If you have never read or listened to The Sleuth Sisters series by Maggie Pill, rush to Audible or Amazon to get the series! The books follow the adventures of Barb and Faye as they start the Smart Detective Agency and try to keep their younger sister, Retta, from taking over. The audiobook is fantastic, being narrated by Anne Jacques as Barb, Laura Bednarski as Faye, and Judy Blue as Retta. There are four books on audio, with the fifth in production now. Today we talk to ask three women about their experience narrating these books.
How did each of you get started narrating audiobooks?
Anne: We got started together! The three of us were part of a “staged reading” performance of a new play. Judy and I had known each other for years in the Chicago acting community and had each been curious about narrating audiobooks. An audiobook producer we all three knew came to see the show. He had come across the audition for The Sleuth Sisters and thought we would be a great combo. Happily Peg/Maggie agreed that three actors for the three sisters worked well, and we were hired.
Laura: I was cast in a staged reading of a play that a friend of mine wrote. She was new to town and wanted to get her play on a stage in Chicago. She thought I was perfect for one of the characters and I was happy to be asked. When we had our rehearsals I got to meet the other actresses who were all very amazing and talented and had been in the Chicago acting scene for many years. I was very new to the acting scene having just started in my mid life taking my ﬁrst acting class. Why does saying mid life always make me sound old? So I was honored to be amongst these women. Two of them were Anne Jacque and Judy Blue, who would later be known to me as Barb and Retta! At our performance we had people in the industry attend and friends and family. One of the audience members was the owner of a recording studio and actor himself. He had just had an audiobook come across his desk and he said when he saw us on stage he had a light bulb moment that we could be The Sleuth Sisters. And the rest they say is history!
Judy: I had wanted to do them for years when the marvelous JoBe Cerny (aka the Pillsbury Doughboy) saw us in a play about the blacklisted fellas writers from the 50’s and saw us as the three Sleuth Sisters. Being from the theatre, reading long hours from a script is natural – so we can’t get enough of the work!
You each have a voice that suits your character so well in the Sleuth Sisters series. How did you get selected for the role you each performed?
Anne: The producer who asked us to audition knew our voices well, had read the book prior to contacting us, and placed us perfectly. Your readers might enjoy knowing that Barb has wormed her way into my consciousness – grammatical errors on signs leap to my horrified eye with regularity now. And Laura, a natural animal lover, has, since voicing Faye, actually hunted down an irresponsible dog owner in her community and brought him to justice! I hesitate to ask how Retta has impacted Judy!
Laura: I think the producer just got it right in casting us. We really are each of the characters. It is almost eerie sometimes.
Judy: JoBe has an ear for casting. He knew the intent / nature of each character and heard it in our voices. It didn’t hurt that we were playing such strong women when he was casting.
You all, especially Laura, who voices the character of Faye, do an admirable job of imitating each others’ voices when voicing each other’s characters. Did you do this fully consciously or did it just come naturally as you heard each other talk?
Anne: Thanks! We have a lot of fun with this. Judy and Laura will have to give their methods on this, of course. Personally, I combined what I knew about each sister’s personality from reading the first book, then listened to their first recordings of early chapters, and then voiced them as I heard them – with a bit of Barb’s opinions and humor layered on!
Laura: Thanks so much for the compliment! I have to say that I just used my instinct with what I knew about their character and the way they talked. I try not to overthink. I usually go with my gut and the ﬁrst thing that I feel. Once you establish it you have it inside you and it just comes out. I also have certain mannerisms I use. For instance when I do Barb I put my hand on my hip. She is the oldest and I always feel she is telling me what to do or judging me. It helps me get into character. With Retta I use my hands a lot and get BIG. She is larger than life.
Judy: We are just imitating our sisters!!
How much interaction did you have with each other when planning and recoding the books?
Anne: Before the first of the current five books I believe we chatted about our feelings about the sisters’ relationships. The fact that each character has her individual chapters means that we each record at separate times, and our schedules rarely find us even crossing over at the studio. But one thing I always do is figure out which of us first voices other characters in a book and listen to her version of that character – for example our “hired guy” Gabe – and model my voicing after hers. It would be jarring, I think, for a listener to hear Gabe voiced as slick and fast talking by one of us, slow witted and slow talking by another, and snide and greasy by another. Luckily Peg’s writing gives us well-drawn characters, so what one of us comes up with as a voice seems realistic for the other two.
Laura: At the beginning we collaborated or had some discussions about the characters, etc. We actually had no idea we would be doing any book beyond one. It actually is a surprise we are on book 5 already. We are all quite busy lately so we do not get together but if we have a question we text or email each other. We each record on separate days.
Judy: Some key points. – I think Anne described that well.
What draws you to the Sleuth Sisters books?
Anne: I love a good mystery, and I love humor. The Sleuth Sisters stands up in the mystery category so well – I never know which direction a story is headed, there are always surprises and twists. The unforced humor of some relationships and moments is organic, not a goal of its own, so it’s just the right touch of lightness in the sometimes hefty life situations involved in each book. I look forward to each upcoming book because they are so different from each other. No formula at all. And each of the sisters is a strong, layered woman. We as readers, and listeners, learn unexpected sides of their personalities with every new book.
Laura: When I read the ﬁrst one I really loved it. My life is so insane right now I don’t have time to read deep complicated books. This was light and easy to read and I loved the characters. I could relate to what they were going through and it was just fun to read. I loved how each chapter was spoken by a different person. That was unique and really makes you feel you get to know the storyteller.
Judy: The fun of the mystery and loving relationship of the sisters.
What is your favorite part of narrating audiobooks?
Anne: Well, I love to read! In addition to that, though, I think it’s a wonderful kind of sharing. Standing with my lips just inches from the microphone is like talking right into the listener’s ear since most will listen through earphones, or on a car radio. So it’s a personal relationship, sharing a great story with someone who wants to read the book and has decided to do that via listening. Very personal. I’ve got a responsibility to be thinking of the listener as much as I think of the characters.
Laura: Hmm the favourite part for me is that I can feel totally overwhelmed with life and the pace of it juggling family life, career, etc but when I ﬁnally get in the booth I do not have a worry in the world. It is like I am transported to another world and I am just with the mic and my script telling the story. It is my happy place.
Judy: Discovering the story!!!!
Click here to read my earlier review of Sleuth Sisters
Click here to read my earlier review of 3 Sleuths, 2 Dogs, 1 Murder
Click here to read my earlier review of Murder in the Boonies
Click here to read my earlier review of Sleuthing at Sweet Springs