Narrative Overtones: My Interview with Dick Hill

26 06 2012

 

If you are a fan of audiobooks, particularly mysteries and thrillers, at some point you have probably experienced the iconic sonorous voice of Dick Hill. One fo the first series I had listened to when I became and audiobook fan was Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series, and this was the first time for me that a narrator became the voice of a character. Since then I have listened to many great performances by Dick Hill, from action thrillers, to mysteries to fantasy and science fiction titles, and he always manages to make the characters memorable, and the words just jump off the paged. Dick Hill was kind enough o answer my questions today for Audiobook Week.

First off, I sincerely appreciate, and am honored that you an agreed to take the time out of your schedule to do this interview. When I first became an audiobook fan, around 6 years or so ago, you were the first recognizable narrative voice to me. You were the first narrator who had me looking for books not by genre, or author, but by who read them. You introduced me to a lot of great writers I may never have experienced if I remained solely a print reader.

So, to start off could you tell me how you got started in the industry, and give those who may not be familiar with your work and overview of your career?

Dick Hill: I was working at a small Equity Theatre in Michigan when Michael Page, a transplant Brit, who also worked there, put me in touch with the folks at Brilliance Audio.  He’d done a number of books for them, and they were looking for a narrator to do a WWII book, American p.o.v.  I recorded a few pages from a supermarket military thriller on a cheap cassette player, (about the closest I’ve come to having a demo, though I’ve helped a few folks put together their own) and that was enough to give me a chance with them.  I knew immediately that I’d found my niche, and I have never looked back.  Luckily, I found a measure of success in the work that’s kept me happily employed ever since.  That was probably close to two decades ago.

Let’s get into your books. I will start with the obvious one, at least for me, and that would be Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series. Back on April Fools Day, I wrote a joke "News Update" saying to distract Reacher fans from the casting of Tom Cruise, they were also recasting the audiobook version, and that the frontrunners to replace you were British narrator Robin Sachs, and Bahni Turpin. I think the reason this joke works, is because, for many Reacher Fans, you are Jack Reacher. Can you tell us about your relationship with this character?

Dick Hill: Eileen Hutton put me together with Lee for the first Reacher novel, and I’ve been blessed to do every one since.  Different audio publishers, but Lee has dragged me along with him, for which I’m quite grateful.  I must admit, it’s not just the fans who think I’m Reacher.  When I’m recording the latest Lee Child offering, I’m also quite convinced that I am him.  At least in the booth.  When I step out into the real world, it’s plainly evident that I am NOT.  I’ve met fans face to face on a few occasions, and though they’ve always been very kind, I feel I can detect a bit of disappointment that I’m not the physical specimen I voice in the books.  Voicing Reacher’s latest adventure is one of the high points of any year.  My wife, Audie winner Susie Breck, no longer narrates, but she engineers and directs my work from our home studio.  We both love Lee’s skill and artistry.  His humor (well, humour) and terrific sense of rhythm go along with all the other elements to make his work so great.  Lee’s the sort of writer who puts it all on the page so well, that it seems to me inevitable that Reacher and the other characters speak the way they do.

As a narrator who has handled many series, as well as standalones, do you prefer revisiting characters you know, or experiencing and developing new characters?

Dick Hill: Hmmm….interesting question, that.  Not sure I have an answer.  A continuing character’s familiarity is a great thing to savor and work with, but then, the challenge of finding a new person to try to inhabit is a delightful challenge. Even with an established character, the opportunity to stretch oneself is always there, and the demands are the same in that you try to make every word count. I guess I’m just happy to be working at something I find so rewarding, and so challenging, whether it’s an old friend or a new one.

The Jack Reacher series has been told in both the first person POV and the third person POV. As a narrator, do you prepare differently for a book actually narrated by the character, as opposed to a sort of omniscient, neutral third person narrator?

Dick Hill: Not really.  As soon as I’ve finished the opening credits, I dive in, fully invested (I HOPE!) in telling the story as interestingly and believably as I can imagine, no matter the POV.  That said, first person, particularly a person I’ve known for awhile, can sometimes offer a special enjoyment.

Recently, Stephen White has announced that he will be retiring his series character, Alan Gregory with a two book arc. One thing I love about Alan Gregory is he is not an action hero in the least. He’s mild mannered, and almost a pushover, but his moral code as a psychologist gets him entangled in some messy situations. He’s very much the anti-Reacher and I think that is reflected in your performance. When voicing characters how much is detailed preparation, and how much is natural performance? Are the any tricks you use to keep a character in your head while performing a reading?

Dick Hill: Thanks Bob.  They are two very different characters, and I like to think that’s reflected in my work.  Both writers (Child and White) are wonderfully talented, and I find my guide to performance is right there in their words.  Not only are the characters different for these two, or any other accomplished writer’s works, but the language used, the world-view of the author in his work, the rhythms and vocabulary make the performance almost inevitable, or so it seems to me.  Generally, Susie preps our work, deals with pronunciation questions, or enlists my help in that regard.  She’ll note clues or descriptions of characters and any mention of accent or timbre etc. included in the text and make that available to me.  I do cold reads, I find it more challenging and feel it contributes to a fresher, better performance.  Many other narrators take an altogether different approach and do wonderful work.  Whatever works.  Keeping major characters in my head is no problem…I often have in mind some person I know, or character or type I might have seen somewhere, to refer to.  And of course, we keep notes for ongoing series.  Those are invaluable when you’re doing, say, a W.E.B. Griffin series, which may have recurring characters that make brief appearances over a number of years, half a dozen lines in each book.

You have narrated books in many genres. While the majority of your work in in the Thriller/Mystery genre, you have narrated Nonfiction, Fantasy, Romance and Memoirs as well. What is you favorite genre to perform?

Dick Hill: You’re right, I do more Thriller/Mystery work than any other genre, but I enjoy doing other sorts of work every bit as much.  My favorite genre, if you can call it such, is Well Written/Thought Provoking/Engaging, whether that takes place on a distant planet, a dark alley, or in the past.

If we were to get a peak at your personal bookshelf, what may we be surprised to find?

Dick Hill: I have a hunch what people would find most surprising is the very small  number of books we own.  I’m an auto-didact, I suppose, and for years I hung onto and treasured many of the books I read that engaged and enlightened me, but we’ve given away all but a few score.  The library is within biking distance, and we are very good customers of that wonderful place.

One of my favorite fantasy series is David Anthony Durham’s Acacia series. It was actually my first experience with you reading fantasy, and I was surprised how different it was than my other experiences with you. You read it with a deliberate, style, with a hint of a British accent to it. Fantasy is one of the genres that I have explored more with audiobooks, because a gifted narrator can really contribute to the world building. What are some of the challenges you face with Fantasy that you may not face with more realistic novels?

Dick Hill: Other than perhaps developing some unique vocal traits to help differentiate societies or races, even species, my approach to that sort of work is very much the same.  A willing suspension of disbelief, a real immersion in the world the author creates, of whatever sort, is the one common thread for me.  Came across a book once, ACTING IS BELIEVING.  For me, the title alone pretty much sums up my approach.

Can you give us a glimpse of your process, from prepping your books, to what happens in studio?

Dick Hill: I think I pretty much covered that in the earlier questions.  Let’s see, what else?  Stay hydrated.  Keep your head in the game.  Don’t make noise. Try to ensure you’re not too hungry, in order to minimize Borborygmus. (Isn’t that a great word to describe a growling stomach or gut? I can never manage to keep it in mind though, for some reason, have to google it in order to use it)

When your done bringing worlds alive with your voice, how do you relax?

Dick Hill: Read.  Cook.  I love working in the kitchen, and I like to think I’m a pretty fair cook.  Family and friends.

My favorite all time Dick Hill read novel is Joe R. Lansdale’s A Fine Dark Line. It’s a coming of age mystery tale that centers on a 13 year old boy whose family owns and operates a Drive-In Theater. I found that for someone know for a deep, sonorous voice, you handled the voice of a 13 year old rather well.   I could go on and on about that book but I shall resist. If you had to pick one book or series as the highlight of your career, what would it be?

Dick Hill: Well, you certainly picked a prime candidate with A FINE DARK LINE. Huckleberry Finn, and a book called THE RIVER WHY, by David James Duncan, but to paraphrase the lyric from Finnian’s Rainbow, when I’m not reading the book that I love, I love the book I read.

In my review of The Affair, I joked a bit about the intense love scene between Reacher and his lady of the moment that you gave a deliberate escalating rhythm to. Are there any types of scenes that as a narrator that you find awkward or uncomfortable, or do you just have a "go for it" sort of attitude?

Dick Hill: I’m lucky I think in that the various publishers I work with have a sense of what I wouldn’t care to do.  I begged off one very popular series because although it was good work in many regards, there was a sadistic/sexual element that I felt uncomfortable presenting, primarily because the greater  part of the audience for the books was comprised of young people, and I  didn’t wish to have anything to do with establishing such behaviors or beliefs in people’s minds.

Is there any book or author who you haven’t had the chance to read that you would love to take on, given the opportunity?

Dick Hill: Wish I’d done Robert Parker.  That popped into my mind.  Great dialogue.

Any upcoming projects that you are particularly excited about?

Dick Hill: I’m always pretty excited, gratified anyway, simply to be working.  Right now, though, I’m working through a backlist, some thirty or so, of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels. Some of the earliest police procedurals, with  a great cast of continuing characters.  Terrific dialogue, in fact, Robert Parkers cited McBain as a great influence.  Just finished Stephen White’s  penultimate Dr. Gregory book (Gonna’ really mourn the loss of that guy) and sometime this month I’ll do the latest Jack Reacher.

I could probably continue with a million more questions, but I will restrain myself and ask just one more, which is my old interview standard. If one day, someone wrote the story of your life, what author would you like to write it, and who would be your choice to narrate the audiobook version?

Dick Hill: I don’t think I’d ever wish to have my life story told to the general public.  If it were, I’d want to narrate it myself.   Hell Bob, I want to narrate every book ever written!

Again, thank you for your time!

Make sure you check out Dick Hill’s Website and the well over 400 titles available at Audible.com.

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4 responses

26 06 2012
Nise' (Under the Boardwalk)

Great interview. I’ve read the Jack Reacher series from the beginning. I was waiting for The Affair and saw the audiobook on the shelf and began listening. I will have a hard time reading the next print book in the Reacher series as I’d rather listen because Mr. Hill did such a fantastic job. I want to go back through the series on audio.

20 09 2012
Edith

I love his voice…. I have done the entire Reacher series except fo the new one and picked up a Cam Richter novel and was blown away when Dick Hill’s voice came on as the narrater… I was so use the Reacher character that I ckept having to remind myself that I wasn’t listening to a Reacher book…. but now I am listeing to the Richter novels too….

9 08 2013
Tim

How you got hooked with Jack Reacher is the same way I am how hooked via Harry Bosch. I’m relatively new to audio books, but love the wide range of characters Mr Hill can bring to life, truely enjoyable!!

30 11 2017
Emagrecer globo

km21047-03.keymachine.de

Narrative Overtones: My Interview with Dick Hill | The Guilded Earlobe

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