How did you get started narrating audio books?
I actually first performed in two Radio Plays in Boston in the early 90s – which was so much fun. Then an actor friend connected me with the talented narrator Kate Fleming (best known as Anna Fields) who gave me some pointers on getting started. Long story short, I started out editing sessions in 1997, then was hired to help run a new studio for Books-on-Tape in 1998 where I edited, directed, helped with casting, and began narrating. When I had my eldest daughter in 2000, I scaled back and only went in to narrate and direct a few times a year. Then, when my kids got older and home studios were getting popular, my husband helped me put one together and I’ve been recording more books every year since.
Do you have any favorite genres to read?
I love that I get to record a variety of genres – from very heady stuff like Anger and Forgiveness or Nothing to Envy, to funny or moving memoirs like You Had me at Woof or A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home, to all kinds of fiction. Except for kids’ books. I did love recording the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle series, but haven’t done many others.
You have narrated over 250 books since 1999. Are there any that are especially memorable to you?
I think it’s almost 300 now, but it’s hard to tell since some of the early ones have gone out of print (and because my name in searches gets mixed up with the author Karen White). Besides the ones in the list for the previous question, The Hemingses of Monticello was memorable for its length (30 hours) and because it was an Audie Finalist, Until I Say Goodbye was a heart wrenching but beautiful memoir, and I’ve loved doing Ellery Adams’ Books by the Bay series because they are set near where I live in coastal NC.
You have narrated a number of books I’ve enjoyed, including the Books by the Bay by Ellery Adams and some of the Miss Julia books by Ann B. Ross. As I’ve stated in my reviews, you really bring the books to life. Is there a secret to doing this?
I think that having acting training and a good deal of experience performing live theatre give one the skills to be believable in imaginary circumstances. And for me, my yoga and meditation practices keep those skills sharp. Being present or “in the moment” when I’m recording means that I can play through the scenes spontaneously, even though I’ve read them before.
How do you select the voices you use for each character?
I do a lot of preparation – making notes of every detail that describes each character. Then when I’m recording, I look over the notes to see if there is anything that would inform the choices I make – obvious things like an accent or pitch, but also things like the person’s size, qualities of movement, and imagery. Then I play through the scene and go with my instinct. Once I feel like I’ve found the voice, I copy a section of the character’s dialogue and keep that for reference.
What do you do to prepare to perform each book? What kinds of notes do you make in the text to alert you to things you want to remember?
I read through the whole book (on a tablet using a PDF reader) and highlight notes described in the previous question, as well as pronunciation questions. I also underline dialogue tags when they come after the spoken sentence, because otherwise I might miss them. Then I go back through and type up notes and un-highlight everything except for the dialogue tags. Otherwise, for me, the text is too cluttered.
Do you think an audiobook narrator needs to love books in order to be an effective narrator?
OH, YES. Its challenging, lonely work. Most actors like to collaborate and get an audience’s feedback, so you really have to love books to want to work all by yourself all day every day!
Describe the process involved in making an audiobook.
Once I do the prep, including researching pronunciations and accents as well as what I talked about above, I’m ready to record. Every recording day I do yoga and meditate, make my special herb tea and then do a vocal warm-up. Then I create my files on the computer and sit down to record. I’ll usually go for about an hour at a time, and take breaks at chapter or section breaks. I do best if I record about five hours over a six-hour period. At the end of the day, I upload my files to the producer, who begins the editing and proofing process. Then about a week later, I’ll get “corrections” or “pickups,” where I have to fix all the mistakes I made. I hate doing these so I try very hard to not make mistakes! Then the producer does the magical mixing and processing and gets it ready to be sold.
What is your favorite part about being an audiobook narrator?
Lots of things! I have loved reading since I can remember; it’s been my escape and a way to learn about the world. So to get paid to read books is pretty awesome. I also love the audiobook narrator community – I truly think we are the smartest and nicest facet of the actor community. And I love the flexibility that working on my own gives me – as a working mom that is especially important. Finally, I love playing all the parts. When I did theatre, I played male roles quite a few times, as well as children and older people – I was a character actor even in my twenties. Audiobooks let me continue that, basically creating a one-woman show in my booth!