Christian Rummel has narrated over 120 Audiobooks, for companies such as Audible and Random House Audio. Among his many works are two of my all time favorite science fiction series, E.E. Knight’s Vampire Earth series, and Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series. One of the hardest things for an audiobook fan is to transition from print to audio for a beloved series, and luckily there are narrators like Christian Rummel that help make that transition smooth. Christian was kind enough to answer a few of my questions for Audiobook Week.
First question is an easy one. Can you tell us a little about yourself, and how you got started in the audiobook industry?
Christian Rummel: I grew up in an area of Pennsylvania renowned for its peppermint patties, Harley Davidson factory, and the near-meltdown at Three-Mile Island, a local nuclear power plant.
I studied acting in college, joined the union after graduation and became a stage actor. A few years ago, I got my Masters in classical theatre at a Shakespeare training conservatory.
Got involved in audio books because an old friend from the same PA town wrote a medical thriller called ISOLATION WARD. That friend, Josh Spanogle, also hooked me up with an audition for Random House, who was recording an audio version of the book. I got the gig, and that was the start of my career in audio books.
What steps do you take when prepping a book for recording?
Christian Rummel: I’m very low prep. I’ll (usually) read the book first, maybe think about some character voices, but that’s about it. I’m not one of those narrators who use fifty different highlighters to mark character changes. I don’t like to mark my script at all; I like a clean page…
Walk us through a typical recording session. Do you typically work with a director or technician when recording?
Christian Rummel: I don’t have a home studio, so all of my recording is done with someone else in the room, usually a sound engineer, though some companies do like to hire directors as well. All the directors I’ve worked with have been pretty hands off, mostly just there as an outside ear and to sort of gently guide the process along. Mostly, I just roll into the studio, grab a cup of tea and a bottle of water and get to work.
My first audiobook experience with you as a narrator was Valentine’s Resolve, the sixth book of the Vampire Earth Series by E.E. Knight. I was a little worries, because I had read the first 5 books of the series, and I was worried about a disconnect between how I imagined character’s sounding, and the narrator’s performance. Personally, I think you nailed it for David Valentine, and Smoke, as well as the peripheral characters. When reading a novel in preparation for recording, what do you look for in helping you decide on what you are going to do with a character?
Christian Rummel: This relates to the previous question regarding prepping a book. Honestly, there’s only so much I can do with my instrument, so in choosing a voice for a particular character, I think mostly about whether I can sustain it for an entire book (or series.) I also just try to go for variety, which is a lot easier for males. I really only have one voice for females, so it’s a matter of dressing it up with accents or different speech patterns…
Have you ever received hate mail or crazy ranting reviews from irate fans of a series who didn’t like the way you voiced a character? I know some fans, particularly genre fans, can be brutal.
Christian Rummel: I’ve never gotten any crazy hate mail from irate fans. I’m sure there are plenty of folks out there who may be unhappy with the way I’ve voiced particularly beloved characters, but if so, they tend to keep it to themselves or their blogging audience. None of them have contacted me personally. I think I would be more amused than annoyed if they did…
The other day, E.E. Knight posted a picture of the next Vampire Earth novel, Appalachian Overthrow. I sort of geeked out about it because it features my favorite character, Ahn-Kha, Now, I’m not sure about when and if the audiobook version of this novel will come out, but hopefully you will be recording it. Being that you seem to record a lot of series, do you ever go back and listen to you work of a past book to prepare for an upcoming title?
Christian Rummel: I never listen to any of my work, period. Can’t stand it! Even when I’m trying to put a demo together I will always ask somebody with a fresh ear to help me. I’m far too self-critical to listen to my own stuff. I actually don’t own much of my own work. The books I record for Hachette or Random House come out in CD form; some of those I have, but not much digital stuff.
Another favorite series of mine is the Lost Fleet series by Jack Campbell. What amazes me about your performance in these numbers is the sheer number of characters you have to deal with. How do you manage to keep them all straight?
Christian Rummel: This sort of relates to the last question… working on a series like LOST FLEET, it’s like hanging out with your family. They’re all pretty distinct to me, so I don’t have much trouble keeping them straight. If you’ll notice, a writer like Jack Campbell doesn’t physically describe his characters at all. We have no idea if Black Jack Geary is 6’5” or 5’2” or what color eyes or hair he has. When I first started the series, I decided to have fun with the nationalities of the various characters, mostly so I could keep them straight and give them some variety. I thought about shows like STAR TREK, which boasted sort of a ‘United Nations in space’ cast, and gave the characters accents or dialects based on what nationality their last names evoked.
I would be remiss if I don’t talk about zombies. I am a huge Zombie fiction fan, and with the Permuted Press/Audible deal, there has been a flood of undead audiobooks. One of my favorites was Jessica Meig’s, The Becoming. Cade is a kick ass character, and you did a great job bringing her to life. She has a complicated vocal story, being a former Israeli Defense Force sniper, living in the American south. How challenging is it for you when you are performing women voices, particularly ones with specific accents? What was the strangest character voice, as for as regional and ethnic ties, that you had to come up with?
Christian Rummel: I’ll be honest: I’m not really all that pleased with what I did with Cade on that book. I have several Israeli friends who learned to speak English from British tutors and so have taken on a bit of the Queen’s, so to speak. That’s the accent I gave Cade, but I’m not sure it was really right for her background. I did my best to keep it as subtle as possible, so the listener can focus more on the attributes of the character as written, and less about whether her dialect was authentic.
I just finished a six-book series by Anne Emery, which had all kinds of crazy voicings in it, including a three-page monologue by a female Italian opera diva. That was a bit of a challenge… As far as the strangest, that’s a tough one. The Joseph Wambaugh HOLLYWOOD series have a lot of interesting characters: junkies and winos and drag queens; there’s a lot of crazy ones in there!
Do you have an all time favorite character? Is there a character, whether specific or just a general type, that you haven’t yet had the chance to voice, but would like to?
Christian Rummel: I don’t really have a favorite all-time character, but I do enjoy the dudes who have what I call the ‘Badass’ voice: Black Jack Geary, Titus Quinn, Ray Lilley. Ironically, men of action, rather than words…
I’m sure you have had moments where you’ve messed up, either misreading a text, reading a line in the wrong voice, or mispronounced a word. Is there any especially funny or embarrassing in studio moments that stand out?
Christian Rummel: I make so many mistakes every session that they’re impossible to recall. However, sometimes the script itself is so riddled with editorial errors that it can be hilarious. I just recorded an audio version of the 33 1/3 series about Slayer’s REIGN IN BLOOD (a personal fave) and the manuscript was full of typos. My favorite was the mention of Motley Crue’s first album: TOO FART FOR LOVE. It’s juvenile, but the engineer and I laughed a lot over that one!
Finally, if someone were to write the story of you life, who would you want to record the audiobook version?
Christian Rummel: Interesting question. As much as I dislike this actor, I’ll have to go with Christian Slater, because (sigh) his is the voice to which mine is most often compared. Sadly…
Thanks for taking the time out to answer these questions!
You can find Christian’s work at Audible.com.