Any follower of Cape Cod literature is familiar with Henry Beston. And if not, they should be. In the year 1926, at the age of 38, the Boston-born writer came to the Cape for a solitary vacation. With plans of brief respite in his self-built cottage, he found himself unable to leave until a year later. Benton's infatuation with the Cape's natural beauty was his inspiration for arguably his first great novel, The Outermost House. Writing in longhand at his oceanside kitchen window, he traced the effects of four consecutive seasons on the shores of Nauset, viewing his new surroundings as a mystery, slowly disclosing its secrets to him.
With a Harvard degree, Beston volunteered with the ambulance corps in World War I. After a scattered, yet character-building literary and teaching career, he found himself nestled in the Cape Cod dunes with the existential satisfaction of finally knowing his true purpose as a writer. Henry wrote of his goal for his nom de plume to become synonymous with the sweeping feelings he experienced through his psychic conversion to naturalism. In 1927, Beston proposed marriage to the love he had bypassed a year earlier, Elizabeth Coatsworth, an accomplished poet and novelist herself. In light of Henry's arsenal of journals, and perhaps recognizing his need for a good creative push, Elizabeth replied, "No book, no marriage." To both of their credits, The Outermost House was published one year later in the Fall of 1928. As promised, a wedding took place the following June. The book was met with a handful of devoted admirers, and slowly but steadily gained literary recognition through years of subsequent printings. Now it is recognized as an American classic, and surely, a valuable reflection for any reader who finds themselves enraptured with Beston's prose.
Beston returned to the beach in Eastham one last time on October 11, 1964, his health declining. His Outermost House was dedicated as a National Literary Landmark. Beston died on April 15, 1968 in Nobleboro, Maine, where he had lived out the remainder of his years with his family.
The house was lost to a winter hurricane in February 1978. Since his death, thousands have come to the beach for a residual sense of the great truth that Henry sought and imbibed completely. As his National Literary Landmark dedication plaque reads, he finally "found it in the spirit of man."
Today, in upstate NY, a husband/wife team has undertaken the heady task of creating the first audiobook of The Outermost House. Silver Hollow Audio consists of Rebecca Barry a dedicated bibliophile, and voice-over performer, Brett Barry. Rebecca has worked with books for a decade – in a publishing house, in a library, and as a freelance book reviewer. She continues to write articles and essays for numerous magazines. Brett's long list of credits includes national commercials, promos and audiobook narration. He is represented by Abrams Artists in New York City. An audiobook seemed to be the perfect way to combine their talents and interests. Inspired by a mutual love of nature and literature, they have created a unique method to experience the awe that is The Outermost House.
The following is an email interview Sarah Hutto conducted with Rebecca and Brett Barry about the process of producing, recording, and self-distributing the Outermost House Audio Book.
Sarah Hutto: How quickly did the idea come together from conception to launch?
Rebecca Barry: We took a road trip through the South for our honeymoon five years ago, and along the way we read aloud "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." We didn't know much about audiobooks then, even though I had worked in book publishing for a couple of years out of college and Brett was beginning a voice-over career. But that was probably the first time we thought to ourselves that it would a good idea to choose books to read or listen to in the car according to where we were second-hand copy of Beston's book, and we read it to each other during the drive. That's when we began to think a bit more seriously about audiobook production, and specifically in regard to titles oriented toward travel and nature. When we relocated in 2005, Brett designed a small studio into the design of our new house, to be used for his voice-over work. We knew that once we had the studio, we could also plan our first audiobook.
SH: Was your interest in the project mutual from the beginning, or did either of you need a little coaxing from the other?
RB: When we finally decided to take the first major step, we had two books in mind. One was a book on the Hudson Valley (where we currently live), and one was The Outermost House. But I felt a powerful pull toward Beston's book, perhaps because it had never been in the audio format, and I felt that, as a classic, it should be. And since Beston is so popular in New England, we felt his book would allow us to focus our efforts, as we learned the process of publishing a book.
SH: Was there a specific vocal mood you envisioned before recording?
Brett Barry: Beston wrote The Outermost House in longhand on a small table in his cabin, and so I tried to narrate the book with this in mind, using a low-key, inner dialogue with myself. Beston's daughter, Kate, told me her father had a formal and beautiful speaking voice. I wanted to convey that without coming off as stodgy. Technically speaking, I placed a few calls to various science departments, to get a handle on some of the Latin pronunciations Beston used. There were quite a few retakes in the studio, as we struggled with the scientific names of birds and insects.
SH: Were any methods used for inspiration? Any trips to Cape Cod?
BB: Unfortunately, we didn't have a chance to visit the Cape during production. We did speak with Kate Barnes and with Beston's biographer, Dr. Daniel G. Payne, throughout the process, which helped to create a link between author and reader.
SH: Did anything surprise you about the process?
RB: Once we had Kate Barnes' consent and blessing, it really was a smooth process. Kate is Beston's daughter, and she is so enthusiastic about our project. It was surprising to find so many Beston fans out there, even beyond the Cape. If you look on the web, you'll find the Henry Beston Society and the Friends of Henry Beston, and so many mentions here and there from readers and writers about how inspiring Beston's book is. For example, Rachel Carson said that The Outermost House was the only book that inspired her own writing. To me, that reveals how important Beston is -- not just a regional literary light -- and reiterates why he and his work deserve a second look (or listen).
SH: Did you learn anything valuable while obtaining recording rights to the book?
BB: Just finding the rights-holder was our first challenge, but once we determined that it was Kate and made the initial phone call, her enthusiasm made for a pleasurable experience.
SH: Are you inspired enough by this project to continue making audiobooks?
RB: Definitely. It's our goal to publish 2-4 books per year, and we already have a handful in mind. There's certainly a learning curve anytime you begin a new business, but we feel we rounded that curve, and now, as long as the financial part works out, we can go full speed ahead. We have an affinity for nature and travel books, as well as memoir or history that touches upon those topics. To us, bringing this type of literature to audio, and to a wider audience, is very meaningful. It also allows us to collaborate, which is great - I'm the 'book' person, and Brett is the 'audio' person, and that works perfectly.
SH: And if so, might you attempt to undertake other authors in the future?
RB: Yes, but we're not disclosing them until the rights are settled!
SH: What would you do differently next time, if anything?
RB: One of the great things about doing it again will be that many of the publishing mechanisms, like marketing or sales and distribution, will be easier simply because of what we learned while publishing this book. For this book, Brett was the narrator, which really worked out well because he is similar in age to Beston when he wrote The Outermost House, and we felt his voice was suited to the rhythm of Beston's prose. For future titles, we'll cast a narrator suitable to the text, so we won't always be relying on Brett to narrate and direct and edit the audio!
SH: What are your hopes in releasing the audiobook to the public?
BB: Many readers already know and love The Outermost House, and I hope that listening to our audiobook will be an experience that is enjoyable for them. And I think there will be others who have never read or even heard of Beston, and if this audiobook version widens the audience, that will be a good thing. We've always envisioned this audiobook as a great companion for travelers to the Cape, and I hope that the listening experience will make the journey that much more memorable.
SH: What is the most integral part of distribution for an audiobook like this?
RB: Distribution has been the most difficult part of this endeavor. We are, essentially, distributing it ourselves for a couple of reasons. One, the two or three major book distributors generally refuse to work with new, indie publishers. This came as a shock to us. Two, since The Outermost House is a book with such strong regional interest, we felt that we could try self-distribution, just by focusing on brick-and-mortar bookstores and libraries in New England, plus online distribution through booksellers and our company website. In most cases, it has worked, and we have also been plugging away at wholesale partnerships to allow independent booksellers an easier way to order. We always felt that this title was a 'travel companion,' which is why the independent bookstores on the Cape are probably the most important outlet for us.
SH: Where does audible.com fit in?
RB: We are making the book available as digital download as well, and we have a license with Audible.com. It should be up on their site any day now.
Sarah Hutto is a writer currently based in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. She spent her formative years in Brooklyn, NY, gathering stories for her writing career. She now enjoys the beauty of Cape Cod year-round where she pursues a variety of creative interests including songwriting, photography, sewing, and anthropomorphizing her cats.
Cape Cod Times Review-May 13, 2007
(Silver Hollow Audio, June 1, unabridged, $29.95)
You've got two weeks to finish listening to the audiotape that's in your car right now. Then, you're going to want to immerse yourself in Henry Beston's "The Outermost House," the classic of American and Cape Cod nature literature that will be available on audiotape for the first time on June 1. "The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod" was Beston's masterpiece. It's the story of a small house, a sandy bar of land and the sea. The house was named a National Literary Landmark in 1964 (Beston died in 1968), and it was destroyed in a winter storm in 1978. According to the folks at Silver Hollow Audio, the audiobook has the blessing of Beston's daughter, Maine writer Kate Barnes. The unabridged five-CD package includes a bonus interview with Beston's biographer, Daniel G. Payne, who along with the CD's narrator, Brett Barry, will be on the Cape June 1-3 for readings and discussions. Check upcoming Author Events on the Books page for times and dates.
-MELANIE LAUWERS BOOKS EDITOR