First lesson: location, location, location! Eureka, California is about as good a place for recording an audiobook as coastal Japan is for a nuclear power plant. Quite simply, the audio engineer talent isn't in Eureka. If you want an audio engineer who is incapable of recording the spoken word inside a booth without also recording himself zipping up his hoodie outside the booth - along with picking up other technical noises, like 60-cycle hums, which shouldn't be on the track - then by all means, record in Eureka.
Second lesson: notwithstanding my default assumption that most people in the world are basically well-intentioned and doing the best they can, the world is occasionally peopled with unprofessional, unethical scoundrels. Such folk may be disguised as soft-spoken, physically-pathetic, socially-awkward sound engineers to whom one may be predisposed to show kindness. But for reasons known best to themselves, the mask slips, and they reveal themselves: in my case, the incompetent sound engineer held my master audio file hostage and demanded a ransom of more than a hundred dollars in excess of the hundreds of dollars I'd already paid him . . . for an ultimately unusable recording.
Third lesson: people who deserve to be sued don't have to be sued by you. I didn't pay the ransom, but I did retain a lawyer. And another sound engineer. The lawyer sent a demand letter, which threatened to sue the first sound engineer if he didn't return the master audio file to me. The second sound engineer meanwhile analyzed some mp3 files made from the master audio file, a process that revealed that the master was hopelessly flawed and useless.
Thus, when the first sound engineer responded to the demand letter by refusing to return the master audio file, I found myself without much reason to pursue litigation. I could ask for a refund, yes, and punitive damages, as well; but the impetus for the suit had never been money: the audio recording was my voice, my novel, my creation - and I wanted it back. If it was, in fact, unusable, then I wasn't much interested in being the instrument of punishment for the Eureka-based, unprofessional, unethical sound engineer: let adult-onset diabetes, or some other lifestyle disease related to his obesity and general decrepitude, finish him off.
Fourth lesson: the fact that I paid $1,150 to two sound engineers and an attorney and ended up with nothing isn't the kind of fact that I should dwell on. Financial loss is an unavoidable fact of life, especially for artists, and apparently for me in particular, and acceptance is the only manner of dealing that isn't going to impair my quality of life (to say nothing of my emotional calm). Instead, I will focus on this soothing, amusing quote from E.M. Forster's A Passage to India, in which Aziz says:
If money goes, money comes. If money stays, death comes. Did you ever hear that useful Urdu proverb? Probably not, for I have just invented it.The Swing of Beijing will be available as an audiobook at some future, but as-of-yet undetermined, date.
(Photo of Alice Forney personifying the Goddess of Frustration in Relation to Sound Recordings by Maya Alexandri)