Curtis: Hi Fred, you just finished up narrating and producing the audio book for my novel, It’s A Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad World. Can you tell us a bit about your experience on the project?
Fred: I always start a new project by reading the entire book, studying the characters and the style, and marking the script with color codes for different voices, as well as other performance notes. I approach it like a theater director — casting (creating a unique voice and personality for each character), figuring out pacing and story arc, finding the emotional core, and planning the style. This book had some unique challenges which made it especially fun to work on.
The genre doesn’t fit one defined category. I tried to perform it in a way that would present its unique mixture of gritty thriller, graphic horror, pulp fantasy, and tongue-in-cheek humor all at the same time.
But the characters were what made this book especially fun for me to narrate. Each one was evil, corrupt, and despicable, yet they all had some redeeming quality. They were bad because they themselves were victims. As an actor, it is important to find the heart in each character you portray, no matter how evil that character may be, and find what motivates them, so that the audience (or reader) will be able to connect with each character. Your writing gave me all the tools that I needed. You skillfully wove a backstory into each character to give us insight into why they behaved the way they did.
If there is one thing that gives my narration a signature, it would be my skill with accents and character voices. I try to create a uniquely identifiable voice for each major character so that the listener will know who is speaking, even without the dialog tags. I use a combination of pitch, tone, cadence, personality, accent, and dialect. I have done dozens of different accents in my numerous prior narration projects, but I had never done a Rhodesian accent before. This accent had to be different from the more common British dialects (Cockney, Cornwall, Australian), but still definitely a British derivative. I listened to various clips on YouTube and studied the special qualities of that accent. While there is no way for a non-native doing a quick study to create a truly genuine accent, the goal for a narrator is just to capture the flavor and style of that accent to give the impression. I focused on a few specific vowel sounds, the pacing, the oral posture, and the cadence, and finally got into the flow to make him sound natural.
The biggest challenge, however, is when characters with different accents are in dialogue with each other, which happens in numerous scenes in this book. To perform an accent, I have to get my mind and vocal apparatus focused in a certain way. Switching back and forth in rapid succession often leads to bleeding and blending of one accent onto the other. That is where I had to stop and start frequently in my recording, doing several takes, and then edit it together to sound like it is one continuous conversation. Thank goodness for editing software!
Curtis: In my opinion the strength of Bad World is with the wild cast of characters. Did you have a favorite amongst them, or did you find yourself rooting for any over the others?
Fred: As I said, the characters were what made this book the most fun for me. There were definitely some characters that I rooted for over others, but I don’t want to give away any spoilers. I would say that my favorite character was The Rhodesian. His passion, pragmatism, humor, and even dare I say his heart made him the most special for me.
Curtis: You are an Audible Approved narrator. What exactly does that mean?
Fred: Audible Approved is a status that Audible grants to narrators who have passed a rigid quality review by the Audible production staff. As defined by Audible, “Audible Approved producers are the best audiobook producers in the business. Most have narrated and/or produced 25 audiobooks that are available on Audible.com and have a verifiable record of achievement in the audiobook industry.”
After a narrator has established enough of a track record, he or she can apply for this status. Their work is then carefully reviewed by the Audible production team to determine if they qualify. Once this status is granted, their future work continues to be monitored to make sure it remains up to the standards. Like other Audible Approved narrators, I am very diligent about Quality Control – making sure that the reading is accurate, the sound is clean with no background noise, and the mastered recording has consistent sound levels. I also make sure it sounds like one continuous read, even though in actuality there are many retakes and edits.
I am honored to be included in this category.
Curtis: With so many narration projects do you have much time to read for fun? If so what are some of your favorite recent reads?
Fred: I have a very diverse life. Audiobook narration is just one of many things that I do. I also freelance as a nationally certified sign language interpreter, teach speech and theater as an adjunct instructor at the local community college, direct and choreograph local theater productions, and even do some book editing and proofreading.
My available time to read for fun is sporadic. When I do, the genres that I lean toward are mysteries, theater autobiographies, fantasy, and any book with quirky characters and a unique sense of humor. Recently, I enjoyed reading the Jana Lane Mystery series by Joe Cosentino. It follows the adventures of ex-child star Jana Lane, who uses the skills she learned in the movies to help her solve murder mysteries. The author has a great sense of humor, knows the show business industry inside out, and creates a cast of wonderful idiosyncratic characters in each book. The fifth book in the series, “Rag Doll,” just came out a few months ago. The first book is “Paper Doll.”
Curtis: How about your favorite book of all time?
Fred: That is a difficult decision, since there are so many books that are my favorites in different categories. If I had to select one overall favorite, I think it would be the “Tales of the City” series by Armistead Maupin – especially the first three books in the series.
Curtis: Your background is in theatre and puppetry. How much overlap is there between that and narration? Are there challenges unique to audio book narration?
Fred: There is a great deal of overlap. As I mentioned, I approach each book as a director approaches a play. I also create each character as an actor would, finding their motivation, creating their back story, and working from their emotional core. I even treat the narrator as a character. When I worked as a puppeteer, I created many character voices and learned how to have each character perform in dialogue with each other in a live situation (no opportunity for retakes and edits). This gave me many of the skills I use in narration.
After working for several other puppet companies, I created my own successful puppet theatre company (Pegasus Productions), which I ran for 10 years, sending out several troupes to tour the US, as well as creating and performing puppets for industrial films and TV commercials. I created soundtracks for each show, which gave me the recording and editing experience that is vital in recording and producing audiobooks.
There are also some unique challenges that makes audiobook narration different. The audio must stand on its own and present the story without the support of any visual performance. The narrator character takes the place of the visual performance, bringing the scene and the action to life. That voice and personality is different in each book and often provides my greatest challenge.
Curtis: A while back I wrote a horror retelling of Pinocchio (Pinocchio & The Black Pantheon). Do you have any creepy puppet stories, or am I hoping for too much?
Fred: Unlike in horror fiction, in real life, puppets only come alive when a skilled puppeteer manipulates them. However, there are times when the puppet’s mechanisms malfunction. In those instances, they start moving out of control and create unintended creepy effects. The funniest story was when I was doing a marionette show of some fairy tale (I don’t remember which one). I was manipulating the prince character, and suddenly his head detached from his body. With no body to anchor it, the head was floating freely in the air. Every time the puppet moved, the head would lag behind, and then swing in front. I hope the kids in the audience weren’t too freaked out.
Curtis: What are some other books you’ve narrated that you think my readers might enjoy?
Fred: The book that I have narrated that I think would most closely align with the tastes of people who enjoy It’s a Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad World would be:
- London Warriors by Paul Rudd, a dystopian thriller, with a cast of bad-ass characters, action, adventure, surprise twists and turns, and even some deep philosophical concepts. This was my most challenging book as far as character accents, including standard British, lower class London (varying degrees of “Cockney”), Cornwall, Irish, Scottish, standard American, Black urban American, Texas, Japanese, German, and Portuguese.
They might also enjoy:
- A Song After Dark by Grant Palmquist, a dark coming-of-age thriller
- Insanity Tales by Stacey Longo, David Daniel, Vlad V., Ursula Wong, and Dale T. Phillips, an anthology of short stories of murder, mayhem and madness
- Insanity Tales II by Stacey Longo, David Daniel, Vlad V., Rob Smales, Ursula Wong, and Dale T. Phillips, another anthology of short stories of the macabre
- Halls of Horror by Dale T. Phillips, a collection of short stories of horror, either internal or external
Curtis: Any advice for writers looking to make the jump to audio or for would be narrators?
Fred: For writers: ACX.com is a great platform for matching up writers/rights holders with narrators/producers. They have wonderful tutorials and support. It is important to find the right narrator for your project. Every book has a different personality and different requirements. Each narrator has different skills and specialties. While one narrator may do a masterful job on one kind of book, he or she may be totally wrong for another book. Would your book be better served with a male or female narrator? Do you want a narrator who can do strong character voices and accents, one who has a rich velvety narration, or one who has great comic timing? Think about what other qualities would best serve your book. Give the narrator any guidance you think might be needed as far as character traits and accents, pronunciations, or any stylistic needs of the book. Finally, once the book is completed, put special effort into marketing your audiobook. You can use many of the same techniques you use to market your print and e-book, but there are also audiobook specific outlets.
For narrators: It is important to have some training or experience in either acting or public speaking. You also need to have some knowledge and practice in recording and editing the spoken word. Do some research and self-study, or attend some classes at the local community college or adult learning center. Listen to other audiobooks, make some practice recordings of books and determine what genres you best fit. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Audacity is a great totally free editing software. While it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of the expensive platforms, it has more than what you need to get started in the field. In fact, still use Audacity as my basic recording and editing software. It is vital to get a good microphone and interface, have quality headphones, and a well-dampened acoustic space to record. You don’t need to spend a fortune, but you do have to make some initial investment in quality equipment. ACX.com has wonderful tutorials to help you put together your editing studio and guide you through the basic recording, editing, mastering, and quality control process.
Curtis: Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. Please take this opportunity to shamelessly promote any upcoming projects you have.
Fred: So far, I have completed 74 book projects. Right now, I am busy with a live theatre project, but am keeping my eye out for my next exciting audiobook project. I do have a few series that I have been working on that I anticipate continuing with future books when they are ready: The Doorways Saga by Tim O’Rourke, The Island of Fog series by Keith Robinson, and The Tales of Gaspar by Brian Michaud. You can find out more about my activities, hear some samples of my other books, and see my full list of credits on my website at http://www.FredWolinsky.weebly.com