The email came the week before winter holidays last year. The subject line:
New Book (Co-Narration.)
Tantor’s casting director started out by writing:
I’ve got this Sci-Fi- short stories book I thought you might be interested in . . .
As soon as I saw the author, I flipped out.
JO WALTON! JO WALTON!
Hadn’t I just read Tooth and Claw last year on Jessica Wick’s recommendation?! Yes! AND LOVED IT!
The book was Starlings, a collection of short stories and poetry originally put out by Tachyon Publications.
The more I read the email, the more excited I grew. It included this NPR review first thing in the synopsis:
“Starlings isn’t really a short-story collection. It’s something better: a written showreel, illustrating yet again that [Walton’s] imagination stretches to the stars (or the starlings), and that she’s endlessly inventive in finding new methods to express it.”―NPR Books.
Believe you me, I lost no time in telling Tantor YES!
In fact I might have said, very solemnly, that it would be my honor, and that Jo Walton is one of the scions of our genre.
Yes, I said “scion” to the casting director. I don’t know what came over me. JO WALTON!
So, come the end of December 2018–the 26th to be exact–I commuted my usual three hours to the studio in Old Saybrook, and spent three intensely delicious days mouth-deep in Walton’s prose.
I stayed over in a local bed and breakfast. I looked forward to waking up every morning and getting right to work. It was like being handed a slice of Krampus cake! It was like discovering the Yule log was made of CHOCOLATE. So delicious.
One of my favorite things about Starlings is that it is less like your typical single-author short story collection and more like a writer’s workshop–tool box, wood shavings, concept art and all–spread out in front of you for your pleasure and perusal. Structure experiments, POV experiments, form poetry, a play, short stories that were more like extended jokes, short stories that might have been the seeds of novels, and some stories that cut so deep they are with me still.
I felt like the collection was an act of generosity on the author’s part, as if Walton were telling us: “Here are some things I made. Here’s a bit about how I made them. Hey, isn’t this poem fun? And yes, Cooney, I’m afraid you DO have to narrate a 90 minute play with GREAT DOZENS of mythic characters ALL by yourself, just as if you were Mel Blanc in a Looney Toons cartoon–have FUN!”
Okay, maybe she didn’t say that last bit. Maybe that was more what my brain said to me. Maybe a little TOO gleefully, truth be told.
Also–BONUS!–I got to co-narrate Starlings with Rudy Sanda. We’ve been two voices on the same book before–a multi-POV piece of Canadian fiction called Republic of Dirt.
Just because we narrators happen to co-narrate a book doesn’t mean we ever get to see each other; a narrator’s life is solitary. We (happily) spend our days in a little black box, talking to ourselves. (BEST JOB!)
But we DO bump into each other in the halls. Rudy always seems to be the first narrator at the studio and the last one to leave. I find it very comforting to pass by his recording booth, and hear the wild, wide array of voices he has mastery over, and his relentless pursuit of perfection. Apparently, Rudy has some of the fewest pickups of all narrators, like, ever. In the whole history of ever. I am so excited to share voices on this book with him!
Today is Starlings‘ audiobook birthday. And I am just so proud to have been part of its realization in this world. I want to thank Jo Walton and thank Tantor and thank SCIENCE FICTION ITSELF for the opportunity.