Book publishing isn’t the same game anymore. The advent of the Internet, and e-books in particular, have ushered in an era of cheaper novels, shorter attention spans and a deeper sea of authors with which established publishing houses must contend.
One of those houses, Baen Publishing in Wake Forest, has been a signpost for the next big trend. The science-fiction publisher has been selling e-books for 14 years. That was definitely before the Kindle or the current e-book craze.
Now the company is trying something new: audio dramas. On Sept. 17, Baen held a premiere for its first audio drama, “Islands,” at the Living Arts College in Raleigh.
The drama is based on a novella by author Eric Flint and adapted by Tony Daniel, a Baen author and editor.
Daniel has a background suited to the endeavor. He worked on audio dramas for scifi.com around the turn of the century. The budgets were bigger then – so much so that the casts included famous thespians like Kyra Sedgwick and Stanley Tucci.
And though Hollywood didn’t come calling for “Islands,” Daniel was still able to put his experience to good use.
“I’ve applied all the lessons I learned,” he said. “I returned to my roots, in a way, to adapt this thing.”
“Islands” takes place in an alternate past during the heyday of the Roman Empire. Only this isn’t like what you read in the history books. These Romans have access to technology like muskets, steam engines and telegraph machines, making their wars a little more bloody.
The audio drama tells the tale of a Roman noblewoman and her husband. Their marriage is arranged, and neither particularly likes the other, but distance and tragedy brings them closer together, even as both find a large role to play in the history happening all around them.
I won’t tell you more because, well, you should really listen to it.
In the lead female role is Tracey Coppedge, a 39-year-old Durham resident who had done a lot of voiceover work in the past, but never something of this scope.
“This was really exciting,” she said. “Because it had full characters and a real script from a real writer.”
In fact, the scope of this project is a little daunting when you hear about it. Daniel and Barry Jaked, the audio/video equipment supervisor at the Living Arts College and the sound engineer on “Islands,” estimate that it took between 80 and 90 hours to put the audio drama together in the studio.
Jaked thinks the finished product turned out great, but he adds that as an audio engineer, he never feels like his job is done.
“Are there things I’d go back and change again? Yes,” he said. “You can always go back and refine if you keep on listening.”
Those 80 to 90 hours I mentioned, that was all post-production. The actual recordings took about 10 to 11 hours.
Coppedge said she had a lot of fun doing it, but sometimes the entire cast of the production was on hand, and it could be a little nerve-racking.
“When everybody is sitting there making faces at you, and it’s a really intense scene, you really got to get used to that,” she said.
The sci-fi nature of the production didn’t put her off. She said she’s a geek from way back.
“I grew up on Star Wars,” she said. “We used to have full days that we would just set aside to watch the trilogy.”
That’s the original trilogy, by the way. Not the sacrilege that came later. But I digress.
Baen publishing has already been recording weekly podcasts for a while, but they are interviews and audiobooks. Daniel wanted to do something different.
“You got to try things, and this is an attempt to try something,” he said, adding that somebody is going to figure out the next big thing in publishing, and he wants to “try to see if we can be in on it, instead of dying off like dinosaurs.”
Eric Flint is Daniel’s favorite Baen author, and “Islands” is based on his favorite Flint work. So, if you want a peek at what makes Daniel’s literary heart sing, and you want to hear a book come alive, check out “Islands.”
I did, and it was spectacular.