When I discovered that not only was George Pelecanos coming out with a new novel, only a short time after his release of The Cut, but that it would be a Derek Strange novel, I let out a girlish squeal. Derek Strange has been a favorite character of mine for a while, and it had been about 7 years since Hard Revolution, the last novel featuring Strange. Pelecanos has had some excellent narrators take on his work, including the amazing Dion Graham, narrating veteran Richard Allen, as well as quite a few The Wire Alumn. When I heard the J.D. Jackson would be narrating What It Was, I instantly realized that he was a great choice. I had only listened to one previous audiobook that Jackson had narrated, but it is one of my favorites, Stephen Boyett’s Elegy Beach. J.D. was kind enough to take some time out of his schedule to answer some of my questions.
Bob: First off, we’ll start simple. How did you get involved in the audiobook narration business?
JD: I got involved through a Commercial Talent Agency in NYC (ATLAS TALENT). They sent me to an audition at Recorded Books, Inc. where I met the amazing Claudia Howard. She liked me, and welcomed me into the fold of narrators, where I’ve done tons of books to this day. Through Recorded Books, I was connected to Deyan Audio, who’ve also been very supportive of my career, and provided me with countless opportunities as well.
Bob: When prepping for an audiobook what is your normal process? Do you prefer having interaction with the book’s author, if available, or do would you rather take on projects without a lot of outside influence?
JD: I normally read the book, get a feel for the rhythm and pace of the writing. I also list every character, visualize a person(actor, friend, family member, cartoon character) that reminds me of that character and write down the names side by side. Sometimes I play a piece of music to give me the proper feel of the book.
Bob: In What it Was, you are taking on the character of Derek Strange, who has been recorded before by Richard Allen and Lance Reddick (of The Wire, and Fringe fame). Did you take any different steps in preparing your narration for this novel with a character that has been giving a voice by other narrators?
JD: I was completely unaware that Strange had been recorded by those fine actors. Makes me feel even more privileged to tackle the book. But glad that I didn’t hear their previous work, so that I wouldn’t be influenced by it.
Bob: What I have always loved about George Pelecanos’ work is that with the rhythms of his prose, and his authentic dialogue, there is an almost workmanlike poetry in his novels. You have definitely captured that well in your reading. How hard is it for you to find the right cadence and tone when you are reading a novel like What it Was?
JD: Actually it’s pretty easy with a writer like Pelecanos. His style is the right mix of grit, poetry, and smarts. Those are the types of scripts, films, books, characters that I enjoy the most. So when I get a chance to do work like this, I almost fall into it with ease, because I consider my own style/mannerisms to be in step with that.
Bob: One thing you probably don’t know about me is that I am a huge Post Apocalyptic Fiction fan. My first experience with you as a narrator was your amazing reading of Stephen Boyett’s Elegy Beach. Beyond being an author, Boyett is a popular disc jockey and I feel that he brings that sort of hip rhythmic style to his writing which you captured perfectly. I would love to hear about your experience narrating that novel.
JD: First of all, thanks so much for the compliment. I was honored to do a book like this. Normally I’m relegated to doing urban works, which I love. But I also consider myself to be eclectic, and love experimenting with different genres. This was one of those opportunities, where my friends at Deyan Audio suggested me for this project, I was able to meet Stephen, get some insight, direction, and immediate feedback. It was one of my better experiences. He is truly a brilliant mind.
Bob: What are some of your personal favorite moments as an audiobook narrator? Are there any books that haven’t been produced as an audiobook that you would love to get a shot at? Are there any genres of books that you would like to get more opportunities to read?
JD: The aforementioned Elegy Beach was definitely one of those favorite moments. Also being selected as one of Audiofile magazine’s "Best Voices of 2011" was another. Books that I’ve enjoyed the most were Nichelle Tramble’s "The Dying Ground," and "The Last King." as well as "America" by ER Frank.
I would love to do a Walter Mosley series (Leonid Mcgill, Fearless Jones). And as far as genres go, I’m open to just about anything, as long as the writing is smart, fun, and thought provoking.
Bob: If, someday in the future, there was a book written about the life and times of JD Jackson, who would you like to write the biography, and who would you want to narrate it?
JD: I think I would love to have Paulo Coehlo write my biography, and Don Cheadle to narrate.
Bob: And finally, are there any upcoming projects, whether audiobooks or otherwise, that you would like to share?
JD: No upcoming projects to announce at this time, just educating young thespians and raising my boys.