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Originally in the New York Times, July 1, 2015
In Stephen King’s memoir, “On Writing,” he gives aspiring authors this advice: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
He might have added another tip, a practice he says has benefited him as a writer perhaps even more: listen.
Mr. King credits his decades-long obsession with audiobooks with sharpening his prose, improving the pacing of his narratives and helping him ward off lazy phrases and clichés.
“If you listen to something on audio, every flaw in a writer’s work, the repetitions of words and the clumsy phrases, they all stand out,” he said in a recent telephone interview. “As a writer, I say to myself, how will that sound?”
This week, Mr. King will find out whether his fans share his appetite for narrated books. In an unusual experiment, he released a new short story, “Drunken Fireworks,” as an audiobook exclusive on Tuesday morning, months before the story arrives in print.
Though he risks disappointing devoted fans of his print books, Mr. King is betting that “Drunken Fireworks” will turn more of his readers into audiobook converts.
“Every now and then, the discussion will come up, ‘Are audiobooks as good as books in print?’ and the answer to me is a no-brainer,” he said. “Yes, they are, and they might even be better.”
“Drunken Fireworks” unfolds as a detailed statement given to the police by a hard-partying man who is arrested for his role in a Fourth of July fireworks competition on a lake in Maine. The narrator, Alden McCausland, is a bumbling, unemployed man who spends his days drinking coffee brandy cocktails with his mother, and going to great, and illegal, lengths to outdo his nemesis’s annual fireworks display.
Mr. King wrote it for his coming short story collection, “The Bazaar of Bad Dreams,” but wanted to see if the story could stand on its own as a spoken performance.
“It’s an oral kind of story that should be listened to,” he said.
The arrival of “Drunken Fireworks” as a stand-alone work of audio is the latest sign that audiobooks, which were once little more than an afterthought for writers and publishers, are evolving into a vibrant and independent art form.
Digital audiobooks have become one of the fastest growing categories in publishing, bolstered by the growing use of smartphones. Revenue and unit sales for downloaded audio grew around 27 percent in 2014 compared with the previous year, easily outpacing e-books and print, a recent report from the Association of American Publishers showed. Production is up, too. Audiobook publishers released some 25,000 titles in 2013, compared with 3,430 in 2004, according to the Audio Publishers Association.
Brand-name authors like Mr. King are paying more attention to the form, and some have started catering to listeners as much as readers. Last year, the best-selling thriller writer Jeffery Deaver released an original, multicast audio drama, “The Starling Project,” with Audible.com. The science fiction writer John Scalzi will release a original audio piece with Audible later this year. And Mr. King’s son, the horror writer Joe Hill, will release an audio drama based on his graphic novel series, “Locke & Key,” with Audible in October
With “Drunken Fireworks,” which costs $15 as a CD and $10 for the digital version, Mr. King and his publisher are testing whether audio can serve as an effective teaser for a future print book.
Mr. King decided to create a stand-alone audiobook out of the 12,200-word short story last year, when he was shopping in a discount chain store and saw a CD by the register that was narrated by his old friend and fellow Maine resident Tim Sample. He knew Mr. Sample, an author and comedian, could capture the necessary nuances of the Maine accent in “Drunken Fireworks,” and help anchor the story geographically with regionalisms like “rud” for “road” and “pitcher” for “picture.” Mr. Sample was game, and narrated the story in a flawless Yankee accent.
“The biggest mistake people make is they slip into a Southern drawl, when it’s closer to the British Isles,” said Mr. Sample, whose voice mail message says “have a wicked good day.” “There’s a kind of lumpy rhythm to the language, and it’s very nasal, way up in the nose.”
Mr. King was delighted with the performance. “I can hear that voice in my head because I’ve been listening to it my whole life,” he said.
Mr. King’s interest in audiobooks took root in 1981, when a nationwide air traffic controller strike grounded flights around the country. At the time, Mr. King was traveling from his home in Maine to Pittsburgh to visit the set of “Creepshow,” a George Romero film based on Mr. King’s screenplay. Stuck in the car alone for hours, he devoured audiobooks of novels like “The Thorn Birds” by Colleen McCullough.
Back then, unabridged audiobooks were scarce, so Mr. King had to settle for some amateur work. He paid his children $15 to $20 to record themselves reading novels for him. Somewhere in his basement in Bangor, Me., there are boxes full of cassettes narrated by his three children, including recordings of novels by James Ellroy, Wilbur Smith and Frank Herbert.
“The readings weren’t professional quality, but the kids got something out of it,” Mr. King said.
Mr. King’s sons, Owen and Joe, have become novelists themselves. Owen King, who published his first novel, “Double Feature,” with Scribner in 2013, credits his unusual childhood chore with shaping him as a writer. “It was a great job, and the pay was exceedingly generous when you take into account that when he first hired me, I was 9 or 10,” he said in an email message. “I also believe it improved my writing because it gave me the habit of testing the sentences I write by ear.”
A version of this article appears in print on July 1, 2015, on page B3 of the New York edition with the headline: With a Short Story by King, Audiobooks Branch Out on Their Own.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
SIMON & SCHUSTER AUDIO AND PLAY.IT® MAKE
STEPHEN KING’S DRUNKEN FIREWORKS
A ONE-OF-A-KIND AUDIO PUBLISHING EVENT
CBS RADIO Stations To Promote Exclusive Online Broadcast
[New York, NY – May 7, 2015] In an innovative and exciting collaboration, Simon & Schuster Audio and Play.it® will share in its entirety a stream of Stephen King’s forthcoming audiobook short story DRUNKEN FIREWORKS for listeners nationwide. CBS RADIO stations in more than 20 major markets across the country will drive tune-in to the special event on which takes place July 2nd. Play.it® is an on-demand audio platform recently launched by CBS RADIO and CBS Local Digital Media.
“Great stories are often better when told out loud,” said King. “This event is a cool way for more people to discover just how fun listening to my stories can be.”
Simon & Schuster Audio’s standalone publication of Stephen King’s never-before-released short story will be read by beloved Maine humorist Tim Sample. DRUNKEN FIREWORKS will be released exclusively as an audiobook on CD and for download on June 30, 2015.
“Stephen King has always been a huge supporter of audiobooks and has embraced innovative marketing ideas for his books,” said Chris Lynch, President & Publisher, Simon & Schuster Audio. “We are delighted to collaborate with our colleagues at Play.it® and CBS Radio to again break new ground with this audio publishing event.”
In addition, Simon & Schuster Audio will launch a pre-publication sweepstakes featuring DRUNKEN FIREWORKS in June, which will include a travel voucher for a trip to see the annual July 4th fireworks show in New York, a complete collection of Stephen King’s Simon & Schuster Audio recordings, plus additional prizes. The sweepstakes will reach millions of fans through the Simon & Schuster, CBS, and Stephen King sites and social media accounts.
King hand-picked Tim Sample to voice this compelling short tale about a salt-of-the earth Maine native and a friendly annual summer fireworks rivalry that gradually spirals out of control. Sample, known for his Maine accent and pride, is a former CBS News Sunday Morning correspondent who produced the popular “Postcards from Maine” segments for over a decade. With his unique brand of storytelling, he is perfectly cast in DRUNKEN FIREWORKS.
“I’m excited and thrilled to be working with Tim Sample again,” said King. “This is going to be one wild ride.”
“Getting a call from Stephen King, especially when he’s totally pumped about some new project, is a bit like hopping a crosstown bus only to find yourself suddenly speeding along on a high-speed bullet train. The man is simply a force of nature,” said Sample. “This time around Steve’s ‘bullet train’ turns out to be a story called DRUNKEN FIREWORKS and while it’s not the first Stephen King story I’ve had the privilege of narrating, it’s certainly the funniest. Stephen King? Funny? You heard right chummy!”
DRUNKEN FIREWORKS will be published as one of the short stories in Stephen King’s collection THE BAZAAR OF BAD DREAMS, coming from Simon & Schuster Audio and Scribner in November 2015.
ABOUT THE PUBLISHER: Simon & Schuster Audio is a leading publisher of general interest audiobooks including bestselling fiction, nonfiction, business/finance, self-improvement, inspiration, language learning programs, original audiobook productions, and children’s titles. In addition to a list that includes such unparalleled authors as Mary Higgins Clark, Vince Flynn, Ernest Hemingway, Stephen King, Michael Lewis, and David McCullough. Simon & Schuster Audio has produced audiobooks that have won seven Grammy Awards and earned thirty-seven Grammy nominations since 1989. For more information about Simon & Schuster Audio, visit our website at www.audio.simonandschuster.com.
Simon & Schuster, a part of the CBS Corporation, is a global leader in the field of general interest publishing, dedicated to providing the best in fiction and nonfiction for consumers of all ages, across all printed, electronic, and audio formats. Its divisions include Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing, Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, Simon & Schuster Audio, Simon & Schuster Digital, and international companies in and international companies in Australia, Canada, India and the United Kingdom. For more information, visit our website at www.simonandschuster.com.
ABOUT PLAY.IT®: Play.it is a new podcast network that brings together digital-exclusive programming from major brands and publishers as well as content from CBS RADIO shows on demand. Play.it offers more than 400 premium content podcasts, including podcasts from well-known CBS RADIO personalities like Boomer Esiason & Craig Carton, Carson Daly, and Kevin & Bean, as well as content from leading news, lifestyle, sports and media brands including 48 HOURS, 60 MINUTES, CBS Sports Radio, Deadspin, Simon & Schuster and Foursquare, among others.
CBS RADIO is one of the largest major-market broadcast media operators in the United States and the undisputed leader in news and sports radio. Producing original audio and video content, live events and exclusive programming broadcast via on-air, online and digital platforms, CBS RADIO distributes its programming via more than 115 AM, FM and HD Radio stations, Radio.com, Play.it and CBS Local Digital Media apps, making engaging with audiences easier than ever before. For more information on CBS RADIO, please visit www.cbsradio.com.
“He’s funny if you’re from Augusta, Maine…he’s just as funny if you’re from Augusta, Georgia.” – Stephen King
Down East Books is proud to announce the January 2014 release of Answers to Questions Nobody was Askin’ (Down East/a division of Rowman & Littlefield, 978-1-6089-3-3686, Cloth, $22.95) by Tim Sample.
In this new collection of short essays Maine humor icon Tim Sample shares some of the quirkier aspects of growing up and living in Maine. Along the way he offers readers a behind the scenes glimpse into his long career in the entertainment business. Sample waxes poignant—recalling old friends, pets, and childhood memories—and passes along more than a few hilarious “insider tips” including the proper way to eat a lobster and a few time tested techniques for dealing with folks from away. His wide range of subjects includes things that could happen “Only in Maine,” how his dad invented the SUV, a “magical” luncheon with horror master Stephen King, and the pitfalls of Maine’s fifth season (mud). Born and raised in Maine, Tim shows us the Maine we know and love—warts and all. Part whimsical anecdote, part hard-won wisdom, every story is perfectly seasoned with Sample’s distinctive wry Yankee wit.
Tim Sample was born in Northern Aroostook County and raised on the Maine coast. He has performed throughout North America, recorded five albums for the Bert and I Company and appeared on numerous national TV shows, including the Today Show, Good Morning America, and Michael Feldman’s hit radio show, Whad’ya Know? From 1993 to 2004, Sample was a regular correspondent for CBS News’ Sunday Morning. In 2013 he received a Maine Press Association First Place Award for his newspaper column “Stories I Never Told You.” Tim’s audio and video recordings and books of Down East humor have sold over a million copies. He currently lives in Portland, and spends as much time as possible at his camp in Washington County Maine.