By Chris Grabenstein
It’s always a pleasure to pinch-hit for Robin Agnew, one of my absolute favorite bookseller-artist type people in the world. Have you seen her paintings with the birds and shoes? Very cool. My wife and I were lucky enough to catch Robin’s exhibit down in Chelsea at one of the super cool New York art scene galleries. I forgot to wear my black beret but it was a fascinating journey into, as someone on a magic carpet might sing, a whole new world.
On my morning runs (well run then walk, then try to run again given the mushroom popping humidity of late), I have been listening to the Audible download version of my latest John Ceepak mystery MIND SCRAMBLER as performed by Jeff Woodman.
If you think that sounds like a bus driver spending his vacation riding around on a Greyhound, think again.
It’s probably the closest I’ll come to having the Ceepak books made into a movie, albeit a mental movie. I guess, because I used to be an actor, I get a huge kick out of hearing my characters come to life with distinct voice and quirks and Jeff Woodman, the actor who reads the books for Audible, is incredible.
Richard Rock is a sanctimonious Texas showman. His right hand man David Zuckerman is snitty little snot. Mighty Mo Mo, the dwarf who performs in the rival magic show at the Trump Taj Mahal casino, sounds like he smoked six stogies for breakfast. Nicole Piscopo is a pure Jersey girl. Ceepak is rock solid. Danny a wise ass. All of them are Jeff Woodman. Jeff Woodman is brilliant.
Listening to the 8-hour digital download of MIND SCRAMBLER has made the miles, even the extremely boring ones on the treadmill, fly by.
I find myself wondering -- what’ll happen next? And then I remember: I wrote what happens next. But, you have to remember, these books come out one-and-a-half or two years after we write ‘em. So, yes, I forget some of the twists and turns in the wringer I created for Danny and Ceepak this time out.
This is a good time to give a shout out to the folks at Audible who have produced the audio versions of all the Ceepak books. They are able to do “books on pod” for books that would never be burned onto a CD because of their download-only delivery system. No discs, no boxes, no shrink wrap -- no trucks to haul the shrink-wrapped boxes full of discs to stores. No stores. Since Audbile’s production costs are lower, they can produce audio books from novels that aren’t mega blockbuster best sellers. Like the Ceepak stories.
People sometimes tell me -- Chris, you should do your own audio books.
Let me set the record straight: No, I should not. I am too big, too broad. Makes for a fun charity auction, not so much for the guy inside your earbuds for eight hours.
Jeff Woodman, who has won a ton of Audio Books awards, knows how to shade the characters just so. He captures the pace, the emotion. Heck, he had me tearing up in this one scene from MIND SCRAMBLER, making me believe that Katie Landry and Dr. Sandra McDaniels and all the rest were real people.
Jeff also read my thriller SLAY RIDE. In that one, I think I had about a dozen different Russian characters. Taxi drivers, mobsters, clerks in a deli. So he not only had to be able to a Russian accent, he had to be able to do a dozen different shades of Russian. The guy is amazing.
And it’s not just because she’s my wife.
Or that the main adult character in THE CROSSROADS, Judy Magruder, is based on her so she pretty much nails the part. (Get it? J.M. plays J.M.?)
No, J.J. like Jeff, does an incredible job of making the story come alive…which, I guess, is harder to do with a ghost story where half the characters are dead.
The two narrators I have been so lucky to have read my books out loud for all the world to hear remind me of the best campfire storytellers. The ones who weave such a mesmerizing tale, you can see the action unfold behind your eyes as they tell it to you.
J.J. is a truly gifted Voice Over actress. In fact, she and Jeff Woodman work together all the time (she’s the one who recommended Jeff do the first Ceepak book TILT A WHIRL and the rest, as they say, is history).
When J.J. was recording THE CROSSROADS (they basically sit the actors down in a room with the book and give them two eight-hour days to record an eight-hour book), she came home and said “42 characters? You had to write 42 characters?” That meant, of course, that she had to come up with 42 different voices.
Speaking of cool things, I just wanted to say a quick thank you to all the Ceepak fans who have been up in arms about MIND SCRAMBLER most likely being the last book in the series. St. Martin’s Minotaur, so far, has shown no interest in renewing my contract. Of course, if MIND SCRAMBLER by some miracle suddenly becomes one of those “instant New York Times bestsellers” you read about in ads for instant New York Times bestsellers (which probably don’t need advertising), they might change their minds. Maybe not.
Either way, it is a great feeling for an author to know that he has created characters that have touched so many readers so deeply.
I hope to keep Danny and Ceepak alive through short stories. And maybe, like Myron Bolitar who took seven years off, in 2016 John Ceepak and Danny Boyle will surprise us all and come back in a book.