Interview with a Narrator Couple: Michael Kramer and Kate Reading

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Kate Reading and Michael KramerMichael and Kate have been recording audio books for thirty years. Clients include Blackstone Audio, Books on Tape, MacMillan, Penguin Random House, Tantor, Podium Publishing, Common Mode, Simon and Schuster, Harper, Hachette, Audible, Brilliance, Recorded Books, Audm, other major publishers, and the Library of Congress Talking Books for the Blind. They live in Hyattsville, MD, with their two children, and have a basement studio with two booths for recording. They love their work, and feel deeply grateful to be audio book narrators!

This is an article from a few years ago about married couples who record books that you can read here.

How did you get started doing audiobook narration?

Kate: We both began in the 1980s. I started working at the Library of Congress Talking Books for the Blind, and thanks to Grover Gardner, I began recording commercially shortly thereafter. Michael began working for Flo Gibson of ABC and then also began recording commercially, thanks to Grover. https://www.audiobookcontractors.com/pages/narrator-bios

Michael: As Jennifer stated I began by being an engineer for 3 years for other narrators–Grover Gardner and Flo Gibson in particular. Then auditioned, got two books, and haven’t looked back.

You often work together to narrate books. Do you record at the same time or do you do your individual parts separately?

Kate: The joint projects we have done specify which narrator records which chapters – we don’t ever record in the same booth at the same time.

When we began the Wheel of Time series, we were recording on ADAT tapes, and we had to record the book sequentially, so yes, we jumped in and out of the booth as needed. Thankfully within a few years computer software programs made it possible for us to record out of order, and send the files in to be assembled.

Michael: In the same booth but not at the same time.

You both have an extensive list of books you’ve completed. Audible lists Michael as having 222 titles available, while it lists Kate as having 369. What are some of the more memorable books you’ve each performed?

Kate: There are more books than that, since some are out of publication, some are not listed on Amazon (giant though it may be), and we have each recorded many books for the Library of Congress. We have been recording for thirty years!

I have a hard time selecting favorites, a really hard time – I don’t know if that’s because I’m fickle, memory-deficient, or egalitarian. But… in the classic genre: The Painted Veil, Middlemarch, Cousin Bette, Mme Bovary, Pride and Prejudice, The Railway Children, all stand out. Breasts by Florence Williamson was an outstanding book, packed with information, much of it a disturbing account of how our bodies respond to chemicals in our environment, and the selective cultural taboos concerning breasts. And I love the Edie Kiglatuk series by M J McGrath.

Michael: Favorites include: Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Walter Berry’s That Distant Land; anything by Donald E. Westlake(Richard Stark), in particular Bad News; Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree and The Road; Way of Kings and The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson;Gary Paulsen’s Clabbered Dirt, Sweet Grass and Harris and Me–but really blessed with the opportunity to narrate so many wonderful authors.

You both record for lots of different publishers. What are the major differences between working for different ones?

Kate: It’s funny – many of the engineers and editors have moved from one company to another, and they are all good at what they do, pleasant to work with, good communicators. So really the difference comes down to which method of delivery is being used: ftp site? Hightail? DropBox? We have cheat sheets to keep it all organized!

Michael: Deadlines more than anything, although more and more publishers are adjusting the text to account for the fact that it is being narrated.

Also, and this is more about the genre than anything else, with Fantasy, which we do a lot of, authors are much more active in providing pronunciations of the myriad of new names and terms.

One set of books that Kate is known for is the Recency romances by Loretta Chase. How did the experience of recording these books compare to recording, say, the Death on Demand series by Carolyn Hart?

Kate: Nancy Yost invited me to record Loretta Chase‘s books on ACX, which was my first experience with them.

It turned out very well, and I received a tremendous amount of help from Adrienne Rosado, to get the ten books up on ACX. The biggest difference is that I do receive royalties from sales of the Chase books, which has been greatly appreciated! Normally, we receive a flat fee, which is not affected by the number of books sold. Death on Demand is another favorite series, by Carolyn Hart, which I have recorded for several different companies, depending on who has the rights. So the recording process was identical, the transfer of files slightly different, and the remuneration vastly so.

You do both fiction and non-fiction. Is there a difference in how you prepare and narrate the two genres?

Kate: For my part, I always read the book ahead of beginning to record, both to grasp the sense, and to flag any pronunciation or other text issues, whether it is fiction or not. I’ve recorded a number of non-fiction books, and I love learning something new. Its like being in perpetual school.

Michael: Good non-fiction is telling a story as much as fiction. Being engaged with the material and imagining/visualizing are just as important in both.

Your son, Henry Kramer, just narrated his own first audiobook, Dawn’s Touch by Craig McCullough. What advice did you give him as he began his career in your own field?

Kate: Sleep. Hydrate. Respond to people as soon as possible. Trust your instincts. Be grateful.

Michael: Henry has always–from 6 months old–been a story hound with a keen ear. Most advice has to do with technical aspects and not the interpretive ones.

You teamed up on narrating Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, which is likely to be a favorite among Fangirl Nation readers. You say on your Facebook page that you are fascinated by fans of the series. What in particular makes such fans of interest to you? Are you yourselves fans of the series?

Kate: Fantasy is not my preferred genre, but I loved recording WOT, and I love the fans for believing so whole-heartedly in the world Robert Jordan created. We have WOT fans from all over the world on our Facebook fan page who write to us, and talk to each other, about the books. It’s a fascinating collection of people, good-hearted, enthusiastic and caring.

Michael: The story is so epic in scope. It’s a coming of age story with incredible heart, that as a narrator challenged you on so many levels. My favorite recollection of a fan was just days after A Memory of Light was released this fan related how he was dyslexic and really struggling in school. He was essentially giving up on school. Then he started listening to The Wheel of Time. He got so caught up in the story, that he was determined to learn how to read, which he did, which led to enter college and start on rewarding career path and a relationship and family. That story and our narration changed his life.

What is your favorite part about narrating audiobooks?

Kate: The stories. The solitude. Having the opportunity to build bridges. I love all of it.

Michael: I am an inveterate student, I love to learn and I love to read. I think the most rewarding aim and goal of narrating is when you become invisible as the narrator, when the listener is just hearing the story without even being aware of you–you’re that crystal clear lens that joins the listener to the author’s ideas without any interference.

You can connect with this pair on their Facebook page or on Twitter at @KateReadingVO

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