Defying Gravity: Author Phil Stamper on His Debut Audiobook

Debut author Phil Stamper’s The Gravity of Us has been dubbed “a sweet fish-out-of-water tale that also shrewdly explores the intersection between social class and modern media culture…”(Kirkus), among many other fabulous things. We caught up with Phil to chat about the experience of hearing his characters brought to life by audiobook narrators, and of course, what he can’t stop listening to.

What is The Gravity of Us about, and what inspired you to write the book?

I always like to explain The Gravity of Us as a contemporary re-imagining of the 60’s Space Race where two sons of astronauts fall in love after their lives are uprooted for their parents’ NASA mission to Mars. The inspiration for this novel probably won’t surprise anyone: I’m a bit of a NASA nerd, and I’ve always been especially captivated by the Apollo, Gemini, and Mercury missions. I’ve read just about every astronaut and engineer memoir out there, I’ve watched all the documentaries, and I have a growing tower of LIFE Magazines from the 50’s and 60’s that all cover these missions.

I love stories about the astronauts, of course, but one thing that always stood out to me was that the astronauts’ families sometimes had it harder. The media demanded perfection from them at all times: they were always in the spotlight, all while they didn’t know if their husbands or fathers would come home alive on any given night. In The Gravity of Us, I wanted to capture this great tension in a modern story while also building in a queer love story.

You recently got the opportunity to join us in the studio as The Gravity of Us was being recorded. How was that experience?

When I found out The Gravity of Us was going to be an audiobook I was thrilled, and getting to talk with PRH Audio through the whole production process was amazing. I got the unique opportunity to sit in on a recording session and listen to the main narrator, Michael Crouch, as he read a portion of my book. I absolutely love Michael’s narration. I think he captures the voice of my main character, Cal, perfectly. Getting to sit in a room with all of the producers listening to him narrate my book was an amazing experience. I actually got there just in time to hear my favorite scene, where my main character Cal and his love interest Leon get to know each other for the first time. There have been a ton of high points of my publishing process, but that was definitely one of the highest highs.

The audiobook is read by a full cast. How does that come through in the story, and did the narration achieve the desired effect?

I recently listened to the full audiobook, and I was so happy with how it turned out. In the story, the main first-person narration is split up by interstitial chapters from the reality show Shooting Stars that has a hold on the astronaut families’ lives. Each section starts with the perfect background music, followed by Gabra Zackman announcing the episode description, then Jonathan Davis cuts in as the host of the show. At times he’s joined by astronauts, NASA staff, and various big players in this world. Getting to build out the world more in this way, and getting us out of the main character’s head just a bit, works perfectly with how I envisioned the story. It really, really shines here, and I can’t wait for others to listen so I can finally talk about it with people!

How do you enjoy being read to or reading aloud? And what’s your favorite thing about the audio format?

I love the experience of being read to and reading aloud. I was a super anxious kid and hated reading aloud when I was younger, but I’ve been trying to get over that lately since… I have to do a lot of readings now! My husband and I will actually read aloud to each other sometimes, which I love. We went through the entire Harry Potter series that way a few years ago, and it was a great way to wind down before bed and enjoy a story together. However, I can’t do a British accent to save my life, so that was a challenge.

I listen to audiobooks all the time, and I love them. My favorite thing about the audio format is the convenience. Living and working in New York, I spend way too much of my life on crowded subway trains, and the ability to just close my eyes and have a story told to me is the perfect escape.

What audiobooks have you enjoyed lately?

My favorite audiobook of all time is Sadie by Courtney Summers. Similar to The Gravity of Us, that story has interstitial chapters from a true crime podcast, and I thought it enhanced the reading experience so much. The voice actors were all so good. I also finally got around to listening to The Greatest Love Story Ever Told by Megan Mullaly and Nick Offerman, which was just perfect. The book’s great on its own, and I really enjoyed learning more about their lives, but their narration really elevated the book. I love it when an audiobook can make you laugh out loud in public, which happened a lot while I was listening. I’m listening to Lady Smoke by Laura Sebastian right now, in anticipation for the third book in the Ash Princess Series, which comes out on 2/4 along with my book. I’m not always a big fantasy reader, but this world has me hooked!

Listen to a clip of The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper, read by Michael Crouch & a Full Cast: