My story “To Walk Chalk” has been published in Superstition Review, an online literary magazine at Arizona State University. (The review staff was wonderful to work with, and they run a great website.) Here’s the link to the short story: “To Walk Chalk.”
The setting for this story stuck with me years after seeing a newspaper ad for Sharer’s Funeral Parlor and Mortuary in my grandmother’s scrapbook. The address for the mortuary was the same as the house my great-great-grandfather had built in 1898 in a small Wisconsin town known for tobacco farming. My grandmother had lived in that house for the majority of her eighty-plus years.
Problem: No one in the family had ever been in the mortuary business. No one in the family had the last name Sharer.
Answer: The family home had been rented out during the Great Depression.
Only after learning this did it make sense why my grandfather had once told me, “They embalmed people in the basement.” I must have been twelve when he said this, and it changed my perception of the basement forever.
The house is no longer in the family, but we have pictures such as the parlor scene above. And now some of my memories have been spun into the short story, even if I modified the description of the house’s exterior to include details from at least two other Wisconsin buildings.
There’s nothing like reading a short story aloud, especially while recording it, to uncover repetitions, poor word choices, flat dialogue, and the inevitable paragraph- and sentence-level glitches.
However, the need to read aloud to create an MP3 file for an online literary magazine or podcast raises the stakes on this process. What had been a useful tool for revision—one I use and recommend to students—can become something people might actually hear.
My technical skills, my reading, and my story needed to develop. Fast.
- Software—I had been directed to a download site for Audacity, the free open source audio recording/editing program from SourceForge. After some research, I found a link to a more up to date version of the Audacity program that was supposed to have addressed earlier concerns about malware.
- Microphone—After a trial run, I discovered that the microphone in my laptop was not up to the task. What had worked for Skype calls and a YouTube video, now created audio files filled with fan noise and pops from the processor. Solutions included:
- Switching to Airplane Mode to pause as many of my computer’s background functions as possible.
- Investing in a USB microphone that was good enough but wasn’t professional level, which could easily top $200. (I found an Amazon bestseller for about $25.)
- Realizing that, in addition to enabling the plug-and-play USB microphone, I needed to manually disable the internal microphone, which was still picking up processor noise.
- MP3 conversion—While exporting my audacity project to a MP3 file, I found that I needed an extension called LAME, which involved more research to find a safe-ish download.
- Use a tablet—To avoid recording the rustling of turning pages, I sent my story in a pdf file to my tablet to scroll quietly through as I read. (I also tried dual monitors, but the computer and tablet combo seemed to work more smoothly.)
- Pause strategically—My story took about 25 minutes to read. I’d seen recommendations and tutorials about how to edit an audio file, but the terminology and controls were so new to me that the learning curve was steep and frustrating. Pausing the recording after a glitch, listening to and deleting the glitch, and then re-recording seemed to work best for me. Full sentences or paragraphs worked best for stopping and starting points.
- Ditch the mouse—Mouse clicks can sound inordinately loud in an audio file. Using the laptop touch pad was quieter and easier, especially when moving back and forth between the manuscript scrolling on the tablet and the Audacity controls on the laptop.
Through this trial-and-error process, I read my short story aloud so many times, that I stopped seeing revisions to make…for now. The acting part of story narration still eludes me—painfully so. Nonetheless, now I have an audio file and a freshly revised story. On to the next chapter.