June is Audiobook Month. We will have several narrator interviews, along with other audiobook posts and of course audiobook reviews. Lastly, don’t forget to check out our giveaway.
Meet Karen White
Karen White has been narrating audio books since 1999, with more than 250 to her credit and is a proud member of SAG-AFTRA. Honored to be included in AudioFile Magazine’s Best Voices for 2010, 2011 and 2015 as well as Speaking of Audio’s Best Romance Audio 2012, 2013 and 2014, she’s also a two-time Audie Finalist and has earned multiple Audiofile Earphones Awards and Library Journal starred reviews. She currently lives with her family in coastal NC.
An Interview with Karen White
1. How did you get involved in recording audiobooks?
Back in 1997, a friend from my MFA acting program met a woman in Seattle who recorded audiobooks. My friend contacted me saying, “This sounds like something you would be good at.” That person happened to be none other than the incredibly talented and revered narrator Kate Fleming (known to most listeners as Anna Fields). Kate generously spent a good hour on the phone with me talking about the industry. She suggested that I get a copy of AudioFile Magazine’s production guide and research audiobook publishers in the Los Angeles area, where I lived at the time. That led me to Dan Musselman at Dove Audio in Beverly Hills, which primarily published abridged audio read by celebrities. Despite my complete lack of experience, Dan hired me to do some editing, and later hired me to work for him at the new Books-on-Tape recording studio he’d been hired to build and open. There I continued to edit, helped with casting and started directing and narrating. After I started having kids, I eventually dropped the editing (which honestly, I was never terribly good at) but continued directing, narrating and also proofing as a freelancer. Since I built a home studio (and my kids have grown up a bit), I’ve been able to record pretty much full-time.
2. Is there something you do to prepare for recording a new book? Do you have to prepare differently if it is a new series and/or author to you?
Unless the manuscript is not available for some reason, I read every book all the way through well before beginning to record, highlighting character details and words I don’t know as I go. I also highlight descriptive dialogue tags that come after the dialogue so I don’t miss them. “When I don’t do this, I often make a mistake and have to do it over,” she said sheepishly. Then I go back through the book again, skipping from highlight to highlight, typing up all the descriptions and the word list. Then I organize the character descriptions a little bit, and research the pronunciations. If I can talk or email with the author, that can be helpful. For instance, Julie James often includes Chicago restaurants and she’s always happy to tell me how to pronounce their names if it’s not obvious. She likes to share her character inspirations – sometimes visual, which I include in my post on The Thing About Love, sometimes musical. For instance, she’d been listening to a Philip Phillips song when she was writing the character Vaughan Roberts in It Happened One Wedding. And this goes to your second question. I do keep all my character notes, which is invaluable if the book is part of a series. Julie tends to bring characters back, so I have to be as specific as possible in order to differentiate among them. Especially when you have 4 – 5 guys talking in one scene! Jill Shalvis’ Cedar Ridge series gave me a difficult challenge because Jacob and Hudson Kincaid are twin brothers – so I wanted them to sound similar, but different enough that a listener wouldn’t be confused!
3. What do you think is the most important part of the recording?
Hmm. That is a tough one. I think that the most important thing is to be present, in the moment, when I’m recording. But that can only happen if I do a very thorough preparation of the book, as well as a good warmup. The warmup (as well as my yoga and meditation practices) helps me get in the right frame of mind. But if I’m not prepared, then I have to stop and start to look up pronunciations or make decisions about character voices, which also interrupts the flow and makes it difficult to be present.
4. Do you listen to audiobooks? If so, do you have favorite narrator?
I don’t listen as much as I’d like because I don’t have a commute and I have a crazy dog who doesn’t like other dogs (meaning that I can’t have earbuds in when I walk). But we often listen on family trips, and favorite narrators include Katy Kellgren, Kathleen McInerney, and Cherry Jones. I’m also a huge fan of John Lee, who is a brilliant storyteller.
5. What inspires the different voices you use when you tell the story? How do you decide which voice goes with which character?
When I’m making my character notes in the prep stage, I don’t just highlight references to a characters voice and accent (though of course that is important). I also note all physical descriptions and adjectives that seem to come up a lot that. Words that describe physicality or how a character moves (angular, curvy, fidgety, graceful, etc.) not only help me have a clearer visual picture to hold in my imagination, or feel in my body, they influence my choices about a characters speaking rhythm or placement. Someone who is angular, I might give a sharper tone. Someone who is curvy, I’ll give a rounder tone, etc.
6.What is the most useful tool you use as a narrator?
I didn’t start out doing this, but about seven years ago I started creating little character voice references: short snippets that I save and can listen to again and again. This helps keep smaller characters consistent over the course of the book and main characters consistent when they return in later books. I don’t know how anyone can keep them straight without making these!
7. Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?
Oh, an unexpected question! The first person that pops into my head is Sally Hemings. One of the more challenging books I’ve recorded was a history book called The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed. (Partly challenging because it is 32 hours long, and at the time my studio was not very sound-proof, so I had to stop often to wait for quiet, or go outside and throw tennis balls at the crows if they congregated overhead.) Last year we visited Monticello and got to see first hand the stark difference between Jefferson’s home and a typical slave’s residence. From what I learned about her in the book, I’d love to hear her side of the story, what her experience was, in her own words. I live in NC now, and here that history clearly continues to impact our community. It would be fascinating to get the perspective of someone who lived through slavery, especially since we have so few of those POVs recorded.
I would like to thank Karen for taking the time to share a little more about herself.
Enter our Audiobook Month Giveway!
Open to all over 13 years-old. Winner will be announced July 1, 2017