How an audiobook is made can be something of a mystery to readers—and oftentimes even to authors! My third novel [just recently published], and as Penguin Random House’s audiobook producer Diane McKiernan contacted me to make arrangements for the audiobook version, a fun development took shape. Diane asked me if I had an idea of how I’d like the reader to sound, and as I thought it over, I realized I did know! Not only did I have a specific idea of the type of voice I wanted, I could name a specific person—my friend Elizabeth Romanski. Elizabeth is not only a friend but happens to be a talented actor who has done tons of professional voice work. We met in New York and bonded in part because we are both originally from Northern California—where my book, Eagle & Crane, is set.
One of the great things about life in New York is that you meet and make friends with tons of talented artists. Elizabeth is one of the most talented and accomplished people I know, and it was such a joy and an honor to have her record the audiobook. I thought I’d have her answer a few questions about her work, and about what it was like to record an audiobook, since so few of us really know how an audiobook gets made.
Can you talk a little bit about your professional background? What are some of your favorite projects you’ve worked on? I know you do voice work but that your professional background extends beyond that, too.
Yes, but first let me say what a complete delight it was to record your book! I so admire your gifts as a writer, and it was thrilling for me to help tell this wonderful story. In terms of my professional life, I work as an actor and voice-over artist. My voice-over work is mostly for commercials, but I also do video games, books, and TV promos. As a performer, I was most recently in the Off-Broadway show Sleep No More. It’s all wonderful work that I’m so lucky to be able to do.
One thing that came as a surprise to me are the long hours an audiobook reader can spend in the studio. What’s the longest day you spent recording Eagle & Crane? How long did the entire job take you, and how long is the finished book?
It can take a while! Eagle & Crane took one week to record, working about seven hours per day. Hours-wise, that’s a normal day, but it is a speaking marathon, so tea breaks and a disciplined life are required to keep one’s voice sounding good for the duration! I believe the finished book is about thirteen hours.
When you record, how does the director break it up? Do you, for instance, read an entire chapter at a time?
In my experience, we do usually read straight through by chapter. For Eagle & Crane, I worked with the wonderful director May Wuthrich—we read through each chapter and would then go back and reread any lines or sections that needed a bit more work before moving on. We read roughly eighty to one hundred pages per day.
How do audiobook readers and directors decide what kind of tone to take? What is it like reading different characters’ dialogue lines?
When I was reading Eagle & Crane prior to recording, I was so taken by the grandness of the story. A huge emotional landscape is covered, and so the tone needs to shift accordingly. For example, the thrilling moments of flight require a very different tenor than those at the internment camp. My task as the reader isn’t to impose an overall tone but rather to be sensitive to those changes. In Eagle & Crane we also have the richness of different perspectives, and so the tone changes depending on which character we’re with and what they’re discovering or feeling from one moment to the next. In terms of reading characters’ lines, it’s really fun work to find their voices. As a writer, you have such a knack for dialogue, the tones and cadences are so specific, so I’m following your lead not only from the lines that you’ve written but also how everything you’ve told us about the character—their physicality, level of education, status, demeanor, etc.—might inform the way that they speak.
How does the experience of recording an audiobook compare with the experience of recording a voice-over for a commercial?
Practically speaking, commercial recordings are much shorter than audiobooks—a typical commercial is recorded in under three hours. In TV commercials, the voice-over is one piece of the puzzle, along with the visuals and sound. Often the voice-over is one of the last elements to be added, so when I record I’m not only working off of the script for tone but everything I see onscreen as well. Of course for an audiobook there are no visuals; we just have the words and the voice. It takes a different kind of energy to tell a story for hours and days at a time, but as the reader, it is so wonderful to get to sink into the world of the book for a long stretch.
As a professional voice actor are there special techniques you use to care for and condition your voice?
Definitely! I do vocal warm-ups every morning and again before an audition or show. Breathing from your diaphragm, so that your voice is fully supported and not strained from constant use, is also really important. During longer recordings, my routine becomes much more disciplined—no dairy, alcohol, or caffeine and lots of tea and sleep!
Learn more about Eagle & Crane and listen to a clip:
“Masterfully told, completely immersive, with in-depth characters who illustrate the social complexities of the time, this is an unforgettable historical novel.” —Booklist, starred review
“Rindell’s sweeping generational saga will please fans of immersive, meticulously researched historicals.” —Publishers Weekly