I saw an article recently in the Bangor Daily News catching people up on what movies are being made out of Stephen King books.
As much as I’m a huge fan, every time I think of Stephen King-book-based movies, I cringe. All I can think of is decades of tortured attempts to do a Maine accent.
It doesn’t end with those – they’re just the most public. It’s also “Murder She Wrote.” Angela Lansbury just spoke her usual lovely way, but Tom Bosley, as Amos Tupper, well, if the Peppridge Farm guy and, I don’t know, someone with a really bad Maine accent, had a baby, it would sound like him. Once it grew up.
Richard Russo is one of my favorite writers. But when I tried to rewatch “Empire Falls” recently to enjoy the Waterville and Skowhegan locales, ugh. I like Ed Harris. I love Paul Newman, who’s enjoyable even when crusty and bearded. But I couldn’t watch. I had to make it stop. I think I got through about 20 minutes. Could not take the bad attempts at Maine accents. (No great loss, it’s not even close to being my favorite Russo book).
I could go on and on. If you’re a Mainer (no, folks from away, we rarely, and I never, call ourselves Maine-iacs) you probably have your favorite most hated attempt at Maine accents on the big or little screen.
When I first auditioned narrators for the audio versions of my books, I made it clear I didn’t want the person to do much Maine accenting, even though my books take place in Franklin county. I think the way I worded it was that I wanted the person to sound like “a trusted friend telling a story,” or something like that.
It’s not that I didn’t trust a narrator to do a decent accent. Okay, that may have been part of it, since I’m hard pressed to hear one by a non-Mainer that sounds genuine. There’s a lot more to it than dropping the Rs. But it had more to do with a bunch of other things.
When I listen to an audio book, I know it’s not a play. I don’t expect the dialogue to sound like lines being read, I expect the narrator to be telling me a story. Reading me a book. If I wanted it to be a play, I would have written a play.
So, when a review of an audio version of one of my books said that my awesome narrator, Trudi Knoedler should “brush up on her Maine accent,” I take the blame. Though I don’t feel there’s really any reason to blame anyone. I told her explicitly not to do Maine accents. I don’t write the characters speaking dialect – a huge distraction for readers – and I feel accents when listening to a book are equally distracting.
That said, before I knew about that (unjustified) criticism, I’d already determined to send Trudi a DVD of the wonderful documentary “Knee Deep,” by Michael Chandler and Sheila Canavan. The documentary, like my Bernie O’Dea mystery series, takes place in Franklin County. It’s a real slice of Maine (while the narrator says at the beginning it’s a Maine even most in the state don’t know, I strenuously beg to differ). I wanted her to hear bonafide western Maine accents (not to be confused with Downeast accents), just so she can get a little flavor into the third book. The fire chief, a minor character in the first book, Cold Hard News, and who didn’t appear in the second, No News is Bad News, plays a significant part in the third, Bad News Travels Fast. He grew up on a Farmington-area dairy farm, just like the main character in “Knee Deep.” (If you’re interested in watching it, by the way, it’s hard to find unless buy it from the website, kneedeepthedoc.com. Or you can just borrow my copy. Or Trudi’s, if you live in California).
That’s not to say I’ve changed my mind on the Maine accents at all. But one thing I never considered until Trudi started narrating my books is that professional narrators try to give each voice a “voice.” Gee, just like authors do! Trudi is a master at it, but I don’t do her any favors with my Dickensian bent toward having a lot of characters (yes, I know, I’ll say it for you, it’s the only thing Charles Dickens and I have in common).
The documentary is a tool, because someone in California is going to be hard-pressed to find a bonafide western Maine accent. Anywhere.
Does that mean I’m giving in on the accents? No, it doesn’t. I still want to the books to sound like a trusted friend is telling a story. But if I can help another artist do her job better, then I’m going to do it.
Now if we could just get the world to pronounce Bangor correctly…