Voice Range: Baritone
Accents: American, British, Spanish, Russian, French, Australian, etc.
Fluent Languages: none
Kevin Stillwell is an actor, director, fight choreographer and audiobook narrator. He has narrated over 400 audio book titles, which can be found on Audible.com, and his work in film and television is available on IMDB.com.
How on earth did you get into narrating audiobooks?
I was introduced to audiobook narration through a fellow actor, and was hooked on the work immediately.
What do you do when you are not narrating?:
I work in theatre, film and television when I’m not narrating.
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?:
Audiobook narration is very different from other voice over work, as it is a true form of story telling, regardless of the genre. I’ve done a few regional radio spots, but the transition is difficult. As with any area of entertainment, producers and even the audience tend to narrowly define a performer inside whichever venue they see (or hear) that performer in.
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?:
A little of both. I get a great number of author requests as well as publisher requests, and those keep me busy.
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 suppose ‘immersive style’ would best describe it. Whether fiction or non-fiction, I approach it as though its MY story I’m telling, and try to put the listener in the room with me. It would be hard to pick one book I think, because everyone has different tastes. But I am particularly proud of the Mercury series and Shadows Fall for fiction, and Sam Phillips and Blood Oil for non-fiction. Search my name on Audible.com and take a listen.
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?:
Right now I work on a fixed rate. Royalty work is trickier, because you have to speculate which book might do well in audio format.
What do you see as your greatest achievement as an audiobook narrator? What has been your most difficult moment?:
My greatest achievement? Evolving constantly to become a better narrator. My most difficult moment? Narrating while simultaneously translating the raw journal data of Lewis & Clark from their 1800’s shorthand into some sort of digestible structure. That was a daunting challenge.
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?:
Oh, Wolverine for sure.
If everyone came with warning labels, what would yours say?:
Caution: May be excessively sensitive to your needs.
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?:
I did have a marvelous conversation with one author after narrating their work, and he said perhaps one of the kindest things I’ve heard as an actor/narrator. He told me he didn’t realize he was a good writer until he heard me narrate his work. That bowled me over.
What is a recurring or the most memorable geeky argument or debate you have taken part in?:
Han shot first.
If you were to create a narrating playlist, what artists and songs would be on it?
Anything and everything The Beatles, Billy Joel, Tom Waits, ELO, The Stones, The Eagles, and 60’s and 70’s classic rock.
You are hosting a dinner party and must invite 3 famous people (real or fictional). Who would you choose and why?
William Shakespeare, because…he’s William Shakespeare.
The character Mercury from the Mercury book series, because is so irreverent and unpredictable and just an immensely fun character.
William Shatner. He was my first hero.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another narrator?
Take. Your. Time.
What is the first book you remember reading on your own? What do you remember most about the experience?:
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. It was the first book that I recall transporting me to a different reality. I still read it.
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?:
Captain America, Neil Armstrong, and my friend Taso. Yes. Libation. Yes. Good porter or stout.
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?:
Indeed I do. More about characters accents than anything, but sometimes about the pacing and tone of a piece. A helpful note is to keep the (fiction) dialogue conversational even if stylized. Less helpful? ‘Just do what you think is best’. Direction is always helpful.
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?:
I pre-read and compile a character list for fiction, and for non-fiction I pre-read and compile a list of pronunciation of technical terms, proper names, etc.
How do you flesh out how a specific character will sound?:
Very often that is embedded in the writing. The good authors write the characters in their own vernacular.
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?:
It is not. I am working towards that, though my house currently is not conducive to a home studio.
What is the atmosphere like in your studio when you record. What’s it like, and are things very serious or not very serious?:
The atmosphere is professional and serious when needs be, and also laid back and light when needs be. The blend is all.
How long do you record at a time, on average? What is it about a book that will shorten or lengthen this?:
I usually record 6-7 hours per day and record anywhere from 3-4 hours in that time, depending on the genre/density/complexity of the book.
What is your favorite genre to narrate? Why?:
Non-fiction. Because of the challenge of taking material that is very often dry and difficult and telling that story in a way that is compelling for the listener.
What has been your favorite character? What character has given you the most grief?:
Mercury and Harrison Raines are my favorites. An unnamed character that caused the most grief was a young teenage girl. Tough on the vocal chords.
How do you stop yourself from laughing or crying at some of the things authors write?:
I don’t! I open myself up to being moved by anything I’m narrating, and I let that come into the performance. But there are times when I have to stop for a moment and recover from those moments.
I have heard that many in the industry dislike the term narrator. What do you prefer and why?:
I’m not a big fan of it. I think its too narrow a moniker for what we do. I’m an actor. That’s a broader definition of my work, because it says that whatever type of performance, I’m trained and qualified to do it. If you call a chef a burger chef, that implies that burgers are the only thing he can cook. A chef can cook anything. Maybe I’m and audiobook chef?
How do you view audiobook narration/production: Art or Science?:
Like any venue, it is a cocktail of both. The Art of the performance, the science used to bring it to an audience.
Do you have a philosophy of how to create the perfect audiobook experience?:
Be the book. Really. I’m not trying to sound trite or clever. Be the book.
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 prefer fiction for pleasure. Simply for the escape value. I don’t have a preference per se for audiobooks. I love all genres.
Do you have any advice for other aspiring narrators?:
Oh, that’s a dangerous question. I wouldn’t presume to advise someone unless I was in the room with them, and they asked for advice.
What has been your favorite project and why?:
Wow. So many favorites. My most recent is Blood Oil by Leif Wenar. Potent stuff. Its a book about popular resource sovereignty and how Western nations and their citizens can really loose the shackles that despots put on their people using resource revenues. Its an astonishing work of non-fiction.
Do you believe that listening to an audiobook should be considered reading? Why or why not?:
I’m not sure. I think that is highly subjective. Some people may, others may not. I don’t think it matters if the reader/listener is enjoying the book in whatever format.
Are you working on any special projects?:
I am. I’m gearing up to do the next three books in a four book series called Last Stand. Fun stuff, ‘Prepper Fiction’.
Have you ever gotten a poor review on your narration? What do you do with such reviews?:
Of course I have. The same thing I do with the positive ones. Read them, find any truth in them, learn from it, and…LET IT GO.
How do you feel about authors that choose to narrate their own audiobooks? Any advice to them?:
Again, advice is a dangerous game to play. I’ve directed a couple of authors that narrated their own work and they were pretty good. I think that’s the exception though. However, to use the chef analogy again, you don’t want a mechanic to cook your gourmet meal do you? Any more than you want Anthony Bourdain rebuilding your engine. If at all possible, I think it best to have an actor do the narration, with guidance from the author.
This is for the question you wish I would have asked but didn’t.:
Oh no you don’t. I won’t be tricked by that one.
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