Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Narrator Interview + Giveaway!

Today I have three awesome audiobook narrators who've been let out of the basement agreed to join me for an interview about, well, being audiobook narrators.

Before I get to them, I'm giving away six Audible codes - details at the end of the post!  And please feel free to comment with questions/comments for the narrators even if you aren't entering the giveaway!

With that out of the way, let the interview begin. Joining me on the blog are Greg Tremblay, Nick J. Russo, and Michael Ferraiuolo (their websites/contact info/bios are after the interview).



Born in one far-flung corner of the US, near Portland (no, not that one, the other Portland. Maine) Greg Tremblay brings a passion for storytelling to every aspect of his life. Trained in stage and vocal performance, Greg is the award-winning narrator of over 200 audiobooks in diverse genres, from narrative nonfiction to erotic romance.





Nick is an award winning narrator with a fan following for his work in fiction, specifically in the romance genre. His performances in two of Amy Lane's books, Beneath the Stain and Christmas Kitsch, made him the recipient of Sinfully M/M Book Review's Narrator of the Year - 2015. When he's not in the booth, Nick enjoys spending time with his wife, Jessica, and kids, (aka their beagle Frank and cat Stella), drumming around town, exploring rural back roads with his wife on their motorcycle, or being enthralled in a tabletop role playing game with his friends.

 


Michael Ferraiuolo is a graduate of Berklee College of Music and the owner of Iron Works Studios in New York City. As a voice artist and composer, Michael has appeared both nationally and internationally in film, radio, and over 150 audiobooks.







And now.... the interview!


1. First things first… What is your name? What is your quest? What is your favorite color?

Greg: Sir Lancelot of Camelot!  (Greg Tremblay and Greg Boudreaux) 

I seek the Holy Grail!  (I narrate all sort of books, largely romance, scifi, YA, and narrative nonfiction) 

Blue!  (actually it IS blue) [L.A. I swear I hadn't read that yet when I decided to make Greg's answers blue.]

Nick: Hello! My name is Nick J. Russo and I’m an audiobook narrator, producer, and sound engineer. I primarily narrate romance, but I’ve done almost every genre imaginable at this point. My quest is to tantalize, titillate, and engage my listeners with my performances. And my favorite color is red. NO, BLUE! AHHHHHH!!! But seriously, it’s blue. 

Michael: My name is Michael Ferraiuolo and I narrate everything from biographies to romance novels. I can’t say I truly have a favorite color but my home has lots of gray in it…make of that what you will.

2. Are there  parts of audiobook production that make you think “wow, I can’t believe I get paid to do this”? What about parts that remind you it really is a job?

Greg: The simple fact that I get to tell stories for a living is absolutely mind blowing to me. I love that I get to go to work each day and read a book to people. 

When I get the corrections back from the proofers, and when I am going over taxes… those are times that remind me it’s a job, and I am imperfect.  😊

Nick: Most of my job I feel that way - it is an absolute pleasure to bring works of fiction to life with tone, emotion, and pacing. Even the parts that sometimes feel tedious, (mostly the backend work of editing, cleaning out loud “sss” sounds, pops, tongue and lip smacks, etc), are more engaging than any job I’ve had before this. And obviously, going to “work” (the next room over from my bedroom) often times in my pajamas is just, the best. 

Michael: During every project there is at least one moment where I have to narrate a particularly funny and/or filthy line and I’ll have to stop and remind myself that there is indeed a paycheck involved in the process. Deadlines are always a sobering reminder that work is work. 

3. If you had to pick one thing (besides my books) to narrate over and over forever (a specific genre, trope, style, etc), what would it be and why?

Greg: I… wow.  I’m going to be honest, that sounds like hell to me. My absolute favorite genre is “one I’ve not done recently.”  When I’ve been doing a lot of romance, I start wishing someone would blow something up in a spaceship. Then when I’ve done a bunch of those, I start thinking about a quirky nonfic… and then I start wishing someone would kiss… etc.

Nick: Tough question! I think part of the fun of being a narrator is getting to dive into a new project every week - new characters, new setting, new struggles, new everything! I go from steampunk Batman one week to sailors struggling with PTSD the next, followed up by Omega werewolves sorting out the struggles of pregnancy! To pin down a particular thing to narrate over and over again, besides broadly speaking romance, would be a bit of a challenge for me. So I’ll just say Lori’s books and be done with it. Next question! :P  

Michael: I’m a complete sucker for Fantasy. I’d be happy telling stories about dragons and wizards for the rest of my days. 

4. Are there any accents, voices, etc., you wish you had more opportunities to narrate? Or something you’ve never had the opportunity to narrate, but would like to? Any accents/voices that are particularly difficult to perform or taxing on your voice?

Greg: I get a lot of opportunities for voices, which is great… I’d like to have a chance to develop a quirky animation character voice and work in it for a bit.  I think that would really be a blast.

I think the hardest accent work I do is when I wind up doing two similar but distinct accents in a given book.  Plantations South and Texan, Irish and Scottish, Australian and South African… things that have a lot of markers that are similar, but are distinct.  I’ve run into moments where I’m mid narration and open my mouth and the wrong accent comes out and then I have to stop and mentally reset.

Nick:  It’s always a pleasure to voice something fun or over the top - some of my favorites are southern drawls, evil villains, and the flamboyant. For some reason every single word narrated in those types of voices are like the equivalent of biting into a really juicy apple - so delicious!

Certainly when a voice calls for gruffness or a thick accent, it can become taxing after a couple hours and requires more breaks. I can only be a big burly German man for so long!

I have voiced so many different characters of just about every imaginable background, ethnicity, and personality, that it’s hard to think of one I’ve missed out on in this moment. Perhaps more aliens in sci-fi? The ones I’ve voiced have been a lot of fun because I intentionally parced them to sound “off”.

Michael: I would love to narrate more “High Fantasy” stories. That would be fun to dig into. I would also love to work with a “Cosmic Horror” story…something Lovecraftian. As for accents… Welsh is always right on the tip of my tongue but never quite right.

5. How do you decide voices/accents for secondary characters who aren’t given much description? How do you keep them consistent, especially those who disappear for hundreds of pages or who pop up sporadically throughout a larger series?

Greg: If there are ANY tells in the text, I will go with that… but if I’m truly on my own, it will often be about what calls to me.  Frequently I will choose to put some subtle social activism in it. Doctor’s gender not specified?  Probably will end up female. Hunky male soldier’s ethnicity not noted?  Probably going to end up sounding Asian, one of those groups that “aren’t masculine” in a society view.  I tend to decide during prep, or at least have a sense where I’m going with it. 

To maintain during a book isn’t bad, because I record them pretty fast.  If it’s going to be a series, I will keep a folder of voice samples so I can come back to that. If I didn’t know, or missed a character, I will go back to my past productions to find the character.


Nick: It depends on how often they appear, primarily. The more scenes they appear in, the more consideration I’ll give their voices. For example, I won’t spend much time on ‘random waiter who has a single line of dialogue never to be heard from again’, but a family member related to one of the protagonists who shows up a handful of times will get a similar treatment as the protagonist themselves. As far as consistency goes, with any character that appears in more than one scene, we’ll record a single line of dialogue in their voice prior to production to refer back to at any time. This ensures consistency throughout, especially with projects within a series. 

Michael: Incidental characters are always fun because if I know they only appear once I can either make them really stand out with a character voice or completely fade into the background if I’m running short of unique sounds. It also depends on their dialogue and what the scene calls for. I keep a file full of short mp3s of each character’s voice to call back to if it’s been a few dozen chapters since they’ve appeared.

6. Tell us about a character who was exceptionally challenging for you to narrate, and one you really enjoyed narrating. (They can be the same character)

Greg: In Neal Shusterman’s ‘Arc of a Scythe’ series, one of the characters is the AI that governs all the world, the Thunderhead. I knew I wanted to voice it without any audible breaths if at all possible. That was easy for a sentence here or there, but in book 2 it had a couple of short chapters that were just it. That took a lot of work.  Sticking by your decisions sometimes makes you wish you’d made different ones.  😉


… I Wonder how many characters I’ve voiced now? I wouldn’t even know how to count.

As much as I whine about it being hard on the throat, I voiced a reptiloid alien Droxian for a SciFi series by Nick Webb, and he has this delightful larger than life voice that I really enjoy playing with.  Hard on the throat tho.

Nick: How do I channel a vampire who’s experiencing being high for the first time? That one was tough but widely enjoyable at the same time, because I had to find the line between pacing the cadence of my lines at a comfortable speed and tone for the listener, while at the same time pushing it as far as I could to sounding stoned off my ass. [L.A.: for the record, y'all, he nailed it.]

Michael: It’s always a particularly challenging time finding the voices for fantastical creatures like dragons, demons, ghosts, etc. Capturing the weight and presence of those kinds of characters is both a challenge and a pleasure. You strive not to go over the top but you’re allowed a certain amount of leeway. It’s difficult to choose one in particular but I can say villains are always my favorite…they get the best lines. 

7. How emotional do you get during, well, emotional scenes? Do you ever start laughing during a humorous scene and have to collect yourself before you continue?

Greg: I cry regularly on a given week… it’s honestly one of the things I love about the job. I love being moved that much by what I do.


Oddly enough, the funny scenes don’t get to me, and I think it’s because of the acting training delivering funny bits. Generally in a lot of funny moments, one or more characters don’t perceive it as funny… so it’s easy to connect with that character’s emotions and not necessarily FEEL it.  Likewise I don’t get embarrassed during sex scenes, because the characters are completely invested in that moment.

Nick: All the time! Generally speaking, whatever emotions the characters I’ve narrating are feeling in the moment, I’m doing my best to channel as well. If a character is upset and tearing up, it’s safe to assume I’m doing the same when delivering the dialogue. If a character is particularly happy and expressing their joy, I’m right there with them with a smile on my face.

There definitely have been moments when a scene gets too silly or too heavy where I’ll have to take a moment to collect myself. Because the normal non-character narration can’t be close to tears. I’m not crying you’re crying.  

Michael: I have on many occasions had to edit out my actual sniffles from tearing up during an emotional scene. As for laughter…I’ve had to collect myself more from laughing at my own mispronunciations and mixups. I’ve been cobbling together a blooper reel for a while now… maybe I’ll release it one of these days. [L.A.: OMG yes please do.]

8. What kind of training, schooling, professional experience, soul-selling, etc., helped you learn to narrate? At the time, did you think it would be useful for narrating audiobooks, or was that more of a happy accident?

Greg: I studied acting (and compsci) in college, and in the intervening years before becoming a narrator I’ve done a crapload of weird stuff. Like teach SCUBA diving, and be a paramedic, and shoe horses and work on tour boats and raise sheep.  I think all of it helps, tho it doesn’t seem obvious at the time that it would. I definitely look back on skills that I picked up during lots of my various wanders and go “ohhh, that’s seriously useful”  … but as to how I got here, it was all luck and misadventure.

Nick: I’ve always been interested in the performing arts growing up. While I spent more time in the music wing than the theater wing in school, I always jumped at the chance whenever I could to be a part of any given production. In more recent years, I’m very fond of tabletop RPG’s, where one creates a character and spends a few hours a week embodying someone else. Or as the game master of said RPG’s, I get the chance to play multiple characters in any given session and give them different voices, tone, accents, etc. Never did I imagine that those social occasions would provide experience for voicing the characters I narrate now, so it’d be apt to call it a “happy accident”. 

Michael: I never would have thought at the time that my training as a professional musician would have prepared me to narrate audiobooks but there were so many skills that carried over naturally. I would say that my career narrating audiobooks has been the happiest “accident” of my life.


9. How did you get started narrating LGBT romance? What was the most surprising thing about the genre?

Greg: One of my first books was “Dirty Kiss” by Rhys Ford, which I discovered was classified as an LGBT romance, but when reading it I went ‘… this… this is a PI Noir mystery… I mean, there’s some romance in it, and some sex… but…’  

Which is when I discovered 2 things I found surprising about the genre.  One, and I know this is common for people who stumble into the genre… I was surprised that so much of the male/male fiction was written by and read by heterosexual women.  Two, I was surprised that the genre was essentially a publishing-created dumping ground for any story that even tangentially involved two people in any form of non-heteronormative relationship.

For the record, that is SUCH bullshit. 
“So your book is about the disinherited daughter of a space-shipping magnate, who finds herself exiled to the far ends of the galaxy, turns pirate, and then discovers that a race of creatures from another nearby dimension are attempting to set the races of the galaxy against each other, stops an interstellar war, and in the process saves the princess of one of the core planets whom she ultimately marries?

…. Oh, that’s lesbian romance.”
????  dafug?

Nick: LGBT romance was where I got started in narration. My first several titles were in that genre, and while I do narrate other genres, MM romance is my primary focus. I think the most surprising thing about it that I’ve discovered since starting is how much of a wide variety there is to it - the romance genre is often times paired with suspense, action, adventure, sci-fi, comedy, thrillers, and it’s fantastic! 

Michael: I was approached by a publisher to narrate an LGBT romance. I didn’t know much about the genre at the time, but my feeling was that “love is love and that’s good enough for me”. I can’t say that I was particularly surprised by the genre. In my opinion, there are more similarities than  differences between an LGBT romance story and a heterosexual romance story. The troubles two people go through while trying to express their love and navigate their relationship are largely universal…and to me, that’s a very encouraging thought.

10. Do people in your social or professional circles know what you narrate? How do they react, and how do you respond to negative reactions if you get them?

Greg: Haha, yes.  I’m pretty frank about what I do, and while there is the occasional obnoxious response (like my Aunt greeting me once with ‘hey, it’s the porn reader!’) or some sidling away by the occasional ultra-religious colleague… it’s been fine. I try to ignore the subtle negative reactions… if I’m ever faced with an aggressive one, I hope I will be able to be mature and still defend the important legitimate place for all kinds of fiction, especially by and about people who deserve to have the same freedom to exist as anyone else.

Nick: All my family and friends know what I narrate and everyone is comfortable with it, albeit some occasional teasing. The negative reactions I’ve heard are people who call what I narrate “porn” or “smut”. It kind of befuddles me since I rarely hear M/F romance referred to in the same way, but such is life I guess. My reaction to it is typically to treat it as naivete and to educate, as I don’t think the people in my life who refer to it as such mean any harm from it.

But more often than not, the reaction is overwhelmingly positive. Especially from my mom. XD 

Michael: Most people who know me well know that I narrate romance novels as well as non-romance novels. I have never personally experienced a negative reaction from anyone.


11. What do you like to do when you’re not chained in my basement---err, not narrating?

Greg: I have a number of hobbies, tho family does take a chunk of my time. I like cooking, photography, dancing and I’m intermittently involved in the SCA (which is a creative historical re-creation and recreation group) 

I’m also an avid sailor, and am eagerly awaiting the last of the snow to melt so I can get my boat “Spirit” back in the water.


Nick: I do many things when I see the light outside Lori’s basement. I love to check out new places with my wife, (we, uh, love food and food accessories). I’m a big gamer, whether it’s tabletop, console, or board games. I’m a sucker for cinema, whether it’s a tentpole summer blockbuster or an indie character study drama. My wife and I are also looking forward to spending a lot of time traveling in the not too distant future. We loved traveling to the west coast for our elopement and look forward to seeing more!

Michael: Believe it or not, I read in my spare time. The genres I don’t get to narrate often, I indulge in reading for pleasure. Aside from that I compose music for various mediums…including audiobooks! 

12. Tell us about the kind of communication you have (and prefer) with your authors. Do most of your audiobooks happen because of auditions, or because authors/publishers approach you directly? Do you prefer when authors err on the side of giving you too many pre-production notes or too few? 

Greg: I will preface this by saying that I cannot assure all authors that all narrators will react the same way that I do.  Just as Authors can be an easily intimidated lot, narrators (being actors) can be a neurotic lot.

I encourage authors to ask questions at any time, and always to feel free to approach me. I will be completely transparent about whether I’ve got time to tackle a project, and if I feel that it’s a good fit for me. Also, I know my prices aren’t in everyone’s budget, so I’ll be super clear about that as well.

I like to know things about your book, and you are always welcome to give me any information you have… tho some of it may not be that useful to me, and I may just skim past that bit. (A lot of times it’s useful for authors to know things like a character’s childhood pet, favorite food, eye color… but they don’t do a huge amount for me in creating a voice generally speaking.  Feel free to share, I may just not use that bit)  I ESPECIALLY like notes about characters if you know they are going somewhere.  You introduced that Cop for a paragraph in chapter 23, and we only know her name is Maria… but she’s going to be the main character of book 3, and her last name is O’Malley, and she’s from a Boston Irish family, and has a touch of a Brogue? It’s REALLY good to know that before I arbitrarily make her sound Hispanic.

We need to have the communications that are required so that we both feel trust that the project is going to be handled professionally. Authors need to know that the narrator is budgeting time, will deliver on a deadline (or communicate promptly if anything shifts), will take the work seriously and respect the effort involved, and will behave professionally during, and after the production as well. Narrators need to know that the author will be available for communication and questions, will accept the hand-over of artistic control that comes with letting someone read your work, will treat the narrator as a partner in the process, and will be able to meet financial obligations.

Two things I will say as general advice for authors:

1)         Be sure that the editing you are paying for includes good copyediting.  I think the primary weakness I see in the indie and micropub world is that the editing process has not done the final pass and checked basic copyediting. Grammar errors, missing words, consistency issues, and misuse of words both make your work read as less professional, and make it harder to narrate because those moments break the flow. We have to stop and decide how to handle that mistake.

2)         Trust that you’ve written what you want read. Especially new authors to audio are concerned that they need to line-direct the process and explain to the narrator what they think the character should sound like. It probably WON’T sound just like it did in your head, and that is not only ok, it’s a good thing. You’ve written the stage direction into your book, you’ve written the characters. If you’ve also given us notes on characters, so much the better. Just as readers will hear it their own way, so narrators will say it theirs. It’s a collaboration, and it’s a beautiful thing.

I am generally approached for work these days, sometimes asked to audition out of a short list pool of people.


Nick: I prefer as much communication as possible! In the end, I’m just bringing your work to life, and I want it to be as close to your vision as possible. The more notes you have, the more I can mold my performance around them. Though, if you are a hands off type of person, that completely works too. Ultimately, whatever will make you the most satisfied with the product I deliver!  

Michael: I love working directly with authors. Early in my career, I was hired based solely on my auditions. After a while, publishers and authors began to approach me directly…which I am always grateful for! Pre-production notes from authors on specific accents and character background are always the most appreciated. I always endeavor to truly collaborate with authors so that I can bring their stories to life the way they’ve always envisioned…and maybe give them a surprise or two.

[L.A.:  I have worked directly with all three narrators on multiple projects and have met them all in person, and can 100% vouch for how approachable and easy to work with they are. If you are interested in working with any of them, I highly recommend getting in touch, which brings us to...]

13. If an author wants to contact you about narrating a book, what is the best way to reach you? 

Greg: Surest fire way to reach me is by email to greg (at) gtremblayvoice.com, tho you are always welcome to hit my website at gregtremblay.com or catch me on facebook or twitter @gtremblayvoice.

Nick:  Feel free to contact me on any social media platform [Dark Night Sound on Facebook and Twitter], or gmail at nickjrussovoice (at) gmail (dot) com, but you’ll have to fight L.A Witt to help me escape her basement first. [L.A.: Hey. Everyone loves a good boss fight.]

Michael: You’ll always get a response by emailing me at michael (at) ironworkstudios (dot) com [Website]

Thanks for joining us, guys! Back to the basement!


Giveaway Details:
  1. Three commenters will each win Audible codes for two (2) of my audiobooks.
  2. To enter, leave a comment with the title of your choice (any two audiobooks off my backlist) and a good email address (to avoid spam, I recommend formatting your email like "gallagherwitt at gmail dot com", as I've done with the narrators' emails above, but this isn't required).
  3. If you're already commenting on the interview, that's fine - just include your preferred title and email address, and you're good to go.
  4. Entries close at midnight Eastern Time on March 18th, and three winners will be randomly selected on March 19th. 
  5. Prizes will be issued via Audible download codes. I do have codes that are valid in the UK, so just make sure you let me know you need one.