I’m sitting in for Misty today (thanks, M!) since I missed my Friday post.
As some of you may know, all five of my novels to date come out as audiobooks today from Audible, including the two fantasy adventures Act of Will and Will Power. One of the many oddities of this sudden audio onslaught is that the actor who was chosen to read the Will books, Jonathan Davis, is an old friend of mine. We met in the mid nineties, while I was working as a dramaturg for Georgia Shakespeare in Atlanta, where he had been working for many summers. We hit it off right away, and not only because he is a remarkably gifted and inventive actor (still the best Bottom I’ve ever seen! [er… note the capital B and think A Midsummer Night’s Dream]). He was also a fantasy fan, and we had many a long post-show night playing RPGs: especially fun with a group of talented actors. Jonathan has subsequently made a career for himself as a performer of audio books and I was delighted to learn that he would be narrating Will Hawthorne’s adventures. It seemed a perfect opportunity to give the Magical Words readers a peep behind the audiobook curtain…
So without further ado, let me introduce today’s special guest, Jonathan Davis!
AJH: How did you get into doing audiobooks?
JD: I had been involved in voiceover for about a decade when my agent submitted me for my first audiobook, a John Grisham novel. I quickly caught the bug. I just loved the medium. After narrating the great Neal Stephenson sci-fi classic Snow Crash, I was fortunate to be cast as the narrator for Attack of The Clones and The Revenge Of The Sith, and continued recording over 30 titles for the Star Wars series. Since then I’ve been fortunate to branch out with a variety of genres, from literary fiction to historys/biographies to thrillers.
AJH: Impressive. What challenges do audiobooks pose which are different from doing theatre or TV?
JD: They take tremendous vocal stamina. I usually work seven hours straight on a book over a period of three to seven days, depending on the project. I approach the text just like any actor works on a script, observing objective and rhythm, pace and emotion. I somewhat score the text like music to discover the flow of each paragraph, each sentence.
AJH: What, in your opinion, makes some books more suited to audio than others?
JD: I believe first-person narrative works best. It’s much more intimate and you can really delve into character. The Will Hawthorne books work wonderfully for audio because of this and their rich characters. Also your use of language is truly marvelous; it’s intelligent, animated and fun, just like your protagonist.
AJH: Thanks: Your check is in the mail 😛 Talk about your approach to building character voices. How do you go about determining how people should sound?
JD: It’s all rather filmic for me. I tend to cast them in my head, but then I try not to think too much about it after that. I try my best to veer toward a subtler interpretation, particularly in dialogue. I just envision the action and take it from there.
AJH: Do you think of yourself as a reader, a narrator or a performer when you work on audio books and what–if any–difference does that make?
JD: I think of myself foremost as a storyteller. Everybody is a bit different. Some folk are readers, some performers, most are somewhere in between. Narration incorporates a sense of literary theatre. However, all narrators would agree on what is most important , simply telling the story.
AJHL What are you favorite kinds of boks to work on and why?
JD: Any book written by Dr. Hartley!! Any book where the language is strong and descriptive, and the story is complex and active. Authors such as Neal Stephenson, Paolo Bacigalupi, Jack Weatherford, Brett Easton Ellis, George Alec Effinger, Sena Jeter Naslund, Colum McCann, Paul Bowles– are examples of writers whose prose is extremely vivid, rich and playful. They make great audio, and are a joy for us to work on.
AJH: Do you think of yourself as a medium or an interpreter: by which I mean do you try to keep yourself, your tastes, your interests out of the performance, or do you deliberately inflect the story in the ways that seem, right to you? (And no, that’s not supposed to be a loaded question!)
JD: That is a bit of a loaded question! It depends upon the story, and if my particular skills apply. For instance, I am bi-lingual in Spanish, so if a character from Spain appears, I can portray him/her with my personal inflections. However, if a character with a thick Philly accent appeared, I’m not sure I would attempt it. As an actor, I believe one should begin with what one knows (your self) to really find a personal connection with the story. Then again, in audio, many listeners prefer the narrator to be as neutral as possible. In general, the entire production team discusses the direction in which the audiobook will proceed. This kind of brings us back to the question of what differentiates a narrator from a reader or a performer. We don’t have much “rehearsal time” so the choices we make must be pretty immediate, and appropriate in converting the written word to audio.
AJH: Lastly, what advice would you give to people trying to break into the audio book world, particularly in terms of the skills they need?
JD: Know thyself, listen, learn and persevere.
AJH: Words to live by. Thanks, Jono! I hope you’ll have chance to stop by and respond to comments in the course of the day. All the best and thanks for lending your talents to Will (samples of which you can access below).