How did you get involved in doing audiobook narration?
I come from a background of about 30 years of theater experience, mostly in the NJ/NY area.
Around 2008 I joined the union AFTRA, which is now SAG-AFTRA, and did a lot of background and stand-in work in TV shows filmed in the NY/NJ area.
I did not get much acting satisfaction in that work and was looking for something I could use my stage experience in.
I attended an AFTRA seminar in NYC on audiobook narration and was intrigued with the possibilities:
- Being able to act all the roles in a story
- Having my success determined by my ability to tell a story alone
- Using the experience and knowledge I gained from my stage experience in a completely new direction
I knew I needed to learn how to transfer my stage experience to the microphone, so I got some advice from people I knew in the audiobook world and studied with one of the leading coaches in the audiobook narration field. I was coached by Paul Alan Rueben, one of the best known directors of audiobooks. I walked away with a solid foundation for this new direction in my career.
I now have been a full time audiobook narrator since 2011 and have narrated over 100 audiobooks.
Reading through the list of books you’ve performed, I notice that you seem to focus on mystery. What about that genre draws you to narrating those?
Over the years I have narrated a bit of everything; Sci-Fi, zombie stories, love stories, and a series of romance/erotica (under another name), but I have the most fun and success performing mysteries and thrillers. The characters seem to bring out the best in my abilities.
How much interaction do you have with the authors whose books you narrate? How much control does the author have over the narration? I.e. making you change your inflections, etc?
To be honest, unless I have specific questions, I try to have as little contact as possible. Now I do have a lot of contact with a number of the authors whose work I have performed, but not in having them telling me how to do voices and such. Robert Thornhill and I have a great relationship, but he has never told me how to perform his work. When an author’s work is good, the text tells you all you need to know about the characters. Their attitudes and personalities come out in the book. Most authors I know will hear the character voices in their heads, but that may not be how I interpret them. As an actor, it is my job to build the character from the material the author supplies.
Early on in my narrator career, I had an author who insisted that I voice the characters the way he heard them, and his interpretation went against everything I heard in his work. Some of the worst reviews I have ever received were from that book. Now, if an author insists on directing the audiobook and their character interpretations are that different from mine, I will give up the book. I say that and I believe that, but I have not been put into a position to follow through as of yet.
In Lady Justice Takes a C.R.A.P., the author, Robert Thornhill, uses a unique writing style that I liken to sitting next to a storyteller talking about life. Is narrating this series any more or less of a challenge than narrating books by other authors?
Robert Thornhill’s characters are so well fleshed out, with very well defined personalities, that they themselves tell me what how they sound and how they act. It is very easy to do when that happens, and the process becomes an extremely enjoyable one.
There are times when I don’t have as much background on the characters and they don’t have much depth to them. This calls for more of an acting decision on what I’m going to do with each character.
How do you decide what voices to use for each character, and how do you keep straight in your mind exactly which character uses which voice?
Each character has, as is the case with the characters from the Lady Justice series, very distinct personalities, and they dictate what they sound like, making it very easy to remember each voice. The characters from this series jump off the page at you. Walt, well, he is Walt. How else could he sound? The same goes for Willie, Jerry the Joker, and really all of the recurring characters.
In other books, with less defined characters, I build them in my mind. If I need to, I sometimes visualize what they look like and give them mannerisms, a walk, a tick, how they stand, a lot of body language cues. All of this helps give them a voice and aids in my being able to separate them from each other.
How do you prepare, as far as reading through the book before starting to record? Do you read the whole book out loud first to practice? In one whole or piece by piece? What kinds of notes do you make in the text to alert you to things you want to remember?
I will read the book to learn the story arc, flush out the characters, and find all the words I’m not sure how to pronounce. I do all this on my iPad and on that I make notes, and I go as far as audio notes with correct pronunciations. One thing I have learned since starting this is we each have a number of words we have learned only from reading. I know I do. I found this out by narrating a book, and early on the publisher, the author, or sometimes a listener would bring it up in a review, that I mispronounced a word. I thought I was correct, but no, they were right. All of my work now goes through a proofer, someone with a much better command of the language then I have. They listen to my narration and compare it word for word with the text and send me any changes I need to make. Even with this, something always seems to slip through. To all my listeners, I am very sorry I said that word wrong, and believe me, it wasn’t for lack of trying.
You have over 25 years of theater experience. How does audiobook narration compare to acting in the theater?
In theater I would play one part. I would need to project so everyone in the theater could hear every word. Audiobook narration is similar in the way that I need to become each character I portray. But unlike the theater, it is very intimate. Instead of speaking to an audience of many, I am now telling one person a story, and that person is not at the back of the room. I am in their ear. So I need to hold back, but doing so makes small changes in emotion much more effective. My audience may be of hundreds, but that audience is one person at a time. I take that as a big responsibility.
What is your favorite thing about narrating audiobooks?
Okay, I love being around people. I love being on stage in front of an audience and hearing the applause. Audio narration does not do any of that. I go into my booth with no noise, no distractions, not even a window. I close the door, turn on the mic, and get totally lost in the story. Even though I have already read the book, doing it out loud and acting it all out makes it all new. I just get completely lost in the text. When I am recording, I can’t run my air conditioner. I have a thermometer in the booth. There have been times when I have become so engrossed in telling the story that I did not realize that my clothes were soaked with sweat. I have stopped and found the temperature hovering around 90. I think that kind of backs up how much I love getting lost in the stories I tell.
Click here to read my review of Lady Justice Takes a C.R.A.P.
Click here to read my review of Lady Justice and the Lost Tapes
Click here to read my review of Lady Justice Gets Lei’d
Listen to a clip of George Kuch narrating for Lady Justice and the Candidate: