The narrator is the wonderfully talented Robin Rowan. She’s a top producer and one of the very best in the business. Robin graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where she majored in oral interpretation of literature. (And how perfect is that for a voiceover artist?) She’s credentialed as a top Audible producer and is a member of the Audio Publishers Association, the World Voices Organization, and the National Forensics League.
I count myself fortunate indeed to have Robin with me on this creative journey. She’s matched the voices I hear as I’m writing this series, and it’s been a joyful experience listening to her. I wanted all of you to have a chance to learn a bit more about the work that Robin does, and how she came to work on this project. Questions and comments most welcome; Robin and I will both do our best to answer any questions you might have.
Why did you audition for this book? What attracted you to Deadly Ties?
I chose Deadly Ties for an audition on ACX because a) it was a mystery/thriller (my favorite!), b) I really liked the audition script and wanted to read more, and c) it centered around dogs. I’m not sure someone who didn’t love dogs could do justice to the script, right? So I put myself out there and hoped that Susan could “hear” that I was the right fit for her book. Thankfully, it all worked out!
Do you have a special studio where you work?
As the narrator, I have to become immersed in the story and live it 24/7 while I’m in the recording process. When I’m recording a book, I can’t wait to get into the studio. My studio is a converted walk-in closet about 8’ x 6’ right off of my bedroom. But you don’t need much room at all, and as long as the space is fairly well soundproofed, it doesn’t matter where you put it. I actually left one wall of hanging clothes on the street side of the studio because clothes serve as an excellent sound-deadener. I also utilize giant 4’ x 2’ acoustic panels on the other walls and ceiling to deaden the sound as much as possible.
How do you develop a “voice” for each of the characters?
I was lucky that Susan provided me with a list of characters and their descriptions—a bonus for the narrator (publishers and authors, are you listening?). Otherwise, narrators need to pick up clues about each character from the context, which can be tricky. I spend a good deal of time “learning” personalities—the laid-back, kindly sheriff Lucas Johnson, the feisty but genuine Sylvia Bridger, the elderly and gossipy Abigail Simmons. Once I have an idea of how to portray my characters, I’m ready to start.
As I record a character, I take a snippet of their lines and save them as separate files (e.g., “Maggie”). So if a character appears on page 27 and not again until page 53, I can call up the character’s file and listen to how he or she was portrayed.
Could you walk us through your recording process, and how long it takes per book?
I get a huge glass of Milo’s sweet tea (it uses corn syrup) to keep my whistle wet and cut down on mouth noises, and put on a little “Kiss My Face” lip gloss for the same reason. That might sound funny, but narrators do whatever we can to keep lubed up when we’re reading for hours on end! Slices of green apple also come in handy.
So I fire up the computer, open the recording software, and find the page or chapter where I left off in the manuscript. I always read off of the computer screen—first, because there’s no paper noise of turning pages and I can highlight areas for special emphasis or perhaps if I have a question for the author or publisher. I can also spell out unfamiliar words phonetically next to the word in the text itself.
I record one chapter at a time, and when I make a mistake, I snap my fingers to mark the spot (which you can see easily when you go back to edit), then re-record the line I flubbed and keep going. I save my work and go on the next chapter. I can spend 4 hours at a time recording and you know when to stop when you hear your own voice start getting a little ragged. I go back and edit out mistakes, some breaths, and any extraneous noises, and then listen again to the entire chapter to proof it with the manuscript. Each finished hour takes between four and five hours in the studio.
As a dog lover yourself, do you have a favorite canine character?
Although Sam is a fine dog and very talented, my favorite canine character has to be Mr. B. He experienced some PTSD and was fairly uninvolved in his surroundings for most of the book. Once he met Zak, though, he started to come out of his shell and he and Zak had some kind of bond that no one else had. You get the sense that he would continue to improve under Zak’s watchful eye and tender care.
I’ve recorded more than 30 books, and Deadly Ties is my favorite book to date. I love this career, and services like ACX that make collaborations like this possible. The ACX web site has been a boon to people like me, and to people like Susan, since it exists simply to bring book narrators and authors/publishers together. I look forward to continue recording for many years to come!
And there you have it, folks! I’m new to the world of audio books and grateful to have an experienced professional join me on this adventure. She posted chapter segments to the production page, which gave me a chance to listen to each chapter and provide explicit feedback. (Some narrators don’t do this, so writers contemplating a project like this should discuss this with their narrators before they start.) Because Amazon uses “Whispersync for Voice” so you can switch between listening and reading, it was essential we got everything exactly right. Robin’s work was phenomenal, and I’m very proud of our finished product.