Narrative Overtones: My Interview with William Dufris

15 02 2013

Today, as a special treat to all of you The Human Division fans, as well as audiobooks in general, veteran actor, voice over artist, and narrator William Dufris, voice of John Scalzi’s The Human Division and over 300 other audiobooks answers a few of my questions. Dufris voice has been heard in movies and TV Series, as well as cartoons like Bob the Builder. William also produces full cast audio movies with his company The AudioComic Company. I am very excited to have him stop by my little corner of the internet today.

Bob: First, off William. I want to thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. I’ve been an avid audiobook listener for nearly 8 years and have probably listened to over 1,000 audiobooks and, for me at least, you are one of the iconic voices of the medium, and one I can trust to tell me a good story. So, let’s start out with an easy question, how did you get started in the industry?

William:Thanks, Bob!

Actually, my start in the world audio work was based on constant rejection. I relocated to London with my future 1st wife in the late 80’s, and immediately began seeking acting work. However, to my dismay, I discovered the old adage, “It’s not what you know, but rather who you know” that will get you work rang quite true there. Producers would hire English actors with passable American accents, with whom they’d worked before, rather than an untried and untested nobody like me.

However, I persevered, and put together a clown show, through which I acquired my Equity card, followed by my first agent, who sent me to a BBC Radio Play audition… which I got. There, I met a number of fellow North American actors, who were all extremely generous in pointing me to potential voice work opportunities. Thus, I stared doing cartoon/film dubbing, language tapes, more BBC plays and audiobooks.

Bob: You seem to narrate within every genre, from memoirs to fantasy, taking on authors as diverse as Mark Twain, Mark Halperin, Richard K. Morgan and Dashiell Hammett. Do you have a favorite genre, or style of book to read?

William: Fortunately, I’ve always been an avid reader (under the covers with a flashlight, as a kid – always carrying TWO paperbacks, as an adult, just in case the first was finished before I returned home), and so I can’t confess to an all-time favorite genre. As long as there’s a good story, I can be easily hooked.

My absolute favorite narrations were: Mark Twain’s HUCKLEBERRY FINN, Dashiell Hammett’s THE MALTESE FALCON and Michael Rubens’ THE SHERIFF OF YRNAMEER.

Bob: My very first experience with one of your narrations was with John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, now years later you have returned to that universe with The Human Division serial. What was you initial reaction when Audible approached you with the concept of a serial audiobook?

William: I was thrilled. He’s a wonderfully talented writer, who weaves plot and character in a delightfully convoluted fashion. He’s not a waster, either. He’ll drop a casual reference to something seemingly mundane, or other, and will return to it in such a clever way later on (nope… no examples. Ya just gotta discover it for yourself!). As a narrator, he really keeps you on your toes.

Bob: Was the recording experience handled any differently for this project? Was there any specific challenges with this project due to its serialized nature that you haven’t experienced when recording a more traditional audiobook?

William: Basically, I received most of the files in one go, but was instructed to upload each chapter separately, and within an established schedule. The only trick is to maintain a flow, as other work demands attention in between these uploads. Fortunately, the chapters themselves, although linked, are nearly complete stories in and of themselves.

Bob: How do you typically prepare when recording an audiobook? Do you have a specific method for deciding on particular character voices, or is it more of an organic process?

William: Definitely organic. As an actor, I sorta ‘see’ the characters in a ‘filmic’ way. As I prep material, prior to recording, I ‘hear’ each character as I read along. Yup, Bill Dufris hears voices in his head!

Bob: One of the reasons I enjoy your work in particular in Speculative Fiction, is you seem to put a lot of thought not just into the voices of non-human species, but in individual characters within the species. One of my favorite audiobook series you work on is Taylor Anderson’s Destroyermen series, which host a ton of characters, including humans, the lizard like Grik, and our favorite cat monkeys (or us it monkey cats) the Lemurians. When you are in the recording studio, how do you keep all these characters straight?

William: I love Taylor’s DESTROYERMEN series. What a world he’s created! Anyway, for the most part all the characters are now pretty much in my head. However, when I began prepping the first of the series, I notated each character on a sheet, along with any description provided by the author. From that, I decided on each particular voice. Most of the choices for the humans, though, comes from ‘attitude’, as opposed to a ‘sound’, as opposed to the obvious choices made for Grik and Lemurians.

Bob: What would you say is the strangest creature or character you had to voice?

William: Sheesh, there have been so many aliens, monsters, animals and weird humans passing through my mouth, I couldn’t really say. One of my more enjoyable ones was a character named Elvis – a blue, flatulent penguin (Uuuuuuurrrrrrrppppp… “Better out than in!”), created for a cartoon series entitled ROCKY & THE DODOS.

Bob: I recently discovered that you recorded a version of one of my all time favorite novels, Replay by Ken Grimwood and this is just one of over 300 audiobooks you have recorded in your career. Looking back over your extensive catalogue is there one novel or series that stands out as special to you? Is there an author or book that you wish you had the chance to record?

William: Well, I’ve already mentioned a few earlier on. As for authors, I would love to narrate Ray Bradbury. His work captivated me as a kid, and still wields a hold over me. I’d also love to do Thomas Tryon’s HARVEST HOME, a creepy tale set in my native New England, produced as a clunky TV movie w/Bette Davis back in the 70s. Annnnnnnndddd THE PRINCESS BRIDE, which has only been recorded as an abridgement by Carl Reiner.
Sooooooooo…

Bob: Not only do you narrate books, but you also produce audiobooks for you company The AudioComics Company.  I’ll be honest, I have always been a little skeptical of the Full Cast Audio Drama, yet, recently I realized that many of the reasons I have avoided them are the same reasons I scold others for dismissing audiobooks. So, I’m going to give you a chance to sell me on Audio Comics, as well as tell me a bit about what goes in to producing them.

William: Audio Movies are my passion. These are audio theatre pieces that are recorded with a full complement of actors, and underscored with music and sfx. Essentially, they’re akin to listening to a movie with your eyes closed, and with your imaginations (or “mind’s eye”) more fully engaged.
A number of my earlier productions , HORRORSCOPES, are adaptations of classic and contemporary horror/sci-fi pieces. Our company, AudioComics (<www.audiocomicscompany.com> plenty of samples), has been producing adaptations of new and popular graphic novel titles, such as TITANIUM RAIN, HONEY WEST, STARSTRUCK and THE BATSONS. We have a number of other titles slated for the next few years, including BAD PLANET, created by actor/writer Tom Jane (HUNG / THE PUNISHER).

C’mon now, head on over to the site and give the samples a listen!!! You know you wanna.

Bob: You have now narrated audiobooks from some of my favorite authors including John Scalzi, Jonathon Maberry, William Landay, and Taylor Anderson. I know some of these authors like Maberry and Scalzi are big supporters of audiobooks, but I also find many authors take a very hands off approach to the audio versions of their novels. Do you enjoy working with an author when producing an audiobook and interacting with them about characters and pronunciations? Are there any authors who you have become fans of through working on their audiobooks?

William: I’ve actually contacted a number of authors, whose titles demanded answers about character(s), and all were very generous and helpful. They all seemed quite excited about their work being produced for audio, although it was usually me that had to stem my giddiness at chatting with a real live writer-type fella!


As for being a fan… the DESTROYERMEN series is one I’d hate to see close to a finish.

Bob”: The Human Division seems to be introducing a new audience to audio. Do you think that this project will open the door to more experimentation with new ways of delivering audio?

William: Good ol’ Audible are always looking for ways to grab new listeners. I’m sure they’ll come up with more!

Bob: Finally, are there any new projects that you are working on that you are particularly excited about?

William: Just the aforementioned audio movies we’ve got scheduled for the not-so-distant future. Keep your ears open!

Check out Williams titles on Audible.com, including the latest The Human Division episode. Visits William Dufris Website, Mind’s Eye Productions.

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Narrative Overtones: My Interview With Michael Goldstrom

29 06 2012

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, haterspublishers, 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.

 

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Narrative Overtones: My Interview with Khristine Hvam

28 06 2012

Khristine Hvam has told me stories about Zombies, fallen angels, Post Apocalyptic Wastelands and Tree Cats. She is one of the most consistent performers in the industry and whenever I see her name attached to a project I know I will be in good hands. All her hard work has recently paid off in an Audio Award for Hachette Audios production of Laini Taylor’s The Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Khristine was kid enough to answer some of my questions today.

 

So, we’ll start off easy. Could you tell me how you got started in the audiobook industry, and give me a bit of an overview of your career?

Khristine Hvam:  Like so many of us, I started off on one road and somehow took a turn that landed me right where I never knew I wanted to be. Kind of like getting lost on a country road and finding an beautiful vineyard, where they just happen to be having an amazing wine tasting, and today its free and open to the public. That’s sort of how I found audio books. I was on the road to a career in voice over and a director friend of mine said, “I gave your information to Audible, expect a call.” Next thing I knew… I’m an audio book narrator.

I’ve also been blessed to work all over the entertainment world. I’ve worked in documentaries, I produced morning radio, of course as most actors… I bartended (lol), and now voice over, where I seem to be having the most success. You’ll find my voice in video games (WOW and Motion Explosion), Animations (Poke’mon), and TV and Radio commercials. I’m a very lucky lady!

Besides audiobooks, you have voiced characters in animation and video games, and done commercial voice over work. How much of your voice talent is natural, and how much is it hard work and training?

Khristine Hvam: Hmmmmmmm… I don’t know. I always fear this question. Truth is… In the beginning I was kind of winging it (don’t tell anyone). I had taken a few years of acting in college, and then some coaching in voice over when it became obvious that’s what I wanted to do… but really, I’m just a goofy girl that likes to play, so I found the one career path that would let me do that. The only real answer to this question is… ALL of the above. Natural talent molded and shaped with training and brought to life with hard work. “Success happens when preparation meets opportunity” Don’t know who said it… but they were right.

Recently you narrated Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, which went on to win the Audie for Fantasy. Now, I have to admit of the three Audie categories I listened to and predicted this was the one I missed. *sadface* Yet, it was a beautifully story full of strange creatures, stunning visuals and exotic settings. Tell us a little bit about working on this book, and the challenges you faced bringing it to life.

Khristine Hvam: There were no challenges to this project in all honesty. It was one of those perfect storm situations, where everything just sort of came together. The team of people at Hachette that I was fortunate enough to work with were amazing, we all loved the material, and our visions for the characters were all on the same page. It was a great project to work on and I’m very much looking forward to the next in the series.


My first experience with your narration was with Peter Cline’s Ex-series, which was a multi-narrator production, where you handled POV’s but also isolated dialogue from the female characters. While this style has some drawbacks, it also gave it an interesting comic book feel that fit the story. When you work on multi-narrator productions, how often do you actually get to interact with the other narrators? Would you actually prefer more interaction, or working in isolation for the other narrators?

Khristine Hvam: It’s always better when we work together. The performances are more authentic this way. You’re listening and reacting to the other performer, how could this not be great?! During this project we were able to do just that. At one point we had four narrators in the booth at once, it was nuts! I think we spent more time cracking each other up than actually recording. Unfortunately, for many multi-cast reads you’re on your own. It’s hard to get all those schedules to line up. When this is the case there’s just a bit more prep, like listening to the others performances, chatting with them ahead of time to make sure everyone is on the same page. And of course, great direction is key!

You have performed a variety of different genres, both in YA and adult, but speculative fiction (science fiction/fantasy) seems to be the genre you work in the most. Are you a Science Fiction or Fantasy fan yourself? Do you have a favorite genre to work in?

Khristine Hvam: I would say the YA/Fantasy mix is my favorite to work with. In the last several years, some amazing writing is happening in this genre. It has been filled with strong female characters, interesting and well thought out plots, and loads of creepy and bizarre sidekicks that make this voice over chick giddy. So I’d say, yup, this is my favorite.

As for what I choose to read in my spare time… I’m all over the map. Right now I’m reading the Stieg Larsson books. But, truth be told there’s not much time for casual reading in my world. When you read 6-8 hours a day… well, you get the point.


One of my favorite titles you worked on was David Weber’s A Beautiful Friendship, which was a spin-off of the popular Honor Harrington series and notable for it being the first time anyone voiced Treecats. With human characters, you can use things like ethnicity, physical descriptions and personality to come up with a voice, how do you go about developing voices for a fictional species?

Khristine Hvam: Yes, this was a good one. Often times the author tells you what these kinds of characters sound like. Perhaps not specifically, but the same way in which they tell you how human characters sound. It’s how they choose to phrase things, the way in which the characters handle themselves and behave. All these things contribute to their “sound”. Often times, as I am prepping the material, I “hear” what that character sounds like in my mind, and then try to create that same sound in the booth. I suppose these types of voices really come from my imagination. Can you remember being a child and playing pretend? “I’m a mermaid! With flowing blue hair and a shiny green and gold tail!” … I guess I just never grew out of it.

What are some surprising facts about the audiobook industry and recording audiobooks that causal listeners may not realize?

Khristine Hvam: This is a tough question Bob! I can only tell you what I didn’t realize when I first started in audio books. 1. Its’ the hardest Voice Over work there is. It takes extreme focus, dozens of hours of preparation, and forces you to pull from all your creative juices. Like marathon running for VO.   2. People really love it and they are very loyal when they discover they like you as a narrator. (and we as narrators are honored and humbled because of this)  3. The actual recording of a book is pretty short. Just double the length of your audio book and that’s how long it took to record it.  4. Most importantly, that there are many people involved in making an audio book. It’s not just the narrator. It’s directors, producers, engineers, editors, QC people, acquisitions people, publishers, THE AUTHOR, and of course the listener that make the audio book experience a great one. So when you review a book, keep all those people (and the many more who aren’t mentioned) in your thoughts as you love it or leave it.

What is the strangest character or creature that you have been asked to voice?

Khristine Hvam: OH MY… there are so many to choose from! My experience in the audio book world has provided me with a wealth of strange characters, so many of which stand out in my mind. Razgut from “Daughter of Smoke and Bone,” really stands out the most I think. A fallen angel who was once beautiful, now mangled and lame, slithering and crawling and doing anything he can to survive… he was pretty creepy. As a matter of fact I can remember when we were recording his sections in the studio, I had looked up at some point after reading him and the producer/director and engineer were making these cheeped out “ick” faces while shaking their heads… and I KNEW I had found Razgut’s voice. Anytime you elicit a physical reaction from someone… you’ve gotta be on the right track.

 

Is there any one book that you would consider the highlight of your career?

Khristine Hvam: “Daughter of Smoke and Bone” has really been the highlight. Great material, wonderful author, amazing production team, and I won my very first Audie with this one… how could it not be the highlight?!

When not bringing stories to life for our listening pleasure, what kinds of things do you enjoy doing?

Khristine Hvam: All sorts of things! I’m all about my family and friends and love spending my time with them. I’m a big fan of the outdoors so you might find me hiking and biking. I’m recently married (a year and a half now) and my hubby and I love to travel and see the world together. As a matter of fact we are in the process of planning our next trip! Any suggestions??

If someone wrote the story of you life, who would you want to read the audiobook version?

Khristine Hvam: If someone wrote the story of my life I think I’d be so psyched that my life was interesting enough to write about that I wouldn’t even think about who would read it. But, you know what might be interesting… having each of my close friends and family members take a section, and get their take on things… they do know me best. And who better to tell the tales than the people who lived it with me?

Finally, do you have any upcoming projects, audiobooks or otherwise, that you are particularly excited about?

Khristine Hvam: I get pretty excited about all the projects I work on and right now I’m prepping a good one called “Osiris”… looks pretty interesting so far… keep a look out!

 

Bob, I’d like to take a moment to say something to you and the rest of the listeners…

Thank you. Really thank you. So many times I’ve woken up to a strange name in my inbox. A listener, so moved by one of my projects that they took the time to find me and tell me so. I want you to know that I spend the rest of my day with a smile on my face. And when hubby comes home, I share it with him, and I put that email in a special saved folder so I’ll always have it.  It’s like my very own rock star moment and it means a great deal to me. Also, Thank you… sincerely thank you to those of you who might NOT like a performance. Your critiques help me discover areas to improve and change and make me a stronger performer and person. Much love.

 

Make sure you check out Khristine Hvam’s Website and the list of her available titles at Audible.





Narrative Overtones: My Interview with Christian Rummel

27 06 2012

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.





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.





Narrative Overtones: My Interview with J.D. Jackson

26 01 2012

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.

I would again like to thank JD for answering my questions. You can find a list of audiobooks narrated by JD Jackson at Audible.com, Recorded Books and Audiofile.





Narrative Undertones: My Interview with Phil Gigante

14 06 2011

Often I am asked who my favorite narrator is, and despite a lot of competition, I always come out with one name, Phil Gigante. Phil has narrated nearly 150 audiobooks in his career, winning Audies in 2009 in the romance category for The Dark Highlander, and in 2011 in the Science Fiction Category for The Stainless Steel Rat. You can find a list of all Phil’s narrations here. Phil graciously took some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few of my questions.

Bob: Starting off with the basics, how did you get started in audiobooks?

Phil: I had been acting in other mediums, from stage to film, when I met a man named Jim Bond, who was a director of audiobooks. He introduced me to the publisher, I did an audition at their studio, and the rest kind of fell into place. I started slow, maybe three books my first year. Now, fortunately, things have picked up considerably. Actually, I did my first books years ago–a children’s book project for the Lighthouse for the Blind. I did those as a volunteer; I never thought you could make a living that way!

Bob: Your latest work has been narrating The Stainless Steel Rat series. The original novel in the series recently won an Audie Award in the Science Fiction/Fantasy category.  Tell me about bringing this classic series to life, and working with Sci-Fi legend Harry Harrison.

Phil: The Rat series has been amazing, wonderful fun. A childhood dream realized for me! When I was a kid, I read the Stainless Steel Rat series and always wanted to play Jim diGriz, the main character, in the movie. Well now, I get to perform ALL of Harry Harrisons’ characters. I actually campaigned for the audio publisher to buy this series–the only book I’ve ever done that for. I just had such a love for the books, I felt it would be beyond joyous to bring them to life. The books are a fantastic combination of pulp sci-fi, intergalactic crime thriller and snappy, hilarious dialogue. And since Jim diGriz, Harry Harrison and myself have all been accused of being a bit "over the top", it was a perfect fit!

   The best part for me was developing a relationship with Harry. Getting to meet a childhood hero and becoming part of the world he created is absolutely priceless. He has been kind, funny, extremely supportive of myself and the audiobooks; everything a literary hero that inspired a 10 year old kid is supposed to be. Having his work recognized by the APA Audie Award is testament to how beloved he and the Rat still are, 50 years down the line. At one point I even autographed a copy of the Rat audio for HIM—which to me is like autographing a basketball for Michael Jordan. Unbelievable!


Bob: One of the things I have really loved about your reading of The Stainless Steel Rat series is how much fun you seem to be having recording it. How do you prepare yourself for voicing such an over the top character like Slippery Jim D’Griz?

Phil: Bourbon and a good cigar….Actually, the hardest part is just deciding how to pronounce some of the extraterrestrial words. Once I have that down, I just let my innate sense of humor and fun play into Harrys’ words, and let ‘er rip! You’re right, Bob, I do absolutely LOVE to record these stories and Harry’s amazing dialogue. I was always amped to get into the studio with a Rat book; I’m glad that shows on the audio.

Bob: Another series that you have worked on is Andrew Vachss Burke series. Vachss brings a sort of Bluesy Noir feeling to his novels that you capture so well. Yet, there is also quite a lot of dark material in these books as well. What steps do you take to ensure you find the right voice for a character?

Phil: Andrew Vachss is a brilliant stylist: he gives lots of straight-up clues about how his characters sound, especially Burkes’ "family" in the series. For Burke himself, since the books are written in first-person narrative, I wanted to give him a voice that reflected not only his hard-fought life of being an abused child, doing hard time, smoking, etc.—but also to echo the tone of the gritty and harsh underbelly of the pre-"Disney-fication" New York where he lives. Andrew’s musical references in the Burke novels add a nice layer of mood to his voice too, depending on if Burke is listening to Delta blues, Chicago blues or Judy Henske. That all plays in my head as I narrate, helps me develop a "soundtrack" to Burkes’ voice. With Vachss–my other mantra is "keep it real"–his characters are anti-heroes. If they do good or noble deeds, it’s usually just a side effect of something that that blossomed from revenge, anger or a good con-job. They don’t care if we like them or not.

Bob: The series that I actually “discovered” you on is Joe R. Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard series. This series combines a lot of humor with some brutal action. It also involves some of the best give and take between the two protagonists that I have ever listened to. Is it hard to perform dialogue between two distinctive voices and have it sound natural? Are there any specific techniques you use to accomplish this?

Phil: I agree with you; the dialogue between Hap and Leonard is absolutely perfect. It is sincere, sharp and so funny I’ve had to stop recording because I was laughing too hard to continue. I think the interplay comes off so well because Joe Lansdales’ writing allowed me to create very detailed pictures of the guys in my head. I lived in the East Texas that Joe writes about; I know these guys. Haps’ voice is mostly me, with a bit of my brother David thrown in for twang. He’s a good ol’ boy with a strong moral compass, a goofy sense of humor, and sometimes does incredibly stupid things out of the best of intentions. Leonard comes from my caustic side, a real smart ass—but one who deep down has strong feelings of love for Hap. It is easier to switch between Hap and Leonard, since Leonard had the deep bass rumble and precision of words, and Hap is so easy going. Joes’ words allow me to put on Hap and Leonard like a second skin at this point. It would be second nature to have a dialogue in real life as either of them now! There are always techniques you use in the studio for different voices–different pitch, speed of delivery, speech patterns, etc. It’s nice when the characters are so well defined you don’t have to consciously think of those things in the studio, as with the Hap and Leonard books.

Bob What kind of books go you enjoy reading when you don’t have to do it out loud for the pleasure of others?

Phil: Funny you should ask! I was just telling someone that as big a book junkie that I am, I have very little time to read for pleasure anymore! For me that translates to "I’ve only got two books open and in mid-read in the house, rather than six!" I grew up reading, and still read, hard science fiction; Clarke, Asimov, Dick, as well as the "pulp" masters like Harry Harrison. I enjoy a good mystery, and fact-based historical fiction as well. I’ve read the classics, and still revisit Conan Doyle and Dickens and Agatha Christie. Odd things, too–Anais Nin for example. I’m also a "true facts" junkie. I’ll read books of facts on anything, and I love behind the scenes books about everything from NASA to Eastern European history to Monty Python! I’m re-reading all my Neil Gaiman books now. That’s another thing about my books–if I like a book, if it means something to me, I’ll read it ten times and enjoy it just as much each time.

Bob: If you decided to write your memoirs, who would you like to be your ultimate ghostwriter, and who would you want to narrate it?

Phil: Ha! Great question! I don’t want to offend any of my author friends…but I think I’d love Douglas Adams or Neil Gaiman–they are great at taking the mundane and surrounding it with weirdness, which pretty much sums up my life! Or, Vachss could write of my misspent youth, Lansdale could be my semi-moral compass…and Karen Marie Moning could do the love scenes! And if I didn’t narrate it myself, I may have to choose Jim Dale, because no matter the material, he would give my life a touch of much needed culture and class.

Bob: Last Question. I have been told that your reading of Karen Marie Moning’s Fever and Higlander series has gained you a lot of female fans. So, for the sake of the ladies, what upcoming projects are you working on, whether they are audiobooks or something else?

Phil: The (mostly) female listeners of my romance titles have been absolutely wonderful to me! They are very passionate, intelligent and have inspired me to really give my all to narrating Romance books; something I never read before in my personal life. I’ve recently done some continuing series in the genre by Diana Palmer (hot, rugged cowboys), Sandra Brown (hot, rugged photojournalists) and Karen Moning (hot  rugged Scotsmen and…paranormal…studs!). I’m chatting with M.J. Rose about some new projects as well. I’ve also recently done some Fantasy titles; the "swords and dragons" kind, not the "sword and hot tub kind"! Terry Brooks’ new "Shannara" title, and Tracy Hickmans’ new "Drakis" book are both amazing. I have some work in other media, as well as some audio titles I’m extremely excited about—but I’m not allowed to reveal those yet. So I guess I’ll just have to tease the lovely ladies a bit longer! The best thing about doing audiobooks is the cross pollination of fans; the romance listeners are now picking up the "Stainless Steel Rat"  and Vachss titles, and the sci-fi and mystery fans are getting Karen Monings’ "Fever" series and giving the Urban Fantasy a go. It is an honor and a joy to be able to bring all the various genres and fans together. Sharing the love and passion for the the books is the best reward for me.

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