Written with passionate conviction, this story is being told by two of its characters: Ben, a twenty-seven years old student, and Anita, a plain-spoken, spunky, uneducated redhead, freshly married to Lenny, his aging father. Behind his back, Ben and Anita find themselves increasingly drawn to each other. They take turns using an old tape recorder to express their most intimate thoughts, not realizing at first that their voices are being captured by him.
Meanwhile, Lenny is trying to keep a secret from both of them: his ex-wife, Ben’s mother, a talented pianist, has been stricken with an early-onset alzheimer. Taking care of her gradually weighs him down. What emerges in these characters is a struggle, a desperate, daring struggle to find a path out of conflicts, out of isolation, from guilt to forgiveness.
The title Apart From Love comes from a phrase used in the story:
After a while I whispered, like, “Just say something to me. Anything.” And I thought, Any other word apart from Love, ’cause that word is diluted, and no one knows what it really means, anyway.
Why, why can’t you say nothing? Say any word–but that one, ’cause you don’t really mean it. Nobody does. Say anything, apart from Love.
For my own sake I should have been much more careful. Now–even in her absence–I find myself in her hands, which feels strange to me. I am surrounded–and at the same time, isolated. I am alone. I am apart from Love.
Targeted Age Group: 16 and up
Genre: Literary Fiction
Over a year ago I wrote a short story about a twelve years old boy coming face to face, for the first time in his life, with the sad spectacle of death in the family. The title of the story is Only An Empty Dress. In it, Ben watches his father trying to revive his frail grandma, and later he attempts the same technique on the fish tilting upside down in his new aquarium.
“I cannot allow myself to weep. No, not now. So I wipe the corner of my eye. Now if you watch closely, right here, you can see that the tail is still crinkling. I gasp, and blow again. I blow and blow, and with a last-gasp effort I go on blowing until all is lost, until I don’t care anymore, I mean it, I don’t care but the tears, the tears come, they are starting to flow, and there is nothing, nothing more I can do—”
I set the story aside, thinking I was done with it. But the character of the boy, Ben, came back to me and started chatting, chatting, chatting in my head. It became the seed of my just-published novel Apart from Love.
In writing it I asked myself, what if I ‘aged’ him by fifteen years? Where would he be then? Would he still admire his father as a hero, or will he be disillusioned at that point? What secrets would come to light in the life of this family? How would it feel for Ben to come back to his childhood home, and have his memories play tricks on him? What if I introduce a girl, Anita, a redhead who looks as beautiful as his mother used to be, but is extremely different from her in all other respects? And what if this girl were married to his father? What if the father were an author, attempting to capture the thoughts, the voices of Ben and Anita, in order to write his book?
So the process of writing became, for me, simply listening to the characters and trying, as fast as I could, to capture their thoughts. My role as an author was merely suggesting a place, coming up with the stage set and illuminating it as appropriate for the time of day, and allowing the characters to describe what they see and to act out their passions and fears. When you wrote the book did you know you were going to offer it as an audio book?
No, at the time I was just chasing my characters with a pen, to capture what they are saying…
Why did you decide to produce an audio book?
I asked myself: can we put slang-speaking characters center-stage? It would be so wonderful if we could hear Anita and enjoy her beautiful southern twang, as opposed to Ben’s New York accent…
You may recall the play-in-a-play, performed by the rude mechanics at the end of Midsummer Night’s Dream, aptly described in their own words as ‘The most lamentable comedy, and most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisby.’ These would-be actors, whose ability to express themselves is unabashedly mocked by their audience, were used by Shakespeare mainly for comic relief.
The play they perform is merely a farce of the Romeo and Juliet love story. Why, you may ask? Because like most artists and playwrights of that era, the bard knew only too well that he ought to entertain and complement his patrons, the most important of which where members of the royal court. This is the reason that characters who speak in slang were nearly never placed center-stage, as the hero of the story. Such characters were portrayed as simpletons, and by no means were they given any depth of feeling.
It was only later in the history of literature that characters of the lower class were taken seriously, and their point of view began to resonate, despite much controversy, with readers and theatre goers. For example, Between 1961 and 1982, The Catcher in the Rye was the most censored book in high schools and libraries in the United States. And yet today, it is recognized as an American classic, giving voice to teenage confusion, angst, alienation and rebellion. I suggest to you that in even today, there are two clashing views about the use of slang-talking characters, one from those who see themselves as ‘upscale, educated nobility’–and the other, the more ‘democratic’ one, from the rest of us.
Recently I was reminded of this clash, when I posted an excerpt from Apart From Love in Anita’s voice. You would be hard-pressed to find a three-syllable word in anything she says. The lack of long words is compensated by descriptive sequence of short words (see the replacement for ‘magnifying glass’ below.) You can spot a liberal use of the dreaded double-negative, and of the word ‘like’. In the excerpt she describes the memory of her first kiss with Lenny. Some readers told me, tongue-in-cheek, that the would need a cold shower by the time she completes her story. But one reader found the style of the excerpt incosistent. He complained that at times Anita is lyrical, and at other times her thoughts are expressed in slang.
As a side note, let me share a little secret with you: even though that reader rejected the excerpt on intellectual grounds (which he is entitled to do) he did get it on an intuitive level. How do I know this? Because the very same day I got a ‘romantic’ invitation from him to join a social network for setting up dates. So, Anita’s hot description did its charm on him, and for some reason, he must have combined to two of us in his mind. I had a little chuckle about this, as did my loved one…
So I ask you: why can’t a character combine both? Are we still bound to write for the Pyramus and Thisby audience? Even if your grammar is atrocious, even if your vocabulary is somewhat lacking, does that mean you can’t feel the throes of pain, or the exhilaration of joy? Does it mean you can’t paint what you see, feel and think? As you form your own answer, I invite you to sense the texture and the power of unrefined language, by listening to Anita’s voice once more:
“What matters is only what’s here. I touch my skin right under my breasts, which is where the little one’s curled, and where he kicks, ‘cause he has to. Like, he don’t feel so cosy no more. Here, can you feel it? I reckon he wants me to talk to him. He can hear me inside, for sure. He can hear every note of this silvery music.
It ripples all around him, wave after wave. I can tell that it’s starting to sooth him. It’s so full of joy, of delight, even if to him, it’s coming across somewhat muffled. Like a dream in a dream, it’s floating inside, into his soft, tender ear.
I close my eyes and hold myself, wrapping my arms real soft—around me around him—and I rock ever so gently, back and forth, back and forth, with every note of this silvery marvel. You can barely hear me—but here I am, singing along. I’m whispering words into myself, into him.”
How did you choose the reader for the book and the production company?
I posted an audition text that included both a passage for the voice of Ben, and a passage for the voice of Anita. The two are very different. For a dual narration project, the contrast between the two voices was crucial for me.
the narrator behind the voice of my character, Ben, is David Kudler. Take a listen to his voice, and you too would feel like cuddling in bed with the book, or perhaps with the character he plays. Which is why I thought that his name was misspelled: David Kudler. He is lyrical, intelligent, literate, capable of multiple accents and ages for the characters. So in my novel, he will become not only Ben (at the age of twenty-seven and at the age of twelve) but also his father Lenny, the bumbling lawyer, Mr. Bliss, and aunt Hadassa as well!
David has been a voice and stage actor (AEA, SAG-AFTRA), a writer, and a book editor for over twenty years. Since 1999, he has been in charge of publications for the Joseph Campbell Foundation. Based on this experience, he added the titles of ebook designer and audio producer to his shingle. As a narrator, he has a warm, versatile voice, and a great ear for character and dialect. He loves bringing multiple characters to life at the same time. Here is what he says about himself:
“Though I’d done plenty of voice-over work, it wasn’t until I was creating an ebook of my own children’s story The Seven Gods of Luck and was producing a read-aloud track that it occurred to me: I’ve got all of the skills and facilities to create professional, high-quality audiobooks.”
For the role of Anita I chose Heather Jane Hogan. To find her I listened to numerous auditions of talented narrators and actors. But when I heard her voice, I knew instantly that I need not look any further. What set Heather Jane Hogan apart was not only her sultry, intimate voice, not only her talent in doing Anita’s Southern twang, and not only the heartfelt interpretation of the text, but most of all, this: hers was no performance. Heather did not play Anita–she WAS Anita!
And here are a few quotes of what Heather says about herself:
“I work as a Voiceover. In case you’re not sure what that is, Webster’s definition of a voiceover is, “the voice of an offscreen narrator, announcer, or the like.” For me, it was an easy transition from stage and film acting to voice. I love telling a good story, so voiceover has been a great fit for me.”
“In 1999, I went skydiving. I’ll never forget it. It wasn’t what I expected. I thought it would be exhilarating; that I would land and shout something like, “WOO HOO!!”… but… at least for me, it was more of an overwhelming experience. Afterwards, I just wanted to sit and contemplate my belly button.”
“In 2003 and 2004 I won the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), hosted by http://www.nanowrimo.org. They host a challenge every year during the month of November for you to write a novel. It doesn’t have to be good, no one reads it for proof (the contest is honor-based) – but you have to write 50,000 words in one month (the definition of a novel). It’s a great and challenging exercise, even if you’re not a writer.”
“I sing in the car. Loudly. I’m that woman you see on the highway, belting out tunes as if she were on stage somewhere and blissfully unconcerned that other people on the highway can see me.”
“I love roller coasters. The more twisty-turny-upside-down-back-and-forth-hair-raising, the better.”