Tell us a little about yourself (Your bio).
I grew up in Pennsylvania, went to college in Pittsburgh, and then lived in New York City for a bunch of years. In 2010, I moved to L.A., where I now reside with my lovely wife, I-Ching, our hipster wonder-dog Adelaide, and our scrappy black cat Evel. I like English tea, English motorbikes, and weird English telly (Garth Marenghi, Snuff Box, Mighty Boosh, et al.).
How on earth did you get into narrating audiobooks?
Lucked out. In 2005, Joshua Spanogle, and old friend of mine from high school, wrote a book called ISOLATION WARD. He was in med school on the west coast at the time, and Random House, who published the book, asked him if he knew any actors in New York who could audition for an audio version. He gave them a list of names, and I got the gig.
I then attended a casting workshop with Audible.com. I gave them the CD version of ISOLATION WARD, and was asked to audition at their studios a couple months later…
What do you do when you are not narrating?
I spend a lot of time with my wife and our animals. We have our dog in agility training, and are trying to teach her how to skateboard in hopes of making her a YouTube star. Did you know that YouTube stars make A LOT of money?
Many audiobook narrators do other voice over work, where else could we hear your work? Do you find there to any big hurdles to jump when going from audiobooks to something else or vise versa?
Happily, I am just starting to work in other areas of VO entertainment. I just did awesome roles on CALL OF DUTY: BLACK OPS III and (game’s actual title is top secret.), two video games set for release in 2015. I have yet to do any animation work, but it’s definitely a goal of mine.
As far as hurdles, the main challenge is just getting your name and your voice heard by the right people in the industry. Most casting directors are not avid audiobook listeners, so in many cases, you’re starting from scratch.
Do you have the luxury of picking and choosing the projects that you work on or do you take as many as you have time for?
I pretty much read whatever they put in front of me. Because I’ve been working with Audible for a number of years, I have had some projects which were chosen specifically for me. For example, a 33 1/3 book about Slayer’s REIGN IN BLOOD was given to me because I’m a fan of the band. Also, as a lifelong PLANET OF THE APES nerd, I was asked to read the novelization of the most recent film, which was a true honor.
For those of us that are unfamiliar with your work. How would you describe your narration style and voice? What would the one audiobook you would suggest for people to listen to your best work?
Narration style? I don’t know, that’s a hard question. I can describe my voice. It’s on the deeper end, with a bit of grit to it, which is probably why I read a lot of military stuff.
I try not to impose any particular style of narration on the text, but rather, take my cue from the rhythm of the writing.
As for my best work, that’s another tough one. My work is always better when paired with good writing. So, I’d recommend SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES by Ray Bradbury, simply because the man was a master of his craft.
As a narrator, do you get compensated in a set amount or do you also receive royalties from the individual sales? Do you like one more than the other? Has there ever been an per finished hour book that you wish was a royalty deal, what book? Or vise versa?
I’ve never worked for royalties, though I know some in the industry do. From what I understand, though, no audiobook narrator has gotten rich from such an arrangement. I prefer the finished hour because I know exactly what my time is worth. But if there were any books or series I’ve narrated that paid royalties? I’d want it to be Jack Campbell’s LOST FLEET books, simply because they’re my perennial best-sellers.
What do you see as your greatest achievement as an audiobook narrator? What has been your most difficult moment?
I don’t think about it in terms of achievement. It’s a job, and like any job I get, I try to do the best work that I can possibly do.
There’s no particular difficult moment. It’s a difficult job, period. I don’t think people realize how time- and labor-intensive an occupation it is, especially when you have to breathe life into a book that you don’t like. Happens all the time…
Do you have a list of your own favorite narrators, who inspires you? Do you have a list of favorite audiobook that you have listened to?
I confess, I don’t really listen to audiobooks. But I do have Douglas Adams narrating some of his own stuff, which is fantastic. He was a brilliant guy.
What is your favorite thing to do? Pastime, hobby, obsession, etc.
I love two things with equal passion: dogs and motorcycles. I wrecked my motorcycle last year, so these days, I mostly spend time with my dog. And my wife. She loves our dog too. My wife and I are big animal people.
Do you ever get specific notes or ideas from the writer about how something should be read? What is a helpful note, and what is, shall we say, less helpful?
I rarely get any notes from the authors, aside from pronunciations of character names or proper nouns. As far as any overall direction goes, I look at it in the same way as selling the film rights to your work. I’m basically casting, directing, and starring in the audiobook version of your novel. Therefore, all artistic decisions are mine, provided they stay true to the author’s intent.
Do you have an initial process or routine by which you get to know the book you’re going to be reading? Do you mark them up, for example?
Not really. Often I don’t even have the time to read the book first. I scan for characters and dialogue as much as I can, but that’s about it.
How do you flesh out how a specific character will sound?
With any luck, the author will do most of the heavy lifting on that score. However, if character details are scant, I usually just reach for something comfortable within my range that will fit.
Is your studio in your home? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this? Do you have something that you would consider unique in your setup? What is it?
– short commute
– spouse, pets, snacks in close proximity
– can work in underwear
– sometimes forget how to interact with actual people
– having to operate Pro Tools myself
My setup is your basic Whisper Room. I do have one unique item: a custom-built Z87 mic, designed by audiobook engineer and mad genius Sebastian Zetin.
What is the atmosphere like in your studio when you record. What’s it like, and are things very serious or not very serious?
It really depends on the book, though with the aforementioned spouse and pets around, things are never in danger of getting too serious.
How long do you record at a time, on average? What is it about a book that will shorten or lengthen this?
If I’m working at home, I don’t usually work for more than 3-4 hours at a time. But at an outside studio with someone else pushing the buttons, I can go 5 or 6 with a couple of short breaks.
What is your favorite genre to narrate? Why?
Crime or mystery, because those stories are more interesting to me personally than a lot of the sci-fi stuff.
What has been your favorite character? What character has given you the most grief?
It’s hard to pick a particular favorite, but THE REMAINING series has a lot of fun ones: LaRouche, Jerry, and Lee, among them. I like voices that are easy for me to do…
The most grief, by far, comes from Tanya Desjani of THE LOST FLEET series. If I had known back in 2008, when I recorded the first couple of books, that there would be 11 or so more to follow, I would have made her voice lower and easier to maintain for someone with my vocal register.
How do you stop yourself from laughing or crying at some of the things authors write?
I don’t stop myself. I laugh and cry all the time, but fortunately, it’s edited out.
I have heard that many in the industry dislike the term narrator. What do you prefer and why?
I’ve heard that too, and I can’t understand why. Personally, I think ‘narrator’ is a perfect term for what we do. I’ve heard people use the term ‘reader’, which doesn’t quite seem to encompass the scope of the job. But I also balk at the use of ‘performer’, as in ‘This book has been performed by blank’. Who the hell wants a book performed for them? That sounds obnoxious, especially if it’s non-fiction or, say, a self-help book. ‘Narrator’ is a slightly old-fashioned word, but it’s up to us to change the paradigm, and give it a new meaning.
How do you view audiobook narration/production: Art or Science?
Do you have a philosophy of how to create the perfect audiobook experience?
Tell the story as truthfully as possible, and stay out of the author’s way.
Do you have a preference for reading fiction or nonfiction for pleasure? And is what you read for pleasure what you’d prefer to read for audiobooks?
I hardly ever read for pleasure any more, but when I do, it’s almost exclusively non-fiction.
I read mostly about dogs and animals, and would love to narrate some of those books, but I don’t know if people would pay me to talk about puppies and kittens.
Do you have any advice for other aspiring narrators?
What has been your favorite project and why?
I had a lot of fun on ENDER’S GAME ALIVE, because we were all in the studio together. It was a very talented cast, and it always improves your own game when you can interact directly with your co-stars.
Do you believe that listening to an audiobook should be considered reading? Why or why not?
NO. Unless you’re looking at the words yourself, you’re not reading. No judgment, just fact.
Are you working on any special projects?
The two video games I mentioned above, COD: BLACK OPS III and (game’s actual title is top secret.), are both ongoing. Also, I just wrapped up two long-running series, THE LOST FLEET and THE REMAINING.
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