Tuesday, July 28, 2015

I, the Narrator, by Mike Dennis

  Mike Dennis (Photo
by Peter Rozovsky)
Mike Dennis (right) is a Key West-based crime writer and a musician. He also combines sound and words in his latest professional incarnation. Here's Mike's pulse-pounding story of how he became an audio-book narrator and landed the gig reading and producing the new version of Mickey Spillane's I, the Jury, published by Simon & Schuster Audio.
First and foremost, I want to convey my deep appreciation to Peter Rozovsky for giving me the opportunity to appear on DBB. He has a lot of followers, and I'm very grateful for the chance to tell my little story on his great site.

And what a story it was! Well, for me, anyway. Since my latest reinvention of myself (and there have been many over the long years) as an audiobook narrator, I was hot to move up the ladder. Of course, I didn't kid myself. I knew I had to have a worthy product, skillful storytelling, quality sound production, and knowledge of my own strengths and weaknesses as a narrator if I was to achieve any success at all. The first thing I learned was the learning curve is steep.

So after a couple of years, I get a handle on sound crafting, and I hone my natural ability to tell a story. Then one day in the summer of 2014, I was trolling Amazon and came across Mickey Spillane's I, The Jury. The cover was typical Spillane: a gorgeous doll coming out of her clothes while a guy holds a gun on her. Then whoa! I noticed there was no audiobook attached to it.

Positive I had made a mistake, I looked again. No audiobook. I went to Audible.com and typed in the title. No results. There was an audiocassette on Amazon dating back to the Paleolithic Era for sale by a third-party vendor, but no modern downloadable audio version. Could this be true? I, The Freaking Jury, the first Mike Hammer novel and the biggest selling book of Spillane's entire career, does not appear in audiobook form?

Well, it was true, all right. I looked up the other Hammer books. Nearly all of them were available as audiobooks, and those were all narrated by Stacy Keach, who played Mike Hammer on TV for years. I mean, the guy is Mike Hammer!

I set out to become the narrator for this novel. First, I had to find out who held the audio rights. I wrote to my friend Max Allan Collins, novelist and Spillane collaborator, and he essentially told me to forget it. Simon & Schuster had the audio rights to all the Hammer novels, he said, and they had released them with Stacy Keach's powerful voice driving them. He said it would probably be just a matter of time before they got around to I, The Jury.

OK, not good news. But I kept after it, anyway. Fruitless efforts at contacting Simon & Schuster yielded nothing. After a lot of digging into the bowels of their website, however, I turned up the name of the head of their audiobook division. I called S&S, asked for him, and to my surprise, I had him on the line.

Once I collected myself, I explained who I was: an audiobook narrator/producer operating out of my home studio in Key West, and I wanted the chance to narrate and produce I, The Jury.

Now, this is the point where a guy like him would tell a guy like me, "We don't work with home studio narrators," or "We use movie stars to narrate our audiobooks," or "Buzz off, kid." And you know, you couldn't blame him if he did. Not even I could blame him. But instead, he said, "Do you deliver a finished product?"

Knowing that I had now arrived at my date with destiny, I said "Yes. But how about if I send you a brief recorded excerpt of I, The Jury? That way you can not only get an idea of how I would approach the material, but also of my sound quality." He paused for what felt like forever, then said, "OK." And he gave me his e-mail address.

I carefully prepared a recorded piece from the novel and sent it off to him. Frankly, though, I was sure that the minute he hung up the phone, he was shouting into his intercom, "Get me Stacy Keach!"

A couple of months went by. I was certain the game was over. But one day I opened my e-mail to find a response. He had sent my sample to the head of their production department for her opinion. My God, I still had a shot!

Two more months go by (they sure move slowly up there in New York), and one day I get an e-mail from the head of S&S audio production. She liked my sample, but she asked if I wouldn't mind submitting a finished version of the entire first chapter, so they could get a better idea of my sound and my consistency, as well as how I would handle more dialogue. I really couldn't believe it!
Of course, I did the first chapter, laboring over it lovingly and with great precision. Another month later, she writes back and offered me the job. We agreed on the terms and I narrated and produced the audiobook. It'll be released in unabridged form Wednesday, July 28. And you know, I still can't believe I'm actually the voice of Mike Hammer.

Mike Dennis' narration of I, The Jury, from Simon & Schuster Audio, is available on Amazon. http://tinyurl.com/p6et4qp

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Blogger Dana King said...

Mike was gracious enough to do the audio book for my novel, GRIND JOINT, so I can say I knew him when.

Well done, sir.

July 28, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Makes me want to move out of town and get a car so I can have a long commute on which I could listen to audio books.

July 28, 2015  
Blogger Unknown said...

Wow! This is fascinating stuff. But, I confess that I am envious. I would love to put my former acting experience to work in a similar fashion but have no clue about how to get started. At least this posting has me thinking more seriously about the possibilities. Hmmmm.

July 28, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., you could click on Mike Dennis' name in the body of this post. That will take you to his blog, where you could post questions on this matter. Panels on audio books and the production thereof turn up fairly frequently on the programs at crime fiction conventions, such as Bouchercon and Crimefest. You could consider attending. Failing that, you could look at the schedules, get the names of the people who discuss audio books, then write to them.

I have no clue how to get started, either, but I gather from Mike's post that having good recording equipment of one's own is a start. If all one has is one's voice, there is probably a way of getting the training one needs to be a good reader and getting one's self noticed, but I would not know what it is. I'm not sure how many self-published or small-press audio books are out there, but that could be one way to break in, I would think.

July 28, 2015  
Anonymous Mary Beth said...

Doesn't this make you want to stand up and cheer. I love it when the confluence of preparedness and opportunity have a happy ending. I am also happy to know that opportunity uses several names. This time it went calling under the name Mike Dennis.

July 30, 2015  
Blogger seana graham said...

That's a great story, and really a model for daring to aim high, while at the same time making sure you have all i's dotted and your t's crossed when you do. And patience also really helps.

July 30, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Mary Beth: Yes, it does. I've known Mike casually for a few years from crime fiction conventions, and he was on a panel I moderated at Bouchercon two years ago. I hadn't known he was a self-made professional man, though. Combine that with his residence in Key West, and he could make himself a character in one of his own books, if he hasn't done so already.

July 30, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, the next time I see Mike, I will tell him that he is in an inspiration to many, if not millions.

He's on the attendees list for Bouchercon, so I should see him in October.

His main instrument is piano; I don't know if he plays another. If he can play a moody tenor saxophone, he could provide music for audiobooks. Maybe drums, too. Spillane novels will occasionally include descriptions of frantic jazz, which was a kind of aural correlative for wildness in the movies of the 1940s and '5-s/

July 30, 2015  

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