How did you get started narrating audio books?
Years ago I had become smitten with Jim Dale’s performances of the Harry Potter books and wanted to be a great narrator like him, but thought there was no way. Later, I had been voicing for game stuff for maybe a year, and was looking for a way to publish my own books and found ACX, the audiobook publisher of Amazon. I didn’t start narrating right then, but I filed the info away in my brain for later. When I was taking some general voiceover training I returned to ACX and got the confidence to audition for my first audiobook. I instantly loved narrating, and couldn’t believe I hadn’t started sooner.
Besides books, you also narrate video games and animation. How does each format compare and contrast?
Ah, I haven’t actually done any animations yet, but I have taken some classes and workshops. In one way they are sort of opposites. Voicing for animation such as cartoons is very expressive, even over-the-top, because it’s about developing the character. Now, when I watch cartoons I pay a lot of attention to the voicing, beyond merely being entertained by it.
Video game voicing, by contrast, is about realism, maybe even “soap opera.” In that way, the acting techniques are similar to stage acting. We strive to be really good at “pretending to be real.”
What kind of training do you have for audio narration?
First, a lot of theater and stage training growing up, basic acting skills and techniques. I was in a lot of plays and musicals, though never any major roles. I also had opera training, which I believe helped in small ways, like breathing and being able to speak in a relaxed manner.
Second was an online class with Pat Fraley (and Scott Brick, guest teacher). There I learned some techniques specific to audiobook reading. It also made me really think about the whole setting of what I’m reading, not just the words. While I did have some natural talent to start with, it can be made so much better by visualization and proper pacing.
Can you explain to us what process you go through to put an audio book together? Do you do the engineering and editing too or just the reading?
At this point, I still do everything. ACX has a series of processing tutorials for narrators just starting out, but there are also a lot of FB groups for narrators and what type of DAW (Digital Audio Workstation, that is, processing program) they prefer to use, and the people are friendly and generous about sharing tips.
I do what’s called “Punch n Roll” recording, where if you make a mistake you immediately go back and record over it, so you don’t have a bunch of bad takes that have to edited out later (which is a major bore, not to mention an unnecessary expenditure of precious time).
The more veteran narrators hire out the processing part (editing and mastering) to audio engineers who specifically work with narration. From what I understand, the major audiobook production companies have audio engineers who do all that, so the narrators only have to worry about the fun part: narrating! Eventually I hope to get there.
You say on your website that you speak several languages. Which ones? Did you study them for the purpose of audiobook narration or for your acting career or for another reason?
The ones I speak best now are Italian and Spanish, although I’ve studied several others too: French, Latin, German, Irish, Japanese, a tiny bit of Chinese, and Quenya (Tolkien High Elvish, more on that later!). French and Latin were mandatory at the private school I attended as a kid, and the rest I studied purely for pleasure. I’m a linguist, I love languages; I have a knack for them and a good mimic ear. Now, that passion finally has a practice purpose, beyond traveling.
Which do you prefer, acting on stage or narrating audiobooks, and why?
Audiobooks. I like stage acting. I love putting on a costume and being someone else for a few hours, being part of a story in another world. But looking back, I think I was never really able to fully immerse myself, because some part of my mind still dominated, the practical part that said “it’s not real.”
With narrating, I don’t have to worry about that at all. I can see it all clearly in my mind. Also, on stage you’re limited to playing the gender that you are (for obvious reasons!). In narrating, you are everybody, and nobody. I find it’s actually rather fun to play the male characters too, or to play characters outside my archetype, like little kids, wise elders, loud barbarians, etc.
You have narrated a wide variety of genres. Which do you prefer and why?
My favorites are the fantasy books. That’s what I like to read the most for pleasure, and in those I can really have fun and be creative with voices, like creature voices: Dragon, witch, fairy, etc. I also love the whole world-building aspect, and the lore that authors create to flesh out their stories. So far my favorite that I narrated was “A Tale of Mist and Shadow” by M.R. Laver. The two of us worked very closely during the production process, and he even used one of my characters (he asked first) for a new bonus chapter that wasn’t in the original print book.
You are an author as well as a narrator. Tell us a little about your books.
So far I’ve only written a few short business and personal interest non-fiction books. My first, “Newbies Guide to Modding Skyrim” is a game design book of general tips for Skyrim, one of my favorite fantasy RPGs.
I was a professional landscape architect for 10, nearly 11, years before I started narrating, so I wrote “Plan to Planted” based on my experience and knowledge from that career. I also made audiobooks for both of them.
My third book, “La Viaggiatrice: Backpacking Italy,” is a sort of travelogue on my trip this past October, with some passages interspersed from when I lived there in 2004 that are written in Italian. It has some tips for travel on a budget and stuff about conversing in Italian. The audiobook is in production.
Fiction-wise, I’ve got a few in the works that I work on from time to time.
“Chronicles of Tavaria” (working title) is a fantasy with several characters I’ve already written and fleshed out.
“Coyote Gold” is a western mystery set in Southern California, involving an old western town, a cocky detective from the “Big City” and some paranormal activity, humor and suspense.
I’ve also for a few years been writing a historic romance set in Renaissance Italy, which has a lot of Italian words and phrases (translated at the end).
You write on your Amazon author page that you are greatly inspired by Tolkien. What about his writing inspires you, and how has Tolkien affected your life?
Tolkien was the first major fantasy author that I read and fell in love with as a kid. Mom read me The Hobbit when I was 10, and then Lord of the Rings. After that I read them again once every year for a while. His world building still amazes me, as well as the staggering amount of lore he wrote, and much of it didn’t even get published until after his death. Those, and his Elves, I believe have inspired many modern fantasy writers.
There was a thing recently on Audible honoring Tolkien on what would have been his 111th birthday. Several fantasy authors and Audible staff said how he influenced them, and then left their favorite Tolkien quote.
As for me, I actually took a special class in college that was just Tolkien works, where I got to discuss and analyze several works with others who were just as nerdy as me about it. And more recently, I took up calligraphy again and illuminated some of his songs and poems. As I said earlier, I love languages, and I especially loved learning the Tolkien Elven languages, Quenya being the most well-known.
I would actually really love to narrate The Hobbit and make it freely available to anyone interested, directly from my website, or even just for myself and my friends privately. I know it’s against copyright to sell any production of it since the Tolkien estate owns the copyright. I just found the Recorded Books version by Bob Imlis to be, well… unsatisfactory.
Click here to read my review of The Relentless Italian, in which Anna gave a great performance.