I am so glad that Summer Shorts has returned again this year for another round of wonderful short narrations recorded by the best of the best audiobook narrators in the business. Today I have the good fortune of featuring Jo Anna Perin, talented narrator, writer, co-founder of Abbreviated Audio, and personal friend who frequently makes me smile. The short you’re about to hear today was both written and recorded by Jo Anna. I asked her a few questions about this project:
Literate Housewife: Jo Anna, I’m always delighted to team up with you, but when I learned that you wrote the short story you narrated this year for Summer Shorts, I was even more thrilled. How long have you been writing?
Jo Anna Perrin: Always a pleasure for me as well, Jennifer!
To be honest, I have been writing in one form or another for as long as I can remember. However, my first “public” writing came about when I authored, for my third grade social studies class in parochial school, a play in lieu of an essay on a foreign country.
It was an over-the-top musical–yes, I said musical–about life in the southern mountains of Italy. Unfortunately, never having traveled to that area, I hadn’t a clue about life there, and so I used pictures that my great-grandmother had shown me of the peasant attire and the horse and donkey drawn carts in her village to fuel my imagination. I wrote in sheep herders and donkey carts galore, peasants and farmers by the bushel, and I had them singing this old northern Italian ditty—Funiculi Funicula.
The sister in charge, bless her heart, was so intrigued by this elaborate industry on my part, that she scheduled a presentation of this play in the school gym—costumes and all. Moreover, we are talking, dirndl skirts, aprons and flowered headdresses for girls, and shepherd staffs and woolen hats for boys. Not to mention, sheep, oh, so many sheep, and one cart with an inflatable donkey. This was all constructed by the mothers’ of the children involved. I learned the main song phonetically in Italian, and taught it to my classmates. Everyone put immense gusto into the whole production. Alas, it was far too long for the hour allotted and required, much to my ire as the auteur, judicious snipping. Therefore, I learned at a young age what every writer should eventually learn—edit, edit, and when in doubt, edit!
And…I have been writing ever since—who wouldn’t with such rave reviews at the age of 8 (!)
This video of Cosi Cosa from the Marx Brother’s Night at the Opera, captures the mood completely:
LH: I was excited to see that you and Johnny Heller revamped the Abbreviated Audio website. I always enjoy reading Johnny’s “For the Hell of It” columns. Are you planning to showcase your writing there in the future as well?
JP: Yes, we basically left the site fallow for about one year because we were both so busy. Eventually we found we really and truly missed it, and consequently the facelift and re-launch.
As to my own writing, possibly, but more in the guise of articles geared toward narrators and Audiobooks, I should think.
As you know I enjoy doing the occasional in-depth interview with members of our “small world” community, and I am not adverse to an occasional review. I’m not sure if there is a place for my other musings on the site. However, that being said, Abbreviated Audio is a fluid and evolving thing. We aren’t quite sure what it will finally be when it—or we–grow up.
As an aside, the wonderful thing about the For the Hell of It column is that it is kind of a reborn journey for Johnny. He used to publish a column by that name in his college paper and it was an intricate part of the campus community at the time. So, no matter how much we all enjoy it, it is truly a special delight for him to be back at it, pen, or computer, in hand for incarnation number 2.
LH: Please tell us a little about the story you wrote for Summer Shorts. How long did it take you to write it? What impact did the fact that you wrote the story yourself have on your recording of it? Would it be difficult to turn something you’ve written over to another narrator to perform?
JP: Actually, it didn’t take all that long to write because the basic themes of memory and remembrance in The Girl in the Blue Feathered Hat were kind of buzzing ideas I’d had for awhile, and when I sat down to write it, it just kind of happened in one short afternoon. It came out in a sort of stream of consciousness way, and I think that is apparent in the style of the story itself. The Narrator of the piece just kind of rambles on in that way we all have of linking one memory to another, piece by piece, until we find we have woven a story or stories together.
Narrating it myself was a learning curve. I don’t know if any writer is that suited to narrating their own material; being too close and personal might interrupt the story rather than smoothly inching it along. Obviously, in this case I wrote the piece as a contribution specifically for the Spoken Freely Summer Shorts 2014 compendium and the ProLiteracy charity, so I was my only option! I was looking around for something in the Public Domain and wasn’t really connecting with anything, and most of my other stories were far too long for the top allowable time of 30 minutes. I sat down to write something that would be complete in 15-20 audio minutes or less as an exercise, really.
I think it would be difficult to turn over my written work to someone else to narrate. Fictional characters can be so painstakingly wrought that one can become very protective of those people envisioned on paper. But ultimately, if someone else is better able to do them justice vocally, it would be foolish not to allow them.
I will say, and for me this is a truism, that narration does contribute to better writing. When you prep enough narration scripts, you quickly learn that even if the writing is wonderful, it was never intended to be read out loud, and so dialogue, for instance, can be stiff and not ring true. Having been on both sides of it, I believe has helped me spot, much faster in the initial writing stages, when something reads really well, but would be an absolute horror to narrate.
LH: I asked John Lee and Dion Graham this question earlier this month and I really liked it. I hope you don’t mind me asking you the same question as well. When you’re not recording (or taking pictures or writing – is there anything you don’t do?), where would we be most likely to find Jo Anna Perrin and what would she be doing?
JP: Ha! Not at all. And, the true danger in doing too many things is the ‘jack or all trades and master of none’ corollary! I’m an Aquarius and I have been told that means I bore myself easily. Unfortunately that is true.
Okay. So when I am not doing any of the above, I really just like to take the time to enjoy friends, partake of new restaurants, movies, theater, occasional museum trips, the artsy fartsy stuff that is easily accessible in NYC. I’m also a bit of a gym rat, and find it’s a lot cheaper than therapy!
Time spent with Johnny and our dogs, of course. I like to wander through book stores, something harder to find these days unfortunately. I can spend hours in a bookstore. I truly lose track of time.
Discovering new things to keep my brain pumping is also a hobby of sorts. Right now I am trying to relearn Italian, as my ability has gotten rusty from misuse. I also join online learning sites like Coursera. The topics are so disparate that there is something for everyone! Never stop learning. When you do, you become set in black and white, and lose all that possible color.
LH: What’s next for Jo Anna Perrin?
JP: On the narration front, I just finished narrating a fascinating book by Elizabeth Drew for Tantor, Washington Journal: Reporting Watergate and Richard Nixon’s Downfall (That’s one of those “brain pumping” things, I mentioned earlier. What went on during that era seems more like fiction than fact!).
Next however, for my personal enjoyment, I am narrating a psychological novella, The House of the Vampire by George Sylvester Viereck which will be released by our own Abbreviated Audio. We are branching into some production of our own projects, and for us, that is very exciting. In audiobooks, you are often subject to casting choices based on what you are perceived to do best, and that makes absolute sense from a publisher’s point of view. However, being able to pick projects dear to our own hearts, to stretch into different areas, is a really freeing thing. I guess we will just have to see where it goes.
I am also in the process of reworking a mystery novel I wrote eons ago. It’s a turn of the century New York setting piece, and frankly, I got so absorbed by the research that I forgot the point—writing it! So, that is one of my summer projects, if I don’t get waylaid by some of those artsy fartsy NY things.
LH: Thank you so much for stopping by and gracing us with your stories and narration, Jo Anna. Let’s take a listen to “The Girl in the Blue Feathered Hat:”
About the Program
The audiobook community is giving back! Spoken Freely, a group of more than 40 professional narrators, has teamed with Going Public and Tantor Media to celebrate June is Audiobook Month (JIAM) by offering Summer Shorts ’14, an audio collection of poetry, short stories and essays. All proceeds from sales of the collection will go to ProLiteracy, a national literacy outreach and advocacy organization.
Throughout June 2014, 1-2 stories, poems and essays will be released online each day via Going Public, as well as on various author and book blogs. As a “Thank you!” to listeners, pieces will beavailable for free online listening on their day of release. As a bonus for those who purchase the full collection from Tantor Media in support of ProLiteracy, there are over 20 additional tracks only available via the compilation download. Full release schedule on the Speak Freely page.
ProLiteracy, the largest adult literacy and basic education membership organization in the nation, advocates on behalf of adult learners and the programs that serve them, provides training and professional development, and publishes materials used in adult literacy and basic education instruction. ProLiteracy has 1,000 member programs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia and works with 52 nongovernmental organizations in 34 developing countries. Its publishing division, New Readers Press(NRP), has for more than 40 years provided educators with the instructional tools they need to teach adult students and older teens literacy skills for functioning in the world today. Materials are available in a variety of media, including the flagship publication, the weekly news source News for You, which delivers articles online with audio. Proceeds from sales of NRP materials support literacy programs in the U.S. and worldwide.
Summer Shorts ’14 is made possible by the efforts of the Spoken Freely narrators and many others who donated their time and energy to bring it to fruition. Post-production, marketing support and publication provided by Tantor Media. Graphic design provided by f power design. Project coordination and executive production provided by Xe Sands. Nonprofit partnership coordination provided by Karen White.
For more Summer Shorts, check out yesterday’s posts:
Peter Berkrot at Jen’s Book Thoughts
There’s even more tomorrow:
Stefan Rudnicki & Gabrielle de Cuir at Joe’s Geek Fest
For the complete schedule, head over to the Going Public website.