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June 19, 2012

An Interview with Francesca Serritella

Francesca Serritella has co-written two novels with her mother including MY NEST ISN’T EMPTY, IT JUST HAS MORE CLOSET SPACE and BEST FRIENDS, OCCASIONAL ENEMIES: THE LIGHTER SIDE OF LIFE AS A MOTHER AND DAUGHTER. She lives in New York with her dog. Here, she discusses the joys of recording her book BEST FRIENDS, OCCASIONAL ENEMIES.

How long did it take you to record your book?

Only two or three days, but I’d have been happy if it went longer—I had the best time!  It’s way easier and more fun than writing.

How did you keep your voice “in shape” during the recording sessions?

In college, I sang in musicals and light opera, so I know all the theater diva tricks. For this, I drank hot tea with honey to get the morning gravel out of my voice. But speaking isn’t overly taxing to your voice. For me, the main challenge in recording an audiobook was to keep your energy up so it sounds like you’re speaking spontaneously instead of reading.

What word(s) did you stumble over?

Oh gosh, there were plenty, but none that I remember specifically. It’s never the long or complicated words that trip you up; it’s the easy ones that make a fool out of you. Like I had a brain fart with “relevant” where it came out as “revelant” over and over, or the time I accidentally pronounced “unabashed” with a Shakespearean extra syllable, “un-a-bash-shed.” I try to even out my mistakes that sound really dumb with ones that sound really pretentious.

What did you enjoy about the recording experience?

I loved the whole process of being in studio—I even like saying “in studio,” it feels so British and cool, definite articles are for losers—but the most fun was watching my mom. She can’t tell a story without moving her entire body, and recording an audiobook was no different. Actually, I’m probably no different.  It must be an Italian thing.

Did your book “feel” different to you as you read it?

Recording memoir is easy, because it’s already in your voice.  And before I begin to write any of my essays, I ask myself, how would I tell this story to my best friend? So for me, recording the book felt like returning it to its natural state.  It felt like it was meant to feel.

Any funny stories to share?

Since my mother and I co-authored this book, we were recording at the same time. While she was reading in the booth, I would quietly watch or review my own sections. When I was recording, however, my mom would try to distract me with weird faces, her idea of dance moves, and anything else she could come up with to make me laugh and mess up.  Who raised her?

Did you find yourself wanting to edit/rewrite?  Did you? (Any funny stories from producers?)

Occasionally, sure, and I’d try to sneak in my edits on the fly by reading it the way it ought to be, but our helpful producer would usually bust me and say, “oh, you missed a word.” I’d have to be like, “I know, but it was such a bad one.”

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?

This is our third time, and I’ve definitely became more relaxed, which I hope makes for a better, more natural reading. The first time I ever recorded, my main focus was speaking clearly without any mistakes. When I was finished, the studio owner assumed I was a professional voice actor and offered me a job reading English as a Second Language tapes, or mp3s, or whatever they are now. Have you ever heard those things? Those people sounds like robots.  The voices on my French tapes in high school still haunt me. That’s when I knew I needed to loosen up.

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?

I write about my life in New York, so I meet a lot of characters. For this last audiobook, I had to do my heavily accented Slavic superintendent, a snooty French waitress, a hopped up exterminator, and my 88-year-old grandmother. I had such fun with the accents, although I’m grateful I didn’t have to do any to their faces!

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 feel a little embarrassed hearing my own audio.  It’s like when you catch your own voicemail recordings and go, “Do I really sound like that?” But I love listening to audiobooks in general. I especially love listening to memoirs read by the author, because it feels even more personal. And I loved when Cynthia Nixon narrated one of my mom’s books, Save Me. We got to watch her record, and she truly gave it a full performance. Her total commitment came through on the audio.