There’s few places quieter than 900 feet underground in an abandoned mine—which is why it's the perfect place to record an audiobook.

That was my pitch, more or less, to my publisher, Penguin Random House Audio, when it came time to record the narration for my upcoming book, Ghost Town Living: Mining for Purpose and Chasing Dreams at the Edge of Death Valley, out March 19.The mine in question was Union Mine in Cerro Gordo, California. Once the state’s largest silver mine, miners back in the 1800s pulled close to $500 million worth of ore out of its shafts. Legend has it that, in Cerro Gordo’s heyday, Butch Cassidy, Mark Twain, and other infamous characters of the American West stopped in town. It was a lawless place, populated by miners and gunslingers: newspapers reported a murder a week. But that was over 150 years ago.

These days, Cerro Gordo is my home. I’ve lived there since March of 2020, when I came to escape the pandemic. I thought I was coming for a few weeks. I thought I’d eventually return to my comfortable life in Austin, Texas. Instead, I fell in love with the town and its history, and I’ve spent the last four years trying to bring it back to life.

Part of bringing a ghost town back to life is understanding its past. Here, that past extends 900 feet underground—which I surmised would be the ideal locale to record the audiobook for Ghost Town Living.

PRH didn’t see it the same. They suggested I get off the rugged mountain. Take a week in the big city lights of Los Angeles or Las Vegas. Go to a studio where there’d be a producer, reliable power, Internet, and even some running water. All things the mine lacked. I interpreted their hesitations as reasons install power lines and coax cable all the way down the mine’s 900-foot shaft. When I got to the bottom, I added a bed, a small kitchen, and even built a desk out of wood I’d found in the mine. A great place to spend a few days.

My editors finally gave in. And so I headed underground with enough camping meals for five days, five gallons of water, and a copy of my book. My “studio” mine consisted of a Zoom H4n portable recorder, a Sennheiser MKH 416 microphone, and a dirty comforter as my soundproofing. My desk was shoved into the jagged rock not far from where workers used to wait to return to the surface. Above me there was a rotting wooden sign with the words “This Way Out” scrawled in red paint. My way out was to finish reading.

It took three full days to record the book. During breaks, I walked miles of mineshafts, reading parts of the book about the mines to myself as I walked. Which, back at the microphone, brought the stories to life in a way that would have been impossible anywhere else.

Each night, I sent what I had recorded to the producer to check in. He’d anxiously give me the best feedback he could from afar, ending each email with a daily reminder that we were in “the 11th hour” and there was no time to wait. The frequency and tone of his emails told me that everyone back at the publisher was very nervous about how this whole experiment was going to work out.

Three days later, I was thanking him and the whole PRH team as I finished off the credits to the book and sent it back. I even got a message from my audio producer, relieved that the process was done and ending his email “I have to say, it sounds really good!” Friends and fans responded to my photos of the recording sessions with so much enthusiasm and excitement. I couldn’t imagine recording the book anywhere else. The setting provided a context and richness to the recording that would have been impossible elsewhere.

If you have an audiobook coming out, I encourage you to think of places to record it other than a nameless studio in a major city. Your publisher might not like this idea, but your listeners will.

Brent Underwood is the owner of Cerro Gordo, an original boomtown silver mine, established in 1865. Brent currently lives on a mountain above Death Valley with no running water, seven cats, six goats, and at least one ghost.