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June 16, 2012

An Interview with Anthony Swofford

Anthony Swofford served in a U.S. Marine Corps Surveillance and Target Acquisition/Scout-Sniper platoon during the Gulf War. After the war, he was educated at American River College; the University of California, Davis; and the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. He has taught at the University of Iowa and Lewis and Clark College. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The New York Times, Harper's, Men's Journal, The Iowa Review, and other publications. A Michener-Copernicus Fellowship recipient, he lives in New York. Here, he answers questions about recording his new book, HOTELS, HOSPITALS, AND JAILS: A Memoir.
How long did it take you to record your book?
I knocked it out in four and a half days. After the producers had one go through it I returned to the studio for about an hour of pick-ups.
How did you keep your voice “in shape” during the recording sessions?
I drank A LOT of water. I emptied the studio refrigerator of bottled water each day. In the afternoon I’d drink an herbal tea or two.
What word(s) did you stumble over?
More than I can recall! The director and I went back and forth over the pronunciation of paprika. Some years ago (I think while watching Iron Chef) I adopted the alternative pronunciation: pap-ri-kuh. He wanted to go with pa-pree-kuh. We discussed this for twenty minutes and well into lunch. Coincidentally, I had a salad with pap-ri-kuh chicken that day. I can’t even remember who won the argument. This is an argument that continues in my house still today. My wife says pa-pree-kuh and I say pap-ri-kuh.
What did you enjoy about the recording experience?  
When I write and especially when I revise I read my words aloud, so I think of writing as a very aural medium, writing for voice and ear. And to sit in a cramped studio for a week working through a book I worked on meticulously for three years was a treat. I was allowed to plow through the story and not worry about major rewriting…I was free to both tell the story and in some ways receive the story as though it was something new.
Did your book “feel” different to you as you read it?
It felt like a production, something that became very visual, as though the real people in the book had become actors on a stage.
Any funny stories to share?
I recorded the book while spending the winter in San Diego. The director came down from LA and we used the studio of a local rock-and-roller, an old-timer who had been jamming in bar bands for decades. He was a real laid back California dude, a great guy. The director was a serious professional and of course, I was too, it was my book and my life after all. So there were some comical moments where the owner of the studio was very chill, chill to the point of inertia, and the director and I were amped up and ready to work. I’d guess the director was less amused by this than I was.
Also, the micro studio was across the street from a halfway house and a grocery and the rock-and-roller’s studio wasn’t quite as soundproof as I assume he’d advertised. Once or twice an hour we’d have to pause recording while the beer or groceries were delivered to the shop, and a few shouting matches in front of the halfway house paused our recording.
Did you find yourself wanting to edit/rewrite?  Did you?
I did do a bit of editing during recording, mostly some cutting. I don’t now remember what the edits were, but I kept a pad in the studio with me and made page notes that I transferred to the galley that I was vetting at the same time. This was nothing major, just a tightening up of a sentence here and there. There were a few sentences that didn’t sound totally right when read aloud and that I changed for the audio book but didn’t change in the manuscript.
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?
No, not really.
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? 
My father has a very distinct and handsome Georgia accent. I think that I nailed it where I could in the book. And I do a pretty fine mimic of him. But I didn’t try this during the recording, not consistently, at least. For the occasional very Southern affectation of my father’s I tried for his accent.
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 like to listen to audio books on road trips. Two of my favorites I’ve heard over the years are Marilynne Robinson’s GILEAD and Vladimir Nabokov’s LOLITA. Jeremy Irons read the LOLITA recording I own. It’s chilling and beautiful. I listen to clips from it often.