Karen Krause grew up in a musical family and started singing with her daddy’s band when she was knee-high to a grasshopper, as they say in her native Ozark Mountains. She’s been performing ever since, playing to anyone who would sit still. When she wasn’t demanding to be the center of attention, she was high in her backyard tree reading just about anything she could get her hands on. Her love of theatre and the stage grew from school plays and backyard shows to a college degree and regional theatre. And her love of literature grew as well. She discovered the world of audiobooks when they really were books on tape and has been an avid fan ever since. About five years ago, she had an epiphany (why it took her so long is a mystery). She could combine her love of performing with her love of the spoken word. She recorded her first audiobook in 2012 and hasn’t looked back. She just finished her 39th book.
How did you get started narrating audiobooks?
I’ve been performing – acting and singing – for years. A few years ago, when I started looking at adding voiceover to my arsenal and started taking workshops and working with coaches, I learned how the world of audiobook narrating was opening up opportunities for actors across the country, not just those located on the coasts. I auditioned for my first book and boom, got the gig. I was hooked from there.
You specialize in dialects and accents. Your website lists you as being a specialist in “UK (RP, Cockney, Welsh, Irish, Scottish), American Southern (Texas, Deep South, Appalachian), East Coast (New Jersey, Brooklyn, Maine, Boston), German, Russian, Greek, Italian, French, Eastern European, Yiddish, Indian.” Wow! What a combination! How did you become such an expert in accents?
I’m really not sure. I’m originally from the South, the Ozarks, so that one is a natural for me. I had to learn Cockney for a show when I was 16. I found I learned it easily – and it was a lot of fun. I started listening to accents, then studying them, and searched out auditions for roles with accents so I could get lots of practice.
What have been some of your most memorable book you’ve narrated?
All of them! Seriously, I usually get so caught up in the characters and story, they become a part of my psyche. If I have to pick, some of the most memorable would be Where Bluebirds Fly by Brynne Chapman because it is a beautifully written story, with underlying themes of acceptance and embracing who you are; The Legends Saga by Stacey Rourke because it is so chillingly haunting, yet the characters are real people with real hopes and flaws; The Book of Dragons by E. Nesbit because I so channeled Mary Poppins, and I’ve always wanted to be Mary Poppins; and Six Weeks to Yehida by Melissa Studdard because her little heroine, Analise, is adorable, and who doesn’t like talking sheep?
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?
I always read the whole book first. I try to do some preparation as I go, so usually I have to read by pieces. I have to read to get a feel for the style and discover the author’s story. I also have to track the characters and listen to what is being said about them so I can “get into their skins” so to speak, find any words that I need to define and/or find pronunciation, and mark trouble spots (where I may need to watch my breathing or there are especially difficult phrases).
Many names have different pronunciations to them. How do you choose which to use?
Well, the country of origin and social status of the character can give clues to name pronunciation, but a narrator should never guess. Ask the author.
Have you ever had to narrate a book that you strongly disliked but had to record anyway? How did you deal with that? Or if you haven’t run into such a situation, what do you envision doing?
I don’t think that has ever been a problem for me. I love to read, and any compelling story will hold my interest. But if I were to find myself in that situation, I would immerse myself in the characters (and the narrator is also a character, even if the book is written in 3rd person) and focus on giving them a life, instead of the things I didn’t like about the story. Or better yet, I am an actor, and actors love to pretend, so I would just pretend I liked it.
How do you decide which voices to use for each character? And how do you keep them all straight as you go?
When I read through the book the first time, I see the story like a movie in my head. The characters are created for me by the words and subtext of the story, so they take on physical characteristics as well as personalities of their own. Often I will “cast” the book using celebrities and actors, or people I know such as family and friends or coworkers, sometimes even other narrators. This helps to cement that person in my head so I can consistently voice them throughout the book and subsequent sequels.
How much say do you have in the selection of what you read?
I have total control of what I read. I like to read the book before I accept the job, but I will at least read a portion and ask questions about content before I accept it.
Do you prefer to narrate your favorite books to read, or do you prefer narrating other materials?
I love narrating favorite authors and genres, but I also like the challenge of reading different genres and authors and of opening up to new experiences. Variety stimulates growth and creativity. I get to play all the parts!! Age, gender and type are no barriers.