Last night I popped the cork on the champagne (well, Diet Pepsi) after completing the Owl of the Sipan Lord audiobook for the author, Viv Drewa. Several of my readers have asked questions about the process, and I’ve answered some of them below. But first, check out a sample of the soon-to-be-released audiobook here:
Q: How did you get into narrating audiobooks?
Skyler: I’ve always been a huge fan of theatre and drama, and I was active in the drama club as a high schooler. Even though I’m not into stage acting now, I’ve always been a huge fan of radio drama.
My first experience with dramatic audio was in playing Linus in my brother’s college production of A Charlie Brown Christmas. It was such fun, and it hooked me from an early age. I loved listening to National Public Radio’s Earplay series, which ran from the 1970s to the 1990s. It could be thought of as a forerunner to audiobooks. Sure, audiobooks existed back then, but they weren’t as widely distributed as they are now, so radio was king.
In college, I landed a part-time job working as an announcer for the school’s NPR affiliate. I always dreamed of the possibility of doing radio drama. Now that audiobooks can be produced from home, I couldn’t wait to jump on board.
Q: What is your studio like?
Skyler: My studio is really more of a multi-purpose study than it is a dedicated studio. I have a huge collection of books, and my bookcases muffle sound in the room. The carpet is thick, and I’ve hung heavy curtains over the windows. My house is located away from street noise, so the only extraneous sounds I need to control for are household appliances and the odd plane flying over.
Q: What is your process when you are recording an audio book?
Skyler: I’m still in the early stages of developing this work, so I can’t say I have a formal process in place. I’m still learning as I go. For now, I typically read through the book first to get a feel for the story and characters. I take one chapter at a time. If I make a mistake, I repeat that line until I get it right. After the chapter is complete, I go back and edit out any mistakes. I work with the author my sharing progress and asking for feedback.
Q: Describe a typical recording session. How long do you read? Do you take a lot of breaks? What do you drink?
Skyler: My schedule is pretty packed because I have a day job. I usually record in the evenings and on weekends. What that means is that once I get started, I tend to plow through and keep working until I’m done. On weeknights, that means no breaks. On weekends, I try to make myself get up and walk around at least every couple of hours. I usually keep both hot and cold drinks nearby. I’ve found water is best for staying hydrated, and hot tea or coffee are great for soothing my throat.
Q: Owl of the Sipan Lord seems to have a lot of characters. How did you prepare for reading that?
Skyler: I’ve always enjoyed doing voices since I was a child, and I have quite an array of characters and accents that I’ve developed over the years. That said, OSL was a pretty ambitious for a first project. It has over 23 adult male and female characters. This means I had to create some new characters and learn to manipulate pitch, accents, and vocal behaviors to develop 23 distinct individuals that a listener could recognize. Fortunately, Viv Drewa was great about giving me some creative license to assign characteristics to her characters that made it work for me. Most of the story takes place at an archaeological dig site in Peru. This made it both possible and believable to pull in multiple accents. In a real-life situation like this, a dig team would likely include professionals from different nationalities.
Q: What did you like most about recording OSL?
Skyler: I enjoyed the challenge of creating all the characters. Don’t get me wrong, it was tough. There were days I left my recording session feeling exhausted, but it stretched me as a voice artist. It developed my voice range, my accent skills, and made me really think about how we express our personality as much through how we say things as what we say.
Q: What was the most challenging part of the process for you?
Skyler: Editing. Hands down. I learned a lot about things I need to improve in my process such as positioning and things I need to do differently with marking my manuscript. I also need to plan for future equipment upgrades. Having a better microphone, for example, is top on my list. The one I have is good, but my setup requires more post production work than I have time for. If you want to get the work done in a reasonable amount of time, it’s worth investing in the best equipment you can afford because it will save time.
Q: Which of the characters did you feel the strongest personal connection with?
Skyler: Definitely Zoe. How can you not? The book is from her perspective. She’s brave and compassionate and always wants to do the right thing.
Q: Who is your favorite character?
Skyler: That’s a tough one. I got so close to all of them, it would be hard to pick a favorite character. I do, however, have some favorite voices. My favorite male voice was Harry, and my favorite female was Marcie.
Q: What was the hardest voice for you?
Skyler: I don’t think any single character’s voice was more difficult than the others’ voices. The difficulty came in switching rapidly between the multiple voices in the scenes. Switching genders, nationalities, and personalities every few sentences requires stopping a lot and getting into character and understanding each character’s motivation in the scene. The voice has to match those factors and make sense to the listener. That’s the biggest challenge.
Q: Which part of the story was the most fun to narrate?
Skyler: My favorite exchange in the book was between Claire and Hans as they discussed her dreams, and he suggested she go back to Peru. The scene was fun because of their age and gender differences and their mentor/mentee relationship. I also liked that it was the cusp of her adventure.
Q: Why is this a good story to listen to?
Skyler: The story is fun because it’s a unique adventure with a paranormal element. The characters are interesting, and there’s a lot of human interaction that ultimately leads to resolving the mystery. Without giving away spoilers, I think the resolution is especially interesting. The paranormal elements are key to how the mystery is resolved.
Q: Who would enjoy this story?
Skyler: While most paranormal fans would enjoy the story, I think it would appeal more to women because of the romance elements. There are some adult themes later in the story that make it inappropriate for the YA set. It’s not explicit, but the themes are mature.