Saturday, 29 August 2020

Trying Something New - Audiobooks

 This week, for the first time in a very long time, I actually managed to do some writing on the second Special Investigations book.  It took just about every anti-writers-block trick in my repetoire (writing fan fiction to jumpstart my creativity, giving myself a block of several hours without my kids, outlining, brainstorming, reviewing previous chapters, etc) and it wasn't a ton of words but it was something.

But the thing I'm actually excited about is that I'm moving toward something I've wanted to do for a really long time: getting my books out in audio.

I've set up a recording booth in my closet and I've given a shot at narrating the first few chapters.  It's been more of a challenge than I expected and I thought I'd share a little bit of the process.

First, I need to shout out a big thank you to my brother-in-law, Ned, who is an incredibly talented voice actor.  He gave me some good advice on performance and setting up my own in-home studio in an affordable way.  Specifically, using duvets as anti-sound reflectors instead of having to buy fancy padded foam inserts.  And using a touch screen to scroll through the text so that there are no sounds of rustling papers and button clicking on the recording.

I got myself a microphone and blithely began recording.  I knew I had a tendency for clumsy tongue stumbling, so I knew I'd have to re-record sections regularly.  One suggestion was to make sure to leave a significant blank (3 seconds) before starting again so that the gap would be easily identifiable when editing.  That worked better than I'd expected, so I'd highly recommend it to anyone wanting to give this a try themselves.

I'd recorded ten chapters and was feeling pretty pleased with myself when I realized that I'd misread the technical requirements that Findaway needs for audio recordings.  All of my recordings were far too quiet.

O-kay.  Disappointing but not crushing.  Until I realized that my fancy new microphone's levels were maxed out.  The only way I could meet the volume requirements was to have my mouth right next to the microphone, which introduced me to the wonderful new world of plosives.

Plosives are sounds that include a rush of air (b, p, t, etc.).  Put your hand in front of your mouth and you'll feel the exhalation as you say them.  When you say them directly in front of a microphone, you get a staticy-pop from the air hitting the surface.  Incidentally, this is why most microphones have a foam cover and vocalists usually have a pop filter (a nylon screen) in front of the microphone as well.

I was caught in a bind: to get the volume I needed, I had a plosive problem.  If I used the pop filter and foam cover to reduce the plosives, the recording was too quiet.

Well, crap.  I spent weeks testing different placements and combinations.  None worked.  So I needed to find a new microphone option.

Luckily, I found one: my son's gamer headset.  I could place the microphone just below my mouth, which let the plosive rush of air pass over it instead of hitting it.  I tried recording the first two chapters again and they met the technical requirements.  Yay, success!

Next challenges: editing the chapters to send them to my beta listeners and figuring out times when it will be reliably quiet to do more recordings.  (The duvets are great at preventing echoes and closed doors do a lot to subdue household sounds, but they will not stop the sound of a couple of excited kids shouting at their screens.  Voice of experience, trust me.)

It takes me about half an hour to record a chapter.  The actual chapter is about 8-12 minutes but I end up having to repeat a lot to get a good recording.  There are 45 chapters to record in the first book, so this is going to take awhile.  I can't record more than 1-2 chapters in a day or more than 5 in a week without stressing my voice.

But it's a start.  And it's helping my mood, since I feel like I'm making progress on something career related.  There will probably be more breaks because that's how life works with depression, but I'm going to keep plowing forward.

Thursday, 20 August 2020

I'm Not Okay (And That's Okay)

As may be guessed from the extended silence on this blog since March, things haven't been going well.  I'm giving myself permission to admit that I'm not okay and I haven't been okay for awhile.

My life was difficult even before the COVID pandemic hit.  I often felt as if I were standing on a slowly submerging platform, holding heavy weights of responsibilities.  There were many times when the best I felt I could hope for was that I could keep my children afloat while I slowly drowned.  I was dealing with depression, engaged in a war of attrition with my local school board to give my 16yo the supports he needed (a battle that had already lasted 5 years as of September 2019), watching my 20 year marriage dissolve and facing financial and personal insecurity, and also deal with the usual challenges of raising teenagers, paying bills, and, oh yeah, writing books.

With COVID, I suddenly found myself unemployed and trying to manage four people sharing a house (including my ex-husband, which is a whole other area of stress and challenge).  I became a teacher, a peacekeeper (in the military sense, guarding borders to keep my two kids from launching attacks on one another), a therapist, and an activities coordinator.  Almost everything that we relied on for engagement for my older son was suddenly off-limits (no bus rides, no trips to ride cool elevators, and no swimming in public pools).  My youngest was worried about the world in general and needed reassurance that this was not the beginning of the End Times while also getting recognition that his feelings were important and shouldn't be denied (my parental attempt to assure I don't pass on the requirement for a Pollyanna mask that I was required to wear as a child).

Like many people, I also found myself responsible for managing my parents.  I recently saw a meme which introduced a child as the "emotional support daughter" and that was the role I found myself in, listening to frustrations from both of them.  (I have at least learned not to attempt to provide solutions or suggestions for the most part, which often created greater conflict in the past.)  They were intensely social before the pandemic and while they recognized the seriousness of what happened, they were lonely and needed social support.

As "March Break" stretched from one week to three to the rest of the school year, I found myself becoming physically and emotionally exhausted.  My creativity crashed and I was so tired that I was often sleeping more than 14 hours a day.  I couldn't watch television or movies.  I couldn't read books.  Everything seemed impossibly difficult.

I reached out for help and began working with my doctor and a therapist to adjust my medications and thinking.  I began rewatching and rereading old favourites and discovered that much of my anxiety around consuming stories was centered around **new** stories where I didn't know what was going to happen.  With stuff I'd already seen and read, I could get the necessary mental escape but didn't have the underlying anxiety of wondering if I was going to hit something that would plunge me into a bad mental space.

I tried different creative outlets, painting and sewing.  I changed my daily meditation from sitting quietly to listening to music and letting my thoughts wander.  I wrote fan fiction, bringing me back to the fandoms and universes that I've always loved and found inspiring.

Those things all helped.  But I'm still in a fragile place and one of the biggest things I need to be careful of is my twin lifelong tendencies to refuse to admit that anything is wrong and to push ahead beyond my limits.  (Yay, history of Perfectionism!)  This post is my way of not falling into that trap.

There are a lot of things that are still wrong.  There are many days when I feel completely invisible, like a machine that runs the household rather than a person.  I desperately miss having a sense of romantic and emotional attachment with another person, of being important to someone else.  (Not to dash the hopes of any second-chance-romance fans out there, but that connection died a long time ago with me and my ex-husband.)  I am faced with the reality that I will be caring for my oldest child for the rest of my life, and given how the autism support structure has been gutted in Ontario, there is little to no chance of ever being able to live solely for myself at any time in the future.  I'm worried about money and being able support myself and my children.  I'm terrified about the state of the world and the ugliness that seems to be swallowing our hopes faster than we can ignite them.

In being open about the challenges I'm facing, I'm hoping that my readers will understand and be patient with the fact that for the foreseeable future, I will be quieter and less productive than I have been in the past.  It isn't because I don't want to share the stories which still linger in my head, because I do.  I still love my characters and their adventures.  I want them all to have their happily ever afters.

I know many of you are facing similar (and sometimes worse) challenges and are looking for your own mental escape into a world where we know that no matter how bad things seem at the moment, our dreams will always win.  I don't have the same faith that we live in that world anymore, but I do still believe in creating a world where that happens.  If it needs to be fiction for now, so be it.  Maybe we'll find our way into making it real eventually.

Meanwhile, it's okay to not be okay.  It's okay to admit it.  It's okay to ask for help.  We don't need to be strong and risk breaking.  Individual strands can carry more when they're braided together.  We can all be not okay together, giving ourselves room to be angry, upset, and all the other feelings that we should feel when things aren't okay.

I'm not okay.  And if you're not okay, either, then that's okay.  Okay?