Today on Nearsighted we welcome author, artist, poet and essayist Ashok Rajamani, author of the memoir The Day My Brain Exploded: A True Story, which chronicles a near-fatal cerebral hemorrhagic stroke he suffered at the age of 25, leaving him with bisected blindness, epilepsy, distorted hearing, erratic transient amnesia, and more.
Belo Cipriani: Why did you feel the need to put together an audiobook?
Ashok Rajamani: For one simple reason: to make my book accessible to members of my family, i.e., the brain injury community and the blind/visually handicapped community.
These were my most important readers, and it broke my heart that they weren’t able to fully enjoy the book. Many of my blind and/or brain-injured readers were having difficulties accessing the story. Plus, I always think it’s a great experience for any reader to hear a memoir — a true, personal journey — told in the memoirist’s own voice.
BC: What was the process of producing the audiobook?
AR: To begin with, there was the issue of getting back my audio rights. Many authors, when they get their book contract, give their publisher audio rights. Do not do that! You end up with your publisher doing the parking garage scenario: Buying a car just to own it, but never actually driving it. They get your audio rights, and never do anything with it — and you end up missing out. You lose the possibility of taking your book to new creative lengths and bringing it to customers who cannot read print books. I’m delighted that I was able to regain my rights with the help of a good lawyer.
Next, after getting back those rights, I had to figure out how to get the audiobook made. At first I planned to go to ACX, Amazon’s audiobook wing that offers narrators and producers who can work for a fee, or free with royalty share. ACX used to have a great royalty program, which would award authors up to 90% of royalties. But now, it’s just 20% or 40% for exclusive distribution. This didn’t feel right to me, as I would be narrating the audiobook myself. Also, ACX gets your audiobook out digitally only, and, like I said, I wanted my book to have a physical release as well.
BC: Sounds like quite a major journey!
AR: That was just the beginning. Since I wanted to narrate it myself, I had to figure out where to record it. I couldn’t just use the mic on my computer. I had to find a professional studio, and finding the right studio takes time. Studios can cost insane amounts of money. Many narrators have their own home studios, so high cost isn’t an issue. But if you want to do it yourself, do the obvious: research, research, research. Do enough research and you can find a studio with the right price for you. That’s how I found mine.
BC: After finding a studio, what was the process of recording like, and did you have to do anything differently because of your disability?
AR: The studio was pretty glamorous, all sleek and shiny. There was an enclosed recording booth, facing the sound engineer and director. I had to sit on a stool and read my book from an iPad. This is an unabridged audiobook, which means I had to say EVERY word correctly. For example, if I said ‘a’ instead of ‘an,’ I had to say the sentence all over again! Due to my form of bisected blindness, I could barely see half the pages, so I made quite a few mistakes. Because of the brain injury, I would miss pages and have to re-read. And because of that damn director, I would have to re-pronounce the word ‘figure’ every time it was in the book. I say the word figure like ‘trigger,’ and he wanted me to say it like ‘fig-year.’ But I’m proud to say, I finished the whole recording, even though it was the hardest thing to do. I also foolishly chose a studio that was situated in the heart of Times Square. And this was recorded during the height of summer. So not only did I have to deal with the stress of recording, but I had to deal with trying to navigate through mobs and mobs of people in sweat-soaked New York City. For normal-sighted people, this means major trouble. For blinded and visually handicapped people, this is a downright nightmare! But after the 6 weeks of being in the studio, I finished. Busted, exhausted and torn up like a Vietnam vet.
BC: You got your rights back, decided how to produce it, and recorded it in the studio. What was the next step?
AR: Well, now that the whole shebang was done, I had to find the right distributor, one who could get my book out everywhere, in all versions. Again, that took research. I’m happy with the distributor I eventually chose.
BC: What was your family’s reaction to your audiobook?
AR: My folks had three reactions. The first one was expected: they found it hilarious and loved the comedy. The second reaction was expected too: they found it very difficult to hear me recount my pain. It was hard enough for them to read my book; the difficult health situations and hospital horrors hurt them deeply. Obviously, listening to one’s child recounting his/her pain is a tough thing for any parent to handle. The last reaction was expected too: they wanted to shoot me for the way I performed my father’s accent.
BC: Where can people buy your audiobook?
AR: People can buy it it through many retailers, with multiple options. It is available as a digital work, an actual physical CD and an MP3 CD, and it is also available for loan on some sites. Here are the stores where it is available for purchase — physical edition or digital edition:
Barnes & Noble.com and store
Plus, audiobooks.com, Simply Audiobooks, Findaway World, Overdrive, spoken word, Midwest Tape, Downpour, Blackstone Audio, Ambling Books, eMusic, Baker & Taylor, Follett, LearnoutLoud, Midwest Tapes, Recorded Books
BC: What’s next for you?
AR: I’m excited to say that after releasing The Day My Brain Exploded through a traditional publisher, Algonquin Books, I’ve decided to abandon the old ways. The issues of dealing with a traditional publisher are really not worth it — life is too short. So I’ve now decided to go indie, enter the modern era, and release all my work electronically. As such, I formed my own entertainment production company called Spiral Mirror Entertainment. It is so named because the company intends to take on e-based projects that shake up society and offer a reflection that spirals the norm. The Day My Brain Exploded: The Audiobook is our first project. Coming up next is my second work, an e-book entitled If These Saris Could Talk, which reveals the lives of a group of subversive, transgressive Indian women, presenting a whole new definition of what femininity means. It will accompany a fabulous audiobook performed by a famous British Indian actress. Other upcoming projects include “Prose on Peace” — an e-collection of blog posts by a post-modern Catholic Peace Director, which will show entirely new ways true peace can be achieved spiritually.
BC: Ashok, thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Making an audiobook on your own, especially for a person with disabilities, really does seem like a daunting mission. If you had a chance to do this all over again, would you?
AR: In a heartbeat.