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Interview with My Audiobook Narrator

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How an audiobook is made can be something of a mystery to readers -- and oftentimes, even to authors! My third novel comes out soon (July 3rd) and as Penguin Random House's audiobook producer, Diane McKiernan, contacted me to make arrangements for the audiobook version, a fun development took shape. Diane asked me if I had an idea of how I'd like the reader to sound, and as I thought it over, I realized I *did* know! Not only did I have a specific idea of the type of voice I wanted, I could name a specific person -- my friend, Elizabeth Romanski. Elizabeth is not only a friend, but happens to be a talented actor who has done tons of professional voice work. We met in New York and bonded in part because we are both originally from Northern California -- where my forthcoming book, EAGLE & CRANE, is set. 

One of the great things about life in New York is that you meet and make friends with tons of talented artists. Elizabeth is one of the most talented and accomplished people I know, and it was such a joy and an honor to have her record the audiobook. I thought I'd have her answer a few questions about her work, and about what it was like to record an audiobook, since so few of us really know how an audiobook "gets made."

 

Can you talk a little bit about your professional background? What are some of your favorite projects you've worked on? I know you do voice work but that your professional background extends beyond that, too. 

Yes, but first let me say what a complete delight it was to record your book! I so admire your gifts as a writer and it was thrilling for me to help tell this wonderful story. In terms of my professional life, I work as an actor and voice over artist. My voice over work is mostly on commercials but I also work on video games, narrations and TV promos. As a performer, I was most recently in the Off-Broadway show, Sleep No More. It's all wonderful work that I'm so lucky to be able to do. 

 

One thing that came as surprise to me are the long hours an audiobook reader can spend in the studio. What's the longest day you spent recording EAGLE & CRANE? How long did the entire job take you, and how long is the finished book? 

It can take a while! EAGLE & CRANE took one week to record, working about 7 hours per day. Hours-wise, that's a normal day, but it is a speaking marathon so tea breaks and a disciplined life are required to keep one's voice sounding good for the duration! I believe the finished book is about 13 hours. 

 

When you record, how does the director break it up? Do you, for instance, read an entire chapter at a time?  

In my experience, we do usually read straight through by chapter. For EAGLE & CRANE, I worked with the wonderful director May Wuthrich--we read through each chapter and would then go back and re-read any lines or sections that needed a bit more work before moving on. We read roughly 80-100 pages per day. 

 

How do audiobook readers and directors decide what kind of tone to take? What is it like reading different characters' dialogue lines? 

When I was reading EAGLE & CRANE prior to recording I was so taken by the grandness of the story. A huge emotional landscape is covered and so the tone needs to shift accordingly. For example, the thrilling moments of flight require a very different tenor than those at the interment camp. My task as the reader isn't to impose an overall tone but rather to be sensitive to those changes. In EAGLE & CRANE we also have the richness of different perspectives and so the tone changes depending on which character we’re with and what they're discovering or feeling from one moment to the next. In terms of reading characters' lines, it's really fun work to find their voices. You have such a knack for dialogue, the tones and cadences feel so specific, so I'm following your lead as the author--not only in the lines that you've written but also how everything you've described about the character--their physicality, level of education, status, demeanor, etc., might inform the way that they speak. 

 

How does the experience of recording an audiobook compare with the experience of recording a voiceover for a commercial? 

Practically speaking, commercial recordings are much shorter than audiobooks--a typical commercial is recorded in under 3 hours. In TV commercials, the voice over is one piece of the puzzle, along with the visuals and sound. Often, the voice over is one of the last elements to be added, so when I record I'm not only working off of the script for tone but everything I see onscreen as well. Of course, for an audiobook, there are no visuals, we just have the words and the voice. It takes a different kind of energy to tell a story for hours and days at a time but, as the reader, it is so wonderful to get to sink into the world of the book for a long stretch. 

 

As a professional voice actor are there special techniques you use to care for and condition your voice? 

Definitely! I do vocal warmups every morning and again before an audition or show. Breathing from your diaphragm, so that your voice is fully supported and not strained with constant use, is also really important. During longer recordings my routine becomes much more disciplined--no dairy, alcohol or caffeine and lots of tea and sleep! 

 

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