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Talking with John Jakes

Bestselling historical novelist John Jakes’s career began with the spoken word, which, he says, is why he’s so pleased to have his works performed as audiobooks. “As a teenager, I worked as an actor in what amounted to public radio in Chicago,” he explained in a recent interview. “And in my early days as a science fiction writer in the 1950s and ’60s, I contributed radio plays to shows that are long defunct but that remain vivid in memory. All this adds up to a special understanding of performance mediums, a thing not every writer can claim.” Jakes learned many important lessons about the spoken word during his years in radio and theater, including the fact that “there are at least a half dozen actors, maybe more, who are right for any part. Audiobooks, of course, fit right into this. I like them.”

Jakes has listened to all the audio productions of his books with, he says, “varying reactions of approval and disapproval. All the readers chosen by producers have been professionals. That said, some have struck me as better than others.” He gives particularly high marks to Edward Herrmann for his narrations of HOMELAND and AMERICAN DREAMS. He also thinks that Dylan Baker did a fine job recording CHARLESTON. Although Jakes likes audiobooks, and read his own introduction to CHARLESTON, he has never been asked to narrate one of his books. Perhaps the omission is just as well, he says, as a busy writing schedule would currently force him to turn down such an offer. But he is clearly tempted. “I’ve always felt that I could do it with ease and enjoy the experience.” Acknowledging that an unabridged novel might be a bit demanding, he says,“Perhaps one of these days I’ll just record a few of my short stories.”

In the meantime, Jakes is busy writing and developing stage adaptations of his novels NORTH AND SOUTH and GREAT EXPECTATIONS. And he is busy listening to audiobooks. “By a quirk of fate, and not entirely a voluntary one, lately I’ve been listening to a great many audiobooks. A recent medical procedure left me with partially impaired sight that is gradually returning to normal. I’ve never had the reason, or the time, to enjoy audiobooks so fully before. I’m grateful for a medium that allows me to indulge my lifelong love of books without actually turning pages.”—Aurelia C. Scott

OCT/NOV 02
©2002 AudioFile, Portland, Maine

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