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The Coolest Compliment I Ever Received

Or, an audiobook narrator celebrates the work of the author you’ll never meet: John Twelve Hawks

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While working on a spectacular new novel a few weeks ago, I was reminded that as an audiobook narrator I’m often asked, “Do you ever get to meet the authors of the books you record?”  But in the case of one particular writer, the pertinent question is always, “Do you know who John Twelve Hawks really is?” See, JXIIH (as his fans refer to him) is a made-up name.  Pick up one of his books and his author bio is glaringly short: “John Twelve Hawks lives off the grid.”  And you’ll likely…

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While working on a spectacular new novel a few weeks ago, I was reminded that as an audiobook narrator I’m often asked, “Do you ever get to meet the authors of the books you record?”  But in the case of one particular writer, the pertinent question is always, “Do you know who John Twelve Hawks really is?”

See, JXIIH (as his fans refer to him) is a made-up name.  Pick up one of his books and his author bio is glaringly short: “John Twelve Hawks lives off the grid.”  And you’ll likely never find that other staple: an author photo.  Dedicated to resisting society’s efforts to observe (or control) our lives, JXIIH communicates with his publishers solely using the Internet and an untraceable satellite phone, typically with a voice scrambler.  Even his editor will tell you that they’ve never met in person.

There has been a great deal of speculation as to his real identity, of course, ever since his lauded debut novel THE TRAVELER, the first volume of the Fourth Realm Trilogy.  Some say he’s a famous author or other type of celebrity who writes under a pseudonym.  To this JXIIH replies, “None of these theories are correct, and they are usually invented by people who have never read my books.”  On his website he elaborates a bit: “When a person speculates about my identity, it reveals something about their own background and preferences. If the canvas is blank, the only thing people can see on its surface is themselves.” 

Still, it’s hard not to wonder.  When I first heard about him, I wondered if it was true; I admit I was curious whether or not JXIIH was truly off the grid or whether this was all some elaborate fiction, like the stories in his novels?

Then came the day I heard his voice.  Or didn’t hear it, more accurately.

While working on the second volume of The Fourth Realm trilogy, our producer, Kelly Gildea, got in touch with the author via email to ask about various pronunciation issues.  Rather than trying to write them out phonetically, he thought it would be easier to simply leave her a voicemail message so she could hear how the words should sound.  And wouldn’t you know it, when John got in touch he did indeed call from an untraceable sat phone.  

On our first day of recording, Kelly came into the studio and gave me the pronunciations, which she’d typed out phonetically.  Still, she asked me to follow her back to her office so I could hear something fun.  Having no idea what was coming, I complied, only to hear her play the voicemail on speakphone.  And amazingly, JXIIH did in fact use a vocal scrambler.  I shook my head in amazement as he finished, then said something along the lines of, “Oh, and tell Scott Brick I really enjoyed his performance on The Traveler.”  

I was blown away.  It wasn’t the most elaborate compliment I’ve received, but coming as it did through a scrambler, it is easily the most memorable and most surreal.  I only wish I’d recorded that message to keep it for posterity.

The reason all this has been center stage in my brain recently is because I was asked by Random House to narrate the first JXIIH book in five years, a fabulous new science fiction tale called SPARK.  It is as fascinating a twist on the killer for hire genre as any I’ve ever seen.

Jacob Underwood is a contract employee of the Special Services Section, a shadow department in the faceless multinational corporation DBG. Jacob is not a businessman… he is a hired assassin… and his job is to neutralize problems deemed unacceptable by the corporation. Jacob is not like other employees, nor is he like other people. Suffering from Cotard's syndrome—a real condition that causes people to believe they are dead—Jacob perceives himself as nothing but a Shell with no emotion and no sense of right or wrong. Jacob's condition allows him to carry out assignments with ruthless, logical precision—devoid of guilt, fear, or dishonor. But as his new assignment draws him inside a labyrinthine network of dark dealings, Jacob finds himself up against something he is completely incapable of understanding. Spark is an ingenious and chilling vision of modern-day humanity under constant, invasive surveillance and a pulse-pounding game of cat and mouse.

Trust me: you want to read this book.  I was fascinated from first page to last.

It was wonderful being back working on a Twelve Hawks novel, it felt like coming home.  Amazingly, shortly after finishing SPARK the author got in touch with me directly through my website, the first time that’s ever happened, and paid me a compliment that was far more elaborate than the one he’d left on that voicemail long ago.  I won’t go into detail—as with most things about Twelve Hawks, the content of the email will remain private.

I’ll close by saying I am no closer to knowing his real identity now than I have ever been.  But I’ll tell you this: I’ve come to really admire how he lives his life.  He’s written and released a non-fiction book called Against Authority: Freedom and the Rise of the Surveillance States, available free on his website.  Yeah, you read that right, free.  JXIIH puts his money where his mouth is, he lives the fight he describes in his books, and I for one applaud him for it.  In this hyper-connected age, I think we all deserve a little anonymity, and JXIIH is welcome to his.

So even if I ever DO learn his real identity one day, there’s not a chance in the world I’d tell anyone.  It’d be like learning Batman’s secret identity: sharing it with the world would only impede the vital work he does.  My lips would be sealed.

Thanks for listening. 

Scott Brick

Spark
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Spark

The Traveler
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The Traveler

The Dark River
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The Dark River

The Golden City
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The Golden City

This is me, inaugurating Random House Audio’s brand new studio on the first day of recording SPARK. It was a real pleasure getting to christen the space with such a brilliant book.

This is how I look while standing in the halls of Random House Audio, wondering just whose book I’m narrating.

Comments

Cari Blount says:

Listening to your At First Sight, I love your voice on CD.
I travel a lot and enjoy books on CD your books and voice add a lot to my drives. Thanks Cari

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Laurie says:

I love how you can change gender voices, accents, and project characters personalities

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what an amazing story! thanks for sharing sir ;)

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steve kozak says:

Scott, I have listened to probably 50 -60 books your have read, I love your voice, and will listen to virtually anything you read. I’m retired due to a disability, and listen to your books constantly while working on my art. Keep up the great work. After reading this, I have added all John Twelve Hawks books to my must listen to list, A big fan.

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Hello, Scott.  You write as wonderfully as you narrate - compelling and clearly.  I first listened to you read Gregg Hurwitz’s Don’t Look Back, then Harlan Coben’s Six Years and I just finished Hold Tight.  Your voice is easy on the ears!  Once I hear a narrator I enjoy, I seek out their books.  I can’t wait to hear more - thank you!

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