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On The Table Read, “the best entertainment magazine in the UK“, author Douglas A. Bass and voice actor Benjamin Fife talk about the release of the audiobook version of Ebenezer: The True Life Story Of Ebenezer Scrooge.

the best creativity magazine in the UK, the best book magazine in the UK, the best arts magazine in the UK, the best entertainment magazine in the UK, the best celebrity magazine in the UK, book marketing UK, book promotion UK, music marketing UK, music promotion UK, film marketing UK, film promotion UK, arts and entertainment magazine, online magazine uk, creativity magazine

Written by JJ Barnes

www.jjbarnes.co.uk

I interviewed Douglas A. Bass, author of Ebenezer: The True Life Story Of Ebenezer Scrooge, and the voice actor Benjamin Fife who was tasked with bringing the story to life about their new audiobook.

Tell me a bit about who you are.

Douglas A. Bass: I first was offered the amazing opportunity to introduce myself to the readers of The Table Read when I was interviewed in July 2021.  If anyone reading this is interested, I hope you click on this hyperlink to that interview and check it out. 

Douglas A. Bass on The Table Read
Douglas A. Bass

To sum myself up, though, is that I have been writing my entire life and always dreamed of becoming a published author.  That dream came true a few years ago with the publication of my first novel, Ebenezer: The True Life Story of Ebenezer Scrooge.  I love how many people connected with the story and have had a positive experience reading it. 

One of those people was the incredibly talented Benjamin Fife, who I am lucky enough to now call both the narrator of the audiobook version of Ebenezer, but also, more importantly, my friend.

Editing and Proofreading by Scribendi

Benjamin Fife: I’m a Gen X who was a geek before it was fashionable to be a geek.  I met my wife in the geeky setting of our freshman Music Theory class while I was talking Star Trek with someone else and she joined in.  Twenty-two years and six geeklings later, we’re geekier than ever.

I started narrating audiobooks roughly five years ago, but have read nightly to my kids for the last two decades.  I’ve worked in a variety of industries and tell people it just took me forty years to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I’ve now narrated over 100 titles  for authors from Sydney to Scotland.  I love lending my voice to give stories life.

How did the two of you meet and decide to produce an audiobook version of Ebenezer: The True Life Story of Ebenezer Scrooge?

Douglas: I had always wanted Ebenezer to be offered to the world as an audiobook.  I love the idea that readers could experience the story performed for them, like they are listening to an old radio show that brought families together before the days of television and the internet.  The problem I had was that I really did not know how to best go about finding an actor who specialized in this type of performance, I had limited funds to pay for it even if I could find such a person, and I refused to attempt recording it myself because I knew it would sound unprofessional.

Enter Benjamin into my life.  One day out of the blue in late August last year (in 2021), I received a message through my Twitter account from this interesting person who told me that he loves A Christmas Carol and asked if I ever thought about offering my novel as an audiobook.  And with that one question, a relationship was born.  Benjamin read my book and liked it, which was high praise from a man who loves A Christmas Carol as dearly as he does, and he told me that he really wanted to be the one to bring Ebenezer to life in an audiobook. 

We discussed the logistics to make sure that he would be adequately compensated for his hard work and to make sure that we were comfortable with one another in both our vision for the project and our ability to effectively communicate with one another.

Benjamin was already an accomplished voice actor with an impressive resume of books he had previously breathed life into as audiobooks.  I spoke with a few of the authors he had worked with and after their glowing recommendations confirmed my personal gut reaction about him, we struck a deal to create this audiobook together.  It was one of the best decisions I have ever made!

Benjamin: That about covers it.  A Christmas Carol has been my favorite book since I first read it.  Before I even had a website, I recorded my own version on Soundcloud and used it as my calling card.  When I came across Doug’s book, I immediately checked to see if it had an audiobook.  Seeing that it didn’t, I reached out to him. 

I was about 99% sure I wanted to narrate it. He wanted me to read the whole thing first, so I agreed, and pointed out to him a couple of things that kind of “took me out of the story”.  Doug made a couple minor changes based on my recommendations, we worked out the details, and here we are.

Doug, you live in New York, and Benjamin, you live in Idaho, which places the two of you about 2,500 miles away from one another.  How did you communicate and collaborate with each other throughout the process?

Douglas: Twitter, email, Zoom, and Audible were our common means of communication.  Benjamin recorded chapters on Audible and then would send me a message to alert me to listen when he was ready for my comments, edits, direction, and impressions.  I have to admit that it was very odd but strangely exciting the first time I heard someone else’s voice reading and performing my words.  The only person whom I had ever heard read my book out loud at that point in time was me!

Right from the start, I knew Benjamin was the exact right person to be performing this audiobook.  He clearly was as committed as I was to producing the greatest version of this story as humanly possible.  That is not to say that we saw eye-to-eye on everything immediately.  I had thoughts and ideas about how the characters were being portrayed.  I decided that the only way this was going to work would be if I was 100% honest with Benjamin and if he was 100% honest with me.

When we disagreed about anything, we found that we were very good at communicating that with each other without ever creating any tension or hurt feelings.  At least that was always my impression.  We respected each other and what each of us brought to the project.  We recognized that we needed each other, as each of us contributed different, but equally important, elements necessary to make this audiobook the success we both desperately demanded of ourselves that it would be.

So Benjamin would record a few chapters, alert me that they were ready for my review, and I would listen.  I would inevitably listen to each chapter multiple times and take notes.  I was listening for different things.  I listened for accuracy.  I listened to act as editor for any “verbal typos” (such as multiple attempts at the same line reading accidentally remaining in the final version I was hearing).  I listened with my heart to experience the emotion that Benjamin was conveying through his characterizations and in listening to the way he would emphasize the words or phrases in each sentence.

When I heard something that I thought required a change, I noted it with the specific reason why and how I thought it should be changed, also with my reason why.  Often, I felt that he had done such a fine job that no changes were needed and when that happened, I always made sure to communicate to Benjamin just how good his work was. 

Constructive criticism is not limited to “finding mistakes”.  It is also in recognizing quality and making sure to communicate the strengths in the work.  Benjamin’s fabulous performance offered me far more opportunities to revel in his work than situations where we needed to work through differences.  But, even when we found ourselves in situations where discussion was necessary to work through differences in our interpretations regarding how to convey particular moments in the story, I never once felt that Benjamin didn’t take my viewpoints seriously nor did I ever find him unwilling to make changes if I offered him valid suggestions.  I truly respect that and treasure that about him.

We worked like this to the very end until we were both convinced that we had produced the best audiobook possible, and one that we would both be proud to be associated with for the rest of our lives.

Benjamin Fife on The Table Read
Benjamin Fife

Benjamin: I’ve worked with authors and publishers ranging from those who will put a stamp of approval on whatever I’ve recorded (and I sometimes wonder if they actually listened to it) to those who want me to fix any time I recorded “Mike said” if the manuscript read “said Mike”.  I’ll work with either end of the spectrum, but truth be told – I feel like those who are “pickier” end up with a better end product. 

Narrating an audiobook in some ways is no different from writing – there’s no way you won’t have a typo or twenty in a 100,000 word book.  No matter how many people proof-listen to an audiobook, something is bound to slip past the editing process.  Doug and I on this project worked closely and I think we created a great work together.  I appreciated his candor in working with him.

I’ve only ever had one other author who has worked with me as closely on characterizations as he has.  We both love this story and if you could read the sometimes passionate debates we chatted back and forth with each other, I think you could see just how much the project meant to both of us. 

What were your biggest challenges with recording Ebenezer: The True Life Story Of Ebenezer Scrooge?

Douglas: For obvious reasons, my perspective is limited to the process itself since I did not physically record any portion of this book.  My biggest challenges were more internal than external.  They had to do with making sure that I not only listened to but, more importantly, truly “heard” Benjamin’s constructive criticisms about some of my viewpoints related to the way I thought the book should be performed without permitting my ego to get in the way, and making sure that when I offered Benjamin constructive criticism about some of his viewpoints concerning the way he thought the book should be performed that I communicated in a way that showed him respect and appreciation.

It is certainly not easy for an artist to hear criticism, constructive or not.  Anyone who says otherwise is likely not being completely honest with either you or themself, or both.  But, at the same time, constructive criticism is an absolutely vital component to the process of polishing a piece of art and taking it from good to great.  Ego must never be an obstacle to accepting thoughtful suggestions and different perspectives.  If an artist will only accept a pat on the back in response to their request for an honest assessment, they should save themselves the trouble of finding another person and simply ask their own reflection what it thinks and then reach around with one of their own hands to provide the meaningless self-validation.

Luckily, I felt throughout the process, and maintain to this day, that Benjamin was absolutely wonderful to collaborate with.  He truly cared about the project and the characters and how this story would be presented to the world.  That passion was evident in our conversations and is now absolutely clear in the final performance that all readers are treated to when they listen to this audiobook.  Disagreements were never once focused on how either one of us had done something wrong.  They were always about how we can make this experience for the reader better. 

Benjamin: A challenge that doesn’t get spoken about enough if you ask me that Doug and I worked out was on the financial side of things.  I encounter authors frequently who are convinced that audio is not in their budget. Producing an audiobook is not “cheap”.

Yes, there are outlets out there where you can do a straight royalty share and the inexperienced narrator will spend an inordinate amount of time recording, editing, and so on, eventually seeing next to nothing in terms of a payday.  But in terms of quality – like so many other things – you usually get what you pay for.  I am still on the “beginning” end of my narration career and will probably continue to think so until I’ve got about 500 titles under my belt.  But this is my fulltime job, livelihood, and passion.  It’s how I pay the bills, but it’s also how I feel fulfilled. So when I come across something that I think needs an audiobook like Ebenezer, I’m willing to shoulder some of that risk, but not all. 

Doug and I worked out a payment plan for my fee and we were able to get the book produced months before he was finished paying for it.  A good audiobook, for an author, should be seen as an investment, and to me, Ebenezer is a good audiobook.  It is my hope that it will continue to gain audience.

Which character was the hardest to perform?

Benjamin: In some instances, Ebenezer. There were a number of scenes that Doug and I went back and forth on the interpretation and motivations of the character.  Aside from Ebenezer, I’d say Fan’s husband Frederick.  I know good stories have despicable villains, but giving voice to them is sometimes taxing.  It’s an “I want to wash my mouth out when I’m done” kind of character. But I do also feel that to be as true to the characters as I can, I need to give them depth and motivations too. Ferguson was a bit there too.  It’s always easy to do a villain as over-the-top, but much more sinister when they seem like they could be your neighbor.

Which character was most enjoyable to perform?

Benjamin: It’s a bit like answering which pie I like best. Round. A Christmas Carol has for decades been my very favorite book.  Doug’s provides a wider cast, but still they’re in the Dickens’ array of characters.  There are always parts when I read it that I become more emotional, and some of those scenes are visited from different perspectives in this extrapolation. If I had to choose, I’d always first say Marley’s Ghost, then the Ghost of Christmas Present, then Scrooge.  I loved narrating OLD Tiny Tim in this version as well.

Ebenezer on The Table Read
Ebenezer: The True Life Story Of Ebenezer Scrooge Audiobook

How did you choose the specific voices and accents for the characters?

Benjamin: Many of the voices you’ll hear I’ve been honing over the course of decades of reading A Christmas Carol aloud to my family and others.  That being said, Doug’s writing made me reconsider a couple of those choices.  His take on the Ghost of Christmas Past in particular, was a little different than I have done before.  Dickens’ description is very enigmatic and has allowed for a wide range of interpretations and genders.  But Doug’s version made me think of Warrick Davis, and that’s where I went with it.

Where did you record your audiobook?

Benjamin: I’ve had several short term booths that I’ve put together through the years, but about six months before I went full time, I got a pre-fab 8’x12’ shed from Old Fort, double insulated it, cordoned off a corner about 3’x3’ and treated that corner for my audio studio.  I’ve since recorded some 70+ audiobooks in that space. It’s kind of something where you’re always tweaking to get as clear and noise proof sound as you can.  My studio lives about twenty feet west of my front door, in the rural outskirts of Blackfoot, Idaho. Can’t beat the commute.

How long did it take to record your audiobook?

Benjamin: The more I produce, the more accurately I can nail down this number.  But truthfully, I don’t know just how long it took on Ebenezer. I approached Doug about narrating it in either late-August or early-September of last year, read through it in a couple of days.  We signed a contract for it in mid-September and it went on sale mid-November.  Altogether, just over a couple of months from conception to reality. 

Being a 17+ hour audiobook, I can tell you I was probably actually recording a minimum of 40 hours over the course of a few weeks, then edits and corrections. But it was a pleasure to work with Doug on, and always a pleasure to narrate Dickens-esque material. I’m currently about one-quarter through my own recording of Our Mutual Friend (which will clock in at about a thirty-six hour audiobook).

Did you include any music in Ebenezer: The True Life Story Of Ebenezer Scrooge, and if you did, what music did you include and why?

Douglas: I love that this question has been posed to us!  I never thought that there would be music involved in this audiobook, but I will never forget the day Benjamin contacted me to let me know that the project was being gifted the amazing musical talent of his incredible wife.  And I will certainly never forget the day when I first heard the musical gift itself!

In the book, there is a song that is important to Ebenezer sung by several characters at different times.  I assumed that Benjamin would find a creative way to convey the lyrics of that song through his narration that would work for the story.  But what we got instead was more than I could have ever imagined!  His wife composed an original lovely tune for the song for violin and performed it while singing the lyrics, in character.  It is incredibly moving!  And she did not stop there!  She also performed a purely musical version of the tune that we included at the opening and closing of the audiobook itself.  It both welcomes the reader in at the outset and bids the reader a beautiful farewell at its conclusion after spending so many hours taking this journey with us together.  

She did such a wonderful job and enhanced the entire experience for the readers and, I can state unequivocally, for me.

Benjamin: I’ve heard people mock musicals because ‘people don’t really just break into song at the drop of a hat’.  These people obviously didn’t grow up around me or my family, or my wife’s family, or much of anyone musical.  Audiobooks are about storytelling, and often in literature, music is mentioned.  There are limitations on what you can include in an audiobook based on copyright laws, but even with that – I’d estimate that I’ve probably sung in 1 out of 5 books I’ve narrated. 

My wife and I met in our Music Theory class our freshman year of college. Truthfully, she’s a much better musician than I am and I’ve loved sometimes being able to include her in singing in my audiobooks, as well as performing some original compositions she’s done for the credits on books.  Music can help set the tone for a book or a series.  The song Doug wrote lent itself well to Elsie’s musical talents and I like including her.

What is the first piece of advice you would give to anybody who wants to record an audiobook?

Douglas: Find someone who shares your commitment to treating one another with respect, who shares your commitment to producing the absolute best product possible, and who you can always be 100% honest with throughout the process.  I would also advise an author to leave their ego at the door and allow another artist the freedom to bring their unique tastes, talents, and perspectives to the work.

Benjamin: If I’m talking to someone about doing the actual recording themselves, it’s to realize that it’s a lot more than just reading a book aloud, and if I’m talking to an author about having their book produced, I suppose it’s a similar approach.  I’ve had dozens of individuals express interest in doing what I do, and I’m happy to advise them, but a lot of it comes down to ya-gotta-wanna. And turning something you’re “kind of interested in” into a career really does take passion, drive, and self-discipline. That being said, pursuing your passions is immensely satisfying. 

I have a blog post on my website I wrote about two years ago that covers my first few years as a narrator, along with the transition from side-gig to full time.  https://www.bennyfifeaudio.com/post/an-unedited-and-mostly-transparent-account-of-becoming-a-successful-audiobook-narrator-part-i

And, finally, are you proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?

Douglas: Absolutely!  The final product that readers have available to them now is better than anything I could have ever imagined years ago when I could only daydream that maybe someday this book could be performed as an audiobook.   As when I wrote the book, my impression during the process of creating this audiobook was never that I was engaged in effort.  I was always engaged in a labor of love.  And the more real it became, and as more of the book was completed with such quality chapter after chapter, the more excited I got that another of my dreams was literally becoming a reality right before my very eyes! 

I will always be grateful to Benjamin Fife for reaching out to me and being so committed to never allowing any aspect of this project to be anything but of the absolute highest quality possible.  And for doing such a fantastic job using my novel as the foundation to create an audiobook that I will be proud to have my name attached to for the rest of my life.

Benjamin: With literally thousands of productions of A Christmas Carol and variations thereon, I can truly say that I think Doug has added something unique to the lexicon. And, in regard to my involvement, I am definitely proud of it. 

My annual reading to my family of A Christmas Carol was a pretty good warm up for it.  In more recent years, that has spread to more than just a reading to my family, including recording my own version of the original and live readings online or in person.  But for anyone who loves A Christmas Carol, and especially for those who love Dickens’ work in general, I will always happily recommend Ebenezer to them.  Now, a year later, if I encountered it for the first time, I would jump at the chance again.

Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:

Douglas A. Bass

The audiobook:

Ebenezer by Douglas Bass – Audiobook – Audible.com

The novel:

Ebenezer: The True Life Story of Ebenezer Scrooge: Bass, Mr Douglas A: 9780999023105: Amazon.com: Books

TV interview about the novel:

“Ebenezer: The True Life Story of Ebenezer Scrooge” | WUHF (foxrochester.com)

Newspaper article about the novel:

Attorney, writer tells the story of ‘Ebenezer’ (mpnnow.com)

Podcast interview about the novel:

Episode 195 – A Chat with Author Douglas A. Bass (mcplpodcast.com)

You can follow me on Twitter at:

@LawyerNoMore

My email is:

ebenezerbook2017@gmail.com

Benjamin Fife

www.bennyfifeaudio.com

Twitter @fife_benjamin

https://www.facebook.com/benjamin.fife.353/

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