In the last few years I keep hearing that audiobooks are hot, hot, hot. I laugh because I’m clearly at the age when old is new again. My family used to get boxes of tapes in the mail from Recorded Books. We’d all listen and return them within the three week turnaround time. One of my greatest memories is from the time we got the Toyota that had the fancy radio console. No longer did you have to pop out the tape to hear the second side. It automatically reversed itself. Made listening to a great story easy.
I’ve had the great fortune of having seven of my titles narrated by some great voice artists. In the last months I’ve been working with Steven Barnett to get two of my L.A. Nights titles voiced and available for readers.
I think he does an amazing job and wanted to share a little bit of his process with you.
Sylvie Fox: I’ve been listening to audiobooks for nearly thirty years. I still remember way back when we’d play audiotapes on car trips. When I was younger there were only a few narrators who read most titles. With the profusion of publisher and indie titles, there appear to be more books than ever, but there are still few narrators. How did you get into the competitive field of narrating audiobooks?
Steven Barnett: I started the way a lot of voice actors seem to: by accident. One of my dearest friends is an author and he stumbled across ACX, the Audiobook Creation Exchange, where authors can create audition posts for narrators to submit to and collaborate with. I had recently decided to revive my desire for a career in voice acting but had nowhere to start so he sent me the link and off I went!
SF: With the last title you narrated for me, I threw you a curve ball. My heroine was a Mexican immigrant for whom English was her second language. Additionally, she spoke Spanish throughout the book. How did you decide how to give her a voice? Did the foreign language throw you for a loop?
SB: Giving her a voice wasn’t too difficult. Doing a feminine voice is certainly tricky when you’re a male, but it’s not generally as hard as most think, however it’s not as simple as speaking falsetto, either. The trick with Yesenia was that I didn’t find out in the narration that she had a thick accent until several chapters into the book, after I’d already started recording.
Once I figured that out, the trick was to thicken the accent but not make her a stereotype. So I used references. I listened to YouTube clips and recordings of Spanish actresses who had spent several years in the US, like Salma Hayek, Penelope Cruz, and Sofia Vergara. It also helped that I’ve been fluent in Spanish since high school. I just put them together the best way I thought it should be. Hopefully, I got close.
SF: When I’ve auditioned narrators, quite a few turned me down because they don’t do ‘sexy.’ How do you gear up to read steamy scenes in romance? Are there issues that you wouldn’t feel comfortable reading?
SB: Hmm, that’s a tricky question.
At this stage in my career, I’m very mercenary; there’s little work that I won’t at least ATTEMPT to do. I’ve been surprised because I don’t personally consider my voice to be “sexy”. In fact, my speaking voice is rather high and boyish a lot of the time. However, I’ve gotten a few romances under my belt and I’ve apparently been somewhat successful at being “sexy” and reading hot scenes from some of the reviews I’ve been privy to.
As far as gearing up? Not sure how to describe it. It’s easier when I’m actively invested in the story. If the build-up to the love scenes is understandable, yet tense, and doesn’t require me to suspend all disbelief that this could possibly happen, then I just read it and let it flow. Voice actors are still just that: actors. It helps, too, if the scenes contain things that I personally find attractive and sexy. If the author can manage to turn me on with their writing, it comes out in the narration. As far as erotic fiction goes, I’m willing to read whatever strikes my fancy. I’m actually hoping to land at least one gay romance novel because I’ve never read one before and I’d like to see the differences in a love scene with two men or two women as opposed to a scene between a man and a woman. I think that would be a lovely way to stretch my abilities as a narrator, to make those scenes believable.
As I said before, I’m willing to read just about anything. That said, there are some things that make me terribly uncomfortable. Rape is the big one. I have a special loathing in my heart for rape and reading scenes of non-consensual sexual violation is especially tough for me. It forces me to find dark places in my head that I don’t particularly want to have there. Reading books where subjects like that are plot points is difficult, especially when you have to read a character who’s having a flashback to an abusive episode and you have to nail the drama of the scene without letting the horror of the situation get to you.
SF: What do you like most about narrating books?
SB: I love telling a story. I love bringing characters to life in the mind of the readers. My biggest voice acting inspiration is Mel Blanc, who famously did all the Looney Tunes characters. No one ever thinks about this, because they’re so fantastically done even after all these years, but each of those cartoons is JUST HIM!
All those distinct characters and mannerisms that we know and love is the product of the imagination and talent of one man. And he’s doing cartoons where he’s having characters do impersonations of each other. So he’s Bugs doing an impression of Daffy and Daffy doing Bugs, and you never ONCE question it. That’s the feeling I get when I narrate: that I’m helping the readers bring these characters to life in their heads and adding a new layer to the way they picture the story.
SF: Where can people find you on the web?
SB: I’m working on a website right now, but primarily you can find me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/letmetellyouastory . That’s my professional page and I try to post at least once a day, if not more. I can also be reached on Twitter @PlasmatixUltra and of course I can be found on ACX.com as well as at your favorite audiobook retailers! Go visit, grab a book, leave a review!
Thanks to the great Steven Barnett for popping over to the Girlfriends Book Club today.
Sylvie Fox is the author of In Plain Sight, Qualified Immunity and The Good Enough Husband. She’s also the author of Unlikely, Impasse, and Shaken from the first two books in the sexy, contemporary L.A. Nights series. Don’t Judge Me, and The Secret Widow from the Judgment series. When she’s not battling traffic on the freeways of Los Angeles, she’s eating her way through Budapest.
More about Steven Barnett:
Steven Barnett hails from Orlando, FL by way of rural Polk County. A “jack-of-all-trades”, he has worked as a producer and editor for Film/TV, as a writer, in advertising, and in eLearning. A long-time fan of voice acting, Steven counts among his influences such talents as Mel Blanc, Hank Azaria, Rob Paulsen, Maurice LaMarche, Troy Baker, Liam O’Brien, as well as many, many others. A devoted father of five children, Steven enjoys reading (natch!), gaming, making movies, metalwork, and role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons. Among his narrative credits, Steven has been the narrator of choice for authors like New York Times Bestseller L.L. Bartlett in her “Jeff Resnick Mysteries”, T. Ellery Hodges in his “The Never Hero” and upcoming “The Never Paradox”, Beth Yarnall’s “Pleasure at Home” series, and Jonathan Fore’s upcoming “Lexicon Chase and the Kingdom of Everhope” series. He can be found on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/letmetellyouastory and on Twitter @PlasmatixUltra.