Creating Iago’s Audiobook

by Rose Guildenstern

My publisher asked me to write a blog for their website about the experience of collaborating to craft Iago’ Penumbra into an audiobook. I thought it would be fun to share this article on my own website as well, so–here it is:

Rooted in the works of Shakespeare, Iago’s Penumbra: A Metaphysical Novel explores death, love, and what it means to be human in the hopes that, at last, we might perchance stop lying to ourselves. It’s a complex book unlike anything else on the market in the new genre of Metaphysical Visionary Fiction, made popular by such esteemed works as The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho and The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom.

Metaphysical fiction explores topics like consciousness expansion, past lives, alternative spirituality, mysticism, the occult, and parapsychology. These visionary novels essentially have two components integral to the story itself: a philosophical exploration of the nature of reality and a non-corporeal, ineffable or supranatural element, as in characters or events that transcend the natural.

This emerging genre finds readership among those who enjoy otherworldly tales, magical realism, science fiction, philosophy, cartomancy, the paranormal, and alternative spiritual paths—those who seek to delve into the larger questions about life, for, as Shakespeare wrote:

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”


This genre is growing because there is an urgent need in the world for a fiction category that helps readers explore spiritual ideas and concepts not just rationally—as one might through a non-fiction book—but emotionally and experientially. In a Metaphysical Visionary novel, you don’t simply learn about deeper spiritual truths, but you feel them unfolding through the power of story on a gut level, experiencing them vicariously through the eyes of an engaging cast of characters from the safety of your own armchair so that you can apply them to your life as you wish.

As a Metaphysical Visionary novel, Iago’s Penumbra takes the reader on a spiritual journey into a fascinating story with beloved characters to help the reader ask and safely explore these fundamental metaphysical questions:

  • What happens after we die? Why do we die? Why do things end?
  • What is this force called love that seems to rule almost every aspect of life? Why is it so powerful? How can it simultaneously seem as though it’s both the greatest and worst thing to ever happen to us?
  • What does it mean to be human? Can we lose our humanity? How can one human being treat another human being as though they are less than human?

“Iago’s Penumbra takes you on an unforgettable journey through the shadows while weaving an exquisite tale of love, life, and the afterlife. Guildenstern’s writing has the rhythm and depth of a musical ocean with tides of longing, joy, sorrow, and the inevitable. A deeply satisfying and thought-provoking tale that everyone needs to read.” –Monica Bodirsky, The Shadowland Tarot, Shadowland Lenormand, & Between the Worlds Oracle


It’s become critical for any novel published today to be offered in three formats: physical book, eBook, and the ever more popular audiobook. With this in mind, for the first time REDFeather released all three versions of Iago’s Penumbra within a month of each other to offer potential readers the option(s) they prefer to explore the immersive world of Iago’s Penumbra. What I learned through this process, however, is that creating an audiobook is far more involved than simply converting physical book to digital text. In order to make the best audiobook possible, we needed to find the right narrator to read it.

I first heard Melanie Hooks read my novel aloud at an all-night rogue retreat during the Southern California Writer’s Conference in San Diego, California. I was on the third draft of the novel at that time and had just finished reworking a critical chapter in which Val, a clairvoyant heartthrob, confronts the “Big Bad” terror of the novel for the very first time. It’s frightening, but also shockingly humorous, and most crucially sets the stage for the broader exploration of spiritual reality revealed throughout the cosmic horror that’s to come. And it just so happened that Melanie, an accomplished voice actress in her own right, would read the chapter aloud to the critique group that night. Although she and I had no idea at the time, this was actually her impromptu audition to eventually be the novel’s audiobook narrator in the future, for as soon as I heard her give voice to these challenging characters so flawlessly, simultaneously capturing their individual expression of character while communicating the horror and humor seamlessly, I knew I’d met the person meant to voice the audiobook version of Iago’s Penumbra.

Melanie was the consummate professional to work with and she made the arduous process fun, too. Creating an audiobook truly is a separate creation, not just a continuation of the novel. In preparation, while she read the novel herself, she sent me an involved character sheet to fill out about the main characters, exploring their goals, hidden motives, flaws, and even asking me to find a modern celebrity whose voice encapsulates the character in my own head. This final aspect was unexpected and quite eye-opening. She said she would not copy the celebrity voice exactly but use their vocal intonations and habitual manner of speaking to create an entirely new voice for each character.

Curious about whom I chose? Well, here are the main characters from the final list I sent her:

  • Vee: Combination of Megan Follows’ Anne of Green Gables with Jenna Ortega’s Wednesday Addams
  • Val: Robert Pattinson’s Edward Cullen from Twilight
  • Iago: David Tennant’s Crowley from Good Omens
  • The prince of darkness: Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka
  • Julie: Whitney Houston’s Rachel Marron from The Bodyguard
  • Peter: Zac Effron’s Charlie St. Cloud

Next, Melanie sent me various audio tracks to choose from as she experimented with different vocal interpretations of the characters based on my notes. I chose my favorite version, and she began to record the audiobook, chapter by chapter, which she sent me to give further notes on as she painstakingly honed the vocal expression of the broader story. She’d even send me various clips of certain critical takes to choose the one that worked best, giving the Houngan his distinct accent and learning the many curious occult and literary terms with their often archaic pronunciations.

The process took months, and I’m thrilled with the result. In an interview with IG influencer Chris Onareo, he commented that he played the audiobook in the background while he read Iago’s Penumbra, because Melanie’s voice acting brought such life to the characters. As professional book editor Jean Jenkins wrote me in her notes:

“…this story comes alive when read aloud. There’s very much a performance element to it.”


Whether your inclination is softcover, eBook, or audiobook, immerse yourself in my metaphysical novel Iago’s Penumbra today, and let your spirit take flight.

**Link to the original blog on my publisher’s website:

To buy directly from my publisher:


There and Back Again, A Writer’s Tale

Thomas Wolfe is famous for penning an entire book around the idea that “You Can’t Go Home Again,” but what many seem to forget is that in this oft-quoted title he also wrote: “I have to see a thing a thousand times before I see it once.”

This sentiment, to me, is the whole point of it All.

Last week I had the profound pleasure of traveling back to my hometown of San Diego, California, to speak for the first time at the Southern California Writers’ Conference (SCWC), the gathering that originally stirred within me a staunch determination to pursue publication of my own fiction well over a decade ago.

From the first session at my first SCWC, I thoroughly resonated with the conference’s simple motto to “write more, suck less.” Finding and creating more time to write as a full-time high school teacher and refining my craft presented my joint purpose. In tandem with this slogan, my foray into the world of SCWC initiated me into confronting some disturbingly sucky “firsts” of my own, including the following:

  • It was at SCWC that I first attended the all-night rogue critique, wherein I and other authorly hopefuls forwent sleep until the wee hours of the morning, seated in a circle like acolytes as we attempted to absorb (and furiously scribble down) the wisdom of our venerated workshop adept, author Matthew Pallamary, learning the complexities of constructively reading and evaluating each other’s work.
  • It was also at SCWC that my first query letter was completely ripped to shreds and repaired with kintsugi-esque guidance by the pitch witches, Marla Miller and Jennifer Silva Redmond.
  • Veteran author Laura Taylor’s publication business class walloped me with how woefully unprepared I was for the fiction marketplace.
  • Finally, during the advance submission critique of the opening 10 pages of my manuscript I ugly cried with a total stranger as he gently pointed out the truth of just how ugly my baby manuscript really was.

Undaunted, I inhaled every single minute of it. The exhaustion. The deluge of new information. The authentic and much-needed criticism. The way I left with my head swimming and my world completely turned upside down.

But we all know how very much I love to be disturbed.

Here, at last, I’d found an honest writing community truly dedicated to helping each other write better and get published. I’ve returned many times to SCWC to learn and immerse myself in the joy of meeting with this tribe of people who share my passion for the art of story and are willing to do the work to “write more, suck less.”

And now as I trekked back home, this foolish author would come full circle to become the World card of the Tarot, the student becoming the teacher. I was invited to share three workshops:

  • One presentation of Finding/Creating Your Unique Niche in the Fiction Market. This workshop is near and dear to my own heart as it represents the distillation of everything I’ve learned during the past decade about how to connect with your niche readers in the modern world, both through my lessons as a literary agent’s intern and as imprint marketer for a publisher. I made all the mistakes, so you don’t have to.
  • Two presentations of Using Tarot to Write Your Story & Demystify Your Process. A workshop I’ve taught before, but never specifically to writers alone. The excitement about these workshops was palpable, and watching new authors accurately read tarot to improve their writing for the first time was an honor to behold.

(If you’d like to glance at the comprehensive handouts that I created for these presentations, both are on my website in downloadable PDF form for the next month. Help yourself but know that I plan on removing them March 28th.)

In addition to the SCWC, I visited my parents, siblings, son, and some cherished friends for the first time since the bigwigs reformed the world of we nobodies in response to the pandemic (nod to Charles Dickens here). I admit to some trepidation as the plane touched down on the runway of the San Diego airport. My parents are aging, and so much has changed in both me and the world since the pandemic. What on earth would we talk about, with so many topics significantly more divisive, while staying true to my own resolve to speak only truth, regardless how disturbing or uncomfortable? And oh, the things you hear about the state of California in the news these days!

I felt tarot-taneously both the Fool and the World on the Uber drive to my parents’ home. Although every familiar place we passed was indelibly engraved in my memory, each was noticeably altered on so many levels, as though an artist’s brush had carefully returned to its original artwork to fill in the details with shade and depth. Via this lens, in many ways Thomas Wolfe was right: I was seeing these places and things as though for the first time, for I myself was now so far removed from the seeing of them that a sharper and less me-centric perception resulted.

When I gazed at my parents for the first time in so many years, it was as though our roles were reversed—they so much closer to the wonder of childhood and I much, much wearied by the weight of the world. Enough laugh lines and frown furrows between the three of us to pillow any initial awkwardness as we sought to reach toward each other through our tears sourced from far more than meager happiness and sadness, together we touched the infinite in unhurried moments sprinkled throughout sharing meals, walks enjoying San Diego’s gorgeous weather, and acknowledging the everlasting silence with which we all must someday contend. As I later hugged my now-adult son, we were far closer in consciousness than ever before, both of us now-understanding the intricate dance steps of the World far too well.

My sister asked me what my first response was to coming home to San Diego, and I tongue-in-cheek replied with Proverbs 26:11, “Like a dog that returns to its own vomit, So is a fool who repeats his foolishness.” There is truth to this adage, for the place in my memory has decayed to chunks of both the best and the worst of me, not my hometown itself. Of course, let us not forget another biblical assertion about returning home, this one voiced by Jesus in Mark 6:4: “A prophet is not dishonored except in his hometown and among his own relatives, and in his own household.” No matter what I do, where I go, what I learn, or how I change, I am not and never will be the image each person who loves me believes me to be, but I honor the snapshot each holds in their heart of what I am to them; Shakespeare’s words are just as true today as when he first penned them: “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind.”

As I looked out the plane window on my flight back to Pennsylvania, however, it was none of these words that welled up deep within me, but the wisdom of C. S. Lewis—in his novel Out of the Silent Planet—that summed up my journey home:

“A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered. You are speaking…as if the pleasure were one thing and the memory another. It is all one thing…What you call remembering is the last part of the pleasure…When you and I met, the meeting was over very shortly, it was nothing. Now it is growing something as we remember it. But still we know very little about it. What it will be when I remember it as I lie down to die, what it makes in me all my days till then–that is the real meeting. The other is only the beginning of it.”

Thank you for remembering my journey home with me,



by Rose Guildenstern

My next novel-in-process, Numb, presents one metaphysical dystopian possible future of what might be if we continue on our current path as a collective; at times the novel is so disturbing to write that I am giving myself nightmares as I work through its cruel truths.

Numb explores the troubling draw of cyberspace: the virtual…the online…social media…video games…our modern never-ending quest to seek a carefully computer-cultivated artificial experience to avoid the stark, often painful, actuality of what is. This pull to invest ourselves into ever smaller and more inward contexts, as we desperately try to—at last—win. Lesser playing fields that offer ever easier (pleasant) and more immediate gratification, acknowledgment, rewards, and attention in a lower resolution playground ordered around our preferred image of self as opposed to the larger, riskier, more random (chaotic) and much higher stakes arenas of actuality: for it deeply troubles us that neither does everyone win nor is any win infinite.

The online reality is to the physical reality as physical reality is to spiritual truth. The individual is to existence as existence is to divinity. So much easier to successfully watch or listen to a podcast than engage face to face or read an entire book…so much simpler to turn in a quest or post a meme for recognition than to recognize just how much there is to know and how little one truly knows.

But as we seek the easier wins in these ever-more internalized worlds, so we internalize this self-same smallness. Our ability to focus the gift of our attention is waning. We exchange depth for breadth. We trade friends who truly know us and reflect our own foibles and shortcomings back to us for feeling good as we friend acquaintances who precursorily pat us on the back in passing as they like our pretty images and sound bites. Over time, we lose the ability to see clearly because of our myopic frames of reference. We stop perceiving long-term consequences and obsess about short-term feelings, quit diving deeply into knowing because we can google it, and allow the powers that be to give us hush money so we can continue our online fantasies.

“Better a cruel truth than a comfortable illusion.”—Edward Abbey

Numb is a fictional call to action for us who are willing to be bigger, do better, and cease diminishment to the detriment of All.


Why “Iago’s Penumbra”?

by Rose Guildenstern

I was speaking with a group of fellow writers, discussing what motivated each of us to begin a new work of fiction. Some writers said they always start with one or two strong characters who drove the story. Others were inspired by a great idea or plot or adventure. A few more wanted to make their readers feel a certain way and crafted their story to evoke this emotional experience.

As I listened to all their lovely insights, I realized that something quite different spurs me to write.

Every story or book or tarot deck or poem I’ve written answers an essential question, a burning need that I perceive in those I meet and the broader culture that I haven’t seen addressed yet by other authors or artists or thinkers or creators around me:

  • I created The Kingdom Within Tarot deck so that anyone, with no prior experience or psychic awareness, can read tarot for themselves right out of the box.
  • I wrote The Alchemy of Tarot: Practical Enlightenment through the Astrology, Qabalah, and Archetypes of Tarot to bring together everything I’ve learned about the subject of tarot so that the intermediate or advanced student might have one place to go to dive as deeply as they’d like into the subject and move beyond using the tarot for divination and into personal spiritual growth.
  • I penned The Healing Tarot: 78 Ways to Wellness so people can do their own health and wellness readings based on the wisdom of medical astrology merged with tarot, as well as to present a tarot-based philosophical study of healing itself.

But my first novel, Iago’s Penumbra, was prompted by something quite different. Fundamental life questions I saw those around me asking again and again, often out of their own suffering and desperation…


  1. What happens after we die? Why do we die? Why do things end?
  2. What is this force called love that seems to rule almost every aspect of life? Why is it so powerful? How can it simultaneously seem as though it’s both the greatest and worst thing to ever happen to us?
  3. What does it mean to be human? Can we lose our humanity? How can one human being treat another human being as though they are less than human?

Out of these essential questions and my personal love of the works of William Shakespeare arose the impetus for Iago’s Penumbra.




On Attending A Writing Retreat with Maggie Stiefvater

by Rose Guildenstern

I had the honor of taking part in a writing retreat hosted by Maggie Stiefvater, bestselling author of a host of books beloved by many (myself very much included), such as The Raven Boys, The Scorpio Races, All The Crooked Saints, Shiver, and many, many others. Its site was the lush Zigbone Farm Retreat near Gettysburg.

Although I’ve taken part in many writing workshops, conferences, and retreats over the years, I’ve never experienced anything quite like this one. Maggie hosted this intimate gathering with her own writing critique partners: effervescent Anna Bright (author of The Beholder, The Boundless, and Song That Moves the Sun) and the highly talented Sarah Baptista-Pereira. What made this retreat so very unique in comparison to anything else I’ve experienced was watching these three incredible (yet distinctly different) women—who work together so well to hone each other’s creativity and craft—give of themselves and their knowledge to teach us not only how to improve our individual projects but perhaps even more importantly demonstrate how to find the community so necessary to create novels worthy of readership and publication.

Personally, I received precisely the individual feedback I needed from the trio as I’m neck deep in writing my second novel, Numb; the retreat would have been entirely worth it for this alone. My own intentions were originally to discuss critical questions with them and then find a quiet nook somewhere at Zigbone’s gorgeous facility to write, write, and only write for the entire week in response to their suggestions.

However, nothing prepared introverted me for the magic that transpired among the participants, for it seemed a collective spell was cast from day one, bringing us together to discover amongst ourselves the very personalities, interests, and—most importantly—writing critique partners that seemed so elusive heretofore.  Although I still accomplished a lion’s share of the writing I needed to do in the first three days of this life-altering week, by week’s end our intrepid leaders not only taught us about the craft of writing and publication but more vitally brought out the truth of each one of us necessary to continue the process of authorly becoming once we left the retreat.

Thank you, Maggie, Anna, and Sarah, for the miracle you accomplished in five short days. And to my new writing community—so humbled and grateful we found our way to each other, at last.



Lessons Learned as a Literary Agent’s Intern

by Rose Guildenstern

I served as an intern for a prominent literary agent for three years. Basically, it was my job to read full manuscripts that were submitted to the agent and give my honest opinion of them. I read manuscripts that made me weep at the end because I so desperately wanted them to continue, manuscripts that I struggled to even finish, and every sort of manuscript in between. This internship proved to be the most valuable decision I ever made as a writer for my own education—not in how to write, but how to understand why things are and are not published. I’ve written this article to share some of these insights that I am so thankful for learning myself. (These lessons are based entirely on my own experiences, and may not be true for everyone.)

  1. It doesn’t matter how many friends, beta readers, group critiques, or editors look at your book—until you look at books through the eyes of what today’s readers want to read and what sells, you are writing for yourself.
  2. An impressive educational background is, well—impressive. Knowing all the classics and having an MFA is wonderful for your own development as a writer and builds lovely networks and a luscious writing style, but you must be reading the books published today, to understand what people want to read.
  3. Meet people in the publishing industry, whether in person or online. There are many ways to do this: social media, conferences, workshops, and meet-ups. Relationships matter, not because who you know gets you published, but because the relationships you make along the way help you break out of your own way of seeing and branch out into seeing the pulse of the public, and it’s the public that the publishers sell to.
  4. Read books in your chosen genre—daily, if time permits. Not only are you supporting your fellow working artists, but it helps you begin to glimpse your own book through the eyes of a reader rather than a writer, and this will make all the difference.
  5. Until you can read your own work as though someone else wrote it and you’ve just picked it up off the shelf of your favorite bookstore—until you can read it this way and you cannot put it down because it speaks to you so profoundly, with such high stakes and tension and emotional truth that you can’t stop turning the pages—don’t send it to a literary agent. Because this is your competition.
  6. Let yourself fall in love with your own words as you write them. Just like the beginning of any romance, you must fall in love with your own words to have the beautiful foundation for all the hard work that is to come in any partnership, and your love affair with your work will carry you through the sacrifices. BUT don’t think you have a book worthy of publication just because you love it. Publication is like marriage, not falling in love: you will change and sacrifice things about your precious book in order to build a better publication. **This did not destroy your beloved, it developed it into something that will last.**

The most common mistakes writers make in their first novels:

  1. Lack of consistent tension to keep the reader’s attention.
  2. Conversely, believing that large events somehow make up for the lack of character development and emotional stake.
  3. A weak POV character that the reader doesn’t quickly care about. The voice must be engaging—if readers don’t care about your POV character within the first five pages, they won’t keep reading. This is even more important than starting in a moment of action.
  4. Conversely, nobody wants to read an angst-fest. If you spend 40% of your novel in your character’s head, telling the reader all about doubts, feelings, and internal struggles, you will lose your reader’s interest. Things must happen that matter to keep the reader turning pages.
  5. Believing that as long as the writer does one thing really well (writing style, language, plot development, characterization, humor) that this will make up for other weaknesses. It really, really doesn’t. All must be done well to sell.
  6. An ending that seems contrived or planned rather than the natural conclusion to all the elements that have occurred in the course of the story.
  7. A happy ending with no depth. If your novel doesn’t make the reader feel something, doesn’t deeply satisfy in some way what it is that we all share in the human condition, it won’t satisfy the reader.
  8. Regurgitating what has already been done, even if you think it’s better than the original. Give it your own inimitable twist, and keep tweaking from there until it’s unique. On the other hand, no matter how original and great the concept, it must be executed well or it’s just a good idea. Idea must be melded with craft to succeed. Clever is not enough.

Final ruminations:

A novel intended for publication is not about the writer: it is about the reader. In order to understand what it is to be a reader, I suggest you not only read books yourself but also look at the world of readers around you and write for all of us. It is these novels—these novels that break the mold of the individual writer and what’s already been said and done, working within the scaffold of the writer’s chosen genre to say or do—more. After vicariously reading your novel, readers wish to feel both more than themselves and more in touch with themselves: More alive.

And really, doesn’t everyone?


Image, Love, & the Nature of Identity

by Rose Guildenstern

In celebration of my first novel, Iago’s Penumbra, at last finding its publishing home, I thought it the right time to delve into two very different sorts of love relationships explored between the book’s covers: identity love vs. love beyond identity.


Our images determine so much about our identity.

The image is the identity, what we identify with vs. the reality. In each image, we find a part of ourselves, our identity right now, and it becomes a part of us. The image is always changing—as we tell ourselves stories…about our lives, what we think, who we are (and who we are not)—again and again—our identity and images blend together.

I wonder if what we really fear in death is being alone, bereft of our identifying images and relationships—loss of identity and what we believe we are?

Human love seems to me to be almost completely loving a person’s identity and our relationship with that identity, for we can only ever truly know what we perceive of them and the image we form of them within our own internal worlds. In death, we lose that identity. All the images that our dead had in their minds and their hearts are gone.

Spirit love (also called unconditional love) seems extremely rare, although I suspect it does occur. We almost need a different name for it, it is so extraordinary. For we humans love each other’s identities. Love beyond the body cannot be based on what we like or dislike about a person—not based on how they make us feel when we are with them, or how amazing they are, or how profoundly they’ve touched our lives. This precious connection is love, but not love of what is eternal. It is love of the image, the identity, the relationship within the context of living.

Betrayal, harm, hate, reciprocity, beauty, rightness, feelings—none of these matter in spirit love beyond identity. Trust only matters in so far as survival and persistence matter, which is a physical thing, and spirits apart from bodies don’t care about such things. It’s a love that physicality cannot comprehend, for survival and continuing are the foundation of life.

Human love is identity love. When someone dies, their identity dies, and so much if not most of what we loved and what loved us dies. We are pack/herd animals, and much of our identity is shaped by our partnerships, groups, and alliances which are only of this single lifetime—and so, the spirit sheds the identity of this lifetime, and we feel the broken connection.

We who are left behind a loved one’s death feel grief, poignancy, the deep acute ache of what was and shall never be again. But the prism of the universe laughs and rejoices for all came together and focused All’s attention for one glorious moment to craft the brief rainbow of an ineffable unique identity that other unique identities have the experience to love (or not-love) for a time. The All of us, the entire universe, was changed irrevocably by this passing light’s existence.

Identity love is human and precious and beautiful—it is not less because identities die, just as a life is not less because it ends. It is in fact the opposite—human love is so much more precious in one sense precisely because it is fleeting, passing, finite. The broader the love, the less intimate—the more personal the love, the less timeless. If you can lose love, then you must play the game of finding it, and we humans love the game of finding and experiencing connection. And so, we immerse ourselves in playing the games of connection and finding love (and separation and losing love) because we do not appreciate just how connected we already are in truth—you cannot experience a constant unless its lack also exists, for the lack is what makes us acutely aware of how very precious its presence is.

Most of us only call out to the gods when we are in pain, for in this pain we feel the lack of divinity in ourselves…and so we seek to uncover this glimpse of divinity in each other.

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