Guest Post An Author’s Ear: Jill Alexander Essbaum on listening to HAUSFRAU

The minute I knew that the production team had put the spit-polish to my audiobook I was on them, begging for a copy like a beagle for her Milk-Bone. As it were, I didn’t need to have nagged: it was given freely and gladly. Wherewith upon receipt I immediately unzipped the files and transferred them to my iPod. Press play? Hell yes.

Mozhan MarnoThe novel is dramatized by Mozhan Marno [pictured right]. I’ve chosen the word dramatize with forethought and consideration. She doesn’t exactly narrate, for that would imply retaining a consistent, equidistant space between her voice and the words on the page. Nor does she perform the novel. She’s not putting on an act, a show. There is no pretense, there are no ta-dahs. She dramatizes it. That’s a word that contains the electric now of a live, happening event. It’s a word to take seriously. In the way that Mozhan has taken the telling of HAUSFRAU seriously. She’s juggling accents and voices and weird German words and a decidedly empty-of-affect heroine whose personality is hidden behind a scrim. And she nails it. She nails it all.

I know my novel very, very well. I recorded it several times myself, as I wrote it. It was how I vetted words and challenged paragraphs and puttied plot-holes and honed my prose. After every draft I made a new recording. And I’d listen two or three times. And change what needed changing.

But when I heard my words in someone else’s voice, I understood some things about the novel, the narrative, the character, and the character of my work that I wouldn’t have managed to key in on, outside of hearing it read in a different register than the one that rings in my own head.
Here are those things:

1) Wow. This book. It’s happening, huh?

Bells clanged. Sirens went woo-woo. It started to get majorly real: I have a novel that’s just about to be published. And that was a thrilling moment. This isn’t imaginary. This is not a test. I have the absoluteness of Mozhan’s voice to prove it.

2) Wow. This book. It’s got some… sex in it, huh?

We listened to the first major sex scene, my husband and I, and he turned to me, his face twisted into mock confusion and said “WHO did I marry?” I replied, “I have no idea who wrote this!” Of course I did. I wrote it. And he knew who he married: me. The sex hadn’t seemed so intense on paper. It hadn’t sounded so raw when I read it aloud myself. It was like I’d dressed for a party and when I arrived I was shocked to see that someone was wearing the same dress I’d put on. Except that dress was made out of nakedness.

3) Timing is everything

Hearing the novel in another voice underscored something I already knew—that the better part of all stories is the telling, not in the story itself. I was reminded that silly little squiggles like commas matter. End stops actually stop the flow of a line. A broken paragraph invites a change of direction. Her rendition highlighted in an apt and beautiful way how the mechanics of prose might be explored, exploited, exploded so that the content of the prose might have its own space to be explored and exploded.

4) Sympathy versus empathy

Of course I cared about my main character—from the beginning I couldn’t get her out of my mind! As I wrote through the book, I put her in places where the consequences of her decisions were acutely destructive. And I felt sorry for her. I sorrowed for her. I had a cognitive understanding of her inner aches, and I nodded in their direction and tut-tutted my Poor Annas and there, theres from a distance. But when I heard the story told aloud—almost as it was happening—I no longer felt sorrow for her. I felt along WITH her. I didn’t watch her journey. I journeyed right alongside her. Right through to the end. It took the outside experience of another’s voice to shepherd me through that.

And what a voice.

—Jill Alexander Essbaum

Author Photo Credit: Megan Sembera Peters
Mozhan in the studio

Mozhan in the studio

Want to hear more?
Listen to a clip of HAUSFRAU

“Mozhan Marnò’s stunningly perfect performance elevates this unforgettable novel to stardom.”—AudioFile Earphones Award

“The combination of Mozhan Marnò’s sensitive performance and Jill Alexander Essbaum’s unforgettable story…make HAUSFRAU one of the year’s best audiobooks.”—Beth Fish Reads

HAUSFRAU is also available in hardcover and e-book from Random House.

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