Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Audiobooks with accents: an untapped market for booksellers

In television news you're taught that your voice must be "animated"... in other words, it must carry the emotion or excitement of the story you're reading. If you sound interested, the viewers will be interested.

But in today's world of talking machines, we're inundated with lifeless computerized voices. Generic, robotic, non-threatening tones that make us think HAL 9000 from the movie 2001 has a cyber girlfriend out there with whom he has a relationship resembling that of Sheldon and Amy on The Big Bang Theory. Lotta talk, no action.

Between my GPS, iPhone Siri and devices that read books with the same voice, I'm tired of listening to androids. Has Skynet taken over? If I can't have real people, give me some electronic narrators with life in their delivery. I think there's a fortune to be made offering digital voices with accents or attitudes. Books on tape offer different narrators and styles; Jim Dale made the Harry Potter books come alive in a unique way. So why can't there be a variety of computerized voices?

Imagine if, after I made a wrong turn, my GPS, instead of repeating "recalculating" ten times, said in a sharp New Jersey accent, "Yo, dummy, you missed the turn! Hang a left and go back!" Or in a polite British tone, "You appear to have navigated your vehicle in an unsuccessful manner to reach your destination. One might consider turning around and retracing one's steps to remain on schedule." And every GPS should be attuned to the current location. If you were driving in Boston you'd hear, "The next exit has a shahp bend, so you gotta turn wicked hahd."

Imagine if Siri had grown up in Brooklyn. Instead of, "There are three department stores fairly close to you," she might say, "Fuhgeddaboudit! Go down to the garment district and get some knockoffs! Bargain city!"

Imagine if California high school students, assigned to read a hopelessly dated "classic" about a great white whale, opted for the electronic audio version and heard this: "Dude, call me Ishmael." They might not opt for the Cliff Notes.

Okay, so maybe you think this is a crazy idea, but consider this: how many women who listened to the robotic version of Fifty Shades might have paid an extra dollar if Christian Grey spoke in a seductive British accent? Wouldn't To Kill a Mockingbird sound better read by a little girl with a Southern drawl? And Damon Runyon tales should be read by some guy who aint got, whaddayacallit, poifect diction.

So c'mon, electronic booksellers, load up your shelves with an audio spice rack. Every author has a distinctive "voice"… why not a variety of computerized narrators who sound unique as well?

Monday, March 31, 2014

Terms you hear on TV that are never explained

 "Sorry, my IFB isn't working so I don't know if you're going to roll a SOT or put up a full screen."


If you work in TV, that sentence makes perfect sense. If not, you have no idea what was just said. And unfortunately, the latest trend in television, particularly by talk show hosts, is to use television jargon that is only known to TV people. I don't know how this started, but I'm sure it's maddening to 99 percent of the people watching.

So, I thought I'd put together a little dictionary for viewers.

IFB: "Interruptible feedback"
A system by which an on-air person can use an earpiece to hear what's being broadcast, the producer in the control room, etc. It also cuts out when you're doing the talking. When you see a person pull an earpiece out of his ear, you know the IFB system has failed and his own words are coming back on a two second delay, turning his head into a confusing echo chamber. It's a wonderful thing when you're live.

Full Screen: A graphic that takes up the entire screen.

SOT: "Sound on Tape"
Basically a sound bite. So when a host says, "can you roll that SOT," it means the director should play the sound bite.

Cluster Buster: My all time favorite TV term. Most commercial breaks are two minutes, the theory being anything longer and you'll lose viewers. So if the beancounters have added extra commercials, you need something to break up the cluster. A cluster buster is a five or ten second tease by the host in the middle of the commercial break. "When we come back, the story of the congressman's affair with the transvestite bungee jumper." Now there's an effective cluster buster that will make you stick around through more commercials.

Spots: Another term for commercials.

Sweeps: You might be aware of this one if you read TV Guide or Entertainment Weekly. "Sweeps months" are four week periods in February, May and November during which ratings are measured. That's why you see a ton of good stuff during sweeps periods, followed by a parade of reruns and garbage as soon as they end. Sweeps periods always start on a Thursday and end on a Wednesday. Don't ask me why.

Near deads: What ratings companies refer to as viewers over 65. (Don't look at me, I didn't make up the term.)

Target Demo: The demographics networks are looking for with a particular show.

Flyovers: People who live between New York and Los Angeles that you fly over when you take a trip between the two cities. (In other words, people who don't live in New York or LA.)

Gone to Pluto: Usually spoken after an on-air person has made a mistake. The signal has left the atmosphere and headed toward outer space, like V-Ger in the first Star Trek movie. Of course, thanks to YouTube, said mistake can live on forever.

Super: A lower screen graphic "superimposed" over video, usually a sound bite or a location. For instance, if John Doe is speaking, you'll see a "super" with his name at the bottom of the screen.

Bug: The logo of the station or network you're watching that is usually in the bottom corner of the screen.

Bust: A tape that doesn't roll, or a story that doesn't pan out. "That tape is a bust" means it never showed up or died in the middle. (So if someone said, "That stripper tape is a bust" he was not referring to the stripper in the video.)

Chicken salad story: A worthless story in which the reporter has taken chicken manure, turned it into chicken salad and made it interesting.

Microwave: Nope, not the "science oven" in your kitchen. A microwave truck is used during live shots that don't require a satellite. There's usually a two-pronged yellow forked thingy on top called a "goldenrod" that beams the signal back to the TV station.

Sat truck: Satellite truck. Those things that look like they have giant petunias on the roof.

Bird: Satellite.

B-roll: Video that supports a story.

Kicker: A feature story that runs at the end of a newscast. (What I did for a  living.)

So throw those terms around, impress your friends, win a bar bet or two.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Paperbacks coming in May!

Just got the word from HarperCollins that paperbacks for Wing Girl and The Adventures of Jillian Spectre will be released May 29th!

Sample Chapter of "The Adventures of Jillian Spectre"

The first chapter of my new paranormal teen / young adult novel is now available to read free here:

The Adventures of Jillian Spectre: Chapter One

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Top 10 "Keep Calm" signs I'd like to see

Okay, I don't know where this "keep calm and (enter action here)" trend started, but it's getting to be like those "Baby on Board" signs in the nineties. I realize we're a stressed out society, and we need to take a chill pill quite often, but I think this slogan has jumped the shark. It seems like any possible action you can think of can be followed by "keep calm and".

That said, if we're gonna be stuck with this trend, I'd like to offer the top 10 signs I'd like to see.

1. "Keep Calm and get even." Should sell well in Sicily and most Italian neighborhoods.

2. "Keep Calm and order a double espresso." Starbucks would make a fortune on this.

3. "Keep Calm and volunteer at your local day care center." Might help change the image of those places.

4. "Keep Calm and fill out your income tax form." New IRS slogan.

5. "Keep Calm and bathe your cat." Hey, cats need an occasional flea dip. Don't forget your oven mitts, bandages and peroxide.

6. "Keep Calm and eat your carrot sticks." Encouragement for dieters.

7. "Keep Calm and sue someone." Billboard for ambulance chasing attorneys.

8. "Keep Calm and actually listen to your wife." Could be a best seller.

9. "Keep Calm and welcome your in-laws." Self-explanatory.

10. "Keep Calm and smile as your daughter goes out on her first date with a guy on a motorcycle." Posted next to liquor cabinet.


Monday, March 17, 2014

Rest in Peace, Joe McGinniss: an author who was nice to me

I was sad to read that author Joe McGinniss passed away last week. So I thought it would be nice if I shared the time I spent an afternoon with him.

I was working in Albany, New York and read that the best-selling author was doing research at Saratoga race track for a book on horse racing. It's usually hard to do television stories on authors since video of someone typing on a laptop isn't exactly riveting. But the setting in this case would make for a good visual, and I had grown up around race tracks as my dad had a lot of cronies in the racing business. So I sent a note to his publisher asking if we could tag along one day. They put me in contact with the author and we agreed on a time to meet at the track.

Joe met us at the back gate and it was clear he was not only writing a book on racing but also a fan of the sport. We chatted awhile about what we needed for the story, then followed him for a couple of hours as he made his way through the stables and talked with trainers and jockeys. I was surprised that he took notes on a tiny two-by-three inch pad he kept in his pocket. Old school.

After getting enough video for the story we sat down in the stands for an interview, then watched a couple of races with him. He had been extremely nice, so I figured, what the hell, I'll ask. "I also want to be a writer and... uh... would it be too much to ask for you to take a look at some of my work?" He smiled and said he would, gave me his home address and told me to send a few chapters. So I did. A few weeks later I got a nice critique from him.

By the time the book called "The Big Horse" came out I was working for the networks. Joe did a book signing in Saratoga and gave one of the reporters at my old station an autographed book to send to me. It was a really nice unexpected gift.

Joe McGinniss raised a lot of eyebrows years later when he moved next door to Sarah Palin to do a book on her. Many said he was being politically biased, but he had also done a book on Teddy Kennedy that made America's first family look like a bunch of cruel people. As he put it, "The Kennedy family isn't too fond of me."

Regardless of his political views, he went out of his way for me that day and took some of his valuable time to critique my work. It's a nice memory of a best-selling writer who was simply paying it forward.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

It's release day for my first young adult novel!

Happy book birthday to my newest heroine, Jillian Spectre. My publisher, HarperCollins, calls it, "Veronica Mars meets Sabrina the Teenage Witch." The first installment of the series is available today, and hope you'll check it out. (Note to parents: there's no sex or drug use in the book.)

This link will take you to the Amazon book page no matter where you are in the world:

Barnes & Noble