Leora’s Letters: The Audiobook

Do you listen to books?

People had asked if there’d be an audiobook of Leora’s Letters. I’ve never listened to one before, and didn’t know there’s a whole audience out there, hearing narrated stories on a trip or commuting to work.

I asked my online writers’ group how to go about creating one. Several authors sent me to Audible, where you can even listen to different voices to see who might be a good match for your story.

But thinking I’d like to keep it local, meaning Iowa, I asked a trusted professional (who’d interviewed me about Leora’s Letters) who he’d recommend. I was thinking a woman would narrate, but he listed four men’s names.

Paul Berge

BergeMuzzy (3)

I knew the name at the top. Paul Berge.

He used to be an air traffic controller with my husband here at Des Moines. He’d even written his first book, Bootleg Skies, on mid (midnight) shifts in the control tower.

Paul had also created a radio drama series, “Rejection Slip Theater,” for WHO Radio 1040 AM. I submitted my “Reconciling Dad” story back then, and he edited it to fit in with the style of the program. That was long ago. I’d forgotten. This goes back to B.F. (before fibromyalgia, which began about 2001). He has also been the host of “Side Roads” on Iowa Public TV.

Paul said to send a copy of the Leora’s Letters. I waited. Being patient was hard.

But then had me send a another copy of it to studio engineer Steve Mathews, who used to own a recording studio, and whose father flew B-25s in the Pacific during WWII.

Steve Mathews


Well, they both said yes, they’d record the book, but that it’s “be a big project.” Steve had rigged up a studio in an old sauna in his basement and they got to work, doing a couple of chapters a day.

Steve sent me an mp3 of part of the story. Leora’s Letters brought to life! It about did me in when I heard my grandfather, Clabe, in his own words, as he talked with family members.

Paul uses a folksy diction with Clabe and the boys, which I’d imagined also. I knew I’d asked the right man to narrate this precious story.

Steve has also been so gracious about the whole thing. His part in the production takes twice as much time as Paul’s, plus keeping me in the loop and also uploading all the files.

Paul sent a note, saying that Steve is the “best in the business. Betchya didn’t know he’s been inducted into the Iowa Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame–Twice.” Hmm, modest, too, as that’s not even mentioned on Steve’s Facebook page.

LinkedIn reveals Steve Mathews‘s history, as a drummer in a rock and roll band, and former owner of Radio Garage Productions. He also does audio for corporate communications and voicing for radio and TV commercials.

And recording and editing for Leora’s Letters.

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Recording the prologue and epilogue in a converted sauna.

According to the latest Writer’s Digest (May/June 2020), one in five Americans listen to audiobooks. The article also discussed differentiating between voices. Paul does that, which I wasn’t expecting, even including a creditable FDR toward the beginning.

And sings a little of “Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder,” which was played as the recessional at my parents’ wedding!

I didn’t realize what my request would put the narrator through, how hard it would be to read out loud the words of the difficult telegrams after getting to know the brothers. Or even Steve as he recorded and edited. They have become part of Leora’s story, and have embraced the Wilson family, who lost three of their five sons during WWII.

Paul Berge says he’s honored to lend a voice to the Wilson stories, that it’s time they were heard.

I’m amazed and humbled.

Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II is available on Amazon.com as a paperback, an ebook, and now even an audiobook.  Listen to a clip from Audible right under the cover photo.

From Paul’s Facebook page, June 25, 2020: “I had the honor of voicing a deeply poignant audiobook on WWII. Leora’s Letters, by Joy Neal Kidney, tells the story of an Iowa farm family’s contribution to the war. Five sons (Joy’s uncles): two in the Navy; three in the Air Force. I won’t spoil the drama of this true–and meticulously researched story–but the studio engineer, Steve Mathews, and I had a tough time getting through some of the chapters. Once you listen, you’ll want to buy the paperback to see the many photos of the family members.”

Steve’s take on it: “In the words of the immortal bard….’Woo Hoo’.  (Okay, I may have paraphrased.)  I’m thrilled.”

John Busbee, who suggested Paul Berge to narrate the story: “This should be one wonderful audio journey for people who love history, memoir, good storytelling and, quite simply, a gentle reflective journey through the eyes of another. Paul’s recognizable and affable style will bring Joy’s writing based on Leora’s letters to wonderful life.”

Clip from the audiobook.

Paul wrote his compelling story about getting involved with the project, for AVWeb, an online aviation magazine.


  1. Listening to audio books on my long commute, I found that everything depends on the voice. I’ve been utterly enthralled with some books then shut off and never returned to others by the same author because of a change of reader.

    A side note about air traffic controllers… Good lord, how does anyone understand them? I’ve listened to flight recordings and could hardly make out a word. I asked a friend who was a controller in Rochester about this – and he just smiled.

    • Do you mean that Paul Berge should also narrate my next one, of Leora’s Depression Era stories??? I’ll tell him you said so! I actually did open up the idea, as he had no idea I was working on something else. It would be my Grandfather Clabe’s voice through Paul again. I would love that.

      I’m reading Paul’s “Aeromancy” for the second time, savoring it this time. It’s all about flying, but there’s a section dealing with ATC. I know what you mean: If I hadn’t been married to an air traffic controller, I probably wouldn’t have caught some of it. And when a controller is busy and “in his groove,” there’s a cadence and magic to it.

  2. That’s great to hear. I’ve been surprised by the same question from some when I tell them about the books…
    “Got it in audiobook?” How long is it?

    • I’d never listened to one before, so had never though about it. The chapters take 5 1/2 hours, then we added a little before and after. Seems long, but a cousin said, “Oh, Omaha and back!”

      • Good. That’s a very good length in today’s audiobooks. Many have gotten to 7-10 hours and that gets ridiculous unless it’s a vacation or someone decides to use a commute to listen for extended time. Check with Clive Library if you’ve already donated your book there. They have a good audiobook collection. Urbandale Library – you can donate book to them if you haven’t already. Let me know how they are for acceptance. Have been fussy…and I don’t mean that as a self published author…as a patron.

      • I use both libraries (mainly as a writing/editing space that’s not home) but haven’t donated my book to either, just WDM (where I used to work). It’s just hard for me to get out anyway, and this shoulder is in a snit again. Sure took more out of my than I thought it would. (I just wonder what price Audible will set for it.)

  3. I had fun putting two of my books into audo book format, especially the one with all of the Italian dialect. I had a voice over professional handle the narrative as I probably sound like a curmudgeon.

    • I have a gravelly old-lady voice, but enough people said they liked it that when they asked me to do the front and back parts, it made sense. It was nice to work with a pro who could readily edit it (even stopping me when a truck drove by, then starting again).

    • I’d never even thought of it, but people began to ask. So I started asking questions. Timeline: Paul said to send a copy of the book March 27. The first chapter was recorded April 27. Recorded my part May 26. Uploaded to Audible June 16. Now just waiting.

  4. Hello Joy,
    My Mom who lives in the Quad Cities, would love this audiobook – does it come as a CD audiobook? She’s not tech savvy, so she would need an actual CD to put in her player. Any ideas are appreciated!

    • I’m afraid it does not! I didn’t realize it either, but we’re getting dragged into all of this whether we like it or not! The other drawback to the audiobook is that there’s no photos either. I sure appreciate your note.

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