Author: ilanderz (page 2 of 27)

Audiobook Tour: Nina Munteanu and The Splintered Universe Part Two

Inner Diverse, Book Two of the Splintered Universe Trilogy

Here is Part Two of my feature about Nina Munteanu and her audiobook series The Splintered Universe, narrated by Dawn Harvey, presented in association with Audiobookworm Promotions. The Splintered Universe is science fiction, published by Iambik Audio, and consists of three separate audiobooks.

Here’s what Inner Diverse, the second book in the Splintered Universe series is, all about:

In Book Two of this metaphysical space thriller trilogy, detective Rhea Hawke continues her quest for truth and justice in a world that is not what it seems. Rhea’s search takes her to the far reaches of the known universe from the Weeping Mountains of Horus to the blistering deserts of Upsilon 3. Amidst the turmoil of an imminent extra-galactic war, Rhea holds the key even as those she trusts betray her. No one is what they seem…

And here is an interview with the narrator of the audiobook version, Dawn Harvey:

Dawn Harvey

1. When did you know you wanted to be an audiobook narrator?

I knew I wanted to be an audiobook narrator the first time I ever heard an audiobook. I don’t know when that was but probably 30 or 40 years ago (now I’m just showing my age). Despite wanting to be an audiobook narrator, it wasn’t something that I could realistically consider. At that time, audiobooks were only produced in studio, and that pretty much meant either New York or LA for the North American market. Being Canadian, I would have had to obtain a visa to work in the US and that would have been difficult to do as I could not acquire the experience necessary to qualify for it. So, I didn’t give it a second thought. 

Much later in life, I began to do voiceover work and, while exploring the multitude of genre options available to pursue in the voice over world, I was quite predictably drawn to audiobooks. My first audiobook narration class was in 2009 in Los Angeles with Scott Brick, a grand master in the industry, and I have never looked back. I knew immediately that audiobook narration was my home. I do work in other areas of voiceover, as well as doing film work, and I continue to receive acting and technical training in all mediums, but I have concentrated much of my continuing education and networking in the area of audiobooks since taking that first class with Scott. 

With advanced technology came high quality, reasonably priced home studios making voiceover, including audiobooks, a career you can pursue no matter where you live. I can record from my home studio anywhere on the planet for clients from anywhere on the planet. That has made it possible for me to do the job that I may have been born to do.

2. How did you wind up narrating audiobooks? Was it always your goal or was it something you stumbled into by chance?

I began performing at a young age, falling in love with both acting and singing. In high school, while pursuing singing and acting, I discovered the law. It became a second love and I couldn’t decide whether to become an actor or a lawyer. So, I just did both! 

In the late ‘90s, I ran into some serious problems with my knees. I was way too young for those kinds of problems, so I started to panic a little bit about how I would be able to perform if I could no longer walk. Where I live, the opportunities are rare enough without throwing a wheelchair into the mix! After an initial period of panic (it felt like years but it probably wasn’t), I had a eureka moment and realized that I could become a voice actor and perform just fine. So, within a few years, I began studying voice acting.

3.  A lot of narrators seem to have a background in theatre. Is that something you think is essential to a successful narration career?

Today, everyone with a USB microphone and a computer thinks they can be a voice actor. But, they neglect to give weight to one very important word in the name of the profession, and that is “acting.” The profession and the art is “voice acting.” First and foremost, it is acting and that applies to every genre of voiceover.

And you should be thankful for that because when non-actors are hired to do this work, the outcome is often less than satisfying. In the corporate world, I have had to watch many eLearning videos on different aspects of the company and it was evident when an administrative employee did the narration as part of their job vs. when it was voiced by a professional actor. The former is often a very painful experience, through no fault of the employee.  Acting requires training or, at least, good acting does!

When I consider the various forms of acting, it seems clear to me that audiobook narration is one of the most difficult acting jobs there is.  Usually when we act, we only need to know how be one person. So, we work to understand that one person’s history, wants, needs, challenges, relationships to others in the story, and their part in the larger story that is being told. When we narrate an audiobook, we are everyone in the story and we need to understand the story from every character’s point of view. We need to figuratively leap in and out of people’s heads, including the narrator’s in the case of third-person fiction or non-fiction. We need to understand and portray every character’s personality, desires, problems, relationships, etc., to one degree or another, depending upon their importance to the story being told – not to mention that each must have their own “voice.” It is extremely focused and detailed work. 

If you are working from a home studio, you are usually also the director and the engineer. So when you actually do the recording part of audiobook narration, you are already wearing three hats; the engineer, the director and the actor. And as the actor, you are the person who must know all of the technical details of recording such as being aware of mic proximity, deftly handling page turns, listening for outside noise while you record, etc. You are also the narrator, and every other character in the book, responsible for understanding every character and for mastering pronunciations and accents to the point where they sound natural to the characters who are saying those words or who have that accent. So, if you think of the Game of Thrones, the first book in the Fire and Ice series, for example, the narrator created 224 different characters.  I haven’t seen any research on the point, but I would venture to guess that an average novel would have between 30 and 50 characters if you take into consideration all of the minor or tertiary characters such as the server at the restaurant or the taxi cab driver. So, even in an average audiobook, the narrator must have either a very large toolbox full of characters or a method to create them.

When performing non-fiction, it is important to remember (as one of my coaches, Sean Allen Pratt, is fond of saying) that non-fiction is not non-acting. I’m sure we’ve all had the teacher who was so dry and boring that we could barely stay awake during their lecture, even if we were interested in the subject! That’s what happens when you try to listen to a non-fiction book narrated by a non-actor – a potentially dangerous situation if you’re driving! 

So, the short answer is ‘yes,’ acting training is imperative in this work. But, that doesn’t mean that if you haven’t spent a career as an actor you can’t do this work. It’s just something that you will have to work harder at learning than someone who already has an acting background. Some people, through raw talent or other life experiences, need little coaching to get to a place where their acting skills begin to shine. And, like any profession, the training is never finished. We are always striving to get better; so the acting training should continue for as long as you continue to do the work.

4. Are you an audiobook listener? What about the audiobook format appeals to you?

Yes, I am an avid audiobook listener. I used to listen to audiobooks with my kids anytime we went on long drives, long before I realized it was an occupation that I could now pursue. Once I began working on becoming a narrator, I became a constant listener. I look for reviews of books that have won awards.  When I find a review noting that a narrator is doing something that I want to master, I listen to that book to gain more knowledge about my craft. The bad thing about doing that is, because I’m usually only listening to the very best narrators, the storytelling is so good that I often forget I’m supposed to be paying attention to technique and just get lost in the story! In addition, I listen to non-fiction books on topics I’m exploring either personally or professionally. And, of course, anything written by Stephen King or John Grisham!

Part of the rise in the popularity of audiobooks derives from the fact that we all carry devices that can contain entire libraries. Anytime you are doing a task that uses a different part of your brain than where language is found, such as gardening, cleaning, ironing, exercising, driving, painting, knitting, etc., you can be listening to an audiobook. So, where I used to have shelves filled with books I didn’t have time to read, I now have apps filled with audiobooks I don’t have time to listen to! However, even with my overburdened schedule, I still manage to listen to about a book a week. Even if I’m just driving to the store – 10 minutes here and 10 minutes there adds up during the course of a week. I could never manage to read as much as I do were it not for audiobooks. And, if you actually have time to read as well, with whisper sync you can read when it’s convenient and then listen when it’s not because your book syncs to the place in one medium where you left off in the other.  It’s the best of all worlds, really.

5. How closely do you prefer to work with authors?

The closer the better. I have such admiration for authors in general (now that I’m becoming one, that statement may start sounding a bit self-serving – LOL). I am in such awe and wonder over the ability of people to pull these incredible stories out of their imaginations, creating such real worlds occupied by real people and real emotions. Whatever we do as actors, we are only piggybacking on the creativity of the people who actually write the stories. So, if for no other reason than that I’m a fan girl, connecting with authors is always a treat for me.

In terms of the specific books that I’ve narrated, being able to work directly with the author allows me to have their input while creating their world and realizing their truth. Collaboration always results in a better product, so if the narrator and the author can collaborate, the resulting work will be so much more satisfying for the listener as well as for the author. I never want the author to listen to a recording I have done and flinch or cringe at anything. A simple point to illustrate this has to do with the name of the central character in the books written by Nina that are the subject of this podcast. The lead character’s name was spelled R-H-E-A. That could either be Ree-a or Ray-a.   The audience doesn’t care which way I say it as long as it is consistent. However, if Nina had Ree-a in her head when she wrote the books and I kept saying Ray-a, or vice versa, it would bother her every time she listened to the books. I don’t want that for her. I want her to love the audiobook even more than she loved the written book because it is more; it has had a whole other layer added to it, and she should enjoy the benefit of that additional layer. So, I was very grateful for the opportunity to be able to collaborate with Nina and get her input on how those words sounded. Particularly as this series contains so many foreign, scientific and invented words. Again, the audience wouldn’t care so long as I was consistent, but I wanted it to be Nina’s vision and Nina’s words, not mine. I am but the vessel through which her story flows!

6. If so, which ones stand out to you most, positive or negative?

Yes, I do. Acting is a very subjective art. Acting in audiobooks is no different. Some people will love what you do while other people will hate the exact same performance. You can’t please all of the people all of the time so it’s important not to allow the reviews to damage you personally. For example, I had a book where two reviews in a row said the exact opposite things. One said something to the effect of “I do not know who hired this narrator but she should never work again. Listening to her is like listening to nails on a chalkboard.” The very next review said “I could listen to this narrator read to me forever.  I’d listen to her read the phone book.” Must have both been older listeners; do they even have chalkboards or phone books anymore? In any event, this was the exact same book. So, you have to take those completely unconstructive comments with a grain of salt. I do, however, look for patterns. If I find a similar comment across numerous reviewers or numerous books, I will pay attention and consider that they may have a valid point and that this may be an area I need to work on. So I do see utility in the reviews.

And of course, people in general don’t take the time to say something unless it’s negative so the star count is probably a better indication of how much people enjoy your work. I know that I am guilty of not writing reviews. I almost always mark the star count but I’m generally driving when I’m listening to audiobooks so I can’t really take the time or risk involved to write a review at that particular time and I almost never get back to it later. A star I can pull off at a red light!  

We are always appreciative of those who take the time to say something positive, and I will often use those reviews in my marketing materials.  As actors, we are always looking for work so keep those (positive) cards and letters coming!

7. Who is your “dream author” that you would like to record for?

Well, of course, Stephen King. I fell in love with his work when I was 17 and read The Stand overnight in one sitting. I am truly his number one fan – and please feel free to remind him of this! I’m working on sending a message out to the universe for him to review my work and connect with me for the next book he releases that requires a female narrator. Most of his writing is male first person or male-third person. And understandably so. He does, however, occasionally write books that are suitable for a female narrator. And so, Stephen, the next time you do that, I’m your girl. And, of course, John Grisham. As a lawyer and an audiobook narrator, wouldn’t I be the perfect choice for John? So John, the next time you need a female audiobook narrator, here I am. And, for both of you, I will record these books for no upfront fee whatsoever. If you would like to just assign me one quarter of a percent of sales? One tenth of a percent? I’m pretty sure I’d be good with that. LOL

8. What do you say to those who view listening to audiobooks as “cheating” or as inferior to “real reading”?

I would say that they need to do some research because they would soon find that listening is not cheating. In fact, used in combination with the paper/e-book, it is an absolutely brilliant way for children to learn how to read and properly pronounce words and for everyone to improve their vocabulary and pronunciation. As a narrator, and I know I am not alone in this, a proof listener once caught me on a word that I had apparently been pronouncing wrong my entire life (and I have found some of those myself prior to handing it off to the proofer – look up “shone.” Most of us say it wrong!). Some words we have only read but never heard.  We decide in our heads the first time we see that word how it is to be pronounced and then we always “hear” it that way when we read it. Sometimes we may look the word up when we first hit it but often we don’t. When listening to an audiobook, we hear the proper pronunciation of words (assuming the book had good narrators and proof listeners). When listening to an audiobook while following along with the written words, children not only learn proper pronunciation, they are able to listen to material that is several grade levels above their reading ability, increasing their reading, written and spoken vocabulary. Particularly for boys, who are generally not as interested in reading as girls in the first place, this means that they have access to a much broader range of materials and this may increase their interest in reading. And since earlier research has shown that better readers are better students, we are doing children a great disservice if we are NOT including audiobooks in their very early education.  

So I would say that those people are simply wrong and missing out on a really great thing!

9.  What bits of advice would you give to aspiring audiobook narrators?

This is a very competitive business, as is all acting work. You need to understand that it is in fact “acting” and that having a “nice voice” is not necessarily part of the equation in determining whether or not you will be successful. If you are an actor, and even a voice actor, you will need to spend time studying this art form, as it is as different a medium as stage is to film. If you have no acting experience, you will need to train in acting. There are some “naturals” but, for most people, there’s a lot to learn, not the least of which is finding the courage to wear your heart on your sleeve and open yourself up completely for inspection by the world.  That is the “bravery” that is being referred to when people talk about how brave actors are. Most people try to hide their pain and weaknesses; actors must bare it for the world to see, or hear in the case of audiobooks.

And, as many of us work from home studios, the learning involves many other areas.  A fairly comprehensive list of the other skills you will need to develop if you don’t already have them include:

  • deciding what hardware and software to buy
  • understanding how to use the software and hardware
  • building and using a home studio
  • understanding proper recording technique from both sides of the mic
  • story analysis
  • character creation
  • conducting online research
  • learning accents
  • pronouncing words in foreign languages (like you are a native)
  • directing
  • learning how to emotionally connect with material
  • editing
  • running a small business, and
  • marketing

The marketing part of the business is key, whether to increase sales of royalty share books, or to attract authors and publishers to your narration services. This is a business like any other and needs to be treated as such. Acting in general is different from most businesses because actors are constantly looking for work, even when they’re working. It’s nice to get repeat clients, and I think the audiobook world in general is probably better at that than many other types of acting work, but it is part of the job to do the marketing and treat it like a business, not an “art.” The actual narration is an art but if they don’t know that you’re out there, they don’t hire you. If they don’t hire you, you don’t eat. If you don’t eat, you need to change jobs.

It’s important to realize that the audiobook industry is small and relationships are important. The producers are regularly inundated with solicitations from people who have a computer and a mic and think, “Anyone can read out loud.”  These are busy people who can’t afford to have their time wasted. They are very open to, and always looking for, new talent, but they also have to be protective of their time. They don’t have time to work with difficult or untrained people. And you need only one opportunity to make a really bad impression. They need to know that you are capable of doing good work for them, that you follow the rules, and that you meet deadlines.  They care equally that you are a good person, that you are easy (better yet, fun) to work with, and that you make their job easier, not harder.

So, you absolutely need to learn good audiobook narration skills. But you still won’t get enough work to make a career out of this if you don’t also take care of all of the other matters. This is not a career for people who want to cut corners and take the easy way. This is very detailed, focused, concentrated work. If that is not the kind of work you like doing, this probably isn’t the job for you.

On the other hand, if this work suits you, it is eminently rewarding. This kind of storytelling is powerful and has an amazing reach, meaning you can have an amazing reach and impact. And, you are creating a legacy with every title you narrate. These are books. They’ll be around for as long as we are (or longer but who’d be here to listen?).

I narrated “Alice in Wonderland” a few years ago thinking North Americans might like to have a North American accented version for their kids to listen to.  Unfortunately, it came out a week before Scarlett Johansson’s recording of a North American accented version, so you can imagine how that went for me! But my cover is absolutely beautiful and hers is not, so take that Ms. Johansson (it really is, here’s a link – Alice)!  In any event, that book is never going to go out of style and assuming we don’t completely destroy the planet first, my grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren will be able to listen to me read it to them. That’s pretty special, and not something common in voiceover work. It’s a pretty amazing job, but you need to be committed, resourceful, willing to accept criticism, able to withstand rejection (standard actor stuff), willing to work to improve, and just willing, in general, to work really hard. For some of us, it is completely worth it.  In any event, it all feels like play when it is your passion and I get to say “People pay me to read stories to them!” Does it get better than that?

Audiobook Tour: Nina Munteanu and The Splintered Universe

After the successful audiobook tour for my novel A Time and a Place, I thought I would try to help fellow audiobook authors in a similar fashion. So once a week over the next three weeks (in association with Audiobookworm Promotions) I’ll be featuring content about Nina Munteanu and her audiobook series The Splintered Universe, narrated by Dawn Harvey. The Splintered Universe is science fiction, published by Iambik Audio, and consists of three separate audiobooks.

Here’s what the first book is all about:

Outer Diverse is the first book of the Splintered Universe Trilogy, set in and around the Milky Way Galaxy. The first book begins as Galactic Guardian Rhea Hawke intestigates the massacre of an entire religious sect, catapulting her into a treacherous storm of politics, conspiracy and self-discovery. Her quest for justice leads her into the heart of a universal struggle and toward an unbearable truth she’s hidden from herself since she murdered an innocent man.

And here’s what Nina Munteanu is all about:

She’s a Canadian ecologist and novelist. Her novels include: Collision with Paradise; The Cypol; Angel of Chaos; Darwin’s Paradox; The Splintered Universe Trilogy; and The Last Summoner. In addition to eight novels, she has authored award-winning short stories, articles and non-fiction books, which were reprinted and translated into several languages throughout the world. Recognition for her work includes the Midwest Book Review Reader’s Choice Award, finalist for Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year Award, the SLF Fountain Award, and The Delta Optimist Reviewers Choice Award. Nina’s latest non-fiction book—“Water Is…” a scientific study and personal journey as limnologist, mother, teacher and environmentalist—was picked by Margaret Atwood in the NY Times as her #1 choice in the 2016 ‘The Year in Reading’.

Nina is a member of SF Canada. Much of Nina’s work is on the environment and sustainability, examining the role and evolution of humanity in the context of nature and technology. Her upcoming novel “A Diary in the Age of Water”, a near-future dystopia that explores the socio-political intrigues of water shortage in Canada, will be released in 2019.

Nina regularly publishes reviews and essays in magazines such as The New York Review of Science Fiction and Strange Horizons. She has been staff or guest writer for several online and print magazines or newspapers including Amazing Stories, Clarion, Niverville Citizen, and CBC Canada Writes. Nina co-edits Europa SF, a European speculative magazine. She was assistant editor-in-chief of Imagikon, a Romanian speculative magazine, and currently edits for Grimoire Books, USA, and Future Fiction, Italy. She has also served as acquisition editor of several anthologies such as “Water” (Reality Skimming Press) and “My Canada” (IOWI). Nina was interviewed or an invited speaker on topics to do with science & climate change, eco-fiction, writing and publishing at: The Globe and Mail, CUIT Radio, Delta Optimist, the Editors’ Association, Gazeta SF, Mississauga News, Impakter, Langley Times, THAT Channel, Observatorul, Planet S, Speculating Canada, Times Colonist, The Commentary, World Poetry Café, Wonderville, CanCon, and When Words Collide, among others. Nina was the science fiction writing Guest of Honour at Limestone Genre Expo in 2016.

Nina has taught writing since 2005 and currently lectures at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. She has been a writing coach and editor since 2005 and has worked with novice and established writers toward successful publication. Her books on writing “The Fiction Writer: Get Published, Write Now!” and “The Journal Writer” (Starfire) are used in universities worldwide. They were translated into Romanian and published by Editura Paralela 45.

Here’s an interview with Nina Munteanu about her book, her series, and the process of turning it into an audiobook:

Tell us about the process of turning your book into an audiobook.

The process was magical for me. It was professional and proceeded at a pace that felt productive. All of this was mainly because of the professional relationship I had with the narrator. From audition to each step of quality assurance in ensuring character voice, pronunciations, mood, tempo, etc. the narrator and I were in good communication. The final product shows. I can’t recall how long it took for each audiobook to be created, but it didn’t feel long.

How did you select your narrator?

Dawn Harvey auditioned for my first book along with two other narrators through the audiobook publisher, Iambik. I picked Dawn because her voice resonated with my idea of my main character, Rhea Hawke, a cynical badass detective on a mission to save the world. Dawn’s voice carried attitude and sarcasm as well as compassion and kindness. It was exactly what I was looking for in my paradoxical character. Given that the book is told in the first person, the main character voice was critical. Dawn just nailed it. When the second and third books came out, I just HAD to have Dawn do them too–not just for consistency, but because in my mind, Dawn WAS Rhea.

How closely did you work with your narrator before and during the recording process? Did you give them any pronunciation tips or special insight into the characters?

We worked fairly closely. Dawn took the driver’s seat in it. She was very professional. She sent me sections of audio to check for tone, voice, etc. She created a list of voices (I had at least twenty different alien species she needed to create unique voices for–one with multiple mouths! And another was a kind of “amoeba”–her voices were splendid!) and a list of terms with her pronunciations for me to vet. She had also asked for more information on the characters, which I was able to provide, given I keep a character dossier on all characters I create.  

Were there any real life inspirations behind your writing?

There were many, but I’ll tell you about one. My historical fantasy The Last Summoner was inspired by a work of art by Croatian artist Tomislav Tikulin. It was the image of a magnificent knight, standing in a huge drowned cathedral–littered by war– the knight gazes up at the vaulted ceiling. A great light shines on the knight in streams of white gold. It sent my imagination soaring with thoughts of chivalry, adventure and intrigue. Who was this knight?

How do you manage to avoid burn-out? What do you do to maintain your enthusiasm for writing?

Burnout happens when you push too much or let others push you too much. Letting go and flowing with my own creative juices and inspirations is something I had to learn to do. There’s a balance, of course, because discipline is also necessary to get things done. Working for others as a writers, I often have deadlines. I deal with this by prioritizing my work and setting (or accepting) realistic deadlines. I don’t procrastinate and start early to give me time to let things sit and my creativity flow and meander freely. When I’m working on several projects (which is most of the time), I let myself move from one to the other as my muse takes me; this allows the creative process to flow unrestrained and more efficiently. Burnout arises from frustration; I feed my whimsical muse so this doesn’t happen.

Are you an audiobook listener? What about the audiobook format appeals to you?

I like to listen to audiobooks in the car, especially when I’m on a long trip. I find it a wonderful way to enjoy a book. It’s very relaxing. When my best friend and I used to do road trips down to California from Vancouver, we took turns reading a novel or nonfiction book out loud as the other drove. It was lots of fun. With audiobooks I can do the same even when I’m the only one in the car!

What gets you out of a writing slump? What about a reading slump?

If I’m in a slump, it’s usually because I can’t figure something out–usually some plot point or character quirk or backstory. What helps me is to put the book I’m working on away and do something else. It could even be writing something else, so long as it isn’t my book. Or I could do something else on the book such as edit a certain section or research some element. Other ways I coax my muse back are walks in Nature, reading a good book, visiting the library or a bookstore and cycling.

What bits of advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Learn your “voice” and how it’s unique from anyone else. Write from the heart, write something that means something to you, and keep writing. Success in writing results from a passion to share. If you infuse your writing with passion, everything else comes with it: the patience and determination to learn craft, marketing, and the persistence in your pursuit.

Do you have any tips for authors going through the process of turning their books into audiobooks?

Know what you’re looking for to represent the “voice” of your book. Know the narrative voice you want for your book and don’t compromise on it. Work respectfully with your narrator: if they are good, they will turn your cherished book into something more than it was. Let it surprise you and delight you. Together, you and your narrator will become more than the sum of the parts. Enjoy the process and don’t rush it.

What’s next for you?

I recently finished my latest novel, “A Diary in the Age of Water”, which was picked up by a Toronto publisher and will be out in 2020. I am currently working on the third book in my “Alien Guidebook” series of writing guides. This one is called “The Ecology of Story: World as Character” and I’m having lots of fun with it! Re audiobooks, I’d love to work with Dawn Harvey again and I’m looking into creating a series of short audio films from my 12-chapter book on water (“Water Is…”). What do ya think, Dawn?…

A Visit to Rankin Inlet

I love the sky in Rankin Inlet

It’s cold in the hamlet of Rankin Inlet but the air is clear and you can see for miles. People come and plan to stay for a few days or weeks or months and wind up staying years. This despite the cold weather and the slow internet and the distinct lack of Costcos.

Or maybe that’s why they stay.

Myself, I was only there for three days. I was a little wary of the cold. The coldest I’d experienced to date was minus twenty-nine one day in Whitby. That day I walked my daughters from the van to their elementary school entrance to make sure they got inside safe thinking damn, this is cold. My first few steps in Rankin Inlet were about that cold and I was thinking pretty much the same thing. It was minus thirty outside and even though I was dressed in four layers I was shivering by the time I made it from the plane to the airport terminal. Maybe because I’d already been cold inside my North Air Boeing 737, sitting in a window seat, where I’d touched my hand to the window and realized that there wasn’t a whole lot separating me from some pretty cold arctic air. I really hoped we didn’t crash. Of course, if we did I’d probably have bigger problems to worry about than the cold.

The Katimavik Suites Hotel sent a truck to pick me up at the airport. It was too cold to wait outside so I waited inside the terminal. It was pretty crowded. I admired the attire of a young mother who was wearing a kind of parka with an enormous hood. But the hood wasn’t for her head, it was for her child, tucked comfortably into the enormous hood, his feet perhaps wrapped around his mother’s waist. This permitted Mom to have both hands free, an arrangement that worked quite well, I imagine, unless she happened to bend over too far to pick up something, such as, say, a fish, in which case her infant might shoot out of the hood over her head. Which actually happened once, somebody told me later. Fortunately the parent in question caught the child, though they lost the fish.

Warm and comfy Katimavik Suites Hotel

A young woman from the hotel clad in furry winter boots stepped into the crowded terminal looking for me. In her truck I spent a couple of minutes trying in vain to locate a seat belt but there was none to be found. “Nobody uses seatbelts up here,” she told me. “We don’t go fast enough.”

This was another one of those communities — like Iqaluit — with a fair amount of vehicles on the road (mostly trucks) but not a whole lot of road to drive them on. There is only one road out of Rankin Inlet, and it only goes for about twelve miles before ending at an Elder’s Lodge.

Beyond that it’s snowmobile country.

It may have been cold outside, but it was warm inside. A bit too warm—in the hotel I had to strip down to a T-shirt to make myself comfortable. In the morning I enjoyed a continental breakfast in Katimavik’s kitchen and chatted with a bunch of guys in town to convert an existing hardware store into a Home Hardware. Myself, I had business at the local CBC Bureau.

To get to the bureau I had four taxi companies to choose from, which seems like a lot for a hamlet of only 2900 people and a finite series of roads. I chose Fluffy’s Taxi because I liked the name but, although friendly, there was nothing fluffy about the guy who came to pick me up. I shared the taxi with two women from Iqaluit who were in town to do some accounting for the local government. Government work being, I understand, Rankin Inlet’s primary industry, though it’s also known for other things such as mining once upon a time, and hosting the only Inuit Fine Art ceramic production facility in the world.

CBC Rankin Inlet

After spending the morning at the CBC a colleague took me to lunch at one of the few restaurants in town, the Captain’s Galley, located adjacent to another hotel, the Siniktarvik Hotel. I ordered a salad, but it turned out they were all out of salad ingredients (this happens a lot in the North, my colleague informed me), so I had what he was having, the Inukshuk Club Sandwich. A fortuitous choice; it turned out to be one of the best club sandwiches I’ve ever eaten. And so huge that I wound up skipping supper that night.

Driving back to the bureau (it was too cold to walk—maybe the reason there are so many taxi companies) I saw lots of big black birds, about half again as big as crows. Ravens, my colleague told me. Nevermore! Ravens are the raccoons of Rankin Inlet, after your garbage. Except, unlike raccoons, they work in broad daylight and disappear during the summer, heading further north, maybe. Or perhaps they’re simply on vacation then.

I saw a lot of dogs, too, some loose, others chained up. Apparently the hamlet has been cracking down on loose dogs since a couple of kids were recently attacked. The dogs all appeared to be of the husky variety. Not a whole lot in the way of Chihuahuas.

Back at the bureau we parked beside the local graveyard, where no grave dates earlier than 1950. Before 1950 those who passed on were buried on the land, usually beneath a pile of rocks. Due to the permafrost, a backhoe is required to dig the graves. The story goes that one year the man in charge of the graveyard, deciding to get a head start on the digging during the summer, pre-dug a bunch of graves. But he dug way too many. So many that everybody thought it would take years to fill them all.

That year they filled every single grave.

They never pre-dug the graves again.

That’s the graveyard, off to the left. No pre-dug holes this year.

On my third and last day in Rankin Inlet the temperature rose to minus 12. “T-shirt weather!” a local joked. Not quite, but it sure felt nice after minus thirty. It was quite comfortable, actually. People who reside in the north have told me that they find minus one in Toronto harder to take than minus thirty in the north. A different kind of cold. Drier, warmer somehow, up north.

That morning the aforementioned local (he didn’t want me to share his real name, so I shall call him Rupert here) offered to drive me around the hamlet and show me the sights. We drove through every part of town, which is divided into Areas 1 to 5, if I recall correctly (I was hoping we’d see Area 51 but apparently that’s in a different, much warmer part of the world.) He showed me the hamlet’s giant Inukshuk, one of the human-made towers of rocks that my club sandwich had been named after. Inukshuks are used by people of the north for several reasons: to signify a cache of something valuable, or to act as a landmark, or to indicate direction. Rupert also showed me the town dump, a bit of an eye sore, I’m afraid, but one that hamlet authorities appear to be dealing with if the “no dumping” sign at the edge of the dump is any indication.

Fairly typical view within the Hamlet of Rankin Inlet, as seen through a window of the CBC Bureau

Rupert pointed out a long pipe that ran from the coast into town, which is how they get fuel from oil tankers into town. And he told me the legend of Marble Island (though we couldn’t see it as it’s located 32 kilometres east off the coast). Marble Island only looks like it’s made of marble—it actually consists of a type of rock called wacke, laced with quartzite, which just happens to resemble marble. Anyway, according to Rupert, a young girl got swept out to sea and prayed to her Gods to save her. In response to her prayers, the Gods made Marble Island rise from the sea to carry her to safety. Or so the story goes. It didn’t save eighteenth century explorers, though, who got stranded there and perished, starving or succumbing to scurvy when they foolishly refused Inuit offers of help.

We drove past a long, high fence at the edge of town placed there to prevent too much snow from accumulating in town. It’s made of slats with plenty of holes between them and is strategically placed to inhibit prevailing winds. It’s much higher now than when it was originally built because the permafrost is gradually forcing it out of the ground. The permafrost is an issue for housing, too. There are no basements in Rankin Inlet. All houses are elevated and designed in such a way that the houses can be relevelled every couple of years. Also, you have to be careful how you build houses up there. Even a tiny hole can result in massive snow piling up inside your house. A couple of guys from the south came up and built a house with ventilation in the attic. Perfectly sensible idea in the south. Bad idea in the north, unless you like lots of snow in your attic.

Sadly, I didn’t get to see any Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) during my time in Rankin Inlet, but maybe this was a good thing because I like to whistle, and according to Rupert, if you whistle at the Northern Lights they will descend from the heavens and take your breath away. Rupert swore this happened to him one night outside of town. Putting the legend to the test, he whistled at the Northern Lights and sure enough they began to descend from the heavens. Before they could take his breath away he stopped whistling and hightailed it back to town and has never whistled at the Northern Light since.

One curious feature of Rankin Inlet is the local military base, which, although diligently maintained, is completely uninhabited. Once in a while a few soldiers will come up for an inspection or to fix or check on something or conduct a military exercise or two, but nobody ever stays for long.

Aside from that, Rankin Inlet is a bustling hive of activity. A central hub for many smaller communities in Nunavut that you can only get to via snowmobile or airplane. It’s got variety stores, grocery stores, hotels, restaurants, an elementary, middle, and high school, a college, and even a minimum security prison.

“That’s got to be fairly empty, isn’t it?” I asked Rupert.

“Pretty full, actually,” he told me. “Minor infractions, though, like the two guys busted for throwing furniture out a hotel window not long ago.”

Shortly afterward we drove past the hotel in question and sure enough, a large window on the second floor was boarded up.

But what is there to do in Rankin Inlet? Lots, it turns out. Right now they’re building a new sports arena. Rankin Inlet just happens to be the home of Jordin Tootoo, famous Canadian hockey player. If you like hunting and fishing, like Rupert does, you might like Rankin Inlet. Or maybe you like Bingo. Early on in his stay in Rankin, Rupert was invited to a Bingo match. He wasn’t interested. Until they told him it was a ten thousand dollar purse. They take Bingo seriously in Rankin Inlet. He bought cards for himself and his roommate. His roommate won the ten thousand dollar purse. Rupert never played Bingo again.

If you prefer something a little more dramatic, you can spend your time in Rankin Inlet on the lookout for Russians. In the arctic, we have our own version of Texas Rangers, called Canadian Rangers (often mistakenly called Arctic Rangers). Five thousand strong, armed with Lee-Enfield Rifles, our rangers patrol the north, assist with Search and Rescue operations, and help train soldiers in cold weather survival. If I lived in Rankin Inlet, I would want to be a Canadian Ranger.

It’s an expensive place to live, though. You want to be smart how to spend your money. Goods only come in via airplane and barges. You have a choice between spending a fortune shipping something up by plane, or planning wisely and using a barge. Not one you have to build yourself. One you can rent space on. For instance, you want some printing paper? Consider purchasing three years worth via barge rather than $70 a shot by plane.

Rankin Inlet is undeniably frosty, at least in the winter. It gets up to about 10 or 15 degrees in the summer. Rupert told me he couldn’t get warm for the first three years he was there. Until he finally got himself a homemade winter jacket. It’s all about the windproofing, he told me. A friend made it for him. Rupert bought some raccoon fur and sewed it on the hood himself. He was wearing it when I met him. it looks terrific. Honestly, I thought it was store bought. It’s much thinner and warmer than a Canada Goose jacket. Which, according to Rupert, is the sort of coat tourists wear.

It’s a small town, Rankin Inlet. Everybody knows everybody. And, according to Rupert, they like one another. It’s easy to make friends in Rankin Inlet, Rupert told me. That’s why he likes it. For the people.

I liked it too.

Seven Months in Provence: Part Nine (or Joe’s Brush with the Law)

Hôtel de Police – Aix en Provence, France

Back in 1993/94 I spent seven months in Aix-en-Provence, France, drinking red wine, eating les Calissons and attempting to learn some French. When I got home I wrote about the experience. Thought it might be fun to post a few excerpts here. Here’s Part Nine:

Going to skip ahead a bit here and recount one of my more interesting days in France. It was around Christmas time, between Christmas Day and New Years. But a bit of background first.

The room we lived in was on the top floor of a small apartment complex with four floors. It was a long complex, with about three separate sections. You couldn’t get from one section to the next without going outside.

The people living in the unit beneath ours — an old man and a woman and their son — were completely intolerant of noise. The old man and woman were already so old that the word old could also be applied to their son. Their old age didn’t seem to have affected their hearing. In fact their ability to hear seemed to have only improved with age.

So it was that whenever a few of us and our friends gathered in the evening in our apartment we could count on the eventual tap on the floor (their ceiling) and a subsequent phone call. At first I never answered the phone, because these people spoke no English, and in the beginning I spoke no French.

I remember the first time Mark and I had some friends up and the doorbell rang. It was the son, who looked a bit like a Ferengi from Star Trek: The Next Generation in that he had the largest ears of any man I have ever seen. I only ever saw him once or twice, but I still have a strong mental impression of those ears.

I answered the door and the guy started in on me in French. It was pretty obvious that he was going on about the noise. My friends, some of whom spoke French well enough to understand a bit of what the guy was saying, helped me out with the translation. The fellow was a little upset but not too bad this time round. I kept saying, “D’accord, d’accord,” because “okay” was about the only thing I knew how to say in French at that point, and I thought it might help soothe him. My friends laughed over this for months to come, me trying to calm this guy down with my heavily North American accented “d’accord.”

We never really did make a lot of noise. It was rarely more than a group of people speaking, and sometimes when there was no noise at all these people would still complain. One time they rang up to complain when my flatmate Matthew dropped his pencil on the floor. Another time they rang up when we were all playing Axis & Allies (a military boardgame) in Marcus’ room. That time I answered the phone because my French was coming along and it was good practice. I was happy because I got the gist of what the guy was saying. I promised that we would be quieter. We thought that they were crazy but still strove to be respectful. In fact, the problem may have had more to do with the nature of the floor than them. Perhaps we were fortunate not to have had anybody above us.

That’s one piece of background to my interesting day. Here’s the next:

During the year I was fortunate enough to make several French friends. One of these, Francois Esnault, a researcher in the France Department of Forestry, made arrangements to meet me at a cafe called Le Festival, the usual meeting place for all of us. We were to meet at 1:00pm on this particular Friday. Francois was going to drive me to Nantes the following Monday to celebrate New Year’s Eve with other French friends.

I’ve already mentioned in these notes the problem I had with my clock radio (see Part Eight). It ran off time, but I knew how to compensate for it, and in any case I had my watch as a backup. So on this Friday morning, according to my clock radio, I woke up around ten. Because I had stayed up late the night before, and wanted to sleep in, I reset the clock radio using my watch.

I finally got up around 11:30, according to the clock radio, and got ready to go out. I felt quite rested. As I got ready to leave, Marcus told me that we had received a letter from the police saying that we had to go see them that afternoon at five. It had to do with our neighbours complaining about the noise we allegedly made. I found this quite disturbing. I thought it sounded pretty serious, having to go see the police. Apart from sorting out my Carte de Sejour I had never had to see the police before in my entire life, and now here I had to do it in a foreign country! Would they throw us out of the country? That sounded a bit extreme, but I was worried about it.

I was also worried because Marcus planned to move out. He informed me that he wasn’t going to go to the police because it didn’t concern him anymore. Mark was in London for Christmas, so he couldn’t go, and Matthew was nowhere to be seen. It looked like I would have to go to the police on my own, and my French — three months in — was still pretty limited.

With these thoughts on my mind, I left to meet Francois. The day had a strange feel to it. The light outside the apartment complex was weird; off, somehow. Halfway down the hill on my way into the city I met Matthew coming back to the apartment. He asked me if I knew about the letter from the police. I said yes, and he said that he would go with me. The appointment was for four o’clock. I was relieved that he would be there, as his French was pretty good.

He asked me when I planned to be back at the apartment. I told him that I was aiming for three.

He said, how do you expect to do that?

I said, what do you mean?

He said, it’s after three now.

I looked at my watch. It said a quarter to one. The damn thing had stopped. And I had used it to reset the alarm on my clock radio. I cursed and told Matthew that I had been supposed to meet Francois at one. He had a good laugh. I went back up the hill with him, wondering how I would explain this to Francois, and if he would believe my reasons. I felt quite badly about missing my rendezvous with Francois, as he was a really nice guy and I pictured him wasting his lunch hour waiting for me at Le Festival. Also, I knew that it would be difficult for me to explain the situation in my limited French.

Making it all worse was the fact that Francois was to drive me to Nantes the following Monday, a twelve hour drive. I hoped that he would forgive me. If not, it would be an uncomfortable ride, if he still agreed to take me at all.

Later, Matthew and I went to look for the police station, which wasn’t too far away. We discussed how we would defend ourselves. We agreed that Matthew would do most of the talking. We found the police station easily enough and were ushered in by a burly, serious looking officer. It was a small detachment, and it looked like pretty much his show. He asked us to explain our side of the situation. Matthew went on at some length about how crazy these people were, describing the pencil incident and so forth. Afterward the officer said something to the effect of, okay, try to be quiet guys, and don’t get these people too pissed off. Then he asked us how we liked France. We said it was just great. He smiled a big, broad smile and wished us a bon sejour (a good stay). Then an older fellow came into the station, and the officer looked at him with a serious expression and greeted him with a nod and a “jeune homme.” He looked at us and winked, and Matthew and I laughed, myself because I was relieved and also because I had understood the officer’s little joke. I was always quite pleased when I understood any joke in French, even a tiny one like that, because it didn’t happen often.

I phoned Francois that night from a payphone outside the apartment (we couldn’t make calls out from our phone in the apartment, we could only receive calls). I had looked up the words I would need in the dictionary beforehand, such as the word for watch: “montre”. Francois accepted my apology gracefully, and said that, yes, he had waited a bit but that it had been no big deal. I was frustrated that I couldn’t explain in English, sure that I would have come off more sincere.

But Francois still drove me to Nantes, and the drive was lots of fun, and I got a letter from the man three years later when I was back in Canada (“le temps passe vite,” he wrote) so I guess he never held it against me.

And with that we come to the end of the notes I originally made about my time in Aix-en-Provence in 1993/94. I do have some letters I plan to transcribe and a few other interesting memories (well, to me at least) so maybe I’ll get around to posting a few more stories someday. We’ll see.

Back to Seven Months in Provence: Part One

Seven Months in Provence: Part Eight

Atelier Cezanne — although right next door to where I lived in Aix, on rue Cezanne, I never did get around to visiting it

Back in 1993/94 I spent seven months in Aix-en-Provence, France, drinking red wine, eating les Calissons and attempting to learn some French. When I got home I wrote about the experience. Thought it might be fun to post a few excerpts here. Here’s Part Eight:

I woke up to the sound of my clock radio. Some classical music station. This was the same clock radio I’d received as a Christmas gift when I was twelve years old. Up until that time, and probably for some time afterward, I considered this the best gift I’d ever received. It was electronic and had cool red digits to tell the time. It had neat buttons that performed various functions. I dreamed of finding an extra button on it one day, perhaps under a secret panel, a button that would perform some extraordinary function, like enable me to fly or travel in time or something.

So over the years I’d brought this clock with me wherever I lived. I bought a special adapter so I could use it in France. Once in France I was pleased to see that the adapter worked perfectly. Although it did seem to get rather hot.

I discovered something unfortunate about the clock radio, though, after one night’s use. Although I had made sure that it was set accurately the night before, when I awoke after eight hours the time on the clock radio no longer matched that of my watch. It was about eighty minutes too fast. When I picked up the clock radio and examined it I noticed that there appeared to be something loose inside. It had probably been knocked around during the trip over to France. The darn thing was busted, at least as far as telling time was concerned. The radio still worked all right, though.

I didn’t like the thought of losing this valued personal possession. I was also ticked because I didn’t want to fork out more dough for a new alarm clock.

So I didn’t throw it out. I suspected that the problem lay with the power and/or the adapter. Perhaps some discrepancy with the current threw the timing mechanism out of kilter. The following night I discovered that the clock remained absolutely consistent, running ten minutes too fast for every hour, gaining eighty minutes over eight hours.

Cheap sentimental bastard that I was, I hung on to the clock for the entire year. Every night I reset it to the correct time, figured out how long I planned to sleep, then factored in the ten minute per hour time differential when I set the alarm. This foolish system only ever let me down once. I kept it up until the day I left Aix. And then I left my valued clock radio in my room in Aix because it was too much to carry home with me.

I’ve missed it ever since.

Anyway, I got up early to pack my bags on my last morning in the Hotel de la Rennaissance. I showered in the “douche” (the one without the shower curtains) and got water all the hell over everywhere. I hailed a cab on rue Gaston de Saporta which carried me to my new home on rue Cezanne. I got there around eight-thirty. I hadn’t been given keys yet. I knocked but no one answered. I had thought that I was supposed to arrive around this time to get the keys and sort out whatever remained to be sorted out, but when no one answered I began to think I was mistaken. There was no sign of Mark.

This had been the last night the Richauds planned to stay in what was to become my room. This place was their summer home, which they rented to students during the winter. They returned during winter months to their true home in the much disputed territory of Alsace-Lorraine (which borders Germany, but is in the hands of the French these days; ownership of Alsace-Lorraine goes back and forth depending on the outcome of the latest European war).

The two Americans already occupied their rooms, I knew. I didn’t want to wake anyone if they weren’t already up, so I just sat there, in the stairwell on the landing, and dug out my Robert Jordan book and read for a while.

After about twenty minutes the door opened and Monsieur Richaud popped his head out. He was surprised to see me just sitting there. He muttered something utterly incomprehensible, though I do believe I caught the words “foolish boy” in there somewhere. I was slightly offended. I did not consider myself a boy at the age of twenty-eight. I wasn’t particularly inclined to dispute the adjective “foolish,” though.

Monsieur Richaud led me inside the apartment. Madame Richaud appeared. Between the two of them they managed to produce some comprehensible English. They provided a key and told me a little about the Americans students staying there. Apparently the Americans’ French was already pretty good and they made it a practice to speak French all the time in the apartment. I liked this notion but found it intimidating, as at this point I hardly knew any French. I knew also that the Americans would likely be disappointed with me and Mark, considering our almost non-existent levels of French. Obviously, speaking French with us would be useless for at least the first three months of our stay.

One of the Americans, Matthew, was home. The other American, Marcus, had stayed out the night before. The Richauds introduced me to Matt, a young guy of about twenty-one, who looked as American as all get out, to me at least. Dressed in casual, hip clothes, Matt was cocky and confident and said things like, “Hey dude,” a lot. Did I mention he was from California?

Matt breezed around the apartment like a young cat. He fried eggs in the tiny kitchen. He may not have been the entire cat: the Richaud’s behaved like he was the cat’s meow. I thought, yikes. I’m living with Keanu Reeves in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. But I came to really like Matt. Turned out you could count on him in a pinch.

I wondered what Marcus would be like. The Richaud’s told me he was twenty-six and studious. This seemed at odds with him having stayed out all night. I liked the thought of meeting somebody closer to my own age, though.

Checking out my room I saw that the bed had no pillow. I brought this up to Monsieur Richaud who seemed disgruntled that I expected him to provide a pillow. He trekked down to the storage room, though, and retrieved a sickly, white affair with yellow stains that wasn’t going anywhere near my head! I thanked Monsieur Richaud just the same and he seemed pleased to have resolved the matter.

The Richauds didn’t provide any blankets, either, apart from one threadbare sheet. Even though it was still fairly warm in Aix during the day, it cooled off at night. So, with no blankets to speak of, that night I froze off my Canadian arse.

Mark eventually showed up. We each unpacked and settled in. I decided that I liked my room, even though it was small. I didn’t have any food, so Mark invited me to hang out with him once again, and off we went to find Mark’s former hotel roommate’s new place.

Where I met several people I would wind up spending a lot of time with.

Back to Seven Months in Provence: Part One

Older posts Newer posts

© 2019

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑