I share and puts such heart into it and humor! I love hearing her read my book!

Besides that, I’m focused on getting Letters From The Front back touring military bases, where it belongs. There are huge numbers of troops who are returning from Afghanistan at the end of this year and “Letters” needs to be there for them. I intend to see that happen (with your kind help, Mr. Rector..).

What else have you got to say for yourself?

It’s been an unusual situation to be interviewed by you, Bob. You’ve been there through all of it, supported me unquestionably through everything I’ve ever wanted to do. Not to get “sloppy,” but not very many women can say that. Thank you for that and for going on this grand adventure of life with me. I can’t imagine a more fascinating companion than you.

Rector+MarshCrop

So, after all of this, what is my book about? Is it a memoir? Yes, in a way. Is it spiritual? Certainly, in that everything is. Do I reveal my deepest, darkest secrets? A few of them. Why should someone want to read it? I’ll quote one of my reader’s reviews, “If you believe in miracles, or if you don’t and you would like to, read this book.”

And that’s all I have to say about that!

And finally, what’s for supper tonight?

Fish. I know you’re a meat-and-potatoes guy, but I’m determined to keep you on this planet as long as possible, so tonight, it’s fish!

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