Janet Metzger performs other people’s stories as an award-winning audiobook narrator, a stage and film actor, and a vocalist. She also teaches storytelling to law students at Emory University School of Law. Janet loves to bake pies, and knits award-winning garments from yarn she has spun on her wheel.
How did you get started doing audiobook narration?
On long drives I would often read to my wife while she drove. One day she said, “You really should narrate audiobooks.” She kept pestering me until I finally put together a demo and submitted it to Brilliance Audio. Two weeks later I had my first book contract.
You specialize in narrating romance books. What about that genre makes you ideal for it?
First, there is so much drama. As an actress, I am trained to find the motivations of characters and be attuned to their emotional lives. Romance always involves conflict and thwarted desires. And, I grew up watching TV soap operas with my grandma, so I love all that tension.
In your own personal reading, do you tend to lean towards the same types of books you narrate?
Actually, I find that I spend my “ear-reading” time with non-fiction because I am an avid learner, and I can listen while I knit. My favorite fiction “eye-reading” tends to be mystery. I especially love Laurie King’s Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series, and Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti detective series set in Venice, Italy. That series makes me want to eat pasta and drink wine at lunch.
Your website lists you as gifted in rural and Southern dialects. How did you get good at those?
Although I was born in Pittsburgh, I have lived in the South since I was 11. I travel a lot around small Southern towns, picking up accents the way some people collect trinkets. The way people talk has always fascinated me.
You have won awards for your documentary narration. How does that medium contrast with audiobooks?
A documentary is non-fiction, but the narrator is still someone telling a story. Sometimes it is a third person narration, and sometimes it is first person, like the documentary I did about the gentrification of Ybor City in Tampa. That story was told through the eyes of a Cuban American woman who lived through that community’s destruction and rebirth.
Most narrators seem to start with degrees in theater and communication, while you got your start in music. How did that field help you with your audiobook narration?
My musical training, from a very early age, developed skills of pitch and rhythm, as well as artistic expression. Later I expanded into theater, puppetry and film. But those musical skills enable me to easily tap into the many voices we all have inside ourselves, and find the different rhythms of speech for each character.
If a word has more than one pronunciation, how do you decide on the pronunciation you will use?
Some publishers have a preferred source, so I will go with that. I usually go with the first choice pronunciation, but sometimes the region of the country dictates how words are pronounced. For example, in the south, “insurance” is usually accented on the first syllable. But not always. Tricky stuff!
How do you prepare for recording each audiobook?
I read the book through for enjoyment, feeling all the twists and turns any reader would. I try not to stop and make notes, but sometimes I take notes along the way, or jot down questions I have about character development. If I have the time-luxury of a second read-thru, I do all my note-making then. Otherwise, during the first reading I make a list of all the characters and note all the things the author says about each person. I make a list of all the words I need to check for pronunciation, especially place names. Nothing irks me more than hearing a mispronunciation of a place I know, when it is so easy to pick up the phone and call a local diner or the library and ask how they say their town! I called a grocery in Nantucket once and got a lot of pronunciations that way.
What is your favorite part about recording audiobooks?
I’m a detective at heart, so I love the research into the characters and the place of the story. And once I have digested that information and start recording, I love the surprise I feel when characters emerge during the recording. There is nothing more satisfying than getting swept up in the emotional ride of the story.