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June 7, 2012

An Interview with Janis Ian

Janis Ian is an American songwriter, singer, multi-instrumental musician, columnist, and science fiction fan-turned-author. She had a highly successful singing career in the 1960s and 1970s, and has continued recording into the 21st century. In 1975, Ian won a Grammy Award for her song, "At Seventeen". Here, she answers's questions about recording her memoir, SOCIETY'S CHILD.

How long did it take you to record your book?
It took only four days to record the book, and another day to sing the intros for each chapter and the excerpts within each chapter. I was thrilled because it left me a spare day, and I spent part of it reading the part of the Snark for Greg Benford’s audiobook.
How did you keep your voice “in shape” during the recording sessions?
When I’m touring as a performer, I do a 90 minute solo show, five nights a week, with a 60 minute fan meet and greet after and travel every day. So I’m familiar with throat fatigue! But talking is harder on the throat than singing, just as whispering is harder on it than speaking, so I was pretty paranoid about it. I left Nashville with every throat remedy I’d ever heard about, but in the end, I gargled with salt water a few times each day --- the best remedy in the world for everything but a broken bone --- and used Pine Bros. honey cough drops, which I’ve sworn by since I was 16.
What word(s) did you stumble over?
Grammy. I just couldn’t seem to let that word go…
What did you enjoy about the recording experience?
When I’m performing, there’s no director. It was terrific having Stefan there to bounce things back and forth, and to encourage me. I was really nervous about it, so that made a huge difference. And knowing there was a great set of ears riding shotgun allowed me to relax and just tell the story, instead of reading from it.
Did your book “feel” different to you as you read it?
I’d say it was night and day to the written book, but that would be a cliché…
Any funny stories to share?
At one point, we decided that instead of singing “My Tennessee Hills” live, we would use the recording I did with Dolly Parton. I got so entranced listening to her voice that I completely forgot all my cues. Actually, now that I think of it, it wasn’t that funny. Maybe it was funnier that Harlan Ellison suggested I read the whole thing in a Yiddish accent. No, wait, that’s not funny either.
Did you find yourself wanting to edit/rewrite?  Did you? (any funny stories from producers?)
Not really. But it was my first audiobook. There’s always the future.
For authors who have had more than one book recorded: Did the experience of recording your audiobook change your writing process for your next book?
I haven’t had more than one recorded, but I’ve made a lot of records, so many I qualify? As a songwriter, I know that when I get stuck, or even when I think the song might be finished, it’s a good idea to read the lyrics aloud in a conversational voice. You pick up things the melody may have hidden. It was the same with the book. Speaking the words aloud showed me a few things I would have done differently.
Did you imagine any voices for your characters while you were creating them for the page?  If so, what was it like trying to create those voices in the recording studio?
Since the book is in the first person, the only voice I was imagining was my own --- but over a 60 year span. It didn’t work to try and be the earlier me, even though I was very tall and blonde back then.
Do you like to listen to audio yourself?  If yes: where do you listen?  What types of books do you listen to?  Do you have any favorite narrators?
I find most audiobooks difficult, because I’m a songwriter and singer, so I’m fussy about voices. If the voice doesn’t sound true to the work, it bothers me. But as a kid I heard loads of wonderful recordings of Alice In Wonderland and the like, and I loved those, so I gravitate toward children’s books.