Michael Goldstrom is a relatively new to me narrator who has recorded books like A Confusion of Princess by Garth Nix. My first experience with his work was Variant by Robison Wells, in which I said he “has the potential to be a great narrator.” Well, in Mira Grant’s Blackout, he proved that statement true by giving an excellent performance in my favorite audiobook of 2012 so far. Michael Goldstrom was kind enough to answer a few of my hard hitting questions.
I want to thank you for taking the time out today to talk audiobooks. First off, could you tell me how you became involved in the audiobook industry and give a bit of an overview of you career?
Michael Goldstrom: I’m really appreciative, but does your audience read? Part of me thinks I should narrate this. Anyway, I’ve always been an aural person (hello ladies), and have loved creating worlds out of sound by either recording sketches, radio shows, characters, or sound worlds in fake languages. With sound, our imaginations go wild, and we become our own filmmakers.
In college we had a phone system called the Rolm phone, where you could easily change voicemail greetings (and prank friends and connect them so they each thought the other called), and every day I’d change the greeting with different characters and scenarios: a mafia den, Brazilian carnival, an international whorehouse… those really were the days.
At Juilliard I up-leveled my skill set to perform classical text, and do mafia voices but with greater breath control. Then I worked as an actor in New York doing plays, musicals, television and film, and I also auditioned for Saturday Night Live. Now in Los Angeles I focus on comedy, both in acting and writing. I also performed as the narrator in Peter and the Wolf with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and currently perform in Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon for the Cartoon Network.
I’ve always wanted to do audiobooks, because they merge the fun of characterization with the luxury of long form storytelling. Audiobooks are like deeply intimate films in the mind of the listener, and as the narrator, you have the power to help create those images. You dictate the pace, the tone, and create entire worlds, by…dictating. Literally. You are a dictator. This fulfills my German heritage.
You are relatively new to audiobooks. Is there anything about the industry or the process that surprised you?
Michael Goldstrom: I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, because every community has this, but the audiobook community is a relatively insular world consisting of stars , passionate fans, critics, haters, publishers, all centered around aural recordings of stories. I find that amazing, amusing and as the Spanish say: great.
Striking about the publishing industry though, is how much authors must actively self-promote their own work – primarily through Twitter. Imagine if Melville had to do that- “@mobynotthemusician New novel coming out – whales, natives and peg legs in a crisp 458 pages. Kindle anyone? Lol. Check it out!”
Through Twitter I also enjoy reaching out to the authors…they’re alive; why not take advantage?
Before I get into the book I really, really want to talk about, I wanted to talk a little about my first audiobook experience with you, which was your reading of Variant by Robison Wells. Variant is a sort of modern Lord of the Flies, with a host of wildly different young adult characters. What was you biggest challenge when recording this novel?
Michael Goldstrom: In Variant, the narrator is a jaded teenage boy, and all the main characters are within a four-five year age range, so differentiating the characters was a challenge. This was amplified by the story itself in which these characters have no contact with the outside world, so their personalities are in question. Also, their very existence is in question – once you get to the end of the story, you see why.
Before reading Variant, were you aware of the true phenomenon that the Young Adult market is?
Michael Goldstrom: While mentally I feel like a young adult, I definitely did not know the young adult market was a phenomenon. Is it a phenomenon? What constitutes a young adult anyway – ability to not buy beer, or a penchant for zombies? This is a deep question.
As a narrator, do you feel your talents are more suited to Young Adult and Middle Grade books, or adult books?
Michael Goldstrom: My talents might be most suited to the “Pre-School Epic” genre. I love the fun you can have with young adult and children’s books. How often can you play an invisible bandapat in adult literature (aside from the deleted chapters in Fifty Shades of Grey)? That said, I love the richness and variety of genres, so my goal is to work in all genres at all levels: thrillers, mysteries, historical fiction, neuroscience. You’d hope four years at Juilliard would prepare you for anything, or at least that’s what I tell myself. Right?…Anyone? Hello? It’s very quiet here.
Now, I want to talk about Blackout, which, full disclosure, is my favorite audiobook of the year. Blackout is the third entry in Mira Grant’s Newsflesh Trilogy, and you are the third narrator to handle Shawn Mason’s perspective. Before taking this on, did you read or listen to the previous editions of this series, or did you go into the character cold?
Michael Goldstrom: I’m so thrilled you liked it! I went in cold. Very cold. Think Antarctica, add a dash of Siberia and top it with a WASP from Connecticut.
Personally, I thought you nailed Shawn Mason, but where you really excelled was in some of the peripheral characters, particularly Mahir. Can you tell us a little about your process for creating authentic voices that fit the background and personalities of the characters?
Michael Goldstrom: Very appreciated. Text analysis gives you clues to the characters. It’s the same process when preparing for theater or film. Usually, everything you need to know about the characters is either explicitly expressed or implied in the text. For example, in Blackout, Mahir’s name gives us information about his background, then his schooling and family are mentioned, and of course how he relates to other people and his environment, and the actions he does and does not take all reveal information about how he might sound.
For Blackout, you co-narrated the novel with Paula Christensen, each of you handling a different perspective. How did the two narrator system work? Was their any interaction between you and Paula, or was their a director or other outside person that helped coordinate the recording?
Michael Goldstrom: Our truly masterful maestro of all things audiobook related, Bob Deyan of Deyan Audiobooks supervised the recording. Paula and I overlapped on one day and we briefly discussed some voices, then had lunch. ‘Twas a good day.
As far as your personal tastes, do you read or listen to audiobooks for pleasure, and what are some of your favorites?
Michael Goldstrom: I listen to audiobooks when I drive to Northern California to see my family. It’s my traveling therapy before entering the storm. Unfortunately, I’m a productivity book fanatic, so I listen to a lot of those kinds of books -”Getting to Yes, Getting to No, and my favorite, “Time Management for People Who Listen to Too Many Productivity Books.” I’m just now reviewing my audiobook fiction list so I can start to learn from narrators I like. When I heard Frank Muller’s audiobook of Orwell’s 1984, I couldn’t stop “turning the page.”
Is there one novel or author who you would love to narrate that you haven’t yet had the opportunity to take on?
Michael Goldstrom: Michael Chabon or Andy Borowitz or of course The Last Testament, A Memoir by God, with David Javerbaum.
When not performing, what do you do to blow off steam?
Michael Goldstrom: I was asked that in Central Park when I was 15. I was then asked if I wanted to “blow off steam” behind the bushes. Now I play piano, accost other people’s dogs, or write.
Besides being a narrator, you also act and perform comedy. If someone was to show up to see you perform live, what should they expect?
Michael Goldstrom: I’ll let the LA Times speak: “a tour de force that will leave you roaring”. Aw yeah.
Of all your performances, which would you consider the highlight of your career?
Michael Goldstrom: Sadly, Cabaret in high school.
Is audiobook narration something you plan to continue on a regular basis? Do you have any upcoming projects that you would like to share?
Michael Goldstrom: I absolutely love narrating audiobooks, and look forward to the overwhelming plethora of literature demanding to be read out loud. Snooki may need her autobiography read since she cannot speak language. But I do have some upcoming projects – and to be kept apprised please follow my Facebook Page or Twitter or Google + Page (yes I use it and love it).
Someday, when someone writes the story of your life, who would you want to perform the audiobook version?
Michael Goldstrom: There’s a lot of assumptions in that question, but going with it – hopefully I myself will be able to narrate it with advances in cryopreservation, or by having kept my brain alive and speaking through Siri. Although in that case I’m not sure where royalties would be sent.
Social Media Links: