In this guest blog post, Cartaya brings listeners inside the recording studio, describing how he connected with his characters while reading his audiobook. Plus, he shares how audiobooks have made a difference in his family.
AudioFile raves, “Pablo Cartaya brings humor, poignancy, and a fresh voice to his reading of his audiobook…Through lively prose and a lyrical narration, Cartaya weaves a story of courage, food, family, and community. The sense of culture and place is rich, and the dialogue is refreshingly realistic. An ideal summer listen.”
A stunning debut and a must-listen Hear Diversity pick, Pablo Cartaya’s THE EPIC FAIL OF ARTURO ZAMORA is a love letter to Miami and Cuban culture, bursting with colorful characters and mouthwatering descriptions of Cuban dishes. Arroz con pollo, anyone?
Listening to the Narrative Voice While Recording the Audiobook for My Novel
By Pablo Cartaya
I sometimes wander off in the middle of a conversation with my wife. I tell her I’m pondering a particular scene. Writing takes a great deal of pondering! I tell her I’m working. She tells me I should be working on listening.
What I learned from recording the audiobook of my novel, THE EPIC FAIL OF ARTURO ZAMORA is that my wife, as usual, was right. Listening is key to recording an audiobook.
I have a background in acting and performing. I have experience in radio; I recorded the Spanish dubbing for South Park for over two years. As hilarious as that sounds, picture, or hear if you will, Scuzzlebutt or Marlon Brando’s Dr. Moreau character speaking Spanish and you get the idea of the absurdity of it all. It was fun but I was recording for a laugh. Narrating my own novel was a completely different experience. Thanks to my wife I made it a point to listen to my characters, to get reacquainted with them as I recorded the audiobook. I was also thinking of my daughter.
I love audiobooks because they serve as a different entry point to literature. My daughter has had some challenges with traditional reading. When she was in third grade it was a struggle for her to get through a book. This was not for lack of wanting, it was just hard for her to focus. Her doctor suggested she try an audiobook while reading the physical book at the same time. We started with Wonder by R.J. Palacio. She was transfixed. Watching her sitting on the sofa flipping through pages with her bright purple headphones on was amazing. She kept reading and listening nonstop until she was done.
A few days later she approached us and asked for more audiobooks. She ended up reading Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper, Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, and several others. She’s just recently finished the audiobook for Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming. She loved that one so much she says she wants to write poetry now.
Since that first encounter with an audiobook, my daughter has devoured literature at a pace I couldn’t have imagined two years ago. That audio-visual connection to literature gives a second layer of the reading experience. The reader experiences the text aurally and visually. It makes the text to come alive more fully. It was a game changer for my daughter. The experience of watching my kid engage with that type of audio-reading experience made recording my own book very special.
I was thrilled when Penguin Random House Audio tapped me to read the audiobook. I felt a mix of nerves and excitement knowing that I would once again revisit my work in its entirety. I wanted to get it right. If my daughter’s experience with audiobooks was so transformative, how many other young people were out there that could have the same experience? I thought about what my wife said. Listen. And I did.
As I recorded I heard the voices of my characters. Aunt Tuti and her hysterics, Chef Cari (Arturo’s mom) and her serious commitment to craft and family, Abuela and her quiet, calming presence. It was like meeting up with old friends. Family I hadn’t seen in awhile. As I read I listened to the cadence of each character’s voice. I heard the emotional beats of the story. At one point in the recording I lost myself in the narrative.
Can I tell you a secret? During one of the recording sessions the director, the wonderful Paul Alan Ruben, was helping me through the nuances of each line. Knowing I was an actor he really dug in and gave me great notes (both acting notes and notes on the delivery of lines). As I emotionally connected with each character I found myself getting lost in the story. It was transformative for me. I wasn’t reading my work I was listening to a story. I was connecting with these characters, hearing them as if I was a part of their lives.
At one particularly emotional point in the story I found myself getting choked up. Seriously, it was hard to finish! I had to excuse myself from the sound booth. When I stepped out of the sound booth I apologized to Paul and the sound engineer. I grabbed a glass of water and went back into the booth. Paul asked me to do it again but this time stay in control. I composed myself and we redid the section. I had to listen to the story but remember that I was ultimately reading for a listening audience. There is a balance. Not that my wife would have minded. She likes a good listener.
—Author Pablo Cartaya
Praise for THE EPIC FAIL OF ARTURO ZAMORA:
“Cartaya’s lively debut…offers a timely tale of a community steeped in tradition and multiculturalism…At turns funny, beautiful, and heartbreaking, this engrossing story will get kids cheering for triumphant, relatable Arturo.”—Booklist, starred review
“Pablo Cartaya brings humor, poignancy, and a fresh voice to his reading of his audiobook. His prose is rich with imagery and honesty, and his cast of characters is bursting with warmth, personality, and passion…Through lively prose and a lyrical narration, Cartaya weaves a story of courage, food, family, and community. The sense of culture and place is rich, and the dialogue is refreshingly realistic. An ideal summer listen.”—AudioFile Earphones Award winner
“A vibrant debut novel about family, friendship, and community…the dialogue smoothly shifts between English and Spanish.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Sprinkling his writing with Spanish, Cartaya incorporates mouthwatering descriptions of Cuban cuisine, the poetry of José Martí, and the general wackiness of young teens’ friendships effortlessly into his narrative…Touching and funny, this is an excellent middle grade novel about Cuban American life.”—School Library Journal
“[An] inspiring middle-grade debut…Irresistibly exquisite. “—Kirkus, starred review