Last week, I was in NY for BEA 2014. One of my favorite parts of BEA is the annual audiobook narrator-blogger lunch. Last year was my first one, and I was very excited to go again this year. It’s an amazing opportunity to sit down with a bunch of very talented narrators and talk to them about the process of bringing a book to life via audio. I was in heaven.
Therese Plummer (r) and me (l) at the narrator/blogger lunch at BEA 2014
I met a number of new narrators this year and also got to catch up with some friends who I met last year. At one point, I told Tavia Gilbert (who will be interviewed on EDIWTB later this month) that I had written a Top 10 Best Audiobooks post last June for June is Audiobook Month (JIAM). I read her the list of audiobooks, and she told me that one of the narrators – Therese Plummer, who narrated Faith by Jennifer Haigh – was sitting down at the other end of the table. I totally geeked out and had to go down to meet Therese in person. We hit it off instantly and bonded over our love of Jennifer Haigh. A week later, we’re connected on social media and she has answered a Q&A on EDIWTB.
So here is the Q&A with Therese, who is a FANTASTIC narrator. You can really get a sense of why she loves what she does, and why she’s so good at it. There is a lot of dedication there to making an emotional connection with the material and being faithful to the author’s story. I will definitely be seeking out more of Therese’s work.
Q: How did you get into audiobook narration?
A; I took a class with Robin Miles about 8-9 years ago and auditioned for something with BBC at what was then Talking Books in midtown Manhattan. Mike Charzuk, Executive Producer at Audible, Inc., heard my audition and called me at my day job. I was working as an assistant in a financial firm to pay my bills while auditioning and trying to make it as an actress. Mike mentioned hearing my audition and wanted to know if I was willing to come in and audition for him as a narrator? I had no idea who Audible was or what he was asking me but I said yes of course I will come and audition. I read and landed two contracts with Audible. I took a week’s vacation from my day job and that week I worked every day recording my first Audiobook, Susan Mallery’s “Delicious.” At night I was rehearsing for an off-off Broadway show. I was in heaven and knew this what was I was supposed to be doing. Working as an actress! The day I returned to my day job my boss called me into his office and said they had to let me go as there was not enough work to justify my position. 5pm that same day Mike called me and asked if I was available to start narrating earlier as his other narrator could not finish her contract due to pregnancy. I said, “Yes that should work out just fine, thank you so much!” Since then I have been so blessed to work for so many amazing publishers around NYC.
Q: How do you prepare for a new narration role? Do you read the whole book through to get a sense of the characters and story?
I absolutely do. I have to. I read the entire story and I learn about my characters and arcs and tones and moods and flow of the story. I go back and underline in different colors my characters so my brain registers once I am in the booth whose voice is coming up. I record off of an iPad these days and I use a program called iAnnotate that is a godsend in prepping my stories. The author tells me everything I need to know. I do not have to reinvent anything. My job is to honor the text and bring his/her words to life through my acting. It is such a gift to do this.
Q: What is your favorite book that you’ve recorded? Any books on your dream list?
A: My favorite book I recorded to date was Faith by Jennifer Haigh. I am not sure if it was because I grew up Irish Catholic and found the entire story so completely fascinating but I was able to connect to Jennifer’s characters in such an intimate way that I felt like I was in the living room telling this story to my sisters. It felt like family. She is a superb storyteller and my job felt so easy as she gave me such descriptive and palpable characters that to bring them to life was a joy for me. I told my producer, Paula Parker, the last day of recording that I didn’t want it to end. It is my Mom and Dad’s favorite audiobook to date. That makes me happy!
I’ve always wanted to record To Kill a Mockingbird or One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.
Q. Where do you do your recording?
A: When I am working for Audible I travel to Newark, NJ to record in their booths. I record in NYC for Recorded Books, Harper, Penguin and Hachette.
Q: What is your favorite genre for narrating?
I actually LOVE YA books! Julie Kagawa’s vampire series that I have been so lucky to narrate rocks my world with every book. I don’t know if it’s because I am emotionally 16 on a good day or what but I love those characters and stories so much! I also love Literary Fiction. Besides Faith my other favorites have been Return To Me by Justina Chen, Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Want Not by Jonathan Miles and The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson. And I will admit I adore recording Romance. I have been working on a series for Robyn Carr for the last five years. I was lucky enough to do her Virgin River and Thunder Point series and I literally built this town in Northern California with each book adding more and more characters until I literally felt like they were my family.
Q: How much interaction, if any, do you have with the author while you’re recording?
I have adopted Robyn Carr as a second Mom and she has accepted. She and I were able to do an event together at the Mid-Winter Library Conference in Seattle for Recorded Books and it was amazing. I could sit and talk with her for days. She is literally the sweetest, nicest and funniest woman I have ever met. Recording Justina Chen’s Return To Me was another incredible experience for me. She was able to call us with input during the recording and was just so excitedI was narrating all I wanted to do when the book was over was give her a hug. The story was incredible. I realized she was in Seattle and I reached out to her the weekend I attended the conference with Robyn Carr asking her if she wanted to get tea. She said I am going to throw my book release party the weekend you are in town and would you be my guest of honor and read a section of the book? Well after getting off the floor I shrieked ”Yes of course!”. The book party was hosted in a bookstore and was packed with all of the people she had based the characters in her book off of. As I realized this I became very emotional. I said to her and the audience when I was finished reading, “Thank you for allowing me such an intimate seat on your life story. I realize at this moment why what we do as writers and narrators is so powerful.” That day shifted something in me about the work I do on such a fundamental level. What a gift it is to tell people’s stories and be a part of their healing journeys. I felt connected to the human race in such a deep way.
I will reach out to authors especially when working on their book has changed me in some way. I sent Jennifer Haigh and Jonathan Miles emails thanking them for choosing me to record their books and shared with them what the experience was like for me. They were both very grateful and gracious.
Q: What do you like to read in your spare time?
Ha! The joke is that I have started seven different books five years ago and can’t finish any of them because of needing to prep my Audio books. But on my nightstand right now is Her by Christa Parravani. I read a few pages before bed each night.
Q: Anything else you would like my readers to know about audiobooks?
I always heard my mom talk about audiobooks and how amazing they were and I was like yeah yeah just read the book! Little did I know how transformative a story can become with the right voice narrating it. I like to think I am able to bring some joy to someone listening to my narration. That service is why I do what I do but also because there are so many great stories to be told. It is the oldest form of entertainment and I am blessed and lucky to do it almost every day.