The collaborative process of creating an audiobook was both fun and enlightening. While I knew there was more to it than just reading aloud, I learned that translating a written work into another medium requires a whole new approach … and a different skill set! Fortunately, I teamed up with a talented professional who is passionate about what he does. It has made all the difference. My first piece of fiction has been in good hands, and the result is something I'm now proud to offer to audio listeners.
So, to celebrate the release of my first audiobook, I did a short Q&A session with the narrator, James Norwood, so you could get to know a little bit about him. Enjoy!
How did you get into the profession of audiobook narration?
I have a background in theatre as a former drama major, high school drama director, and community theatre actor. As an English teacher I LOVED reading aloud to my students, and as a father I read every night to my children. I was an educational technology entrepreneur and started an internet-based training company that went on to be very successful. One of the things I did in my company was narrate several thousand video software training tutorials. So, I have a background and interest in recording technology as a communications teacher, entrepreneur, and as a would-be musician. Mix everything up for years and years … sell my company … and one day a light bulb turns on and I think, “I bet I could take a stab at narrating books.”
In what ways does your previous experience affect how you approach fiction?
As a former English teacher and a frustrated novelist, I’ve spent a lot of time studying and teaching character development. I think I have a pretty good understanding of the roles that various characters are playing in a story. I look for “archetypes.” The actor and director in me wants to take a stab at bringing characters to “life.” I have a shelf of books about how to write books, so I’m very envious of people who can actually put it all together. In that light, I just have to speak the words “trippingly on the tongue.” To interpret. I already know what I’m supposed to say.
Do you use professional recording equipment (hardware and software)?
It is hard to say anymore what “professional” recording equipment is, since the level of what would have once been “amateur” equipment has been elevated quite a bit. I use a combination of commercial and open-source software for recording, editing, and mastering. I try to find tools that are intuitive and comfortable to work with. I use a MacBook Pro as a recording station, a decent USB microphone (shock mounted), and recently purchased a portable sound booth, so that I can pretty much set up anywhere. Software tools like “Audacity” are invaluable for mastering, but it really takes a chain of several programs to record, edit, master, and prepare the final files.
How extensive is the process of getting to know the story? Did you read the whole book first, or take it one scene at a time?
I don’t necessarily read the entire book before I begin narrating. I’m not sure if that will change over time … there is something to be said for knowing everything. From a practical standpoint, I like to read far enough ahead to have a good sense of where the story is in its development, but I like the “freshness” of not really knowing everything that is going to happen. It keeps me on my toes. As a reader, I love falling in love with certain characters, learning to hate others, and honestly being curious about how it is all going to turn out. So … at any given point I’m well ahead of where the listener is, but I may be as mystified as anyone about how it is all going to end. When it all balances out, it is a delicious experience.
What is your method for creating a unique sound for each character? And how do you keep track of them all?
I’m still working on figuring that all out! Actually, from a creation standpoint I spend a lot of time driving around in my truck talking to myself. I have a habit of trying to duplicate whomever is speaking on the public radio station. Sometimes I try to think of a famous actor or character, and use their performance as a mental shorthand to bring a voice to mind. I keep track of characters by cutting and pasting snippets of speech into individual character files on my computer. If I haven’t voiced a character for a while, I pull up the sound file for him or her and give it a listen to put myself back in that mind space. I get to know primary characters fairly quickly, but I admit I have to watch for “character creep,” where a character’s voice begins to migrate over time and becomes something different.
Were you nervous about giving a “voice” to characters that fans had already come to know?
To this point, I’ve been a little ignorant of what people already expect a character to sound like, other than to say that the author is the best guide. If the author hears a character as “kind of like so-and-so in that movie,” then I’d probably better capture some of that essence. I’m here to serve the author, and the author is there to serve the fans. So, “nervous” wouldn’t really capture the feeling. It is more a sense of respecting and honoring the author’s intent. I haven’t had to voice a character that has already been voiced in audio or video. THAT would be intimidating!
You’ve only read the first book of The Awakened series at this point. Do you have any favorite characters already? If so, which ones … and why do they appeal to you?
I love Saba. I’m not sure I’ve really captured him to my satisfaction, but I’ve always had a soft spot for the wise old sage! I like when I get to hear him speak with others. Gursha was fun. At the other end of the spectrum, I like voicing Ukiru, even though I don’t actually “like” him. But there are times where his voice comes very easily and I can actually see him.
In reality, you’ve translated a novel into a different medium. What unique contributions have you brought to this fictional universe?
I like the idea of making movies for the mind. I guess I bring an honest love of stories. I’ve devoured quite a bit of science fiction and fantasy in my life, and studied Joseph Campbell’s works about character archetypes. I have a fair bit of experience as an actor and narrator. I have a knowledge of the technical side of things. I think that “teacher-actor-technician-fan” is a pretty strong combination for this kind of work, and fairly unique.
My enjoyment of narrating has exceeded my expectations. I worried that it might become rote or boring to get through an entire book, but in truth every day is different, and that is interesting. There are elements that are just plain work: remastering or quality checking an 8 hour book is going to take … guess what … more than 8 hours. The complexity of what you have built up over time sneaks up on you. But, overall, it is very satisfying and enjoyable. It’s also great for starting conversations in social situations. “So, what have you been up to lately?” “Me? I tell stories.” “Really? Tell me about that …”
I’ve been lucky enough to create relationships with two authors who both have a fan base, and a series of books to narrate! So, I’m starting on Book 2 of the Awakened series (Paths of Destruction), and I’m well into the first book of the “Abercrombie Trail” series (four books so far) by Minnesota author Candace Simar. It is a series of historical fiction works that involve Norwegian immigrants to Minnesota at the time the Civil War breaks out, and the “Sioux uprising” that occurred in and around Minnesota. I live and work from Minnesota, so I have a natural interest in those stories. Jason and Candace are very different in age, subject matter, and approach to writing, but both with stories that are fun to read and a challenge to bring to life as a narrator! (Just try voicing half a dozen male Norwegian immigrants speaking together in a single chapter!) How lucky am I that I get to live in both of these fictional worlds for a while longer … I’m far enough into Paths of Destruction that I REALLY want to know where it goes: I’d better do some recording so I can read the rest! Delicious.