Traci Odom, an American-born actor and voice artist has built a successful career that spans decades. As a stage, film and television actor, she has played everything from a tree to an Irish Setter to a lawyer, but it is as a veteran narrator of more than 70 audiobooks that she has truly found her voice, inviting her listeners into the worlds of romance, witchcraft, devilry and vampirism. To relax in her spare time, she daydreams of becoming the first female American Ninja Warrior – but then she would have to get off her couch to make that dream a reality, so she lives out her daydreams in her professional life, both on camera and on microphone. Working in close collaboration with her authors, she brings their creations to life with dynamic energy and commitment. Traci is delighted to reply to every email that comes to her through her website.
How did you get started narrating audiobooks?
Funny you should ask. I was just telling this story to my Mom the other day. When my niece was 4 years old, she and her Mom and Dad were stationed in Spain and to keep in touch with her, I would record stories on cassette and mail them to her. (She’s 30 now.) Then, in 2010, another youngster friend of mine was turning 9 and I asked his mom what she suggested. He was a big fan of the Harry Potter audiobooks, so she suggested I read him a story and put it on CD, which (after much fumbling and stumbling) I did. I enjoyed the process so much that I began seeking out the audiobook industry in earnest to see if there was any way to add that to my creative repertoire. A producer turned me on to ACX and here I am 7+ years later, with 70 books on the market, 2 more in editing and another in prep.
You state on your website, “I love doing what I do. I am an actor and voice artist. I love doing commercials, voice-over and audiobooks.” How does each of these media compare and contrast in the work you do?
I feel like there is a similarity in that I get to utilize my creative instincts and storytelling, even if I’m in a commercial not saying a word. The biggest difference is the collaboration. Being in my booth, it’s just me, my manuscript and technology. Sometimes, I’ll tell people that I get to sit in the dark talking to myself. On a commercial or print set, or even in a voice-over session for a commercial, there are sometimes dozens of people surrounding me at any given time, and it’s a team effort to create a look, feel and sound. In audiobooks, I get to utilize all of my creative and emotional musculature.
In describing your career, your website says, “As a stage, film and television actor, she has played everything from a tree to an Irish Setter to a lawyer.” What a variety of roles! I’m especially curious about how you play a tree!
Oh yes, definitely a variety. Now, I have to admit the tree was my very first on-stage play in high school, and I pretty much stood there in a long robe with my arms sticking out. (The character was a witch who had been turned into a tree as a curse.) Hmm, that definitely connects to my later audiobook career, doesn’t it? I’ve been involved in paranormal storytelling for longer than I thought. The Irish Setter character was in a play here in Los Angeles when I was in my late 20’s. It was a play where all the actors portrayed various dogs in a dog pound.
You specialize in narrating the genres of witchcraft, devilry and vampirism. What challenges come with performing these dark books?
I love playing in the world of the paranormal, especially when the story goes really dark. The biggest challenge I have creatively is keeping each series fresh, so a listener doesn’t go, “Oh, there’s Traci doing Raphael again,” when it’s a completely different series. Technically speaking, I have an author who creates the most amazing worlds and races of people. She consistently has 70+ characters per book. Those books really allow me to stretch my instrument and creativity. It’s awesome!
Which audiobook narrators particularly inspire you? Do you find any to be personal mentors?
That’s an enormous question to answer for me as I am a huge fan of a number of narrators. Recently, I have had the opportunity to meet some of my faves face to face. As a matter of fact, at one point at a conference recently, I was standing in a circle with Patrick Lawlor, Noah Michael Levine and Maxine Mitchell. I told myself, all I needed was Andi Arndt, Sebastian York and Robert Petkoff and I would be a puddle of fan-drool.
As for a mentor, this community of audiobook narrators is amazing. In all my years as an actor, I have never had this kind of collegial support. Without exception, every single person I have met in this community has become a mentor in one way or another. My friend Ron Butler has been especially supportive and helpful in the “put yourself out there” arena. And, a special shout out to P.J. Ochlan for his amazing coaching!
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?
My process is probably as unique to me as each narrator’s is to them. I read the book through, making any notes about the character that the author gives, or other characters say about them. I will color code each character so that as dialogue is coming up, I’ll be ready for the transitions. I do not practice out loud before recording. For me, the more I read a particular piece out loud, the harder time I have of really telling the story. It’s like I get too rehearsed. I also tend to incubate each book I narrate, so when I’m in the studio, I really have a feel for each character. I laugh at myself sometimes because every once in a while I’ll go back and listen to a work I did a year or so back and get caught up in the characters. I’ll sometimes think “Wow, that guy was particularly delicious. I wonder where I can meet a man like that,” and then I remember I AM that guy.
How do you decide what voices to use for each character and what do you do to keep the individual voices straight as you record?
A good starting point on voices for me is the research I mentioned above. If the author has made a note about particular characteristic, I do my best to create that. For example, a strong, baritone hero with a slight southern accent. Or, if they say a villain has a sinister sound, I tend to see them in my mind: Are they the sexy sinister? That may result in a slow, accented, deep voice, so that each word I speak in their dialogue is drawn out to create a feel of torturing the listener. Are they the cowardly sinister? Then I might make the character a little more nasal and sniveling. Thank goodness for technology, too because the software I use allows me to make character files so each day I can refresh myself as I go into a session. Then, if a character is coming up that may only pop in here and there, I’ll take a quick listen and get right back into the flow.
How much interaction do you have with the authors of the books you are reading? How much do they influence your choices of inflections, etc?
My authors are everything to me. I am so blessed to have some amazing relationships with my authors and to a one, they are responsive, kind and available to any questions and support I need. I reach out as much as I need to, which differs from book to book. I also feel grateful that my authors trust me and leave room for me to bring life to the worlds and characters they birthed.
What is your favorite part about narrating audiobooks?
Storytelling and inhabiting worlds and relationships that I will never be a part of in reality – unless of course vampires and shifters come out into the open finally.