I recently had a suggestion from S. Esperanza to blog about what it’s like being a narrator. Funny, I’ve never really written about it…mostly because I thought it would be boring. Then I stopped to think, well, just because I do it and am used to it, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily boring. If you were watching me narrate it would be. I’m not supposed to move because every movement projects a sound, so basically you’d just be looking at me sitting perfectly still while my face contracts and pinches. Not pretty. Still, though, maybe it is interesting.
A day in the life, then.
A standard book takes about three days to narrate. Think of the books you see in gas stations or grocery stores, you know, the New York Times bestsellers. All about three days. Longer ones, especially fantasies, can take much longer. As a narrator, the actual reading aloud of the story is really a unique experience. It feels really intimate to me. Not in a naughty way, but in a deeply personal one. When you read out loud, you somehow crawl inside a story, you inhabit it. You try to become the characters and the narrator, and for a while, the whole world slips off your shoulders and you’re just transported. Books that I wouldn’t necessarily choose to read on my own, have been delightful surprises. I’ve been inside romances and adventures, terrifying chases, car crashes, breakups, and I’ve fallen in love over and over and over again. And everytime it’s something new. I’m getting off track though.
So the day starts like this: Coffee and food. Coffee for energy and food, lots of it, so that my stomach doesn’t start growling at 10:30am. I’ll wake up at 5:30AM, write, coffee up, and then in the car by 7. Sometimes I stop and get a big breakfast sandwich, or I’ll eat something at home. And I have to pack a snack. Yogurt and berries. A pb&j sandwich. I love crunchy vegetables and vegetarian food, but when I’m narrating, I can’t eat those things. My stomach works to hard. It’s embarrassing how many sounds your body makes while you narrate. You swallow so much air while reading you start to burp like Homer Simpson. So, I stick to sandwiches. Or, sammiches, as I call them. It’s a good thing I’m a fan.
In the studio at 8:15. There’s four studios to choose from A, B, C, and D. A is freezing, B is hot. C is pretty okay but there’s a ghost there. D is cold and hot and there’s ambient noises from the shipping area RIGHT NEXT DOOR. You get a director and an engineer. They air lock you in the room, you have a stack of pages in front of you and you read. You try to avoid falling into a pattern with your voice or the narration will be monotonous. They give me a special S filter because I happen to be a little sibilant. I don’t use my talking voice. It’s too high and whiny. I slip into my lower register. It’s comfortable there…like slipping on silky pajamas.
I used to highlight all the different characters in different colors and assign descriptions to them: High & Whiny, Pinched Nose, Side Talker, Sexy, With Gravel. Just little clues to help me figure out which voice to read. You don’t want every man to be deep, or that’s boring. And if you listen to people, you realize there’s a whole range of voices besides high and deep. There’s breathy, and tentative, fast talkers, and enunciators. There are speakers who sound angry, and speakers who have voices warm and round as honey flowing. Now I don’t highlight. I’ve gotten enough practice that when I read aloud something, my eye skips ahead for any descriptions or what’s coming up next. It’s weird and hard to explain.
We break for lunch at 12:30. Sometimes I hang out with the engineers and other narrators where we talk about books and issues with words (is ‘angst’ really pronounced ‘ahhhngst”) or we talk sci-fi or movies. Many of the conversations start with “Did you hear about…” and it’s a superhero character or a weird fact or something about food. They always make me laugh.
Or if I’m stressed or tired from talking (it happens) I head over to Panera bread where it’s soup and sandwich and internet access. At 1:30 it’s back to the studio, and I narrate until about 4:30 when my energy bar is so zapped I can’t read a sentence without screwing up. I can read 4 or 5 pages without a mistake if I’m on a roll. That’s like 7 minutes. Dick Hill and Sandra Burr, narrators extraordinaire, have been known to read over twenty minutes without a mistake. Not sure how long Joyce Bean or Laural Merlington can go, but I’m sure they’re in the twenty minute range too.
Hmmm. Taken out of context, you might be confused about what I’m talking about there.
Then I pack up and head home. An hour drive. I listen to NPR so other people can talk.
I listen to audiobooks because I love them and I’m trying to get better. The first two books I narrated a decade ago were such colossal bombs that they almost destroyed my career. In fact, after reading Seven Up by Janet Evanovitch, there was so much hate mail against me they actually pulled the narration. I didn’t work again for 6 years. But I have gotten better. If anything, that’s a story of how you can come back from the brink of disaster. They gave me another shot with the Meg Gardiner series following cool chick Evan Delany. Fast paced action, murder mysteries. Loved that series. Then I was given a book called “The Post Birthday World” by Lionel Schriver with a story so beautiful I actually cried in the studio. You can hear it on the recording. Deen Koontz chose my voice once, as did Philip Roth. And now my favorites are the Susan Mallery series and I highly enjoyed the Nora Roberts book. Plus books by Alex Kava and Tess Gerritsen. I do worry that the authors won't like my voice. Sometimes I wish I could talk to them directly so I'd know what they want, but we're not allowed. Seems funny to me, but I guess I get it. Every once in a while I hear from an author, but it's rare. I do try to make them proud.
I don’t know if this is interesting to anyone or not…but sometimes I look around in the studio and I think “I actually get to do this? Who gets to do something so cool?” And, of course, how did I get so lucky. I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that every book I read, I fall in love a little bit more…with language, and stories, and just the creative spirit.
I’m a lucky girl. And it’s time for me to eat a sammich.