Doing the voices.
June 2, 2011 § 11 Comments
My love of story began with the sound of my mother’s voice.
I was a halting early reader, but as my mother read aloud, Dr. Doolittle and Alice and Toad of Toad Hall all spoke to me. She gave each a distinctive voice with idiosyncrasies of pitch and pace.
Because of this early association of story and sound I grew up to be a writer who hears the words first, often speaking them aloud, testing their sound before putting them on paper.
It can be an embarrassing way to work, but if you think about it, the written word only appeared when the human tribe became too widely scattered to sit around a common fire.
For me, a story well-told requires the sound of a human voice.
Which brings me to the reason for this post. June is Audiobook Month, a celebration that will never rival Christmas, or even Labor Day, but a worthy one nonetheless. Audiobook Month! A celebration of story and voice.
Recording an audio book had long been a dream of mine (along with being interviewed by Terry Gross and ambushing James Taylor and making him sing one song with me doing harmony).
Terry and James are still holding out, but I got the chance to record my novel, “Crossing Jordan” with Full Cast Audio in February of 2009, which meant flying to Syracuse, New York, meeting some incredible people, and learning that I knew nothing at all about “doing the voices.” Here are some excerpts from my journal.
February 1, 2009
The director, Dan Bostick picked me up at the airport. Open, and friendly, he wears a battered Harley jacket. His black scarf, coarsely crocheted, and flecked with lint, is as relaxed and familiar with the shape of him as one worn by a homeless man.
As I realized when we met for the first time on the phone, we both have too many stories to tell, and so we tend to talk over each other. I’ll try to restrain myself.
This is a big thing that I’m here to do, for them as well as for me. Mine will be the first solo voice recording for Full Cast Audio–“Full Cast” being quite literal for their recordings to date.
As for me, it’s been a long time since I’ve done anything this scary. The only courage I’ve shown lately is the courage to plod forward. I hope that making this recording will help me find the edge of things again, return me to the quick of storytelling.
Dan drove me to the old house where Full Cast Audio has its offices. The studio, as it turns out, is somewhere else, rented by the hour, a space normally used by rock bands. We won’t actually record until 6:30 tomorrow evening—recording takes place when there’s less likely to be road noise.
I don’t know why I didn’t put two and two together, but Bruce Coville, the company’s founder, is the same Bruce Coville who has written 95 children’s books including the, “My Teacher Is an Alien,” series (I guess I didn’t believe that level of productivity was humanly possible).
Bruce has a big laugh and a bristly white beard and buzzed hair. He has successfully married writing and business. He even has a staff! Sitting at a large dining room table, Bruce and Dan explained that they had never done a “Southern Novel” because they use local talent, and had no Southern voices available in upstate New York. They had decided to take a chance on me, a Southerner.
Imagine their consternation when I told him that I grew up in New Jersey. “But you’ve been in the South a long time, right?” I assured them I had.
Dan and Bruce took me out to dinner at a Mexican restaurant. We all told our stories, which seems to be the way all three of us make ourselves known. Bruce talked about a temp job at a chemical plant where he was expected to operate a hose with a pressure of 1000 pounds per square inch. The safety film he was required to watch said that, aimed improperly, the hose could cut your head off. Being a children’s book author and audio book entrepreneur didn’t look so hard in comparison.
February 2, 2009
Hoban Studios is housed in a garage behind a home in the suburbs. It is gritty and gray and a little too cold, but the family that runs it is geeky and musical and temperamentally as friendly as a bunch of dogs.
I wore headphones and stood at a music stand on which my manuscript pages were arranged. I received directions from Dan, who was in the room with me, and Brett, who was upstairs in the control room. His directions always startled me, coming suddenly through my earphones like the voice of God.
Our recording session was humbling. I’ve read passages from this book so many times I was sure they’d achieved a high shine, but lack of training has hard-wired some mistakes into my delivery, like rushing, and delivering dialogue and narrative at the same volume.
And nothing gets by Dan! He has an uncanny ear for the slurred word. “Again. Again,” he says. He is unrelenting in his corrections, retraining me patiently. By the end of the evening if he had ordered me to “Fetch,” I would’ve jumped to it.
He pushed me to do more than represent emotions—he encouraged me to feel them. He found pathos in my characters I humbly submit I never put there. The book cut deeper for me under his direction.
I loved doing this work and hope lightning may strike me twice so I get to do it again. But if it was a one-off, I am glad I got to do it at Full Cast Audio, an outfit that is fueled by commitment and dream as much as it is by proffit.
So, happy Audiobook Month! And thanks Bruce and Dan. Thanks to you guys I can really do the voices.
Click here to see a little of our recording session.
Want your own copy of the audio book version of Crossing Jordan? It’s just a click away.