If you already follow Amanda Palmer, author of The Art of Asking, on Twitter, then you probably know that lately she’s been busy grieving, battling Lyme Disease, recording with her father, and preparing to have her first baby with her husband Neil Gaiman. So we were incredibly pleased that she took time out from her nonstop, go-go-go life, to answer a few questions for us via email.
[Judy Oldfield] My understanding of the way audiobooks are made is that narrators—even when it’s the author narrating their own work—are given a script that they can’t stray from. It’s hard for many authors. Was it hard for you?
[AP] No, it wasn’t hard. It was actually really helpful to be in the recording studio at that exact moment. I was in New York for three straight days of recording and the book itself was in final editing stages, which meant that I was sitting there with a pencil, changing lines, scratching out repetitive words, saying things like, “Wait . . . that doesn’t actually makes sense, does it?” And I’d stop and ask the audio engineers, “Does that makes sense?” And they acted as editors along with me.
So in a sense, I was still finishing up the script, and lucky for me. Because reading aloud brings new problems into light that silent reading just doesn’t highlight. And it also really solidified my own personal relationship with the book, to just sit there for three days and read the whole thing, in front of an audience, even if the audience was just audio engineers and a rep from the publisher. It was like doing a live performance and seeing how the emotional arcs actually hit me, and hit the people listening. Truth be told, there were two or three times I looked out the studio into the control room and made sure they were crying . . . or at least close to crying. I choked up at least three times.
[JO] In The Art of Asking, you wrote about needing a lot of privacy in order to create. What’s the most unusual place you’ve written something (be it blog posts, your book, or music)?
[AP] Ha. Well—I’ve written in a lot of strange places, especially since getting a phone and being able to leave myself notes and voice memos anytime. Bathrooms everywhere. Friends’ homes. Subways. Closets at parties. One of my favorite birth-spots for a full song was in a keg room of a nightclub in Portland, OR, where I wrote “Astronaut”. I held a gun to my head that night because the guy I was writing it about was in the audience for one night and one night only. And so I just did it. An immediate audience has often been my mother of invention.
[JO] People have very strong opinions on you and your work. I have a friend who says that listening to your former band The Dresden Dolls got her through her divorce. But I’ve also read critics who’ve dismissed you for anything from your appearance to your mistakes (real or perceived). Any idea why you provoke such strong responses from people?
[AP] Sure. I think people with strong emotions elicit strong emotions. It used to bother me more, but I’ve come to realize that it’s just part of the game of life. It’s especially true when you’re a woman, and the more of the world I see, the more I see people being fearful of women who live out loud, mistakes or no. And I figure my job is just to get on with it, and not to cower, and not to try to please people.
[JO] Your TED Talk has 7 million views. Your book, The Art of Asking, is a bestseller. What’s the most surprising thing that’s happened to you because of the talk or the book?
[AP] The most surprising? Honestly the most surprising thing is when I’m walking down the street in New York and a super bad-ass looking hoodlum-esque teenager passes me on the street, takes his headphones off, and says, “Wait, are you that TED girl? I just saw your TED talk and I loved it. That asking shit is dope.” That’s happened multiple times. And I’m always astoundingly happy.
[JO] You’ve recently gone back to crowdfunding, though in a newer, more sustainable way. How has Patreon helped you as an artist?
It’s liberated me. There’s 5,500 people currently entrusting me with their credit cards basically saying, “Go ahead and make art, and charge as needed, forever,” which feels like a massive relief and responsibility at the same time. It’s like I got access, suddenly, to a magic highway spur that bypasses the entirety of the mass media, the music industry, and the entire establishment.
But there are moments when it just feels surreal to be so far off the grid, with absolutely nobody in the “real world” paying attention to the madness that is going on outside the city.
But then again, that’s the modern world. There’s always so much going on nowadays that you don’t know about. Sometimes it feels like me and my fans live in a cave, and I worry that we need more air.
[JO] Libro.fm is a new company. We’re the independent bookstore for digital audiobooks. As a writer, an entrepreneur, and an advocate of independent bookstores, what advice do you have for us?
[AP] Don’t let Amazon and Audible get you down.
[JO] What challenges or fears are you facing right now? What are you doing to overcome them?
Oh dear lord . . . nice timing. I’m eight months pregnant. I have NO IDEA what is about to happen to me, I feel like I’m about to fall of an existential cliff, and I’m just bracing myself for an unknown reality over which I will have little control. And what am I doing to overcome them? Nothing, really, except trying to put every piece of zen wisdom I’ve ever lean red into practice. There is only now, now and now. And now. Whatever happens: birth, death, change, catastrophe . . . it will still be now, and it will still be fine. There is never ever any space for regret or fear. It’s poison.
The Art of Asking is our Book of the Month. Use the code WeLoveAmanda at check out to get 25%.