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Interview with Terry W. Lessig, AudioBookMan

Interview by Mary Deal, The Ka

With me is Terry Lessig, who produces books on CD, technically known as audio books, or more loosely known as books on audio. I chose Terry for an interview about audio book publishing because his personal philosophies suit me. He's honest and forthright. He has a subtle sense of humor. He's sophisticated but never snobby. He's I'll stop there. I just like him a lot as a friend. We met in an online writer's workshop; hadn't yet met in person. When I commented on something I couldn't accomplish, Terry inadvertently gave me a slogan that was very apropos:


"If weeds are growing, the ground is fertile enough for the grass that you plant."


Did I mention that this man who publishes books on CD is also very wise?


He has quite an interesting history to tell about how his life led him to recording books on audio. It's his history that makes him excellent at what he does. Publishing books on CD has always interested me. I have a project in particular that I'm considering and Terry would be the expert to produce it.


Welcome Terry. Great to speak with you again.


Always nice to talk with you, Mary. I appreciate this opportunity, and I'm flattered to be the first person you chose to interview on your new site. I really meant those nice things I said about your novel, The Ka. I wasn't just trying to curry favor.


You really stunned me when you showed up at my book signing in Phoenix. Do you like surprising people like that? We talked about putting books on CD at that time too, didn't we?


Yes, we did. And I do enjoy surprising people, but in a pleasant way. Bringing something unexpected into another person's day is like putting a cherry on top of their sundae. It was already good, but the added treat-- the idea that someone thought of you-- makes it that much more enjoyable.


Tell me a little about your family, some of your personal life.


I thought you wanted people to read this, Mary. I was raised by wolves in cheap clothing. When they threw me out, I got married to Bonnie, who was a request girl at a radio station here. We've been together 35 years, and she's long since stopped taking requests. Now, she's a Certified Master Pedicurist. We have no children. Current household population: two humans, one Pomeranian, and one grey-cheeked parakeet, all overseen by one crotchety cat.


I was an only child, and books became my early playmates. I come from a family of readers, and I was read to often when I was little.


I'm eternally grateful to my great-uncle, who would put down his own reading material and invite me onto his lap whenever I came along dragging a worn Donald Duck comic book. No matter how often he had read it, each time he made it live as never before.


He was retirement age when I came along, so he was around a lot. I like to think he helped shape me, and I'm happy that his name, Wilson, appears in the middle of mine.


I grew up around oldsters, and friends would stop by to visit, and I'd listen to their stories. I was fascinated by their voices, how each one was different, and gave personality to their owners.


Each laugh was different, also. I remember those voices, and can hear them in my head now, some fifty years later. I wish I could go back in time and record them for all to hear. Perhaps it's why I'm enamored with voices today.


I understand your career began in broadcast engineering. What are some of the occupations you've had before publishing books on CD?


Disc jockey, in the beginning, then production director in radio. After a few years, I worked in television engineering and did audio mixing, camera shading, master control, and ended up as a technical director for eight years.


A mentor saw me, and admired my work, so when he created a commercial film production company, he promised me enough freelance work to leave the 40 hour grind for a blissful week of 60 hours.


Now, my time was my own, so as always, I maximized it by selling my services to other film companies, working on such high profile advertising accounts as Revlon, Maybelline, Mattel, Wells Fargo Bank, United Airlines, and many others.


By then, my mentor had worked himself into a position at NBC, overseeing the production of seasonal promotions involving the stars of upcoming shows. He needed me, he said, so I dropped everything to work with him again. He fell ill and died suddenly a few years later, so I came home and built a recording studio to create radio programs and commercials so I wouldn't have to get up at 4 a.m. anymore.


Funny thing happened, though. A large semiconductor manufacturer came to me and asked if I'd be able to record their engineers reading technical material about the chips they were making, and then make hundreds of cassette copies of the recordings for them to send out to design engineers. Of course I said YES, and we began.


You said cassettes, not books on CD. They weren't around at that time right?


That's right. They hadn't told me they had thirty such manuals they wanted done. They probably thought I would faint. Now, not only was I in the recording studio business, but I had to supply thousands of audio cassette copies, and was in the duplication business as well.


In typical fashion, I maximized this opportunity and made high-quality cassettes for a number of companies. This chugged along until 2004, when the demand for analog audio declined dramatically. I closed the studio, and sold the remaining duplication equipment to a firm in Dallas.


While looking for the next opportunity, I began to assess what I really liked doing, and it turned out to be recording those technical manuals, which were nothing more than books, and making copies of them. About that time, books on CD began to climb in popularity, and AudioBookMan was born.


You're also a published writer. Tell us about that.


Mensa. [Lessig has been a member since age 26.] They put out a call for unique animal stories to be published in their national monthly magazine. At the time, I had a diabetic cat that had just succumbed to a rapid-growing pancreatic tumor, and while fresh in my mind, I wrote a story about him that was accepted for publication.


I love writing very short stories. I'm in awe of people like you who can write longer forms. I can't focus that long. When I spend two weeks working on an audio book, I've had enough.


How long have you written? When did your interest in writing begin?


The very first thing I wrote was when I was a junior in high school. A group of us who were interested in the entertainment industry would spend a couple of after-school afternoons each month at a local TV station where a long-standing kids' show was produced live.


Steve Clark and I wrote a skit expressly for the characters in the show. We presented it to the lead actor about five minutes before airtime one day, and he told us that they usually write their own stuff, but he'd look it over and get back to us.


Imagine our delight and surprise when they were performing our script, word for word, not fifteen minutes later. If you wonder why I like surprising people, Mary, it's because I know the elation it can cause. Once you are the recipient, you yearn to pass that pleasure on to others.


Do you still write?


It might surprise you to know that I didn't write anything for the next thirty years.


A friend suggested I join Zoetrope, Francis Ford Coppola's online writing community, because I was searching for some short stories for an audio anthology. As I read stories, the idea struck me that I could do as well or better, so I began writing and submitting. It turns out that I am a poet, as well. Who knew?


You are too funny. I hope this comes across in the printed interview.


I write all the time. I write business proposals, rights contracts, cover copy, and my blog. Recently, a fellow blogger sent me a gift card for something I'd written on her blog. That was a surprise, and you know how I like surprises.


Another blog held a contest recently where you had to write a 250 word story based upon a picture. I looked at the picture, and dismissed the idea of entering. A few hours later, while I was in the shower, a story came to me, and I couldn't write it fast enough.


I like when that happens. Some call it the Muse, or Inspiration. I call it The Natural. It comes from writing; that which you do regularly comes more easily the more you do it. If you write, don't stop. If you don't write, stop that and write something everyday.


Who would you consider a mentor with your writing?


I used to receive a weekly newsletter about societal trends, and a monthly one about living life intentionally-- creating your own reality.


I hesitate to mention the writer's name because I need to tell you he turned out to be a shady character, skipping out on his financial responsibilities to both his family, and his business associates. But he could write beautifully, and passages he wrote would make me jealous that I had not written them.


Some lessons learned from him were costly, but he elevated my writing style unwittingly. If he had known, I think it would have cost me.


Are there any entities that have supported you, outside of family members?


Zoetrope.com got me started writing again. I had no support for my writing within my family. They weren't opposed; they just didn't lend any support. Perhaps I should tell them I write. That might make a difference in the level of support I receive.


For me, it's easier to share my writing with non-family. Other writers understand the process, the drive, the ache to make an idea come alive on paper. Sometimes all that family understands is that you are at a keyboard with your back turned toward them when you should be taking out the garbage.


Who is your favorite author and what is it about their work that attracts you?


That's a tough question. I like so many, and for different reasons. Peggy Noonan for her breezy narrative style that puts you right alongside her as she recounts her time with presidents.


I love history, and no author writes history as well as David McCullough. Ayn Rand had large and interesting ideas, but economy wasn't her writing style.


Here's where books on CD shine. Why slog through a wordy tome that is heavy in content as well as heavy in your hands when Edward Herrmann is willing to read it to you?


What do you see as influences on your own writing?


I don't write much fiction. I've always heard that we should "write what we know" so I write about incidents from my childhood-- memoir, mostly. I write it for me, so that I can remember it, and I usually have an epiphany of sorts as I see it unfold from a more mature perspective than I had at the time.


People I encountered, and how they impacted me, always seem to creep into my thoughts. Sometimes, I'll hear the voice of someone I hadn't thought about in years suddenly scream in my head, "Tell them about me!" As I do, it becomes clear how important that person was to me.


Do you have a specific writing style?


I hope I have my own voice, but I think our voices, as writers, are merely combinations of the voices of the authors we read. If that's true, then it's important to be well read so that the many voices are distilled into something unique, and it's impossible for someone to read your work and see a specific influence.


Do these influences affect what you accept to convert to books on CD?


Not really. On the fee-for-service side of the business, I rarely turn anything away. If someone is willing to pay to convert books to CD, that's their right to publish, and it's sacred.


Of course, there are occasions where I feel I'm not the best person for the job, the material conflicts with my moral or ethical code, or I am too busy at the time it needs done.


On the publishing side, I have to like the story, or the author. There has to be something there that makes me want to share the book with the world, and I have to hear the book in my head.


As I read submissions, I imagine the story being read to me by certain voices-- an audition, of sorts. If I can't hear it, I won't publish it.

You're known as the AudioBookMan. How did you decide to begin publishing books on CD?


Only recently have I begun to publish under the AudioBookMan banner. I used to be just a service provider for authors, or other publishers who wanted to do occasional books on CD. I still do that, but now, when I run across an untold story that I find compelling, I can do it myself. I've enjoyed storytellers all my life, and this is just a natural progression for me, it seems.


Please provide the URLs for any of your websites. If more than one, state what happens on that site.


AudioBookman is my main website. There you can learn about my approach to books on CD, follow links to other industry sites, submit a form to receive a quote to produce books on CD, or email me with any questions you might have. It will soon link to a store where the books on CD I have produced can be purchased.


AudioBookMan Blog is my blog. It was my goal, initially, to report something everyday, but it's impossible. Some days, I just have nothing to say.


I run the blog site like a newspaper. There's a news ticker at the top, local weather, the column, and some pictures related to what I'm working on. There's a photo album of flowers from a photographer friend in Maine. Last fall she sent me a picture of a flower covered in frost, and in ten seconds I wrote a four-line poem that gave it voice.


Periodically, she sends another, and I write a poetic caption as if the flowers are speaking. I'd like to see that project work into a book, eventually.



Next week, in part two of Mary's interview with Terry Lessig, find out how to pitch your book to the AudioBookMan, what his current projects include, and more!




A native of Walnut Grove, California, Mary Deal lived in the Caribbean and England before settling on the island of Kauai in Hawaii. The Tropics, set in the Caribbean and Hawaii, was her first published novel. It is fictionalized from some of her life-threatening escapades at sea. The Ka, a paranormal Egyptian fantasy, is also published. Her next two novels are thrillers. River Bones takes place in her hometown area of the Sacramento River Delta and is due for release in April 2008. Down to the Needle will be published in 2009. Mary's website: http://www.writeanygenre.com. Her blog: http://www.writeanygenreblog.com.





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