Saturday, December 10, 2016

Letter to about the Audiobook version of my novel Yiddish for Pirates

I played klezmer/jazz saxophone at the Authors Reading Series in Port Colborne, Ontario

Dear A.,

I’m so very delighted that Audible is doing the audiobook of Yiddish for Pirates. And I greatly appreciate the opportunity to contribute my thoughts for casting notes.

So here are some.

The novel has an unusual voice and tone which is really the heart of the book. I was very aware of the possibility of it being too rich, too much of a muchness, and so I think casting a voice actor must keep this in mind. The text is already rich and dense, a bit like a “Death-by-Chocolate-cake” or a “piecaken" narration. I tried throughout the novel to balance the humour with a genuine approach to tragedy and emotion.

Aaron, the narrator of the book, though a parrot, is like an old Jewish old man in a Florida retirement home. I had initially thought that the voice would be very New York/Miami Jewish, but I think that that might be too much and would make the character sound like a stereotype and it would be too much. Also, there are other characters who, while narrated by Aaron, are not Yiddish-speaking—sea captains, Spanish priests and inquisitors, Indigenous Americans, etc.

When writing, I was very careful not to just make the Jewish character and the narrator himself sound like Borscht-Belt comedians (though obviously I’m riffing off some of the humour) but just to energize the language with its expressions and sensibility. Also, I definitely don’t think a Gilbert Gottfried parrot voice (high and nasal and very sarcastic) would be good, though he is undoubtedly is the world’s pre-eminent Jewish parrot interpreter.

So after some consideration, I imagine the narrator to be something like the old George Burns. Infused with irony and humour, but not too shticky or Jewish-comedian sounding Jewishness (i.e. with a New York/Yiddishy kind of sound & delivery—e.g. Jackie Mason.) I understand, however, that George Burns is not available for this project.

I do hope my narrator to be wise, ironic, philosophical, with a bit of the Yiddish shoulder-shrugging irony and sarcastic “so what you gonna do?” sensibility but there is also a tenderness and genuine poetry to the voice.

I listened to a variety of readers on Audible.

I especially like George Guidall reading Wiesel’s Night. I like the primary sound of the voice but also the Jewish voice dialogue he does here and his ability with Yiddish/Jewish words. It also is an old and somewhat careworn voice but has a strength, wisdom, earnestness, but the ability for irony (and I hope, humour.) All things I’m really hoping for in the audiobook narrator’s voice. Night voice sample.

I thought the recording of Eli Wallach – old and a bit scratchy – reading Stephen King’s Insomnia was also a good model. or his memoir (though he sounds a bit too old for our purposes in this recording.)

I also like Kerry Shale – he can do an old thoughtful voice with humour, though, I note in some of his recordings he does strong accents. He is great with doing a variety of distinct accents and voices. Again, though, such performances could easily take my novel into a too stereotypically “Jewish” voice. Here's a sample of what I was listening to.

Again, thanks very much for the opportunity to provide my thoughts. I’d be very happy to be of any help I can at any point in the process (all of my contact info is in my signature below.)

Best, Gary

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