Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Ten Questions with Two Audiobook Narrators

One of the most fascinating parts for me as an author has been the non-printed word ramifications of my novels — the music, the art, the fans sending me plays they've done of Shiver (true story). Audiobooks fall squarely in that category in my mind. Scholastic Audio does all of my audiobooks at this point, and starting with LINGER, they began to use my music in the audiobooks and ask me for input on the voice actors. By FOREVER, when they needed another voice actor to read Shelby's prologue, they asked if I wanted to be that voice.

Cool, yes?

I will answer for you. YES. Those of you who have listened to the audiobooks to this point know that Cole's voice is gritty and wonderful, Sam really sings the songs, Grace becomes wryly funny, and Isabel becomes the most sarcastic person alive. A few months ago, I was lucky enough to score interviews with two of the voice narrators, and here they are.


MAGGIE: So the first thing I noticed when listening to the audio book was how well you really brought the somewhat tumultuous character of Cole to life. Talk to me about traditional acting versus voice acting. Do you have to get into character when you narrate in the same way you would with traditional acting? Do you have rituals, like standing on tables, speaking in tongues, or break dancing? Did you ever consider other “personas” for Cole?

DAN: The great thing about doing audiobooks is being able to play a larger spectrum of characters you normally wouldn't be right for. When I go in for TV/Film and Theater, I fit into a much smaller world. When my agent sends me breakdowns for roles it's a pretty sure thing I will find white, preppy, all American, fresh faced, quirky in there somewhere. Cole is the guy I would love to read for, but I'm the farthest thing from him. People give me their babies on the street, I'm not exactly a rough around the edges type, like Cole. I don't have any rituals except for making sure I warm up my voice beforehand. Reading a book in that lower register for so long can be rough, I go through a pitcher of water an hour. Going back to Cole and his persona, I knew exactly how I wanted him to sound when I read the description and a bit of the text.

MAGGIE: As I googled you in an attempt to ask intelligent questions, I noticed that there are only two other Dan Bittners of note. One who repairs appliances in Ohio, and one with a trucking company in New Jersey. Do you repair appliances or haul things in your spare time? And if not, what do you do when you’re not being Cole?

DAN: When I was growing up there used to be a Bittner that was a plumber in my hometown. It seems all the other Bittners out there are tradesmen. What a disappointment I must be for them. If I'm not acting, I'm usually just watching TV or playing video games (I'm starting to think this interview was a bad idea, I'm just going to crush the mental image of who people thought I was). I love food too, I live in Brooklyn with some of the best food around. Meeting friends for dinner over drinks would be ideal for me.

MAGGIE: So I headed into the studio to record my two pages of narration for FOREVER, and it took me about a half hour (fifteen minutes of that were because I apparently cannot pronounce ‘incisor.’). That’s longer than the full-length version of In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida by Iron Butterfly, which is saying something. How long did it take you to record LINGER and FOREVER?

DAN: It's so hard, right?!? I neeeeever would have thought I would be recording audio books. I can hardly read! I've gotten a lot better, but it's still a marathon of a process. I can relate to your "incisor" problem, sometimes these words come out that you have said a million times, but for some reason they are like a foreign language. I recently had to say "crimson" for another book and I could not for the life of me pronounce it without an "m" on the end. It took at least 12 times to get it right. The trick is getting in that zone of storytelling and not thinking about how you are sounding, or if you are messing up. As soon as you start commenting on what you are doing, you're done for. It usually takes about twice the time of the finished product. So if you listen to Linger and it's 5 hours, it takes about 10 hours to record.

MAGGIE: I think it’s safe to share your fan nick-name with you: in the trenches, your voice is referred to as “Sex-on-a-stick.” This may or may not have begun with me but it certainly hasn’t ended with me. Comment. Show your work.

DAN: I've deleted my current resume and all I have on there is your quote, "Dan Bittner is sex-on-a-stick". I can see the t-shirt now...
MAGGIE: What’s next for Dan “Sex-on-a-Stick” Bittner?

DAN: I was very happy to come back to read Forever. Besides reading other audiobooks, I did a small stint on the upcoming Men in Black movie as well as an indie film called Grand Street. Next up is an episode of Bored to Death, a show that is a personal favorite of mine that I am very excited to be a part of. It will be the second episode of the upcoming season. Other than that, I'm just waiting for it to stop being cold so I can go outside.

Listen to Dan being Cole in FOREVER: 
Dan Bittner Sample by historyschild


MAGGIE: First of all, I would like to apologize for forcing you to sing Sam’s song on the audiobooks of Linger and Forever. If it makes you feel any better, Scholastic Audio made me sing them very early in the morning, before caffeine, and I do not sing. Was this a first for you?

PIERCE: When I heard you sing, "Man, this is high for eight in the morning," I couldn't stop cracking up. It's the first time that I have ever sung for an audiobook, but I have been singing ever since I was a baby angel in a Christmas show at the Dallas Children's Theater. After that, it was straight to Broadway, but I stopped at Go first to collect $200.00.

MAGGIE: When I go into the studio for my music, it takes approximately four hours to record a two minute track. By my admittedly poor math reckoning (I was a history major. Dead white men, not math, were the priority), that’s 2 minutes for every finished second of music. I think the Linger audiobook is around 11 hours. Please tell me you weren’t in the studio being Sam for 1,320 hours. (This math may be wrong. I will now take any questions you have on dead kings in the Anglo-Saxon period.)

: And I was an International Relations major, so I'm no help either. On Forever and Linger, I spent approximately 2 to 3 days in the studio working on the book. If I make a mistake, I simply started the sentences over, while the studio is still recording. After I finish reading, the editor and director listen back through the recording and take out all of the mistakes. Now to the dead kings: Was Alfred the Great really that great, or what he more Alfred the Pretty Good?

MAGGIE: Actually, he was Alfred the Pretty Damn Spiffy. How do you prepare for your studio work? Do you read the entire work first? Does it matter if you hate it? (If you hate my books, I don’t want to know.)

PIERCE: I read through the entire book to get a feel for the character and story. Then I read back through Sam's chapters and made notes. One of the things that I love about your writing is that it is highly poetic and descriptive -- with that comes beautifully packed, lengthy sentences. As a reader, I have to be cognisant of where I need to take a breath so that I can make it to period without running out of air.

MAGGIE: I did attempt to google you to ask intelligent questions, but all I came up with was your date of birth. I see that you are a young punk with roughly one million voice and traditional acting credits to your name (including the noble “Slimer #2” on Nickelodeon, back in the day). When did you first get into voice talent stuff, and how’s it different from traditional acting?

PIERCE: Slimer #2 was the role of a lifetime and I think I got snubbed by the Daytime Emmys. I got into doing voiceovers when I was an even younger punk. I started doing voiceover commericals for radio and TV and then started to do some cartoon voices for Disney, the Cartoon Network, and more audiobooks for Scholastic (pick up a copy of one of Froggy's adventures, if you don't already have one). One of the challenges with voiceovers is that your voice is all you have. Whereas, with traditional acting, you can communicate the character to the audience visually and auditorily.

MAGGIE: When you are not being Sam or Slimer #2, how do you spend your time?

 I'm passionate about theater and film production and I am always on the look for new works to produce. I also love playing squash (the sport, not the vegetable). I live in New York City and like to check out all of the new events and restaurants that are constantly popping up. One of my favorite places in the city is the Natural History Museum and the Planetarium. Oh, and Go Yankees!

Listen to Pierce being Sam in FOREVER: 
Pierce Craven Sample by MaggieStiefvater

Huge thanks to both of these narrators for going under the knife for the blog.

And of course you can find the audiobook online from major retailers, order it signed from my local indie, or download it from Audible.
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