Part II: Interview with Robin Sitten, the narrator of Writing Out Loud

November 19, 2017 • Posted in blindness, careers/jobs for people who are blind, guide dogs by

In case you missed my last post:

You can now buy the audio version of Writing Out Loud.

You heard that right: The audio version of “Writing Out Loud” is now available at And, too.

But wait. There’s more! Thanks to my publisher — Golden Alley Press — you can win a free audio book! Just email and enter WOL Freebie in the subject line. Golden Alley Press will choose the winner from the first 50 entries.

Robin Sitten narrates Writing Out Loud, and she generously agreed to let me interview her about recording the book. So here goes with Part II of the interview:

What were some specific challenges in recording “Writing Out Loud”?

Nancy and I had talked about the excerpts from your class members, and how to approach them. It is a fine line between a characterization and a caricature…and knowing these are real people, who will certainly listen to the book, I wanted to be respectful of them. Nothing cartoonish, or stereotypical. I wanted the attention to be to their words and not my voice. This is always tricky. Giving Hannelore an accent was the most delicate of these, because her writing is so powerful and I didn’t want to be a distraction.

A lot of authors, and readers too, I should say, are looking for an audio performance — a radio play. When these are done well, they can be very captivating. But I see my role as representing the author’s words, not putting on a show. That’s my background in disabilities access, for sure. We are taught to be “invisible.” Being told “I forget the narrator was even there” is a compliment in my world. But audio book readers expect something else these days.

Were there any passages in “Writing Out Loud” that were particularly fun to read/record?

In spite of what I’ve said about giving Hannelore an accent, her passages were the most enjoyable because of the challenge of it. Because I am reading cold, this is a challenge for me to see how much I can internalize the voice and accent. And that puts me in “the zone” in some ways.

How do you deal with words that are hard to pronounce?

God bless the Internet. I have on hand a wonderful 1940s dictionary with a pronouncing gazetteer – tissue-thin paper, thumb tabs, the whole thing. But when I can’t find it there, I can usually find a video on YouTube where someone pronounces the word.

I recently recorded a memoir by a woman from Kenya, and since it was in the first person, I wanted to make sure I used the local pronunciation for places, and not the English way. I was able to find news stories and interviews on Youtube where I could hear this pronounced, then got on the phone with the author (Wanjiru Warama, “Unexpected America”) who coached me through it.

How do you feel about using accents when reading?Mixed feelings, really. I like doing accents, and can do a lot of them. But they are difficult to sustain over a book, and sometimes the writing makes the accent that much more difficult. I am also skittish about an accent that sounds stereotypical, and is clearly someone imitating an accent that is not their own.

Do you listen to your own recordings?

I do my own editing, so yes. I guess that counts. But to listen to a book after I’ve recorded it, no. I’ve heard it too many times by then.

Have you ever met an author face-to-face after reading their book out loud? What was that like? Odd? Surprising? Disturbing? Thrilling?This answer is a bit of a cheat, because I have recorded Jeremy Flagg (“Children of Nostradamus”), who is a neighbor and a friend. I knew him before, though. Your question is have I met anyone after recording them? Not yet!

I know now that you’ve recorded textbooks for Learning Ally (Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic) for decades, but when we were deciding which narrator to choose, it was, pardon the pun, a blind audition. The publisher and I had no idea you had any experience with reading for people who are blind before we chose you to read “Writing Out Loud.” Do you think working with and knowing other people who are blind, being familiar with assistive technology and white canes and audio description for live theater and such, was an asset when recording this book about a woman who is blind?

You know, I do, but in tiny ways that maybe no one else would notice. I know how dog handlers talk to their dogs, for example. You have to be around a lot of guide dog users to hear that cadence. The story of being confronted on the street by “helpful” strangers is a story I have heard many times. I was excited to get this project because I feel like part of the blindness community, and because I wanted to support you in this project as a community member. And I suppose I thought to some degree that we probably know many people in common, and I am connected to a potential audience for this book. But at the same time, your experience as a child from a big family, a Chicagoan, a wife and mother… none of that is my experience. So I had to tell your story your way through your words.

Allison On November 20, 2017 at 11:21 am

Hi Beth,

I just finished listening to the audio version of Writing Out Loud. I loved it!!! I wish I lived in Chicago so I could take one of your memoir classes. I have been a fan of this blog for a long time. I am a writer too, I have a crime novel published, and I’m working on a second one now. I am also totally blind like you, hoping to get a guide dog someday. I loved the way you described Tap Tap See, working with Hanni, Harper and Whitney, Gus and Mike too. I thought the whole book was brilliantly crafted and brilliantly read by Robin. I feel like I know the members of your memoir writing class. I’m still on the hunt for Long Time No See, does Bard have that one? I live in Spain now, so not sure if I can use Bard out of the U.S. Great job as always, and I love Mondays with Mike too!!


Beth On November 20, 2017 at 12:26 pm

Allison, it means the world to me to have an audio book available for readers who are visually impaired, and to hear from one of them who liked the reading is so gratifying. Thank you for taking the time to leave this comment, Allison. Writing Out Loud is my first book available on Long Time, No See is indeed available on the BARD system, and Writing Out Loud is in the queue to be recorded for BARD, too, just don’t know when that will happen. I’ll hit the “send” button on this message and then look up your crime novel — would love to hear it. !

Robin On November 21, 2017 at 10:14 am

Thanks for your comments Allison!

Deborah Darsie On December 4, 2017 at 5:55 pm

What an interesting glimpse into the audio book world!

I suggested my county library system purchase your book. I am quite interested in reading it, so I hope they will purchase it. (Fingers crossed)

Beth On December 5, 2017 at 5:59 pm

Wonderful! Do you mean the print version, or the audio one?

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