Thursday, May 29, 2008

Janet Riehl Nashville Visit

Here is a heart-warming story about how online networking brings people together as a family.

Janet Riehl and I met through poet Hal Manogue. I interviewed Hal on Writers in the Sky podcast in 2006 , and then Janet in early 2007 and we have kept in touch ever since.

With Janet living in St. Louis and me living in Nashville, we had not met until she decided to make the trip to meet Hal and me. A few weeks before her arrival in Music City, she asked if I knew of an audio engineer in Nashville who could assist her with recording and editing a project. She wanted to make an audio book of Sightlines: A Poet’s Diary the poetry she wrote about her family. Did I know of an audio engineer? Of course, I do! This is Nashville; and there’s either a musician, a church, a Mapco, or a recording studio on every corner, but only one engineer whom I knew personally and trusted for this project—my very own son-in-law, Scott Kidd.

Scott graduated from Shenandoah University and has been working in the music field for ten years. He came to our family by way of my daughter, Sareya, who fell in love with him in 2001. I cannot think of a better man to be part of our family. Naturally, I was thrilled when she and Scott married last June. Since I’ve been editing books for Hal Leonard Publishing I’ve learned a lot about the mixing, mastering, recording, and engineering side of the music business, and I’ve gained a new appreciation for what my son-in-law does for a living. And, now that Janet has worked with him, I see what a valuable service he offers for authors.

Perhaps you are feeling inspired to create an audio book. I interviewed Janet about her experience in creating Sightlines and I’ll share it with you now:

YVONNE: Why did you want to make an audio of your book?
JANET: I've wanted to make an audio book ever since Sightlines: A Poet's Diary was published in 2006. Over and over when folks heard me read my poems out loud they would comment how much my reading brought to their experience of the poems. When I appeared on your Writers in the Sky Podcast January 12, 2007, that is one of the comments you made during our conversation—that you'd like to have a recording of the poems. As I've done readings and talks around the country based on the book over the past two books, this desire remained constant and became stronger.

YVONNE: How do you intend to use the audio?
JANET: I'll sell the audio book during personal appearances and from my Web site. I expect It'll make a wonderful gift for dear friends and relatives, too, because it will contain so much of my father's distinctive singing and speaking voice and his wit and wisdom on it, woven in with the poetry published in Sightlines.

I'll also be producing a multimedia eBook—one of the newest forms on the web—that we'll sell off my site. The recording for the audio book CD will be doubled for the multimedia eBook. The multimedia eBook is simply text and links (or buttons and icons) that take you to audio, video, or anything, including external locations. It is an eBook that functions like a website or a blog.

I foresee the text of Sightlines combined with audio and photos and anything else we can imagine to include. Maybe we'll make some YouTube videos to go with it as well. Who knows?

YVONNE: Tell us about the poetry and music used.
JANET: Our friend Hal Manogue describes Sightlines: A Poet's Diary as "a down home family love story beyond death" told in accessible story poems and archival photos. I told Scott that I wanted to amplify, not mimic or replicate the book. The audio book of Sightlines will bring additional feeling and context to the book by way of including musical interludes from the group my father and I play with, and little bits of family stories and humorous comments...mostly from my father with his gravelly voice, incredibly strong still at 92. We recorded material in my father's parlor using a minidisc player (a gizmo now in high demand on eBay and used on NPR and PBS documentaries). I was able to bring this informally recorded music and poems read by my father down to Scott to weave into the recording we did in his Nashville studio.

YVONNE: What was the recording session like?
JANET: Scott is a dream collaborator because he's skillful, relaxed, fun, responsive, and on point. For this project, I couldn't have imagined anyone more right to work with. My father would say, "He has a good touch on it." He understood about the importance of family stories, history, heritage, and legacy. That's the undercurrent of my upbringing, my current collaborative life with my father, and the five sections of Sightlines' 90 poems. A sound editor like Scott is comparable to a film editor who pulls a project together like a collage. You need to find someone who is sympatico with your project and your way of working.

I'm sure there are lots of places in St. Louis where I live who do this kind of work, but I didn't know who they were. Since I came to Scott through you, and I'd learned to know and trust you since appearing on your podcast in 2007, I felt it would be a natural fit. I prefer to do business relationally...through connections. Rather soon into the 2-day work session with Scott I felt I could trust him completely with my vision of the product I feel we're continuing to create together during the editing process.

I loved lunching with you and Hal at the Yellow Porch, just chatting as if we were on the back porch at home. Scott says this is a common way of doing business in Nashville, and believe-you-me, I love it! Our work sessions in Scott's studio were framed with playing ball with his Boston Terrier Tucker and marveling over his wedding album. There was a real sense of human connection which is all too rare in today's hurried world. He provided a quiet, encouraging witness during the hours of hard work of recording. Reading the entire book in such a condensed time frame was both taxing and exhilarating.

YVONNE: Tucker is my grand-dog and he’s full of love and energy! Yes, life in the south is friends- and family-oriented and our “business” luncheons can go on for hours! Do you have any hints for readers who might like to take on a project like this?
JANET: It's very important to make a small map in order to organize the recording. Before our group recorded in Pop's parlor, I wrote out the songs I associated with each of the book's five sections on the back of some envelopes so we could clip right along. After the four mini discs were completed, I listened to them and cataloged their contents by time. This catalog became a handily coded roadmap that Scott and I could easily refer to. It saved lots of time during the session and will save him time and trouble as he moves deeper into the editing process.

A friend asked if I practiced beforehand. I said in a way I've been practicing for two years since the book came out as I've done readings and talks. But, no, I just sat down, as fully present to myself and the work as possible. I centered myself before each piece...there's a natural break in the recording process that allows for this...and then read. If I flubbed badly enough, I simply stopped and re-read that bit over and Scott made a mark in his reading copy of Sightlines so he'd know to edit there. But, there weren't very many of these. If I flubbed just a little bit, I went on.

YVONNE: I’m really looking forward to hearing the audio book. I’m sure it will be available on your blog and Web site. Please give us the Web addresses so our readers can learn more.
JANET: My blog-magazine is "Riehl Life: Village Wisdom for the 21st Century" ( with the mission to create connections through the arts, across cultures and generations. Riehlife is also home to Sightlines: A Poet's Diary with many sample poems and background information.

There are 30-plus 5-star reviews of Sightlines on Amazon, and the book is reviewed on several sites across the web. The Reader Views interview is one of my favorites of several interviews on the Web.

YVONNE: Thank you for sharing your experience with us. I hope you’ll come sit on the porch with us again. We loved having you here in Nashville.


Janet Grace Riehl said...

Love the breeze on your Writers in the Sky virtual porch. Relaxing here on the porch swing jabbering away with you about your grand dog Tucker and your great collaborator son-in-law Scott Kidd has been just the best pleausure...your garden is doing well, and yes, I do think I'll have another ice tea.

Readers may enjoy my companion "blog duet" post over at "Creative Collaboration and Compassion Adventures."

Janet Riehl

Susan J Tweit said...


Your interview with Janet read as easily as a conversation between friends, but that breezy talk conveyed a lovely introduction into the whys and wherefores of producing your own audiobooks too. Thank you for that!