An award winning storyteller and graduate of Johns Hopkins University, Cris Dukehart has narrated over 180 books across genres. Booklist says, “Dukehart’s snappy reading will keep listeners plugged in,” and AudioFile Magazine says that Dukehart’s “characters are unique and sympathetic, securing listeners’ engagement from the first.” She lives with her daughter and rotten monster pooch in a tiny “Post-it Note cottage” in Pennsylvania.
How did you get started recording audiobooks, and what were your earliest
experiences recording like?
It began, really, with Nancy Wolfson, of Braintracks Audio. I trained with her, devouring her coursework with happy abandon, and when I started recording stuffs, commercial and corporate stuffs under a jimmy-rigged blanket fort with a USB microphone and a free recording software download, she advised using the incoming cash flow to um . . . improve my recording conditions.
I asked her about Audiobooks and she suggested I reach out to Pat Fraley,who along with Scott Brick, Hilary Huber, and Kathe Mazur, was holding a weekend they called “The Billion Dollar Read.” They provided a fabulous curriculum, unerring support, and the opportunity to record three pieces, professionally directed, recorded and mastered for an audiobook demo.
Included in their curriculum was advice on submitting, as well as some contact information for some of the publishers.
I’d like to believe there was magic that happened there, that weekend, but really. . . I just did what they said to do.
The first person to reach out to me was Michael Charzuk from Audible, who listened to the audio I recorded in my brand new and improved recording gig. . . a WhisperRoom, and guided me on soundproofing it and other recording stuff that would make my life as a home narrator easier. . . and then Audible hired me, bless them. Tantor and Dreamscape joined Audible… and then Brilliance and Harper Audio, and it just grew from there.
You have recorded books in a wide variety of genres, such as mystery, romance, science fiction, young adult, children’s literature, and autobiography. Do you find there is a difference in the way you approach the different genres?
I equate the way I process the written word to a “mind movie.” . . . The words and chapters play out like a movie in my brain and I just try to allow that movie to fall from my mouth and onto the recording.
A G movie is very, very different from an R rated movie, or even from a Mature audiences only movie, in tone and setting as well as in feeling and energy. I approach audibooks in exactly the same way.
How do you go about preparing to perform a book?
Like most narrators, I do a pre-read of the book to understand character and plot, to research anything I might need to understand or any accents that appear.
I research any reviews of the book — the good the bad and the ugly. If there is something in the reviews that readers took issue with, I try to address that, if I can, in the audio.
And then, if the author is game, I always appreciate their input on their story. The movie that plays in my head isn’t likely the same movie that played in THEIR heads as they wrote, and while I can’t ever reproduce exactly what they saw and heard and felt, I’d like to be as close as I’m able to their intent.
And then. . . I just hold my breath and JUMP.
How do you create the voices that you use in your narration of books, and how do you keep them straight in your mind as you read the books?
Well, as I mentioned, the movie just plays in my mind and I try to let it fall out of my mouth. Characters become real in my head. They own their actions and their bodies and also their voices. Just as in life, a character who is shy or slumps or carries themself with a lowered chin and head sounds much different than a robust, stout, brawler of a person.
I try to let the characters voices reflect their stories… and sometimes those voices alter a little as the story progresses. The character may grow more confident and sure, and so too then should her or his voice.
My challenge is always when, in a murder mystery, the murderer speaks. Then, so as not to give away the who-dun-it, I have to make several characters present in similar ways to keep the listeners guessing 😀
A search of Audible lists 172 books under your name. Among these, are there any that stand out to you as memorable?
Oh my goodness… that’s like picking a favorite child!
performing? Could you make a book you truly hated seem likeable to an audience?
Well, I don’t think narrators always ENJOY what they’re working on, but I think they must always be able to do JUSTICE to it. If a narrator finds that he or she is unable to record a specific topic or type of book without prejudice, I just think it’s unfair to the author who spent so much of their time and energy on the piece. It is also unfair to the listener, who deserves to hear it cleanly and without narrator bias. So the narrator should turn the casting down.
I have done this in the past; the publisher seemed very understanding and even grateful for my honesty.
How much input do authors have in your recording process?
I love, love, love to have author input, but I understand, of course, when an author prefers to have the audiobook, like perhaps a movie might, stand on its own, as a separate THING, if that makes any sense.
I don’t necessarily feel that a movie based on a book or a book is BETTER than the other. They are just separate experiences. An audiobook is the same way, I think.
I’m an adventurer at heart, and I’ve attended ballroom classes, I’ve learned to handle and shoot a handgun, I’ve demolished and DIY renovated my kitchen… I’ve developed QUITE a shoe habit. I purchased my first pair of Stuart Weitzman heels after narrating Carole Nelson Douglas’s Midnight Louie series (Temple, the heroine, was a SW fan)… I’m not sure that last can be considered RESEARCH exactly, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it! 😉
You have a very specific diet that you observe while recording books. Would you
share about that with us?
Oh my. . . lol. Well, early in my recording, my dear friend, Bob Deyan of Deyan Audio once listened to my audio and asked that I lay off the soda while recording. . . and that I be sure to eat on a regular basis and take care of myself.
I was aghast!! HOW could he have KNOWN!?!?
He explained that the microphones we use are extremely sensitive and can pick up the bubbles from carbonated drinks. . . or of TOOTHPASTE, HOURS after a narrator puts them in their mouth. In addition, mouths can get smacky or gummy when we skip meals, and bellies can rumble. He suggested sour apple slices and some other fun narrator tricks.
SOOOOOO. . . lol. . . on recording days, I’m very careful about what I eat and drink, and even WHEN I use toothpaste (nekkid toothbrushes ONLY until AFTER recording).
I keep green apple slices on hand for DE-GOOPing my mouth, and Throat Coat Tea and natural beeswax lipbalm. I’m a bit of a weirdo, me and my chapstick and “soft clothes” all tucked away in my padded room 😉
What is your favorite part about being an audiobook narrator?
Aside from the soft clothing every day and working from home (unless I’m travelling to NYC or LA, or to the shores of Lake Michigan to record), reading for a living, and being able to be a precocious 5 year old on Monday, a teenage witch by Wednesday, and a cold hearted killer all the next week? 😉
I really just love the people. You just won’t meet a kinder group than audiobook folk, whether authors or publishers, reviewers, other narrators or listeners. My days OUTSIDE the booth, though cherished and few in number, are made just as rich by the folks I encounter, in character and story, as my days INSIDE the walls of my little padded room.
You can visit Cris further at the following sites: