Where to begin? Probably at the beginning. Okay. Here goes.
I recently decided to give away money.
I know. I’m a moron. Or drunk again. Whatever. Don’t be a hater.
NEWS: New interview is worth taking a few minutes to check out. A good one on BLACK!
What I’ve started doing, besides donating to the local no-kill animal shelter here in Mexico, is donating via the web to try to help save animals that are on death row. They’re on the TBK lists – To Be Killed, at shelters across America, due to overcrowding in the facilities. The only way to make more space is to get rid of the current crop. The stories are always heartbreaking and usually involve mistreatment by humans. Callous owners that leave the animals behind when they move. That abuse them. That raise them to torture them. Or that discard the poor things because owning a pet seemed like a fun idea, and then life got in the way and it was inconvenient. These animals haven’t done anything wrong. They’re victims of circumstance.
And they deserve better than that. We as a species should treat them better. We too often fail them, for which there’s no excuse.
As humans, our greatness isn’t measured by our achievements. It’s measured by our compassion. In that regard, we’re lacking. Our world has virtually unimaginable riches at every turn, and yet for want of a few bucks, every day, innocent animals are killed because there’s not enough cash to support them for a while longer, or not enough spaces free to keep them alive.
I decided that since I’ve been extremely fortunate with my book business, I want to allocate some cash where it will do some good. I’m not doing some gimmick like pledging some of the income from my dog book to charity. I already do that, and when it doesn’t sell much, I reach into my pocket and make up the difference. No, I’m committing to giving away thousands of dollars every year, which is a drop in the bucket in terms of what’s necessary, but which, if I can serve as inspiration to anyone, can serve as a model.
I live in Mexico. A country with hardship. Many of the people here live brutal lives in abject poverty, working 12 hour days to barely survive. You can imagine what the animals go through.
Don’t get me wrong. I also donate to human charities. But it’s the animals I feel sorriest for.
I keep encountering this apathy among my expat friends here that annoys the hell out of me: that it’s too big a problem for one person to make a difference. That’s bullshit. One person can always make a difference. It depends on how committed they are. I’ve rescued 15 animals since living here. I made a difference to those 15 lives.
That apathy is a function of wanting to appear to care, but not actually exert the effort to do anything. As is the whole, “I’ll pray for them” bit. Great. You pray for them. How about skipping your $5 frappucino today and pledging to keep an animal from being murdered? Knock off the pretending-to-care BS where you act like offering your positive thinking is doing something. It isn’t. It’s a cop out. It’s what people who don’t actually want to act do so they can pretend that they’re doing something, while actually doing squat.
Act. Don’t ruminate or call upon a higher power. Adopt an animal. If you can’t, peel off a few dollars from your wad and do the right thing: sponsor an animal on the TBK list. That $5 or $10 isn’t going to kill you, but it could stop a tragedy from happening – a tragedy that takes place countless times every day, because it’s a crime to murder a two year old, but an animal with the awareness of a two year old’s fair game.
We should be ashamed that’s the best we can do. I find it ironic that I’m sending money from Mexico to the U.S. to save dogs and cats there. But I am. As well as supporting the shelters here. It’s a global problem that we need to address locally – one animal at a time. You can’t save them all, but if you commit to saving one, your chances of success skyrocket.
I know it’s hard out there. Everyone’s struggling. Everyone’s got their reason they can’t do anything right now. All I ask is that you make a decision to be part of the solution, dig deep, and do something besides project your empathy via the astral plane.
I recently joined a Facebook group I’d like you to look at, and if possible, join and share – the sharing costs nothing, but it can highlight an animal’s tragic plight and possibly find others who are willing to do something. It’s worth spending some time at, if only to raise awareness of the countless spirits being extinguished daily by a system that can’t or won’t do better.
For once I’m not going to ask you to buy my books. Here’s my proposal: instead of buying one, go pledge that $5 to subsidizing one of the suffering, scared animals on that list. I’ll get over it. Hell, if it’s that big a deal, make the pledge, send me an email with PLEDGE in the subject line at Books@RussellBlake.com and evidence that you made a donation, and I’ll send you a coupon for a free book of your choice. Because the animals need the money more than I do, and it’s for a good cause. I’ll keep doing this as long as you keep pledging. I’m completely serious. I’d rather see my sales decline by 50% and know that money went to helping animals with no voice than pocket the cash myself and squander it on tequila or food or whatnot. So step up. There’s really no excuse not to.
Bless you if you do. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did – there’s no better feeling than making a difference. And if God’s a dog or cat, you’re into heaven like a Kardashian at an after-hours club. If for whatever reason you don’t, consider that when you’re on your death bed, praying for salvation or pity or a little bit of forgiveness, that you had the chance to do something, to save a creature yourself, and you chose not to. Let’s see how that plays. Between you and me, I don’t like your odds.
Night of the Assassin is now available as an audio book on Audible.com, and I’m lucky enough to have gotten award-winning narrator, Dick Hill, to narrate the entire Assassin series, starting with Night. Dick has narrated over a thousand books, including for renowned authors like Lee Child, Dave Barry and Terry Brooks. He’s recognized as one of the best, and for good reason.
Dick has kindly agreed to sully his otherwise sterling reputation doing an interview with yours truly. But his bad decision-making is what passes for entertainment on this site. Or at least my latest slacking excuse for a blog post when I’m largely out of ideas and in the middle of writing yet another novel…
RB: How did you get started narrating books?
DH: I was lucky enough to get my start over twenty years ago, when the industry was still young. I was working in regional theatre and a friend and fellow actor, a Brit, was doing some public domain titles for Brilliance Audio. He told me they were looking for someone to do a new war novel, American p.o.v. I got in touch, landed the job, and never looked back. I had discovered my niche.
RB: You’re called the “Golden Voice”, where did you get that title?
DH: That title is awarded by the folks at Audiofile Magazine, the top audiobook publication. To quote them… “AudioFile editors celebrate the Golden Voices of audiobooks. This Hall of Fame showcases top narrators for their exceptional audiobook work. We celebrate these actors for their commitment to the craft of audiobook narration and for their achievements in spoken-word recordings.” I’m honored to share that distinction with folks like Sir Derek Jacoby
RB: Apparently there are many audiobook listeners who look for books read by “Dick Hill” regardless of the book’s author or genre. How do you feel about that?
DH: Well, it’s very gratifying to know that there are people who enjoy my work. I hear from listeners fairly regularly who say that. I’ve probably done 1000 titles more or less, so anyone looking for my titles has plenty to pick from. Out of that thousand, though, it’s inevitable that a few might be….well, of lesser distinction? Aw hell, call a spade a spade, a few of ‘em stink. People still have to use discretion when selecting.
RB: How do you prepare for a new book?
DH: I work with my wife Susie Breck, an award winning narrator and director, who directs and engineers all our projects. Generally, she will prep a book, noting names, places, any vocabulary we need to check. She’ll make notes on characters too, list any indications about voice in the text, villains or heroes etc., and supply me with that. In most cases, I don’t pre-read, but do a cold read. I like the challenge and spontaneity of that, and she’s there to keep me out of trouble.
RB: Some of our readers are interested in what the process is for recording a book. Can you tell us a little about that?
DH: Well, you’ve heard about what leads up to it. In the past I traveled to different locations for different publishers to record. I am very much a homebody, and despite working with some wonderful people who became friends I admire and enjoy, I just didn’t like being on the road, so some years back I built a home studio. Susie, intrepid soul that she is, undertook to learn how to handle the equipment and master the necessary techniques to record our work. She also undertook the more daunting task of directing me. This means the prep work I mentioned, as well as monitoring my reads, and stopping when I make a mistake. It also means advising me when she feels I may have missed an opportunity, or given a read that wasn’t the best choice. Doesn’t happen often, especially given the volume of work we do, but when it does she voices her opinion, makes her suggestion. The final decision is mine, but most of the time she’s nailed it. When I do stumble, or mispronounce, or fart, she’ll stop, roll back to a convenient spot before the glitch, then play back while I listen till we get the spot where she stops playback and hits record, and I jump right in, continuing the read. This is pretty much a seamless procedure. Listeners are never aware of those “punches” as they’re called in the punch and roll technique. We have the luxury of starting at a civilized hour, knocking off whenever we want, so long as we meet our deadlines.
RB: Did you find any special challenges narrating Night of the Assassin?
DH: Every book is a challenge, but that’s the fun of the job. A challenge to make the not so terrifically written works better than they really are, or a challenge with the good ones to make sure you take full advantage of what the author has given you and deliver something as rewarding and exciting in audio as it is in print, simply adding that other dimension of story telling. Thankfully, yours was one of the latter, Russell. (If it weren’t, I wouldn’t be doing this interview. I’d take my check and be done with it. As it is, I’m looking forward to the rest of the ASSASSIN series)
RB: Are there any other ways that you use your voice professionally besides book narration?
DH: Used to act onstage, sometimes musicals. I sang loud and enthusiastically, but not always prettily. Did some voice over work, ads and such, but hated it. Reading ad copy can pay well, but I got no pleasure from it. Not to mention the fact that copy writers and account executives and the like are often real dicks with no idea what they’re talking about.
RB: What are your guidelines for picking projects to work on? Is there any genre you wouldn’t want to work in?
DH: I don’t actually seek out projects, in this business those are offered to you by publishers or rights holders. I won’t do porn. Did a highly popular fantasy series for awhile and had great fun voicing wizards and other characters, but the audience was primarily young people, and the series increasingly delved into sado-masochism, so I bowed out. Most people who approach me are familiar with my work and know what and what not to offer. I’m comfortable working in any number of genres though. Classics, Dostoyevsky, Dickens, Twain, Faulkner…..lots of work like yours, Lee Child, Deutermann, Connelly, but also Dave Barry, Thomas Pynchon, the Bible, and plenty of non-fiction. Currently a bio of Tim Conway, followed by THE DEATH OF SANTINI by Pat Conroy. Memoir of him and his dad, who inspired THE GREAT SANTINI, which I had the pleasure of recording some time back. I guess Conroy liked what I did with that. It was well received.
RB: What are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books and authors? Has becoming a narrator changed the way that you read?
RH: HUCKLEBERRY FINN. Greatest American novel ever. I’ve recorded it for three publishers. Never told any of them I’d have done it for free. I admire Stephen King’s skills, though generally not the sort of thing he writes. Thought 11/22/63 was masterful, the best exploration ever of time travel. Canadian author Robertson Davies, any of Robert Parker or Dutch Leonard. Funny thing, I’ve always read in my mind as if I were performing for an audience, luxuriating in the rhythms and music of the words. Did this decades before I knew there was such a thing as an audiobook. I continue to read that way.
I have to say that listening to Dick’s interpretation of Night of the Assassin was a pleasant surprise, and it was interesting to hear the nuance and spin he injected into the words I’d written. It’s tough as an author to hear others read your work, because the cadence, the inflection, usually just feels wrong. It’s just not the way you hear it in your head when you wrote it. Dick managed to impress me, and that says a lot. Not just because I’m a dick, which I am, but because he took the work to places I’d never imagined, and I enjoyed it all the more for it. If you haven’t had a chance to hear Dick’s performance, go buy the audiobook. Come on, you can’t take your money with you, and which would you rather do, buy groceries or hear a master at work? Stop being so damned selfish. Think of someone else, for once. Like me.
And while you’re at it, go pick up a copy of BLACK, which is doing well and garnering rave reviews.
The day I’ve been waiting for is finally here. My new series launches today with BLACK. I’ve got BLACK 2 being edited, and BLACK 3 in the queue. I’m targeting BLACK 2 for mid-October release, and BLACK 3 for mid-November, with December being a BLACK-fest with BLACK 4 hitting by Xmas, as well as the sixth installment in the JET series.
BLACK is a new kind of book for me. It’s funny. Humor plays a big part in Artemus Black’s interactions with the world, and much of the humor is dark. I really like the characters in this series the more I write them. Black is a fun protagonist, and Roxie, his assistant, is a hoot. Mugsy, the morbidly obese cat, Dr. Kelso, his therapist (who has anger management and sexual hangup issues of his own), Gracie, his alcoholic landlady, Stan, his bitter LAPD buddy…
They came alive on the page for me, which is what you dream of when you’re writing. Sometimes you have to prod the characters into reluctant animation, and sometimes they arrive on the scene fully formed, bursting from the page. This is one of those times.
For those of you expecting my usual breakneck-paced action adventure, this will be a slight departure. It’s a detective mystery, not a chase book. There’s still plenty of action, but this keeps to the genre, and is more cerebral, more focused on the twists and turns and plotting, and of course, the characters.
I’m really excited about this series. In the tradition of Michael Connelly, Elmore Leonard and Raymond Chandler.
Even the cover has me doing a happy dance. I actually had a photo shoot done to get a bunch of covers just for this series. They nailed it.
Now go buy it or clowns will eat your brain while you sleep. I’m so not kidding about that. Why risk it? Act now. You’ve been warned.