Monday, June 29, 2009

Sightlines: A Family Love Story in Poetry and Music

Today we welcome Janet Grace Riehl to our writing blog. She is discussing her audio book Sightlines: A Family Love Story in Poetry and Music.

This project expands upon her poetry book Sightlines: A Poet's Diary. We featured Janet on a Writers in the Sky Podcast shortly after her poetry book first came out: and we will be having her on the show July 3 to talk about how and why she created an audio book

YVONNE: Tell me something about yourself and your writing background.
JANET: I had an anachronistic childhood--easily lagging a generation behind the one of was born into. Our family lived on our ancestral home place in SW Illinois on the bluffs above the Mississippi River. Our family had lived there for generations (six now) since the 1860s. We worked constantly as a family helping extended family and living what now would be thought of as a "back to the land." But, for us, it was just a way of life to save money so each of us three kids could go to college without owing money. My biggest recreation as a child was reading and roaming the woods on our land, Evergreen Heights.

I read a lot as a child...mostly novels from the early 1900s: Girl of the Limberlost; Daddy Long Legs; Anne of Green Gables series; The Secret Garden. These shaped my values and coincided with our family history and values.

My father recently stumbled over my first published pieces in my Junior High School literary magazine, Kaleidoscope. I went on to be on the editorial team for my college literary magazine Sou'Wester...and to get an M.A. in English. I still consider myself to be recovering English major.

As an adult I published poems, short fiction, and personal essays in a dozen or so literary magazines such as The Harvard Review, and The Cream City Review.

Then, about six months after my sister's death, I began the book Sightlines: A Poet's Diary published in 2006. I've also published two books for my father and we're working on a third--a family and friends poetry anthology.

YVONNE: You have an audio book based on your poetry book Sightlines: A Poet's Diary. Now you have both a book and an audio book in the "Sightlines" family. What inspired you to create an audio from the book?
JANET: You did! During our podcast for Sightlines: A Poet's Diary you remarked how well I read and that having these on audio would be wonderful. This sentiment was echoed as I gave talks and readings around the country. Finally, in 2008 I'd arranged to meet you and Hal Manogue, my two blogging buddies in Nashville. It occurred to me that Nashville, Music City, was the natural place to produce my audio book. I asked you for a sound engineer referral and I lucked out! Your son-in-law Scott Kidd turned out to be an audio engineer living in Nashville. It' was a dream experience of collaboration.

YVONNE: Give us the basic story line so we’ll know what your audio book is about.
JANET: The purpose of the audio book was not to replicate the original book--that is, just read the 90 poems. Rather, I wanted to enhance the book and bring more context to it. We did that by including 40 songs--all recorded by my 93-year-old father and his music group in the Illinois parlor of our home place.

Hal Manogue described the Sightlines book as "a down home family love story beyond death." It is that, but much more. There are five sections in both the Sightlines book and audio book. These five sections trace the first year for my family and me after my sister's death; care-taking my mother, a stroke survivor; my father and our changing relationship as we care for mother; how it feels for me to return to the family home place after roaming the world; what it feels like to commute from Illinois back and forth to Lake County in Northern California.

The book and audio book are reflections on the sorrow of life's fragility (impermanence, mortality, aging, and change) and the joy at its tenderness (reconciliation and redemption). This sorrow and joy form the sightlines of this collection of 90 poems.

We chose the music that bookends the poems to deepen the sense of family history, broaden the context, create a mood, and give time to rest and take in each poem.

YVONNE: How long did it take to produce this book? Any interesting tidbits about or how the audio book developed?
JANET: We worked seven months (from May to November) to produce the audio book. When we started, I didn't know how much it would cost, how long it would take, or what would be involved. I had the passion and vision to do it, and the persevering to complete it. I was extremely fortunate in working with a topnotch team of professionals...mainly Scott Kidd as audio engineer and Greg McNey who drove the licensing and copyrighting phase.
Over the course of working on the audio book, I felt I'd become friends with my collaborators. Our lives had changed during this time. Scott moved and was shortly expecting a baby. I'd gone of two trips to Africa, my long-held dream. After the Nashville recording days, all the work together was at a distance via email or phone.
In terms of the relationship between the two of us, it's been a continuing revelation since I first appeared on your podcast in 2006. Your readers may want to look at your post recalling our Nashville visit and pointing out the value of networking:

YVONNE: How did you produce your audio book? Tell me about your experience and what you learned from it.
JANET: There were five stages in producing the audio book: 1) Recording; 2) Editing; 3) Mastering the discs; 4) Licensing and Copyrighting; 5) Celebrating; 6) Promotion. For more detail on these five stages, you can read a post I wrote for Writers in the Sky [provide link] or, go to my ezine article on how to produce an audio book at

Scott recorded me reading all 90 poems from the original poetry book during two days at his home studio. Before I came down we'd recorded a 4-hour session on mini-disc player with my father's Sunday music group. I also recorded my father reading his poems from the book and all the voice lines I'd written into my story poems. Scott took the mini-disc material, which was recorded in analog, and turned into digital format so he could work with it directly, interleaving it like a complex collage with the poems.

From the analog mini-disc recording he pulled not only the music clips from 40 songs, including 7 composed by my father over the years, but also Pop telling jokes, stories, and bantering with us during the music session.

Scott not only had the technical chops, but also was easy and fun to work with. He had a feeling for the strength of family, what our family had gone through, and for music. He was the ideal collaborator.

I learned so much about each how to make an audio book. I knew nothing going into the project. In addition, it was a joy every step of the way. There's not often any person can say that. One of the biggest rewards has been that I wanted to do this as a tribute to my father. He was a major collaborator on the project and is more than pleased with the result.

I believe that the audio book will reach folks that consider themselves as "not that into poetry." In fact, I tell my musician friends that they can skip the poetry and go straight to the music. Reaching a broader audience is exciting, because the poetry book has shown me that these poems (and now the music) can inspire and encourage people who are grieving, care-taking parents, and going through difficult transitions in mid-life.

YVONNE: How did you handle the licensing and copyrights to the songs you used? Why is licensing necessary and beneficial?
JANET: Perhaps one of the most dramatic junctures in the process was at the moment we moved into the copyright and licensing phase. At this point, Scott was my project manager and point person, not only my sound engineer. Scott and I are both good generalist, but we felt that licensing and copyrighting was too complex and specialized for us to take on and learn all at once. We also didn't want to pay lawyer lots of money for doing this. "There's gotta be a guy who does this for a living," we hypothesized.

We had our telephone conversation before I left in August for the first of my journeys back to Africa. Scott's goal was to find this guy by the time I returned in three weeks. I empowered Scott to engage him while I was gone so we wouldn't be stuck. Scott went into networking overdrive. When I got back, he'd found Greg McNey who was already hard at work. Empowering Scott to do this took complete trust between us.

We were using 40 songs on the four audio discs. Some of these were in the public domain and seven were Pop's compositions. These didn't require licensing.

Scott, my dad and I researched these songs extensively on the internet and through Pop's sheet music. After we'd gone as far as we could, we handed this over to Greg to complete. He continued to research through Harry Fox Agency, located the music composers, dates of composition, and publishers. He prepared all the forms and sent these to me with detailed instructions. All I had to do was print these out, sign where needed, and send these in to correct address with my check.

Licensing is necessary because we were making mechanical use (reproductions through our arrangement and performance) of these songs. Licensing is the right thing to do to avoid legal recourse....and to provide income to the artists and their heirs who originally created these songs. Our production company which physically produced the discs also required proof the songs had been licensed.

You can learn more about this stage at You Tube, chatting with Greg McNey.

By the way, Yvonne, towards the end of the interview with Greg (at 7:25 minutes) a fun interview with you at the Sportsman Grille starts.

YVONNE: I've seen that interview. I think I look like one of those "bobbing-head" dogs I used to see in the back window of cars. *smile* Where is your audio book available? Do you have a Web site or blog where we can learn more about you or your book?
JANET: The audio book Sightlines: A family Love Story in Poetry and Music is available on CD Baby at this link: There, your readers can listen to as much as they wish online.

To learn more about my work and the village that's grown up around me, go to my blog-magazine Riehl Life: Village Wisdom of the 21st Century at Readers can sign up there for a 10-minute audio clip from Sightlines: A Family Love Story in Poetry and Music. They can also sign up for updates I send to readers.

YVONNE: How are you promoting your audio book?
JANET: Mostly I'm using online promotion. As part of the online launch there are podcasts, a tel-call, internet radio shows, and then the blog stops for the blog tour. The tour continues to run from June through July 2009. We hope your readers will continue to follow it. We've posted video logs of the process of making an audio book

There will also be a visit to Lake County in Northern California where I'll give a talk and appear on a local radio show about writers and writing.

YVONNE: Are there any sites you feel might help other authors?
JANET: When I was promoting my book, I collected many online resources for that. One of the ones I found most helpful was Irene Watson's Reader Views. You can see the review they did for my book here: and our interview here: Reader Views has a modestly priced package to promote self-published books.

Of course Carolyn Howard-Johnson's Frugal Book Promotion: How to Do What Your Publisher Won't is filled with great ideas.

The best resource by far for organizing a blog book tour is Dani Greer's Blog Book Tour.

YVONNE: We had a lovely time at the audio book launch dinner at The Sportsman Grille, didn't we?
JANET: Yes we did. It's important not to forget the last stage of the project which for us was celebrating the completion, and the beginning of the launch. Yvonne wrote a post right before the dinner that your readers would enjoy:
Thanks for hosting me once again on this amazing blog of yours which supports and connects so many authors.

YVONNE: Thank you for giving us the opportunity to get to know you and learn about your book. I wish you well in your journey as an author. To follow Janet's audio book tour, go to where you'll find a 10-minute clip from the audio book and the opportunity to sign up for regular updates on the tour.

Go to to sign up for a 10-minute audio download of poetry and music from our new audio book Sightlines: A Family Love Story in Poetry and Music.

See the video documentary series of how this audio book was created over a one-year time period.

1 comment:

Janet Grace Riehl said...

Dear Yvonne,

Since we set up the Q&A back in May, I have fresh eyes in reading it now. I think: "Wow...did I really say that? Sounds pretty good!"

You've been part of this process ever since "Sightlines: A Poet's Diary" came out in 2006.

--I appeared on your podcast and you sewed some of the first seeds to record the poems.

--Then, giving me the connection to Scott Kidd was like a dream sent from heaven.

Looking forward to our podcast the Friday, July 3rd.

Janet Riehl