Voice Range: Generally baritone. Though I’ve voiced Ender as a 6 year old and a variety of women.
Accents: I’m especially proficient in various Eastern European accents and dialects, in addition to several Asian and Middle Eastern accents, not to mention French, German, Greek etc. Comfortable with Aussie, as well as a dozen British localities, including Northern vs. Southern Ireland. Very accomplished at Scots, from Glaswegian to Edinburgh to the Orkneys. Dozens of American regional accents, including that weird New Orleans hybrid. And on and on.
Genres: All. But best known (and awarded) for science fiction, fantasy and political non-fiction. Also love noir.
Fluent Languages: I can get along in Polish, Russian, German, French, Spanish and Italian.
How on earth did you get into narrating audiobooks?
After moving from a life in the theatre in NY to LA to make movies, my film career (mostly as first AD on low budget pictures) was interrupted when a friend told me about her job abridging books for Dove Audio. Having “abridged” Shakespeare for the stage, amongst others, I figured I could do that. In June 1994 I was hired to abridge a series of books for Dove. In October I was hired as production coordinator by the same company, and I switched to producing and directing. I rose quickly, was named VP in January 1995 when the company went public, and within two years became executive producer and then publisher of the audio division. In 2000 I left Dove to set up Skyboat as an independent production company. Although I had done some narrating before (mostly short stories and a couple of novels for Dove – after all, I was an experienced actor with over a hundred stage roles to my credit), it was only now that I began to narrate in earnest, working for Audio Literature, Audio Renaissance (now Macmillan), Audible, Random House, Blackstone, Zondervan, Brilliance and others. It was my work at Dove, directing sessions with some of the most amazing actors of our time, that shaped my efforts once I shifted to narration.
What do you do when you are not narrating?
I acquire, produce, and publish Skyboat Media’s “Skybooks,” now numbering around 115 titles since our formal launch in March 2014.
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’ve been extremely fortunate in the sorts of projects I’ve narrated. I became known early on as impervious to challenge. Grover Gardner said at an Audie Awards ceremony a few years back that if a book was considered too difficult, I was the one to call. In my thinking, difficult means challenging, and that usually means great writing. Lately, I’ve been acquiring the rights to books I first read when a teen or in my twenties, books that helped shape who I am, and they represent a large portion of what I’m narrating today. Three books by Samuel R. Delany, BABEL-17, DHALGREN and NOVA, are perhaps typical of this category, and are due for release between November and March.
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’m a storyteller who gets right into the action. My style, unless I’m mimicking, is as far away from announcer mode as I can get. Casual, often quick but quirky in tempo; dynamic, character-based. That last in particular draws me especially to first-person narratives.
What do you see as your greatest achievement as an audiobook narrator? What has been your most difficult moment?
My greatest achievement early on (and difficult moment) was my decision to risk recording Orson Scott Card’s ENDER’S GAME. I was a great fan of the book since its publication, and my “voice” was hardly what would be typically cast as a child. More recently, I’ve recorded five books of Will and Ariel Durant’s STORY OF CIVILIZATION for Blackstone. I feel terrific about those, and also about DHALGREN, a 34.5 hours extravaganza just completed.
Did you ever think that Ender’s Game would become the success that it has?
I think it’s all a throw of the dice. I’m gratified by its success, and I’m proud of the work I and the other narrators did on it, but anticipating success is a fool’s game.
I know that you are a part of Skyboat Media. Could you tell us about your role there and how this came to be?
Skyboat originated as a small theatre company, traveling to the Edinburgh Festival in 1979 with four productions. We won a Fringe First Award then, and Skyboat has been my umbrella company since. Skyboat Media is the latest manifestation.
What is the first book you remember reading on your own? What do you remember most about the experience?
Hard to tell which of these came first, but among the earliest books I read in English as a child (I lived in Poland, and the Sweden, and so spoke no English, until I was 5) were KIDNAPPED by RL Stevenson, LITTLE WOMEN by LM Alcott, THE WIND IN THE RIGGING by Howard Pease and STAR MAN’S SON by Andre Norton.
Do you have a list of your own favorite narrators, who inspires you?
Yes, there have been and are narrators who inspire me. I don’t listen much to audiobooks, so these are folks I’ve generally directed. Unfortunately, several have recently passed away. A short list would have to include Christopher Cazenove, David Birney, Harlan Ellison, Roger Rees, Theodore Bikel, Edward Herrmann, Roscoe Lee Browne, Tim Curry, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., John Rubinstein, William Windom, Jean Smart, Samantha Eggar, Minnie Driver and Gabrielle de Cuir.
What is your favorite thing to do? Pastime, hobby, obsession, etc.
Reading (I still do it for pleasure too). Listening to music (I’m an omnivore). Travel.
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?
The best and most useful ideas from a writer are those special clues about character and style folded into the writing itself.
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 have a proprietary preparation technique which involves looking for certain key elements of style and structure.
How do you flesh out how a specific character will sound?
For me it’s mostly in the cadence, not so much the sound of the voice. And it’s almost always in the writing. For me to find it, I need to act as a vessel, and conduit, for what the author wrote. The less I “work at it” the more likely it is that I’ll find just the right cadence.
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 varies. Often affected by the tone or subject matter of the book being recorded. Also, I always work with a director. This means that the recording is a collaboration, and that I have an audience to bounce things off of.
How long do you record at a time, on average? What is it about a book that will shorten or lengthen this?
A six-hour recording day is typical, though there are books that can be exhausting, and others where I just want to keep going.
What is your favorite genre to narrate? Why?
SF and Fantasy. Because of the ideas involved. Just listen to (or read) some of the stories in Lightspeed Magazine.
I also love noir thrillers. Because of the attitude.
What has been your favorite character? What character has given you the most grief?
Matt Helm and Quarry are two of my faves right now. Historically, it would be Colonel Graff. No grief involved!
How do you stop yourself from laughing or crying at some of the things authors write?
I don’t. When one or the other happens, I allow it to color my narration. I’d use Quarry as an example of the first, and Orson Scott Cards, LOST BOYS as the second.
I have heard that many in the industry dislike the term narrator. What do you prefer and why?
Storyteller. Because that’s what we do.
How do you view audiobook narration/production: Art or Science?
Do you have a philosophy of how to create the perfect audiobook experience?
Sure. Passion and Clarity. Everyone needs to find their own balance, and it’ll vary from book to book.
Do you believe that listening to an audiobook should be considered reading? Why or why not?
Definitely “reading.” I’ve noticed that serious audiobook fans are now using that word instead of “listening.”
Are you working on any special projects?
Always. Just now beginning production on a wonderful series of legal/medical thrillers by Lynne Raimondo. DANTE’S WOOD, DANTE’S POISON, DANTE’S DILEMMA, all about a blind forensic psychiatrist. Fabulous writing.
Have you ever gotten a poor review on your narration? What do you do with such reviews?
Lots of times. I generally ignore them. But not until I’ve examined any potential merits…or mined them for something I could learn.
How do you feel about authors that choose to narrate their own audiobooks? Any advice to them?
If they have experience or training in acting or other kinds of performance, I often encourage it. If not, not so much. Examples of first rate author narration I’ve been involved with include William Peter Blatty, Martin Short, Harlan Ellison and Orson Scott Card.
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