Lizz Huerta, author of The Lost Dreamer, credits audiobooks with her upbringing

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The white tiger had just emerged from the tree of life when a voice shouted at me.

“No music in the headphones on the construction site!” Peligro!

I watched the blonde foreman from my perch on the ladder, my brush still. He was pointing his ears and shaking his head back and forth: a physical Nope, in case I don’t understand English. I press pause.

“I’m listening to an audiobook. Are stories allowed? I enjoyed the familiar embrace of confusion on his face. I was a dark-haired woman in paint-stained overalls at a construction site. I used to confuse people.

“Just be careful,” the foreman mumbled as he walked away. I returned to the tiger.

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There was a time when I was ashamed of working with my body, of not following my friends into higher education and careers that included sitting. My writer friends learned to tell stories in class, to participate in discussion circles, to deconstruct. They talked about profession, theory, who was dating who in their cohort. I spent my days with those who built: plumbers, electricians, painters and the ironworkers of my father’s company. I learned to tell a story by listening. Audiobooks have been central to my upbringing.

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I’ve spent over 15 years devouring audiobooks across subject and genre. I painted the wrought iron surrounding the gated communities while my mind and heart raced with the accumulation of romance novels. I navigated my ladder around beautiful thorny bougainvilleas as the caring voice of Brené Brown spoke to me of resilience. I wept with Achilles’ beloved companion, Patroclus, behind a man-made waterfall, pulling the bandana from my hair to wipe away my tears. I was anticipating terror, following Angela Toussaint in “The Good House”, when a customer tapped me on the shoulder. I screamed. The customer screamed. Spilled paint. Once the mess and the explanations were over, the client asked me which book had captivated me so much, and I happily introduced him to the work of Tananarive Due. I painted battles. I gazed at my prefrontal cortex as I applied cold galvanizing spray to rusty iron. I ate my lunch in my truck with Eduardo Galeano. History was my constant companion. After work, I would go home and write.

I was learning what good writing looked like – cadence, flow and rhythm. I found myself drawn to certain audiobook narrators and the books they read to me. (Oh, Robin Miles, your voice is a miracle.) When I was writing stories, I was saying my words out loud, listening to the yes in my chest when I hit the right resonance. I became more confident in my writing. I became more confident in my life, appreciating how fit it was, how I could be in the sun every day, the audiobooks still playing.

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In the summers, I took time off from painting to take part in writing workshops. I enjoyed the atmosphere of most of the workshops and was delighted to meet other writers. And I started noticing dissatisfaction among many people I met. Academia seemed like a grotesque hellscape to me. I didn’t have to worry about course loads and tenure committees, office hours and other complications of a life I thought I had once missed. My brain has never been fried after work. He was fresh with ideas, eager to create. My creative time was not in competition with the work that fed me. My painting never followed me home. I started to see my work as a gift. Who else could listen to books all day, in solitude? My work could be physically tiring, but there was deep satisfaction. At the end of the afternoon, a rusty and faded iron door reappears under my hand. There is beauty in completion.

I took a notebook with me while I painted. Throughout the day, lines came to me, scenes of tension, moments of love between characters. I wrote down the ideas and put them into the book I wrote when I got home. A fantasy. A book about girls who can enter Sacred Dreaming, a different dimension. I listened to books on writing, ignored what was wrong, and had confidence in myself. A chance encounter (divine?) while working as a painter led me to sign with a literary agent. The book sold. For the first time in 20 years, I was off the scales and writing full time.

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And I missed audiobooks. I missed sun on my skin. My body revolted against the immobility of my days, unaccustomed to remaining seated, to being silent. I listened. I put on my headphones and pushed the game while learning the ways I needed to move for the story to come to fruition. A few months ago, my editor asked me to choose the narrators for the audiobook of my first novel, “The Lost Dreamer”. I knew what I was listening to and I chose narrators whose resonance of voices gave me the yes in my chest, I knew I was right. I loved hearing my lyrics interpreted by Inés del Castillo and Elisa Melendez.

I first listened to my audiobook in the back seat of my sister’s car, sandwiched between two child car seats. When the narrator’s voice filled the car, speaking the words of my story, I burst into tears and could only listen for a few minutes before my sister turned it off. I was overwhelmed by the beautiful cadence of the voice, and by the form of my story, not just that of the page. I thought of the countless hours I had spent on scales with audiobooks. I imagined strangers in traffic, out for a walk, on building sites, my words in my ear. When I got home, I put on my headphones and sat on my balcony, watching the birds playing in the bamboo, grateful to my heart, listening and admiring what had emerged through me.

Lizz Huerta is the author of “The Lost Dreamer”.

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