Voice Range: adolescent to elderly
Accents: American English, British English, American South, Canadian, Cockney, French, German, Irish, Italian, Midwest, New York, Russian, Scottish, Spanish, Yiddish, Yorkshire; Being a dialect and voice coach, I am able to assimilate dialects in a day
Genres: Comedy, Literary Fiction, Inspirational/Self-Help, Young Adult, Mystery/Suspense, Nonfiction, Romance, Fantasy
Fluent Languages: English and petit de Français
Awards: Earphones, Voice Arts Awards nominee, Audies nominee
Born and raised in Minnesota, with stints in Massachusetts, Maine and Wisconsin, Elizabeth earned her MFA in Acting from the University of Minnesota, she then continued acting in Minneapolis/St. Paul on stage and on camera. She began her academic career teaching Voice for the BFA and MFA programs at ‘Ole Miss’ in Oxford, Mississippi, then moved to Virginia where she currently teaches Acting, Voice, and Dialects at the College of William & Mary. She has served as director and
voice/dialect coach for numerous productions, both on campus and in the wider community.
Voiceover and Narration are now her prominent passions, bringing all of her expertise to the brew. Along the way, Elizabeth has earned acting awards, teaching accolades, an AudioFile Magazine Earphones Award, a 2015 Voice Arts Award nomination, and a 2016 Audies nomination. Working out of her home studio in Williamsburg, Virginia, Elizabeth pours vocal vividness and ‘wiley’ wit into the pot; and out come rich imagery, intimate engagement, and a bevy of characters.
How on earth did you get into narrating audiobooks?
On the tangible, action-oriented physical plane? I entered and placed in Scott Brick’s “Share the Experience” contest in 2011 for aspiring narrators, which got my audition heard by an impressive panel of publishers. I owe many thanks to Scott for that opportunity! So the next logical step was taking Pat Fraley’s “Billion Dollar Read” workshop where Scott Brick and Katy Kellgren were guest teachers. I followed that up by attending APAC, and then started sending out demos, following up, getting my demos up on the nascent ACX, and persisting.
What do you do when you are not narrating?:
I’m actually a full-time theatre professor at the College of William & Mary in Virginia. Now that my personal artistic work has turned to audiobooks, I have been recording as many audiobooks as I can fit in. I am thrilled to have found such a deep passion in narrating; I intend to still be doing that long after I’ve retired from teaching.
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?:
Since I split my time between teaching and narrating, I don’t really pursue voiceover work with intention. That being said, I have had some nice gigs come my way, for instance for Rosetta Stone; for an American History interactive eTextbook for Colonial Williamsburg/Pearson; and a Shakespeare eTextbook by Paul Meier.
As for jumping hurdles from one kind of voice acting to another — I’d say it’s more about me making the adjustment from theatre work to the more intimate medium of audiobooks. Like actors adjusting from stage to on-camera work, less is more, as the saying goes. , And it’s not just vocally; I’m big on physicality in acting, so when I get into the studio, I still use a lot of gesturing, facial expression, and so on, BUT I have to rein it in to keep from rustling clothing, going off mic, bumping the mic stand and such. Still working on that – lol!
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 usually take the books as I am assigned them, and fortunately I’ve stayed almost as busy as I want to be that way.
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?:
I have a rich, mature voice so one might think that would place me firmly in the romance and mystery categories. I like to think, however, that I have a pretty big range and can serve a number of genres well. In fact, the audiobook I would recommend if I had to choose just one would be a Young Adult novel by L.M. Elliott, Under a War-Torn Sky, for which I earned an Earphones Award and a Voice Arts Award nomination last year.
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 get paid per finished hour, and that suits me, as it is predictable and dependable. If I ever narrate a blockbuster hit, I might change my mind.
What do you see as your greatest achievement as an audiobook narrator? What has been your most difficult moment?:
Let me start with the most difficult moment, which was the whole process of my second audiobook. (My first book was recorded in Audible studios with an engineer – the only time I’ve had that luxury – and it was terrific!) Yeah, so the second book was an ACX royalty deal. It was a mystery set in Minnesota, where I’m from, and it was a fun and delightful book. The difficult part for me was the learning curve being my own engineer. I had many days of wanting to tear my hair out with frustration. The whole process took waaaaaaayyyy longer than it should have.
Fast forward to now, where I’ve just been nominated for my first Audie Award. It’s a memoir by Jane Christmas titled And Then There Were Nuns, nominated in the category of Inspirational/Faith-based Non-fiction. Thanks to Post Hypnotic Press for putting it forward! So yeah, big achievement, big gratitude. I’d like to keep following this trajectory.
If you had to choose someone to rescue you from the jaws of certain death would it be a superhero, supernatural creature, or a space alien?:
Supernatural creature, definitely. But, you know, a benevolent one.
If everyone came with warning labels, what would yours say?:
Warning: Contains high levels of caffeine. Please add water.
Care to share an awkward fanboy/fangirl moment, either one where someone was gushing over your narration/acting…..or one where you were gushing over another narrator/actor’s work?:
My first pre-APAC mixer in NY, before I had recorded any books: I came up to Simon Vance, gushing about how much I loved his work, and then the gentleman next to him said, “Well I’m Simon Prebble” and I immediately felt awful for not recognizing him and similarly gushing because I had also just listened to and loved one of his narrations. So I giggled out something awkward like “omigosh both Simons at once!”
And then there’s RC Bray (The Martian narrator). He keeps wanting to split muffins with me at buffet tables. 😉
What is a recurring or the most memorable geeky argument or debate you have taken part in?:
Whether Patrick Stewart should’ve done Jean-Luc Picard with a French accent or not. The Man Himself actually brought it up when he was a guest on NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me. He tried it in rehearsal apparently, then decided against it. I still think it’d be fun to hear “…to boldly go where no one has gone before” in a French accent.
If you were to create a narrating playlist, what artists and songs would be on it?
Hmm. I guess I would pick a playlist to evoke the world of the book I was currently researching. It’s like playing music in the dressing room before a show, to get you in the mood.
But if I interpret your question more obliquely, here’s the flip side answer:
“All by Myself” by Eric Carmen, covered by Celine Dion
“Away From the Sun” by Three Doors Down
“Dancin’ With Myself” by Billy Idol
“Paperback Writer” by the Beatles
Or how about “The Day I Lost My Voice” by Copeland?
You are hosting a dinner party and must invite 3 famous people (real or fictional). Who would you choose and why?
A wise woman from Atlantis. I want to find out what happened, if it happened, and what advice she would offer.
Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford. To find out if he was the real genius behind Shakespeare’s works.
The Doctor. So we could take a little after-dinner spin in the Tardis.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another narrator?
Andi Arndt is full of good advice. She’s the one who told me that I must take the Billion Dollar Read from Pat Fraley, and to try to attend one where Scott Brick was co-teaching, because the two of them together are a stitch.
Tess Masters, aka The Blender Girl, made a cameo appearance at that Pat Fraley workshop, and she said something that weekend that has always stuck with me: “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” It all boils down to: you can’t sit around and wait for things to happen; you have to get out there and make things happen.
What is the first book you remember reading on your own? What do you remember most about the experience?:
I don’t know as if I recall the “first book” … I remember my older siblings trying to teach me to read and I was very resistant to it, interestingly. By the time I got to the middle of first grade, though, I was volunteering to read aloud every chance we were offered. I remember learning to pronounce Viet Nam in one read-aloud circle. (That tells you my age.)
I have distinct memories of visiting the school library in elementary school (you know, back in the days when they only had books and weren’t Media Centers). A couple of friends in my circle were such voracious readers that every week they would check out – and read – as many books as they could perilously stack and hold under their chin while walking back down two flights of stairs to our classroom. I would check out a book or two a week, like the average above-average kid in the land of Lake Woebegone. There were a couple of books that we passed around and fiercely enjoyed, still classics to this day: A Wrinkle in Time and The Phantom Tollbooth.
You have to run an obstacle course. Who do you invite along (living or dead, real or fictional)? Will there be a tasty libation involved?:
My daughters Miranda and Kaliska (who are 22 and 16), because I’m sure the effort would involve much hilarity. I have the best laughs with my girls! Raise the stakes on the obstacle course? Let’s throw in Harry, Hermione and Ron.
I think the tasty libation is waiting for the celebration after we get through the gauntlet!
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?:
Since I work mainly through publishers, my interaction with authors is limited and then only if I’m given the okay to reach out to them for specific questions, usually about pronunciations of things that are of the authors’ invention. Those interactions have been really positive overall. There was one series where I was assigned to start on Book 3 of what is now a 7-½ book series (the half was a short story). I had some conversations with the author about vocal qualities and pronunciations, since we were dealing with mythical beings and hybrid races; when asked if any of the characters should have an accent, she said no. After books 3-6 are released, I then get assigned books 1 and 2. In Book 1, we learn that one of the main characters, who appears in the whole series, has a sexy sort of Eastern European-ish accent, and his love interest mentions it a lot in that book. Yikes. I don’t hold it against the author; it just says something about the number of characters an author keeps in her head, and how characters of past publications might become a bit fuzzy when a current project is taking the focus. In an ideal world, I would have read the entire series before beginning to record. In the real world, schedules don’t allow for that.
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?:
That first book I did at Audible studios? I was working off a print copy of the book. And I made up a whole spreadsheet listing every character, character description, vocal qualities and key images or placements to help me remember each one. We’ve come a long way, baby. Thankfully, that was at a turning point and soon thereafter I started receiving scripts digitally. I LOVE prepping and reading from my iPad, using the iAnnotate app. When I read the book through in preparation, yes, I mark up the text, highlighting characters in different colors, writing pronunciations in the margins in IPA (phonetics) or even adding a sound clip of the pronunciation, underlining things I need to pay attention to, bookmarking sections for easy access, etc.
How do you flesh out how a specific character will sound?:
I note whatever descriptions the author gives of the character’s voice, and obviously take into consideration other basic info like gender, species, age, status, place of origin, background, etc. And I imagine embodying the character physically, based on given info. All this merges and emerges as hopefully something understandable and believable within the world of the story. Of course, we tend to have our go-to’s, i.e. voices that have worked well in the past, but I try to challenge myself to keep things fresh and unique when possible. I no longer write up the tediously detailed spreadsheet; I think one gets to a point where one pulls up characters instinctively and sometimes through a bit of trial and error. I then add a sound clip of what I’m doing for the character at the point they enter the story, so I can refer back to it.
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?:
When I started narrating, I was very fortunate to be able to use the recording studios at my college’s Media Center. Students use these studios for foreign language assignments, film editing, music composition, and more. Although I would try to get the studio at the end of the hall, inevitably, there would be someone in the studio next door laying down some heavy bass beats and fantasizing about their future career in hip-hop. That bleeds through, that bass beat. I was famous for knocking on doors of other studios with “Could you possibly use headphones?”
I now record out of a converted walk-in closet in my basement (well, one wall has clothes, so it’s still an in-use closet). Basements are rare in this sea-level part of Tidewater Virginia, so I feel lucky. I can record any time of day or night; I do not have to contend with wannabe rappers, lawn mowers or barking dogs; I am only affected when my wallmates (townhouse neighbors) run their washing machine. Although there are some Sundays when I think they must be doing 20 loads of laundry continuously!
What is the atmosphere like in your studio when you record. What’s it like, and are things very serious or not very serious?:
I’ll just say one cool thing about the ‘atmosphere’ in my booth – I put several drops of an essential oil blend, like “Breathe” by dōTerra, on a hanging diffuser and it really inspires good practice, clarity, and productivity.
How long do you record at a time, on average? What is it about a book that will shorten or lengthen this?:
I record anywhere from two to eight hours a day on the outside, more typically four to six. It’s not the book that will lengthen or shorten time in the studio, but more to do with practical scheduling, like teaching schedules, other projects, and due dates looming.
What is your favorite genre to narrate? Why?:
Historic Fiction. It transports me out of my own time and I return having learned so much, I feel enriched.
What has been your favorite character? What character has given you the most grief?:
In Kate Quinn’s Empress of Rome series, Vercingetorix the Red – who is the first person narrator for books 3 and 4 – was wonderfully challenging. We follow this bad boy – a former slave turned gladiator turned soldier – through all the wine, women and wars of his life.
I thoroughly enjoyed the five sisters in The Sisters of Versailles by Sally Christie, four of whom were mistresses to King Louis XV of France. But the cruel, politically-ambitious Pauline was the most fun to voice of the five.
Grief-causing? The demons in the Eternal Guardians series were a riot to voice because, well, because they’re demons! They could have wreaked havoc on my voice had they had more dialogue in the books; I could only make that vocal choice because I knew they didn’t talk a lot.
How do you stop yourself from laughing or crying at some of the things authors write?:
Let it flow, baby. Breath is key.
I’m also pretty good at immersing in a character’s state of being and then being able to let it go without much residue, an approach I fully advocate when teaching acting.
I have heard that many in the industry dislike the term narrator. What do you prefer and why?:
I’m fine with the term Narrator. I think there’s more choice and therefore more confusion about Voice Actor/Voice Artist/Voiceover Talent and various combinations thereof. But back to audiobooks: I think the one that ruffles my feathers just a bit is when the book cover says “Read by…” because it’s so much more than just reading aloud. Sometimes you see “Performed by…” which feels truer, but then makes me imagine the narrator performing the text, having committed the whole thing to memory and all that goes with a full performance. No, I think “Narrated by…” gets my vote, if I had to choose.
How do you view audiobook narration/production: Art or Science?:
The obvious answer is that storytelling is an art and the audio engineering is the science. But I think each aspect of narration – voice, acting, storytelling, developing character, conveying information/persuading in non-fiction — has elements of both. In looking at the vocal aspect, for example, we can talk about speech — articulation, clarity, pronunciation, technique — as the science of voice, while allowing thought, feeling, musicality, character to infuse the voice as an art. I like to use the example: Someone can play a piece on the piano with technical perfection, exactly as written on the page, but it doesn’t become art until they bring instinct and emotion to it, until they move and inspire the receptive listener. So while the science, the technique provides the necessary foundation and means, we as narrators must make the words live, must find the intent, must move the audience. We must make art.
Do you have a philosophy of how to create the perfect audiobook experience?:
I guess no matter from which perspective I frame your question, I can say this: be present, be in the moment. Presence for me has to do with focus, with finding the mindset/intention of the author or being in the flow of the story and in the thoughts of the characters. Being present and aware in my breath and body. Mindfulness. Presence.
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 tend to read/listen to fiction for pleasure. I love a good turn of phrase, rich language, clever writing, serving a compelling story.
One of the wonderful things about narrating is that I am exposed to so many more types of books than I would normally gravitate toward, and much more often than not, I find myself really enjoying them because of the level of engagement that is required of me. Take a history non-fiction, for example: there have been books that I know would simply put me to sleep were I reading the print version (I am particularly prone to doing that), but in the act of narrating them I must make the text cogent, illuminate points the author is making, highlight comparisons, etc. As a result, I come away learning a huge amount and being surprised at my appreciation of the content. If I had to go back and be a college student again, would read all my textbooks aloud for greater understanding and retention.
Do you have any advice for other aspiring narrators?:
I could say something alliterative and clever, like “practice, patience and persistence” or “talent, technique and time.” But that’s too short ‘n sweet. I guess I would toss in this bit, which applies to anyone setting out to create a career in performing or build a business: you have to put at least as much effort into the business aspect of marketing yourself as you do in practicing your art/craft. And if you can thrive sitting in a small room with just yourself, a text, and a microphone, then you might also be one of those people who doesn’t exactly embrace face-to-face socializing and networking with eagerness and glee. Get over it. It may feel scary, exhausting, and awkward at times. But practice the friendly reaching out, be curious about others and their work, and it will get easier.
What has been your favorite project and why?:
I would have to say Da Vinci’s Tiger, the second book I’ve narrated by L.M. Elliott. I know the author, and have absolutely delighted in following her blog posts related to the research on this title. The book was inspired by the portrait of Ginevra de’ Benci, the only Da Vinci painting in North America, housed in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. I made my pilgrimage to view the painting there just as I was beginning to narrate. I know how much Elliott’s books have an impact on the young people who read them, so that made my engagement in the project that much more special.
Do you believe that listening to an audiobook should be considered reading? Why or why not?:
Yes, definitely. It’s how I get my books read nowadays.
Listening shouldn’t substitute for reading entirely for children and young adults, but it can absolutely enhance the reading experience. Author Laura Elliot, who has had many interactions with teachers and classrooms in marketing her books, passes on stories of how some students who had struggled with reading comprehension, or who avoided reading, once they listened to Under a War-Torn Sky in audiobook format, improved their reading levels by following along, started taking an interest in reading, and even asked her to write a sequel. I love that.
Are you working on any special projects?:
I’ve been submitted to authors for approval on several projects that I’m waiting to hear back on. In other words, I’m “between books” at the moment – which is what allowed me time to answer your fabulous questions with such verbosity!
UPDATE: I just got approved for my first sci-fi book. See? You’re having an affect on me!
Have you ever gotten a poor review on your narration? What do you do with such reviews?:
Oh gods everyone gets poor reviews. You absolutely cannot please all the listeners all the time. I tend not to look up reader comments on Audible; if I did that with any regularity I think it would be too easy to let those comments have more weight than they often deserve. But when a thoughtful reviewer is critical about an aspect of my performance, I do ask myself if that is a constructive piece that can inform my work in some way. It’s a very hard line to walk: to be open to growth but also not vulnerable to self-doubt.
How do you feel about authors that choose to narrate their own audiobooks? Any advice to them?:
Some authors really nail it and we really delight in hearing the author’s speaking voice. Other times, authors discover that narrating is a lot harder than it seems. Like playwrights, it’s often hard at first for the writer to relinquish ownership of their words to the interpretation of actors. Theatre is a living and evanescent art form where a playwright’s work may get many many different stagings and interpretations over time, whereas for the author, there is typically just one version of the audiobook of an author’s publication. So I imagine they may feel that more is at stake, and they want to make sure it’s done the way they heard it in their head as they wrote it. I guess my advice is to let go and trust a professional narrator to serve their work well.
This is for the question you wish I would have asked but didn’t.:
Answer: Dark chocolate.
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