Cassandra Campbell has narrated over 6000 titles to date. She has won Audie Awards in both fiction (in 2017 for Jodi Picoult’s Small Great Things and in 2010 for The Help) and non-fiction (in 2011 for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks) and been nominated over a dozen times, (including three for Best Solo Narration; she’s the Susan Lucci of audiobooks!) Recent awards include being inducted into Audible’s 2017 Hall of Fame (in the inaugural class!) and Audiofile Magazine’s list of Best Narrations for 2017 for several titles. She’s been a Publisher’s Weekly Best Narrator of the Year and has won consistent praise on Audible’s Best Narrations lists, Audiofile Magazine‘s Voice of the Year and Best Audiobook Narrator, as well as in the Library Journal. She has twice been on the ALA’s list of notable recordings. She is a member of SAG-AFTRA, where she has served on the Audiobook Steering Committee.
How did you get started performing audiobooks?
My kids were little, so the theatre career I’d had, which required me to work in different cities for any given show, was less and less appealing, as I was away from the kids at night for local shows. So when an actor friend told me about audiobooks (this was 14 years ago and I’d never listened to one), I was intrigued. The minute I stepped in the recording studio, I was totally sold. Here was this wonderful marriage between acting and literature and I felt like I’d come home. I dove in and I haven’t looked back.
I love your performances as Jana deLeon’s Miss Fortune. If I hadn’t seen that you also narrated Lorna Barrett’s Booktown series, I wouldn’t have recognized they were read by the same person. What do you think makes two performances seem so utterly unlike each other?
Well, first of all, I’m totally flattered that you find them tonally different! That’s always been my primary goal: to deliver a performance based on the individual author’s style, genre and intention. The Miss Fortune books I love for their zany, fast paced tone. Gertie and Ida Belle are such a wonderful pairing, and they each showed up in my head as so distinct right from the start. I’m as fond of both of them as Fortune is, and I love hanging out in Sinful. The playful tone of the writing and the cast of characters make those books so easy to record. Ditto for the Booktown series, only the setting, the mood, are different. The mystery bookshop world is quieter, more methodical, the entrance into the world of Stoneham, New Hampshire imbued with more curiosity on the part of Tricia, the protagonist. Tricia is less effusive than her sister and she doesn’t make as much noise, so the read is a bit quieter, at least till the murder takes place!
How do you decide what voices to use for which characters?
It’s funny to say, but it’s true, that most often times the characters tell me who they are and not the other way around. They lead me by the nose, so to speak, popping into my head as I read the book to prepare for the recording session. Sometimes they’re archetypal, other times they remind me of a certain actor or even a person I know. In the case that the author hasn’t provided a lot of clues, or if they’re a minor character, like a cop or a nurse or a lawyer, I’ll base them on a character I’ve seen in a movie or on TV. But mostly, they pop out of the writing itself.
I have listened to all of your Miss Fortune books numerous times and have read the ones not on audio once each. The ones read by you have so much more life to them than the ones I read to myself. Why do you think this is?
Again, I’m so pleased you think so! There’s been a lot of conversation about whether listening is as valid as reading, but to me it’s crazy to try to delegitimize the listening experience or label it inferior or less pure or the ugly step child of reading. I read to my kids all the time when they were little, and I loved nothing more than having my dad read to me when I was growing up. I remember so clearly the freedom of being able to get lost in the pictures the story painted in my head, the worlds I could see, when I was read to. I think there’s a certain freedom in listening and an intimacy, a shared experience between the author, the narrator and the listener. Listeners have to bring their own imagination to any story, read or heard, and it’s always my hope that I’m meeting you halfway on that experience. So I guess what I’d say is that maybe it just adds another layer to the story we’re sharing when you listen instead of read.
What is your favorite genre to narrate? Is that also your favorite genre to read on your own?
Good writing, good writing, good writing. I don’t necessarily have a favorite genre. I like all kinds of books as long as the author is committed to the storytelling to the point of creating a really vivid world with a consistent tone and through line. I guess I’m mostly grounded in the classics and in literary fiction, which are what I grew up with. I read tons of fairy tales as a kid, not just the Grimm’s but Russian, Irish, Italian, and English, and then in high school I read tons of plays (I thought that if I wanted to be an actress I had to know all the great plays, plus my dad was a theatre critic.) But I’m kind of a greedy reader. I want to read all kinds of stuff.
How do you prepare to narrate a book?
I read quietly. I’m looking for clues. The first, as I said before, is tone: pace, use of language, tempo. Then I look for place: the setting and the movement through that world. And finally I examine character: who’s telling the story and why, what do they want, how are they going to try to get it, who are they in conflict with.
Do you think an audiobook narrator needs to enjoy the book she or he is performing? Could you make a book you truly hated seem likeable to an audience?
I love this question. Yes. It’s so hard to read a book you hate. So you find a way, if you accept the project, to get behind it. I have turned down projects I just thought would be impossible to believe in. But I’ve also done a lot of books I wouldn’t necessarily pick up to read. Those are the ones you have to dig deeper, work a little harder, and rely on technique to make your own. I think there’s always something to learn, to be gained, and to embrace about so many books. And I try to keep in mind that for someone that book is gonna make their day better.
You have won numerous awards for your audio performances. How has that benefited your work?
It has made me more employable, I think. And I get to do a lot of really good books by some incredibly talented writers, for which I’m very grateful.
What is your favorite part about narrating audiobooks?
I’ve discovered so many interesting subject areas I might never have otherwise explored through the world of audiobooks. One of the most exciting parts of the work is going on a vacation in your mind to some place you’ve never been or even imagined visiting. For example, I read this fictional story that took place in Poland and Eastern Europe and I fell in love with the sounds of the Polish language and with the history of the country. Now I hope to visit there one day. Also, inspired by having narrated over 600 titles, I’ve started writing fiction and am just finishing a novel I hope to get it published in the next year or so! Books and audiobooks are my world!
Read the official statement about Cassandra’s induction into the Audible narrator 2017 Hall of Fame here.
Read my review of Murder Is Binding here.
Read my review of Bookmarked for Death here.
Read my review of Lethal Bayou Beauty here.
Read my review of Swamp Sniper here.
Read my review of Swamp Team 3 here.
Read my review of Gator Bait here.
Read my review of Soldiers of Fortune here.
Read my review of Hurricane Force here.
Read my review of Later Gator here.
Read my review of Fortune Hunter here.