Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Voices Behind A Cold War: Guest post by Alan Russell

Today I welcome Alan Russell. Over the course of eleven previous novels, including the bestselling Gideon and Sirius series (Burning Man, Guardians of the Night), Alan Russell has earned a reputation as “one of the best writers in the mystery field today” (Publishers Weekly) by crafting gripping thrillers based on “what if” scenarios pulled from the headlines and his own imagination. In his latest, A COLD WAR (Thomas & Mercer, October 6, 2015), Russell creates his most suspenseful psychological thriller yet: the story of an abducted woman fighting for her life against a diabolical captor in the wilds of Alaska.

The Voices Behind A COLD WAR 

A COLD WAR is my twelfth published novel. Every one of my books involves a personal journey. I first started thinking about writing this novel more than twenty years ago. It all started with an idea: the abduction of a well-off young woman who is taken into the wilderness by a survivalist mountain man. Over the years I kept thinking about the book. Who is this woman? Was she taken for a reason? Could she survive under such terrible circumstances? Is there anything in her life that could prepare her for this cold hell?

I knew this wouldn’t be an easy book to write. I don’t like it in real life when bad things happen to good people. Because of that, it’s difficult for me to even write fictional accounts of brutality and privation. At the same time my favorite novels, and those that I get the most satisfaction from writing, center around the notion of redemption. In order to be redeemed, Nina must survive a terrible crucible.

As the years passed I kept making notes, and continued thinking about my protagonist and potential antagonists. When my family visited Alaska I was preoccupied with plotting the book. Everywhere we stopped, and all the excursions we took, were potential scenes. For years before our visit I had researched Alaska, but the state is so huge I knew it would not be easy to encapsulate its immensity in the written word.

Some books you have to fight. I had to go to war with A COLD WAR. There were times I wanted to give up on the book, but I couldn’t. I wanted to know what would happen to my protagonist Nina Granville, and was especially taken with the “secret sharer” relationship Nina established through the secreted journal of Elese Martin. Elese had preceded her in enforced bondage. She was a honeymooner that the mountain man had snatched years earlier. Although Elese is dead, it is through her words in the hidden journal that Nina finds the will, and the way, to survive.

Most of my novels have come out in audio. My readers are always shocked to hear that I’ve only listened to snippets of my own books, never sitting through more than five minutes of any recording. I guess there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to tamper with the voice that’s already in my head, especially as several of my recent books have been bestsellers. I was afraid to mess with success.

I was excited, though, when I heard Teri Clark Linden would be doing the audio of A COLD WAR. From the first time we communicated, I said, “This is Nina!” If you go to You Tube and enter Teri Clark Linden Acting Reel, you can see her versatility. If you are a movie buff like I am, you will remember her scenes. She is never on the big screen for long, but she always makes an impact.

Writing is always considered a solitary pursuit, but Teri almost made A COLD WAR feel like a collaborative effort. She wanted to know about Nina. She wanted to be Nina. During the course of our writing back and forth I learned that Teri lives in Ohio. Having a family for her is much more important than landing a Hollywood role, which is why she’s in the Buckeye State. She also has a beautiful German shepherd named Gerty (a.k.a. Gertrude Vondergill) whom we think would be a wonderful girlfriend for Sirius (the K-9 partner of Detective Michael Gideon in my BURNING MAN series).

Teri told me she needs to bring a different set of skills to audiobooks than she does to stage or film. “When I act I usually focus on one person,” she said, “and most of the time I use my natural voice. With audiobooks I have to use a range of voices. I also have to do a lot of preparation with regards to the text and pronunciation.”

Because of what my character Nina experiences, I thought she would be difficult to voice, but Teri didn’t feel so much challenged by the narrative as much as she did in considering Nina’s east coast residence and social position. Teri also picked up on the fact that Nina is a different person at the end of the book than she was at the beginning.

“Her experiences change Nina,” she said, “and I tried to show that through vocal shifts.”

Before she did the narration, I confessed to Teri that in my mind’s eye I thought of Nina being somewhat akin to Jackie Kennedy – smart, sophisticated, attractive, and privileged. I also saw Nina as indomitable and having a fierce resolve; attributes she needed to survive. Teri had much the same take on Nina, and tried to show that in her voice (“Even though I in no way tried to make her sound like Jackie Kennedy!” she said). As for her narrating the emotionally charged scenes, Teri said she had to rely on her acting training.

Teri said she always reads a book two or three times before she records it. During those readings she flags unfamiliar words and names so as to be familiar with their pronunciation. As you might imagine, there’s a lot of stopping and starting that goes with the reading of a book. A COLD WAR clocks in at almost eleven hours as an audiobook, but it took Teri three days and more than twenty-five hours to narrate the novel.

In talking to Teri I found that writing and acting have common ground. As a character, Nina felt like a real person to me. Teri experienced much the same thing, and said that when she plays a character on stage for some time, “The character feels like someone I know.”

As a sometime listener of audiobooks (at least those of other authors!), I am always amazed that the narrator can remember the voices of so many different characters. When I asked Teri about that, I almost felt like I was asking a magician how a trick was performed. Teri admitted that keeping track of the characters wasn’t easy, but one of her methods was to “see the scene in my head.” And then there’s the “trial and error” method she said: “Sometimes I have to play around for a while with various voices and read aloud dialogue throughout the book before I’m satisfied with how a character will sound.”

A COLD WAR will be published on October 6th. I hope you will read it – I mean listen to it – then.


Unknown said...

Great article! Congratulations Alan on your latest! Regards, Mark Giglio

Grandma Cootie said...

Can't wait to read (listen to?) this. Great article, an interview within an interview.