Narrator: Susan Boyce
Tell us a little about yourself (Your bio).
My next audiobook will be my 100th book since I started recording in late 2009. I’ve worked with AudioGo, Blackstone, Hachette, Dreamscape, Tantor and Audible.
I thought I’d be an oceanographer, but was snagged by the theater department at the University of Rhode Island and ended up with a double major in Biology and Theater. I joined a company of tap dancers in 1979 and started a career as a new age Vaudevillian and a song and dance entertainer.
How on earth did you get into narrating audiobooks?
My husband read an article in our local paper about an actor who was recording audiobooks. He said, “You should do that.” He said this about 10 times before I relented and contacted the recording studio. I auditioned and a few weeks later got a call from BBC Audiobooks America to record a “romance novel”.
What do you do when you are not narrating?
Working with flowers and plants, spending time with friends and my sweet sweet dog, Vivian. I do some baking and some singing, and then there’s all the wonderful things to do in my beautiful city of St Augustine.
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?
I’m the voice of the Pink Care Bear. I’m the voice of Amica Insurance Company’s telephone system, I’m half of the song and dance team of Jones & Boyce (a cappella singing) and I have voiced many characters in computer games like Dungeons and Dragons and NeverWinter Nights (and others).
No big hurdles really. After 30 years of live stage work in all sorts of venues and many different recording projects, I typically do fine when my director/producer let’s me know what they are looking for.
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?
Projects usually pick me and I usually say yes!
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?
Other people describe my style as smooth, clear, precise and warm and caring. I like that. Peg Kehret’s book Small Steps: The Year I got Polio is a good fit for me and a very good little book. Also Charlotte Hubbard’s Seasons of the Heart series is wholesome and charming and gentle, and filled with Amish characters who eat a lot of great food. Her readers have been so complimentary to me.
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?
Here’s where I know I’m an artist. I don’t like to talk about money. Which is funny when I tell you that I recorded Warren Buffett’s business biography by Carol Loomis, Tap Dancing To Work.
What do you see as your greatest achievement as an audiobook narrator? What has been your most difficult moment?
The Earphones Award from Audiofile for The Missile Next Door: American Heartland: The Minuteman In The American Heartland by Gretchen Heefner. That felt really great. Most difficult moment was in Sgt Reckless: America’s War Horse by Robin Hutton. My Dad served in Korea and there were moments of noise and combat and killing that overtook me. I make a word error on purpose and take a breath and then go on.
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?
The Amelia Peabody series narrated by Barbara Rosenblat.
What is your favorite thing to do? Pastime, hobby, obsession, etc.
I do love to eat good food and luckily I get to do that every day. I also love to sing. I’d rather sing than talk.
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 would love to get specific notes from authors but that almost never happens. When recording a series, I do love hearing from the author that I gotten certain characters just right and that I brought them “alive”.
I’ve received foreign word pronunciation help at times and later have been told by someone else that I didn’t pronounce it properly. This happens with place names too. I remind myself of that song… “”You say tow-MAY-tows and I say tow-MAH-tows””… Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off.
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 do have a routine. I read the whole book. I create a note page in my lap top with characters and relationships for novels. For non fiction, the list is a pronunciation guide and definition guide. I read from my lap top so I can quickly and easily get to my guide page while I’m “pre-reading” or in the booth.
How do you flesh out how a specific character will sound?
The coaching that I have taken to heart is to imply character. The subtle approach is my preference. When I pre-read I look for little clues and descriptive words to help me create that character in my head. Once they are created there, I can call them up (or out) when I need them.
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?
I do have a home studio and it’s great! There are lots of advantages like no travel time to work, work in pj’s if I like, work the hours I like, the break room is my own kitchen, my own house.
My husband is my engineer and he’s in the office with all the important equipment, he also catches errors and gives me excellent feedback. In the booth the only thing that’s not standard equipment is whatever fragrance I may take in there with me. I just recorded 2 novels that take place at Christmas time. I brought in the Frasier Fir scent. It was yummy!
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’s serious, or maybe focused is more accurate. We plan when we’ll work, we start, we takes breaks every hour or hour and a half, depending on how we feel. When we are done, we’re done. Then, we relax, we have fun.
How long do you record at a time, on average? What is it about a book that will shorten or lengthen this?
I can work about 6 hours or maybe 7 in a day. I’m a morning person. I work best when I get up, eat, walk, and then get right to work. I take about 15 minutes every hour and a half. Earlier this year I recorded Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution by Kathleen DuVal. There were many multisyllabic words that stopped me many times. Native American tribal words, phrases and names that really almost no one really knows how to say. I had to make sure I said them the same each time. This slowed me down a bit.
What is your favorite genre to narrate? Why?
Non fiction history and biography really resonate with me. I’m working, recording them, but also, I’m learning something I didn’t know. Also, I just recorded No Time For Tears: Coping With Grief in a Busy World by Judy Heath. I love sharing this book with everyone. Grief is a universal. It will affect every single person at some time. We don’t talk about it much because it’s hard to talk about and Ms Heath takes that away. So, I guess that would be education or self-improvement genre maybe?
What has been your favorite character? What character has given you the most grief?
Hiram Knepp in Charlotte Hubbard’s Amish novels. I just love this guy. He’s so sure of himself and he’s so conniving, he’s so wrong and so unforgiving and so judgmental. He’s the bishop of the little town and he’s so misguided. I love it when his scenes come along.
Maybe the third book I recorded had an Aussie as the romantic make lead. I didn’t feel good about his sound when I recorded it and I got a less than glowing review of it too. No Aussie accent for me. Sorry, can’t do it.
How do you stop yourself from laughing or crying at some of the things authors write?
I get it all out in the preparation sessions. I’ll highlight things so I see them coming up on the page.
I have heard that many in the industry dislike the term narrator. What do you prefer and why?
I don’t dislike narrator. I am narrating a book. I’m a narrator. Reader works for me too. I am reading aloud. I am a reader. I’m an actor too and a singer and I do use those skills when I’m recording.
How do you view audiobook narration/production: Art or Science?
Do you have a philosophy of how to create the perfect audiobook experience?
No, I don’t think I do. I have been listening to audiobooks in my car and both missed my exit because I was so into the story and reached my destination and sat in the car until the chapter (or the book) was over. I would say that’s a perfectly all consuming thing. But is it the authors words or is it the reader… can’t say for sure that it isn’t a combination. I just listened to Norman Lear read his own autobiography “Even This I Get To Experience”. I was transported!
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 like both. Different books for different times. Sometimes I’m reading a classic or a little known novel and I think, “Gee, I’d love to record this.” That’s about as far as I go tho.
Do you have any advice for other aspiring narrators?
Along with all the standard fare, focus on the author. What is their mission, their voice and their point of view? Who are they talking to or writing to? In theater it’s Who is my Audience”? Own that and understand that and it will take you to a good place.
What has been your favorite project and why?
The Secret History of Vladimir Nabokov by Andrea Pitzer. It was huge and complicated and fascinating and all over the world. There was history and war and love and sadness and success and complexities and loss and genius – it took over my whole life for quite a while.
I am just now recording book number one hundred and one, and I can say for certain that for me This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! by Jonathan Evison was absolutely the most enjoyable fiction read ever. It’s smart and touching, it’s funny and insightful, it’s very well written with two points of view that had me laughing and crying and smiling for hours. I’m so grateful to the people of Tantor who gave me this book to narrate. I just want everyone to read or listen to this book so I can have (and hear) lots of conversations about it. Is that too much to ask?
Do you believe that listening to an audiobook should be considered reading? Why or why not?
For education and enlightenment, yes, I guess it’s reading. But if you are trying to learn to read the written word, you might do better with a book.
Are you working on any special projects?
I’m always working on a cappella duet arrangements with my singing partner. We live 1100 miles away from each other so it’s tough to do. That’s always special.
Have you ever gotten a poor review on your narration? What do you do with such reviews?
A couple that were lass than stellar, yes. They do sting and hurt for a while, but like a bug bite, they go away. What I did with them? Nothing. I don’t keep them, that’s what I do.
How do you feel about authors that choose to narrate their own audiobooks? Any advice to them?
Good luck! Have fun!
This is for the question you wish I would have asked but didn’t.
My favorite color is green.
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