Interview with Audio Book Narrator Nicol Zanzarella

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Between my recent addiction to listening to audiobooks and the release of my very own audiobook, I have become quite fascinated with the narration and production process.  This week I sit down with friend and narrator, Nicol Zanzarella, to discuss: (1) the benefits of audiobooks and their rise in popularity; (2) producing your own audiobook and how best to work with an audiobook narrator; and, (3) tips and insights on how to become a narrator. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did!

~ AUDIOBOOKS AND READERS ~

A lot of readers (shockingly!) have not yet tried audiobooks. For me, I love how voice narration can make a story come to life in a completely different way than in written form. Why do you love audiobooks and why should readers give them a try?

You know, I must admit, I do still love and value an actual book of pages in my hand. I am one of those readers who loves to mark up books and underline and make notations when the spirit moves me, even if I am reading for pleasure. I think a love of audiobooks has to begin with a general love for a good story in any form. And certainly, as one who loves her job as a narrator, I think the right storyteller can elevate the experience of taking in a good book. It can really bring another dimension to the process. The other reason I think they provide a great value is actually in relation to your next question…

We live in a busy, busy world.  Audiobooks allow me to read more! I can listen while I drive, do chores, shop, exercise, etc. This is one reason I think we are going to see an uptick in audiobook popularity.  Where do you see audiobooks in the future?

…I agree with you, I see so much room for audiobooks to grow in popularity, and for all of the reasons you bring up. So often, we hear people say they don’t have time to read. Audiobooks allow people to reclaim that time. In this world, when we have to do at least three things at once to be able to keep up on some days, audiobooks not only allow us to catch up on the ‘reading’ we need or want to do, but might even enhance our experience doing those things. I don’t know about you, but sitting in traffic or house-cleaning can actually become fun adventures with a good story weaving its way through your mind. 

~ AUDIOBOOKS AND AUTHORS ~

As an author who has recently put two books into production, I wonder, what do authors need to know (and do) to make working with a producer easier?

I would say that communication is the key. This means an open communication on all fronts: story, tone, characters (their sound and their journey). If you are working directly with the narrator as producer, it is also important to be clear and upfront regarding payment arrangements and time expectations.

Once you feel good that you and your narrator are on the same page – a willingness to trust and let go is also key.

For authors ready to hire a narrator, what should they look for in a narrator before they hire one?

I would say, be sure you are listening for what you really want to hear:

  • Choose a narrator whose voice/sound quality feels like it will match the tone of your story. Pay attention to the style and feel of the voice. Listen to how they work the narration because that is how we view your voice as the author.
  • Listen to the character voices, both male and female. If you have special dialect needs be sure the narrator can handle those needs.
  • It is also important to listen to the quality of the recording. If all of those wonderful performance traits are there and exactly what you’re looking for, you want to be sure your readers/listeners can hear it clearly and without distractions or noises.

In the end, it is your story. We are an instrument used to enhance the telling of that story, and hopefully help your story reach a wider audience. If you stay true to your vision of how it should be told, I think the right narrator choice will be clear.

I used Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX) to find and hire my narrators. Is this the main forum for this or are there other places for authors to meet potential narrators?

Our industry is evolving, so there are a few ways this can work.

It used to be that narrators would be hired directly through publishers or producers and this practice still exists There is great value in the talent pool and quality of the finished product when going this route.

We now also have the creation of ACX, which is a melting pot of novice and veteran narrators and where the narrator also takes on the task of producing. This is currently the main forum for authors who aren’t working with a major publisher or don’t have a budget for hiring a liaison producer, to hire narrators for their projects. It gives narrators a chance to seek out work from authors as well.

I think you will always find room and ability for communication between authors and narrators, whichever avenue you chose to pursue.

~ BECOMING A NARRATOR ~

I’m intrigued with the process of recording an audiobook. Walk us through how you do it.

I am sure we all have our own little nuances, and particular habits, but the first rule, of course, is to read the book in its entirety before going into the studio. Aside from the obvious reasons of being sure we know the journey of the piece, we also need to do this to be able to have a complete understanding of who our characters need to be and what they sound like. Sometimes we are halfway through preparing the book before we might find a note on the sound of a character’s voice or the kind of accent he or she might have. If you start recording before you have all of that information that equals quite a lot of wasted time for everyone involved. Or a lot of pick-ups at the end of the process…

We usually only have time for one detailed pass through an entire book so, while I am reading, I am marking the text and taking notes on the side.

I mark the text for any notes I need as to how the narration should flow. I am also, at this time, distinguishing the dialogue for each character so that when I am recording, I don’t have to stop and try to figure out who is speaking when and to whom. I look for any words that I might need a definition or pronunciation note for, or any research of that sort.

Simultaneously, I take notes on each of the characters and look for clues that might tell me how they sound (tall, short, muscular, out of shape, from Massachusetts, smoker, smooth voice, etc…) or who they are. If it is a complicated story arc, I might also make some chapter notes.

Lastly, I keep a separate note page for any questions or clarifications I may need from the author or author’s representative. It wasn’t always the case that narrators were in direct communication with the authors so this opens up the collaborative process.

The day before I go into the studio, I review the characters to make sure I am confident in who they are and how they sound. I make one last pass through my notes to be sure all of my questions are answered and then I get into the recording booth and go…

I know a lot of people who would like to do audiobook narration. I would think those who are more theatrical would be best suited for this kind of career (or hobby). What do you believe are some of the pre-requisites for an individual interested in doing this?

Many of the narrators I know come from a variety of backgrounds. Producers will often look for people with a strong theatre resume, experience performing heightened language (i.e. Shakespeare or classical theatre), an MFA, voiceover work, radio or broadcast experience, etc…

These things are not always a prerequisite. Audiobook narration is a different beast than any of them. However, it is imperative that you have some ability to perform, to tell a story, to feel a rhythm and keep people engaged.

Along with some talent for storytelling, narration requires a certain amount of stamina and self-discipline. You are often alone for hours on end talking to yourself in a very small room. You must respect your voice as the instrument it is. You will cut evenings short, give up chocolate and cheese (at least on recording days), cancel on friends hanging out late in a smoky bar (do those even exist anymore?) and you probably shouldn’t scream for your favorite team at a baseball game the night before you are heading into the studio.

Actually, Sean Pratt, a fellow actor/audiobook narrator who offers coaching services for actors and narrators, has a terrific blog post about a ‘test’ he developed for folks who are considering this line of work and I think it really sums up what our daily routine is like:

http://seanprattpresents.com/wanna-audiobook-narrator-first-see-can-pass-test/

I offer that this is not a job for the faint of heart, but if you love and revel in the process, you are more than halfway there.

For those ready to start, what do they need to know and what online (or offline) resources should they look into?

The answer to this question is near and dear to my heart. I will beg your pardon if this sounds like a sales-pitch, but to me, the answer doesn’t make sense without a bit of the story: Bob and Debra Deyan of Deyan Audio (http://www.deyanaudio.com/), multiple Grammy and Audie Award Winning audiobook producers, are the people who gave me my start in this business. Years later, they are mentors and people I consider family. We just recently lost Bob Deyan to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). As a way to carry forth Bob’s legacy of excellence and dedication to our art form, Debra, along with some talented colleagues, decided to form The Deyan Institute of Voice Artistry and Technology (http://www.deyaninstitute.com/).

This is a perfect first stop for anyone who might be ready to jump in. They offer beginner classes on the creative narration process and the technology behind recording (as these days we are both narrator and producer), a well as master classes and workshops for experienced narrators or voice artists, classes on the business aspect of our industry, and even seminars for authors on making your book into an audiobook.

Along with ‘classroom’ education, I recommend really listening to audiobooks; visiting the various websites, blog posts and articles written by narrators, authors and publishers alike; and keeping up with developments in the business practices and technological advancements within the industry. Our narrator community is a wonderfully generous and chatty bunch. You will most likely find some great information and advice this way.

I’m always impressed with the crisp and clear sound quality. I’m assuming narrators must have special equipment?

There are varying degrees of home studio set-ups and types of equipment. Much of this will depend on the kind of space you live in and what kind of budget you are working with. Sound quality is key though, and, in my opinion, should be the first thing taken into consideration before making a decision as to what will work best for your particular space and budget. Some people build a studio in a closet or a room in their home. Others have free-standing isolation booths built into a space in their home or office.

The very bare basics, which also come in various qualities and prices, include and are not at all limited to a condenser mic, pre-amp, up to date computer system that can handle the most current programs, a monitor, and audio production software (i.e. Pro Tools).

~ ABOUT YOU ~

How long have you been a narrator and what made you start?

I have been a narrator for almost three years. It was something I had been interested in for quite some time. I actually grew up around the radio business. My father ran a nzheadshotlocal radio station in the county I grew up in and I would sit for hours and watch the djs talk into a mic. Years later, in my acting life, I had a secret love for reading stage directions for great plays. I loved getting to showcase the overall framework of a play and move, vocally, along with the shifting tones of a piece as it progressed from beginning to “The End.” Sometimes, when it was right for the play, the stage directions would serve as a character in and of itself. The only drawback to doing that job as an actor is that you always want the opportunity to dive into a specific role and act!

Narrating an audiobook is the merging of those ideals for me. I get to tell the story AND dive into the lives of (ALL) the characters. It is indeed my dream job. And when I walked into that studio on my first day I felt a huge piece of my heart open and I just knew I was home.

What do you know now that you wish you did when you first began narrating?

When you start a new job you always worry that there is something you won’t know how to do, or do “properly.” I wish I trusted myself a little more right off the bat. It is only now that I am learning that I don’t have to be afraid of my own style, my own way of doing things. I have a better understanding of my sound, my rhythm, my process, and those places where there is (always) room to improve.

I wish I could have relaxed into “who I am” as a narrator right away. Although, without that road to travel we don’t get to grow into who we are to become. It is such a lovely community of storytellers and we each, all of us, literally have our own voices, our own styles – and in this particular community, we celebrate our differences, make room for our similarities, and learn from one another… it’s a very nice place to belong and I feel privileged to receive such a warm welcome.

Where can readers find books narrated by you?

Please feel free to visit my website: www.NicolZanzarella.com

Or, you can also find my work on Audible.com or iTunes…

Where can authors interact with you about potential new projects?

I would love to interact via email at: infoLittlePest@gmail.com.

You can also find me on Facebook (Nicol Zanzarella StoryTeller) or on Twitter @NicolZanzarella

Anything else you’d like to share with us?

Just how happy I am to have connected with you and your work. I truly thank you for being interested in sharing a piece of my story. Have a great day everyone! 

 

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2fe5b39b_oAs always, thanks for reading, sharing, commenting…all that good stuff.
Interested in my words? They are available for purchase on Amazon.
Yes, that was a shameless plug…shoot me.

 

On Marketing: Social Etiquette & Choosing Your Network

Business handshakeOne of your greatest sources for potential new business is your competition. Networking with your peers is absolutely essential if you wish to be a successful entrepreneur. But successful networking isn’t about just building a big following or knowing who to ask for help.

Choose your network CAREFULLY

Be cautious of who you network with, as these individuals, as well as their products and even how they act online, become a part of your brand. Even a simple retweet can say a lot about who you are and the product you sell. Customers and other potential networkers will examine your social media presence to get a feel about who you are, how you interact with others, and that may influence how they feel about your product before they even know anything about it!

I don’t know about you, but I want to be associated with the very best. I want to network with others who inspire me, who take marketing and their craft seriously. People who are in it for the long-haul. So be wary of who you build your brand with. And don’t be afraid to change who compromises that network as time goes along. You must remain flexible, not only in your marketing techniques and business plan, but also in selecting who you consider your partners.

Networking isn’t a one-way tweet

This is probably one of my biggest pet peeves. A person who is new to the scene reaches out to you. They are confused. They don’t know what they are doing. They need help. They bat their eyelashes and offer you a cookie. If you are like me, you want to help them (you also like cookies) and, no matter how busy you are, you make time for them.

Then… this person sends a quick “thank you” and disappears from your life completely… until, of course, they are once again the damsel in distress and need your help.

While it isn’t possible to return the favors of each and every single person who reads your words, retweets you, or shares your posts, you should endeavor to remain mindful (and exceedingly grateful) of your biggest supporters, and not only send them your thanks, but also help promote them too!

Until next time,

Happy Marketing!

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2fe5b39b_oAs always, thanks for reading, sharing, commenting…all that good stuff.
Interested in my words? They are available for purchase on Amazon.
Yes, that was a shameless plug…shoot me.

Book Review: The Poor Man’s Guide to an Affordable, Painless Suicide by Schuler Benson

The Poor Man's Guide - FRONT COVER PROMOTIONALTwelve stories, fraught with an unapologetic voice of firsthand experience, that pry the lock off of the addiction, fanaticism, violence, and fear of characters whose lives are mired in the darkness of isolation and the horror and the hilarity of the mundane. This is the Deep South: the dark territory of brine, pine, gravel, and red clay, where pavement still fears to tread.

The Poor Man’s Guide to an Affordable, Painless Suicide is the debut collection of stories by Schuler Benson. The stories center on the inhabitants of rural America and for the most part are quite dark and gritty.

The characters and their stories are distinctively simplistic and yet they pack quite a punch, but not in the way you might expect. Often with short stories there is this shock and awe when you reach the end. Here, something different happens. There is a palpable sadness intricately weaved throughout the book with a sprinkle of humor here and there. The heavy impact of the stories sneaks up on you and slaps you right in the face when you reach the end of the collection. It hits you, how very much you loved everyone you met. And more than that, how very much you can relate to these ordinary, everyday people. And you find yourself wanting to start reading it all over again.

It is evident that Benson’s muse threw a noose around his heart; the stories bled onto the page. And it feels as though he has left more than just a piece of himself in each of these stories; he’s left a piece of all of us.

Grab your copy here

Schuler Benson’s fiction and poetry have appeared in Kudzu ReviewHobartThe Idle Class, and elsewhere. He has been nominated for a Sundress Publications Best of the Net Award, a storySouth Million Writers Award, and three Pushcart Prizes, and he placed second in The FallenPortfolio Sky Review’s 2013 Speculative Fiction Launch Contest. He completed his undergraduate studies at University of Arkansas and is currently enrolled in the MA program at Coastal Carolina University. The Poor Man’s Guide to an Affordable, Painless Suicide is his first book. You can find him on Twitter at @schulerbenson and on Facebook at /schulerbenson.

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2fe5b39b_oAs always, thanks for reading, sharing, commenting…all that good stuff.
Interested in my words? They are available for purchase on Amazon.
Yes, that was a shameless plug…shoot me.

On Writing: Delicious Descriptions

One of the most important aspects of a story is the description. Readers do not wish to simply watch a movie in their head, they long to be dipped into the velvety goodness of a tale, feel the characters and stories swirl around them; become the story.

While I may not be a New York Times Best Seller or someone of any real particular note, I will give myself credit where credit is due. Descriptiveness is one of my strengths.  In this blog post, I will share with you an exercise I created and one which I practice religiously.614-07146177er

  1. Take a cup of coffee (or tea or cocoa or hot water… whatever you like to drink). Take a sip. Close your eyes. With this first taste, focus only on what the liquid feels like in your mouth. Write down all the words that come to mind even if the word does not at first seem related. Let your mind wander.
  1. With your second sip, focus this time only on the taste. Again, write down all the words that come to mind.
  1. Before returning back to what it feels like, hold the mug in your hands, close your eyes and inhale slowly, deeply, letting the heavenly aroma fill your mind with limitless analogies. Focus only on how it smells.  Write down everything your mind gives you.
  1. Continue repeating this process for at least 10 minutes your first time around. As your ability to draw more extravagant analogies improves, you’ll want to expand the time you spend on this exercise to push your muse to his/her limit. I slowly worked myself up to 60 minutes.
  1. Once you have completed your exercise. Sit down and examine all the words you came up with. Then, in the span of a half hour, endeavor to write a diary entry (or story) about your drink using the words you came up with during the exercise.

Using a hot beverage is just one of many examples. I will do this while eating as well. I will also sit in my backyard and make myself write about a blade of grass for an hour.  The examples go on and on and on. It sounds hard. And it is. But as time goes on, this exercise will train your mind to think and describe differently, which means you’ll become a better writer.

I hope this post and exercise gives you some inspiration. If it does, as always, feel free to share your story (literally) in the comments below.

Until next time,

Happy Writing!

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2fe5b39b_oAs always, thanks for reading, sharing, commenting…all that good stuff.
Interested in my words? They are available for purchase on Amazon.
Yes, that was a shameless plug…shoot me.

Book Review: Message from a Blue Jay by Faye Rapoport DesPres

A1P8z4TKzsL._SL1500_Message from a Blue Jay is the debut of Author Faye Rapoport DesPres and is a non-fiction collection of personal essays. Some writers are storytellers and gather their readers around a fire and share their tales. Rapoport DesPres is different. She holds the reader’s hand tenderly and invites them into her heart and takes them with her on her journey.

Just a few lines in, a feeling of peaceful familiarity washes over you. The words that fill the page are warm and comforting and envelope you like the embrace of a long-lost friend. The author shares with you some of her deepest and most intimate of fears and thoughts and experiences, whispers them into your ear. And even though you may not have traversed the same winding road as she, you can relate to the struggle of attempting to clear the hurdles along the way.

Like a warm sip of tea on a bitter cold day, the essays which make up Message from a Blue Jay are ones you’ll want to savor. Because weaved into each heartfelt experience is a beautiful lesson. A lesson you’ll want to lean back and mull over. Sometimes for an entire day.

Rapoport DesPres is a true artist. Her writing is exquisite and it is obvious she was exceedingly careful in selecting each and every word before painting them onto the page. And the whole experience the reader is afforded, and that is exactly what it is, an experience, is one that lingers long after the last page is turned. Her words will forever have a place in my heart.

Message from a Blue Jay is available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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a44198480c8d0a7e9d9afb.L._V341671626_Faye Rapoport DesPres was born in New York City, and over the years she has lived in upstate New York, Colorado, England, Israel, and Massachusetts. Her personal essays, fiction, book reviews, and interviews have appeared in a variety of literary journals and magazines, including Ascent, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, Eleven Eleven, Fourth Genre, Hamilton Stone Review, Necessary Fiction, Platte Valley Review, Prime Number Magazine, Superstition Review, and the Writer’s Chronicle. Her award-winning short story “Who Let the Cats Out?” is included in the Mystery Times Ten 2013 print anthology, and her first full-length book is a memoir-in-essays titled “Message from a Blue Jay” (Buddhapuss Ink, May 2014).

Faye currently lives in the Boston area with her husband, Jean-Paul Des Pres, and their cats.

Connect with Faye on her website and follower her on Twitter.

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2fe5b39b_oAs always, thanks for reading, sharing, commenting…all that good stuff.
Interested in my words? They are available for purchase on Amazon.
Yes, that was a shameless plug…shoot me.

Life Lessons: The Best Advice is None at All

good-advice-bad-adviceadvice: an opinion or recommendation offered as a guide to action, conduct, etc.

I have never been the kind of person who follows a crowd. I’m the type of person who refuses to be like anyone else, and I have been that way for as long as I can remember. A lot of people think I am being stubborn or different just for the sake of doing so. But there is a method to my madness.

My grandfather taught me a great deal of lessons. Whenever I would ask him for his advice on things, he would always respond by saying: “My advice is don’t listen to a damn thing I have to say, or anyone else for that matter. Learn to think for yourself. It’s fine to listen to people, but don’t let their thoughts and views shape who you are. You’ll regret it. Trust me, I know.”

He was right. For about twelve years of my life I forgot how to think for myself.  I let fear and others’ beliefs and opinions shape my decisions and actions. It left me feeling very detached, lost, and utterly depressed. By not making my own choices and decisions, I not only felt as though I had betrayed myself, but I felt very much not in control.

It’s not about knowing all the answers. It’s about feeling good about the decisions you have made.  Knowing that you, yourself, made the best possible decision you could at any given moment. It’s also about feeling confident. Sometimes the right answer for you is something that no one else has done before. And it takes nerve to pave your own path. But think about some of the most influential moments in history, and the most wonderful artistic creations, they exist because some very courageous individuals dared to act (and think) differently than the masses.

So the next time you seek an opinion or recommendation, remember it is just that: a guide, not a rule that has to be followed.  Sit back and contemplate what others have said and let that swirl with your own thoughts and ideas. And when you, and you alone, feel good about your decision, make it and trust in it. At the end of the day, if it doesn’t work out, at least you can take solace in the fact that the decision was your own and not that of anyone else.

Until next time,

Happy Living!

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2fe5b39b_oAs always, thanks for reading, sharing, commenting…all that good stuff.
Interested in my words? They are available for purchase on Amazon.
Yes, that was a shameless plug…shoot me.

Interview of the To Be Read Podcast

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Patrick Stemp, Michael La Ronn, and Archer Caldwell to discuss their latest endeavor, the To Be Read Podcast. As an avid reader, I have thoroughly enjoyed watching their show (and adding their fabulous recommendations to my own TBR pile!). Capture

First, tell us a little bit about what the To Be Read Podcast is all about?

Our show is all about books, from the perspective of three avid readers (Archer Caldwell, Patrick Stemp and Michael La Ronn). We talk about the books we’re reading and we make recommendations. Our show is spoiler free.

We also discuss topics related to books and reading in general, and we have a lot of fun with them. Our most recent topics have been “The First Books We Loved as Kids,” “Finding the Time to Read,” and “Paper vs. ebook”.

We have a wide variety of reading interests. Archer likes horror and crime, Patrick likes science fiction, and Michael likes fantasy and literary. We read across genre, and whenever possible, we try to read the same book together so we can provide different perspectives

What a great concept. What inspired you to start the show?

We love books. There are many podcasts for writers, and a ton of individual book review vlogs. We started the show as a way for us to connect with like-minded readers who like (and dislike) the books we do, so we can all find great reads together.

Are your shows interactive? Can fellow readers chime in on your live conversation?

We broadcast live on YouTube, and we encourage our live viewers to leave comments on our YouTube page because we read their comments live. Our viewers love to give their opinion on books, and they especially love to weigh in on our topics. We also welcome and encourage book recommendations.

Are you interested in having guests appear on your show from time-to-time?

Absolutely! In the near future, we will interview guest authors (both traditional and independent) about their books, as an avenue for helping our viewers find great new books that they might not have found otherwise.

What are your long-term plans for the show?

Our goal is to create a community of avid readers like us, and to ultimately be a trusted voice for book recommendations.

Lastly, when do your shows air and how can readers connect with you?

We broadcast live on Tuesdays at 9PM Eastern Standard Time. We are also on Itunes for podcast listeners. We also blog weekly about our reading topics on our website, www.tbrpodcast.com.  

Anything else you’d like to say?

Thanks for inviting us on your blog, and for watching the show. We appreciate it!

~~

You can watch their latest episode below. Yours truly was their very first guest!

Writing Prompt #22 – The Abandoned Glove

6a00e54fc42bb88834019b011ef563970c-500wiHolly gripped her father’s hand tight, squeezing it once, twice, three times. I love you. Her mother had taught her that. And Richard wished he could be that innocent again.

“I love you, too, pumpkin,” he said, barely able to get the words out without vomiting his worries all over the path.

Richard was trying his damndest to be optimistic. His body wasn’t cooperating. His legs felt like cement. Moving was hard. Everything was hard. He didn’t know if he could keep going. But he had to. So with each step he took a deep breath, attempting to soothe the unease and pain which gurgled deep inside of him.

They reached the bridge and he stopped. Dead in his tracks.  Her red glove lay on the ground. Abandoned. His worst fears confirmed.

“Isn’t that mommy’s?” Holly asked, pointing at the pile of red knitted fabric.

He opened his mouth to answer, but fear choked him silent. And he wasn’t sure it was sweat or tears which trickled down his face. Probably a mixture of both. The glove. It was hers. She was missing…

As always, if this prompt leads to a story, do come back and share a link with us.

Happy Writing!

Arthur

The streets were moist. Remnants of the storm hovered over the morning making it dark and gloomy. Heels and loafers smothered the sidewalks. A sea of forlorn expressions. Briefcases sliced through the bitter air. And horns cried out in protest to the end of the weekend.

Behind Joe’s on 53rd, Arthur sat, knees pulled to his chest. Ten wrinkled toes greeted the morning air, peeking out from the end of his dirtied and tattered cream Converse sneakers. He knew it was silly to keep them. They hardly provided any protection and certainly no longer kept him dry. But they hugged him close like two old friends. Made him feel not so alone.

“Arthur!” Frank bellowed out from the back door of the diner.

The elderly man cringed, his rickety old body attempting to move for the first time this cold and damp November morning.

“Coming,” he grumbled beneath putrid breath.

Arthur’s left leg dragged as he walked. His limp, a permanent reminder of the war that had claimed his youth and in many ways his life.

Joe’s was a dilapidated little old brick building. One of those places nobody could ever remember being new. One of those places that looked like you might catch an incurable disease if you ate there. And yet you just had to eat there because the state of disrepair was charming and the risk a little exciting.

Frank stood at the rotten door jamb and Arthur couldn’t tell if the building was holding Frank up or if Frank was holding the building up.

“Come on ya old bastard. I ain’t got all day.” Frank winked and extended both arms.

Arthur flashed him his nearly toothless smile and took the rolled up paper bag and large coffee container.

“Don’t tell no one. Our lil secret. Frankie don’t need no trouble from the boss.”

The frail man nodded, unscrewed the cap to the coffee container, and took a drink. He smacked his cracked lips together after savoring the sip, before replacing the cap so the bitter nectar inside would stay piping hot.

“Mmmmmmm. So good it almost tricked me into thinking this here life of mine wasn’t so bad.”

Arthur pivoted and began to head toward the busy street, but paused and turned back. “Thanks,” he called out to Frank, but the short and stocky Italian had already disappeared back into the building.

 

It was a typical Monday morning and it was business as usual even for Arthur. He may not have had a family or a home or a job anymore, but it didn’t mean he didn’t have things to do. The military had taught him a great many things, like keeping to a schedule and staying organized and clean (although the whole shoe-shining bit had never quite stuck).

He looked left, then right, then left again. And in the not-so-tiny span of time it took him to hobble off the curb and begin his slow progression toward the opposite side of the street, a yellow monster was barreling toward him.

“Woah! Woah!” Arthur threw his right arm up into the air, the arm which gripped the rolled up paper bag, as a certain impatient cab driver nearly plowed him over.

The man inside the yellow monster went by the name of Aman, and he nearly murdered poor old Arthur at least a few times a week. Aman was Indian and sported a bright red turban. His brown head bobbled from side to side and he laughed before mouthing “I’m sorry” and shrugging his narrow shoulders.

At the corner of 54th and Main was another dilapidated old building. This one wasn’t a diner, but a building which once was a warehouse many, many, many years ago, and today was a home for the young and abandoned. The Main Street Orphanage. This was his first stop.

“Good morning, Artie!” A peppy redhead, ironically named Annie, pushed open the front door so Arthur could come inside.

Annie was young, although everyone was young in comparison to Arthur. She was a very pretty girl, but she hid her prettiness under dull liberianesque attire. She was the kind of pretty Arthur would have gone for if he was 50 years younger. The kind of pretty that reminded him of his late wife.

“Hello, sweet pea,” Arthur said.

He stopped briefly as he passed Annie, leaned down, closed his eyes and ever-so-gently kissed her on the cheek. And for the briefest of moments, he allowed himself to be transported back to a time when his life was filled with optimistic uncertainty and limitless dreams.

“You’re the sweetest!” Annie stood on her tiptoes and threw her arms around Arthur and kissed him back. Probably like she kissed her grandfather. “They are all waiting for you!”

Annie and Arthur made their way into the large eating hall at the back of the first level of the orphanage. Sitting on the linoleum floor were this week’s guests. Each week ten of the children would be randomly selected to join Arthur for coffee, muffins, and a story. The eating hall would have certainly housed all of the children who lived there, but Arthur didn’t do well with big crowds. He also knew there was no way Frank could get away with giving him a few hundred muffins each week. Ten was a much more reasonable (and undetectable) amount. Plus, this gave the children something to look forward to and hope for each week.

The children all stood when he entered the room. And some hopped from one foot to another in eager anticipation. And each week his heart melted. He felt bad for them. Being so excited. About plain old Arthur.

Annie passed out plates and cups, and shook her head as Arthur began to make his way around the circle of children, passing out muffins and pouring coffee.

Arthur could feel her beady little eyes gnawing a hole in his backside. He didn’t even turn to address her. Simply said, “They don’t have no families, no nice homes, and the little bastards have to listen to my crotchety ass for an hour. Let ‘em have some damn coffee.”

He turned to find Annie smiling. He smiled back.

Over the next hour he told a story to the children. Each week the story was different. And he wasn’t quite sure if what he shared was in fact all true. In actuality, he was pretty sure a large portion of what dribbled out of his aged mouth was made up. He was old. He was just impressed he was able to sit for that long of a time without soiling his pants or falling asleep. And it must not have been that bad because ten sets of eyes remained glued to his the entire time. They laughed and smiled and always had an infinite amount of questions for him after. He loved each of them so very much.

As a token of gratitude, the orphanage would allow Arthur to shower there and to clean his clothes. And as a kindness to the society which surrounded Arthur, he took the orphanage up on their offer.

After he was clean, Annie greeted him once again at the front doors. She held a coffee cup in one hand.

“It’s just warm broth. It’s not much, but…” she shrugged and handed it to him.

“It’s perfect. Thank you.”

Arthur kissed her on top of her head and left.

 

It was now early afternoon and the sun’s warm rays stretched out from behind the last of the clouds. Arthur walked into the Main Street Bank which was four blocks down from the orphanage. A petite African American woman sat at a desk in the front of the branch.

“There he is!” The woman hopped up from her desk and sauntered over to him.

Arthur smiled at Sheila and then hugged her, taking a deep breath and nearly getting drunk on her perfume.

Sheila’s mother, Barbara, had worked at the bank for 30 years before passing suddenly in the night a few years back. Sheila was a motivated and independent young woman. She went to school at night and worked two jobs during the day. Arthur respected her very much.

“Well,” Sheila said, grabbing a hold of Arthur’s hand and gingerly pulling him toward her desk, “business as usual?”

He nodded in agreement. Arthur was good at telling stories, but he wasn’t the best at conversing. He was both a man of many words and a man of few. A walking contradiction.

Sheila sighed. Each month she hoped Arthur would change his ways. Save and except beating his head upside a wall, she had tried everything she could to persuade Arthur to save up for a small downtown apartment, even going so far as to offer to pay the down payment for him. But he wouldn’t have it. He had argued back that there just wasn’t enough. That having a home would only stress him out more because then he would have to worry about everything that came with having a home – gas, electricity, repairs, etc. He was happier taking his money and doing what he could with it. After all, war had made him tough. Sleeping outside wasn’t so bad. And on the particularly bad nights he could always find a shelter to go to, although he avoided them like the plague. Other than his late wife, Arthur had always preferred the company of nature over that of most other human beings.

“Very well.” Sheila left her desk and walked over to the teller area.

While he waited, Arthur sipped his broth and watched various patrons in the lobby. Then he noticed a picture frame on Sheila’s desk. It was a picture of a young boy. He’d never seen it before. The boy appeared to be four or five years old. Wore thick glasses and a royal blue polo shirt.

“Ralph,” Sheila said, returning with a stack of bills and a pile of envelopes.

“Hmmmm?”

“His name is Ralph. That’s my son.”

“Oh,” Arthur said, unsure of how else to respond, thinking it was odd in all their conversations over the years she’d never brought him up.

“It’s complicated. It’s why I work so much. Why I am going to school. To get him back. He’s with his father. I get to see him on the weekends now.”

Sheila spoke the words rapidly and didn’t make eye contact with him. Like she was ashamed. And he thought that odd, an educated woman with a job and a home ashamed to speak to a homeless man.

“I see.” Again, he didn’t know what to say. “He’s cute. Like you.”

“Thanks,” she said, shuffling the piles around, shoving a few bills into each of the envelopes. “I think you’re all set. Sure I can’t…oh, never mind.”

He smiled a silent thank you at her and took the envelopes from her hands, her soft flesh brushing up against the harsh leather that was his own.

Before he was able to say goodbye to her, Sheila was called over to another desk to handle a disgruntled customer. He stood for a moment watching her patiently coax the overly dramatic woman down. Then he grabbed a pen from Sheila’s desk. And in the best writing he could, he wrote “4 Ralf” on the outside of one of the envelopes, left it on her chair, and walked out of the bank.

 

Arthur made his way back to the park at the very end of Main Street. The park was lined with trees that, if afforded the opportunity to talk, could have out-storied Arthur any day. It was dusk and the street lamps were confused and flickered on and off and then on and off again. He meandered down the winding path. And each time he passed a young homeless person sleeping on a bench, he would stop and tuck an envelope into their jacket. He continued walking and sharing until there was no light and there was only one envelope left. That envelope was his. That was what he would use to help to feed himself until his next check came through.

His leg was tired from a full day of walking, so he took the next empty bench that he saw and sat down. Watched the night swallow the last of the day. He leaned back into the seat, let his head hang back, and he smiled as he got lost in a deep and comfortable and peaceful sleep.

 

“Arthur!” Frank bellowed out from the back door of the diner the next morning.

There was no response. Frank waited about ten minutes before he shouted again. But his call was returned with nothing but the song of sirens off in the distance.

Frank walked over to the box behind the dumpster and found it to be empty.

Converse

The streets weren’t moist, but there were remnants of a storm which hovered over the morning making it dark and gloomy. Heels and loafers smothered the sidewalks. A sea of forlorn expressions. Briefcases sat ignored in living rooms across town, and the horns were silent, but there were cries that could be heard.

It wasn’t a typical Monday. And everyone on Main Street wasn’t sure if there ever would be such a thing ever again.

Arthur Jefferson had passed peacefully in the night the week before. He’d been found on a bench with a smile on his face.

His absence was palpable to everyone he had met and even those he had not. He’d been that one smile in the sea of forlorn expressions. He had been the hope of a building full of forgotten souls. He’d been the only friend to a lonely man named Frank. And he’d been the possibility to an infinite number of troubled youths who awoke each morning to find an anonymous gift in their coat pocket.

Plain old Arthur had indeed been old but anything but plain. All the businesses on Main Street had closed and the entire City attended his funeral, which had been paid for by donations. They had all arrived in white envelopes.

And a funny thing happened. A wave of happiness washed away the sea of forlorn expressions as strangers came together and shared Arthur stories.

A monument in the Main Street Park was erected in his honor – a pair of old worn converse sneakers. A reminder of how simple acts of kindness could change a city…and maybe even the world.

Book Review: Reconciled People by Michael La Ronn

81cqHwytxbL._SL1500_They say great things come in small packages. And the same can be said about La Ronn’s Reconciled People.  A compilation of short stories which will satiate even the most ravenous of appetites.

La Ronn’s effortless and lyrical writing style sends the reader afloat a river of literary brilliance. The ride is smooth and tranquil. And weaved into each morsel of a tale is a grand lesson. Every action and every choice in life comes with a consequence. La Ronn forces us to come face-to-face with these consequences, be they good or bad ones. I am an instant fan of books which leave you not only utterly satisfied, but wiser.

My first reading of Reconciled People was actually not a reading at all, but a listening. The audiobook version is stunning and Lori Faiella’s voice suits the stories perfectly, making the book come alive in unexpected ways. Only 1 hour and 38 minutes long, the lessons and beauty will linger on in my heart for much longer.

Therefore, I wasn’t quite done with these tales after just one listening. I then decided to sit down and devour the ebook version. And what happened? I took away even more from each of the tales. It was bittersweet to reach “The End” and say goodbye to all my great new friends.

La Ronn is anything but an ordinary storyteller and his words are sure to transcend time. I very much look forward to savoring more from this impeccably talented author.

 Reconciled People is available for purchase from
Amazon, Audible, Barnes & Noble, and other fine retailers

La Ronn is a fantasy author, who also writes short stories and poetry. No matter what he is writing, his goal is to create well-written, interesting, and e91578a8dd930ac1d188bb.L._V362731133_SY470_entertaining stories. He can be unpredictable at times, but he likes it this way. He believes writing, along with reading, should be a journey that takes you to unexpected places. La Ronn will go anywhere his artistic spirit takes him in order to tell a good story.

You can connect with Michael on Facebook, Twitter, and his website.