Author Interview: Brave Face by Shaun David Hutchinson
2019 is a blessed year because not only do we get a new Shaun David Hutchinson contemporary (which is fab and you should check it out) but we also get his memoir. Even better, he had the opportunity to narrate his teenage experience and we checked in with him about it! See what made him emotional, what he learned about the narration process, and more!
Interview with Shaun David Hutchinson
Tell us about your experience narrating Brave Face.
The entire experience was pretty surreal. Obviously, I’ve read publicly before, and I did some theater and public speaking back in high school, but I’d never done anything like narrate an audiobook before. When I was asked to do it, I knew I wanted to because the idea of someone else reading my memoir was weird, but at the same time, I was terrified of doing a bad job. Eventually, people will be paying money for the finished product, so I didn’t want to disappoint them.
I’m a fan of audiobooks, so I tried to make a list of the things I specifically liked and didn’t like. For instance, I’m not a big fan of narrators who do accents and voices, especially when they’re done poorly. I especially went back and listened to the audiobook for The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza because I really loved how Candace Thaxton narrated it with a clever balance of steadiness and style. I tried to find a way to emulate that. Time will tell how successful I was.
Simon & Schuster booked me four days at Pure Audio, a recording studio in Seattle. Each day, I went in, they set me up in the room with the mic, and then the engineer would be in another room doing the recording while the director, Taryn, was listening via Skype. They’d have me read a chapter, and then I’d go back and re-record any lines or passages they thought I’d read too fast or mushed the words together. Overall, it was an amazing experience. Everyone was professional and compassionate. I drank a lot of tea.
What did you learn about the narration process?
That I speak way too fast. When I write, I basically hear the voice like it’s being narrated by Lorelei Gilmore, so I had to really focus on maintaining that energy while slowing myself down. That was probably the most difficult part of the whole process for me. I also learned that I need to be much nicer to my narrators in the future. There were some phrases and sentences that had me cursing myself for writing them. Try reading “an unobstructed” without stumbling! Seriously though, doing this narration has made me appreciate how much work goes into the entire process. It’s not acting, and it’s more than just reading the book aloud. There’s an art to it that’s difficult to grasp, and even more difficult to master. Like, if you need to reread a sentence, you’ve got to try to remember exactly how you read it the first time so that it can be slotted into the paragraph, which can be difficult to do. Thankfully, I was often able to listen to the sentence first so that I could hear what I’d done. It was exhausting, but fun!
How was the experience of writing your memoir different than hearing yourself speak the words aloud?
In some ways, it was like an out-of-body experience. There were sections where I’d be reading and I’d think, “Did I actually write this?” And it was even weirder reading it with an audience. When I wrote Brave Face, I knew that people were going to read it. I knew that people I knew were going to read about how I lost my virginity in the backseat of a Mustang at the airport. But I comforted myself with the knowledge that I wouldn’t be sitting there watching them read it. But that’s exactly how it was with the narration. I had to read the entire book, the embarrassing bits and all, while people listened and critiqued my performance. At the very least, I’m no longer scared of having to do readings at book events!
Were there specific parts that were emotional for you?
I wanted to do the section from my actual suicide attempt to the end in one day so that I could carry the emotion through the reading, but there were moments, especially while reading the bits about my mom and the nurse in the emergency room, where I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to finish without breaking down. I think I held it together though, but whatever emotion you’re hearing, especially in that last third, is all real.