Simon Vance Interview about The Audie Awards

Simon Vance

Simon Vance is an audiobook narrator and actor, one of the most listenable voices in the industry. He is an Audible Hall of Fame member, and a winner of 14 Audie Awards and 67 Audiofile Magazine Earphones Awards. As an Audiofile “Golden Voice” and Booklist Magazine “Voice of Choice,” he has recorded titles in all genres for many publishers, reading authors from Alan Moore to Sherlock Holmes. From Lily King’s “Euphoria” to “Bring Up the Bodies” by Hilary Mantel. Stieg Larsson to Frank Herbert. He has done horror, too. Clive Barker, Brian Lumley, and Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.“ Add “Paul is Dead” by Alan Goldsher to the list (the Beatles as zombies.) The “Master and Commander” series by Patrick O’Brien. The Biography of Rod Stewart. An astonishing list of over 750 titles includes “Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell, one of my personal favorites (as a writer,) made into the remarkable movie starring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry. The only thing we can’t say about Simon, in fact, is that he has never narrated (nor is he related to) Hugo winning Scifi author Jack Vance, whose novel “To Live Forever” (I am proud to say) was acquired by Blackstone Audio’s Grover Gardner due to my suggestion, narrated by Kevin Kenerly. Simon has also had parts in movies and TV series, has done commercials for major corporations, and lives in Brighton, UK. —Jonathan Lowe

Jonathan Lowe) It’s an honor to host the Audie Awards. What surprised you most about that?

Simon Vance) What surprised me most was being asked in the first place. I knew they were having difficulties finding a high profile host this year but Michele seemed to have everything in hand and was quite confident, as she told me at Katy Kellgren’s memorial just the week before she called me, that she’d be able to find someone from amongst the many ‘performers’ there already were amongst the narrators, should it come to that. Little did I know it would be me. Many years ago Bob Deyan had told me that he’d put me forward as a potential host, which shocked me at the time. But when Michele did call I just felt ready.

Lowe)  But you were ready, having attended so many events over the years?

Vance) Over the past decade or so I’ve only missed one. So I knew how things worked, and was ready!

Lowe) Anecdotes to share? Favorite moments?

Vance) Favorite moments? Well, certainly the moment when the whole thing was over and I’d made it through relatively unscathed! Otherwise there are moments of satisfaction, in that I could say to myself “I handled that.” Back in 2006, I think, when Grover Gardner was the host I went up to accept my first Audie and while giving my acceptance speech. Every winner did back then. The event lasted hours. But I messed up the position of his notes and it took him some moments while he sorted them out and found his place again! I’ve always felt so guilty about that. Fast forward to this year and something similar happened to me…someone told me afterwards that they thought they’d moved my script and it was their fault that I started in on the wrong introduction. But I think I had confused the order of the pages myself…I’d call that karma. But I “handled it,” as I think I did in the moment things got awkward, when the audio/visuals didn’t behave and I filled the embarrassing silence with a little soft-shoe shuffle across the stage…which linked back nicely to my referencing the desire to do a song and dance number for the opening.

Lowe) Do you have any friends who prefer print books, which may go the way of cassettes and even CDs, as in Fahrenheit 451?

Vance) It’s not something I go around asking my friends! But I don’t see print books as being in the same category as cassettes and CDs by any stretch. Despite some people’s doom-laden prognostications, I believe there will always be print. Clearly it’s more expensive to create a hard cover book than it is to distribute data, but just look at the market for vinyl, which is also a relatively modern invention and again not really comparable to print. I think there will always be a desire to read words on paper and to collect libraries…I mean, the money isn’t there, so it’s never going to be as big as it was but this is not an art form that will vanish any time soon.

Lowe) What’s next for you?

Vance) More of the same! I’m back in the studio already booked solidly for the next 6 weeks with an exciting roster of books from new and returning authors to look forward to in the fall.

Lowe) Thanks, look forward to hearing more!

(And now, a sample of Vance reading David Copperfield, which is included in the original movie Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury as a book that must be learned and spoken aloud to be saved from the fire.)

 

Audio Drama: Dead or Alive?

 

Goodreads

Has audio/radio drama died? No way. With more people listening to iPods and iPhones than ever while on the move, there is a demand for audio content beyond Top 40 and political talk radio.  L.A. Theatre Works has Hollywood actors from George Clooney and Brad Pitt and Annette Benning to talented amateurs reading both original and Pulitzer Prize winning dramas for download and on CD format. I once met the producer and actress Marsha Mason at the Audie Awards in L.A.. Neil Patrick Harris, Paul Giamatti, and Hilary Swank are also in their fold, with a BBC4 partnership as well. And many audiobook producers are now stepping up to the microphone with multi-cast productions. The association with audiobook narrators like Barbara Rosenblat and Scott Brick is strong, and they contribute their efforts in spreading the word and offering master classes in the areas of creating characters and accents. I asked creative arts icon and technology expert Andrew Glassner recently if he listens to audiobooks, and what he personally enjoys—and is up to—and he responded: “I usually listen while walking my dog, and tend to prefer plot-driven fiction. Then each day I can back up a minute or two and pick up the thread, so I’m re-synchronized with the story.  I had the chance to write and direct a short animated film using computer graphics. That led to writing scripts and directing actors for a live-action internet game, which led to writing novels. Reading fiction is how I discover worlds that I don’t or can’t inhabit. I’ll never see the world personally through the eyes of a rock star, or a 16-year-old blind girl in rural Georgia, or a sailor lost at sea, or a star-eating creature from another planet. But books let me see the world as they do, or might. That’s both inherently rewarding, and a vital step towards deeper empathy.”  (In my own case, I knew radio drama icon Yuri Rasovsky, and Frank Muller, who were involved in two of my early novels, which is how I became interested in audiobooks: which listening on the job or traveling. Yuri and Frank are both gone now, but Yuri was a Grammy winner and  columnist for Audiofile magazine, while Frank was Stephen King’s favorite reader of his own books, and a friend of his.)

For a deeper look at those producers, and the state of radio and audio drama production today, I interviewed Sue Zizza once, and more recently asked about her for a statement, and she said, “I think the state of the audio drama community is very strong. Podcasting and technology are leading to an increased number of high quality productions which more audiences are finding thanks in part to their awareness of audio stories brought about by the growth of audiobooks. The community is so strong we now host an annual Festival celebrating the works of hundreds of artists is called HEAR Now. For example, you can get good listening with an event June 7-10, and come hear the newest audio drama.” She is Executive Director of what has become the National Audio Theatre Festival. It’s of interest to writers, too. Zizza also teaches a course on the subject of audio drama at New York University, and credits success to directors like Charlie Potter, Yuri Rasovsky and Tom Lopez, along with audio artists like Marjorie Van Haltern, David Ossman and others. Here’s my flashback interview with her:

“Back in 1979,” Zizza recalled, “when I was on staff at a community radio station in Missouri, we put feelers out across the country to other dramatists in the field. The intent was to see who was still doing what, and to form a new group of professionals, utilizing funds provided at the time by public radio, the NEA and CPB. Then when the suggestion was made to form a training event, the Midwest Radio Drama Workshop was born. Now, our week long workshops in Missouri introduce people at all skill levels to audio drama production.” As Zizza further explains it, “We believe that if you learn how to produce an audio play, where you’re blending voice and music and sound effects and silence, then you can take those skills and become a better documentary, film or music producer, because what you learn through telling your story as audio drama really hones your storytelling craft.”

In addition to week long workshops, the NATF also sponsors weekend events around the country, focused on one particular skill, and at the end an actual performance is staged so that these learned skills can be practiced. “Take Lindsay Ellison, for example,” Zizza points out, “who added audio production and direction to her stage direction and acting skills. Now she’s working with Tom Lopez on the post production of her play. Others take classes in voice acting, writing, producing, directing and technology. After learning the fundamentals, they mount a live show as an effects artist or technical assistant, and also network with others at meals and social events.”

In describing the unique challenges of audio drama, Zizza cites knowing how to make voices unique “because obviously there are no body types or hair colors as in stage acting,” and also knowing when and how often to utilize sound effects “because too much sound design only confuses the listener, and should only be used to support the action, identify locales, or move characters around a space.” In short, the listener must be clear at all moments about what is going on. And that rule has never changed.

But hasn’t the equipment changed since radio’s Golden Age? “Not really,” claims Zizza. “Many of the props I use today were inherited from my mentor Al Shaffer, who did sound effects for Bob & Ray, among others. He taught me how to do horses, walk down stairs, etc. The only thing that’s really changed is that the microphones are more sensitive now, so you can’t get away with using an old-time prop like cellophane to make fire. Although corn starch is still used for walking through snow.” Indeed, she is adamant that sound effects taken from CDs don’t work for the most part, even in our modern, high-tech era. “The acoustic space is not the same as the space where the actors record, and you can tell. With animals in a zoo, for example, there’s a reverb which can’t be corrected. So getting a sound effects artist to listen and add effects in real time actually saves time. Where the science has advanced is really in post production, with digital recording and editing. But if you don’t understand how the elements of writing and acting and sound design combine in the final product, it won’t matter if you’re producing it digitally, and Pro Tools won’t save you.”

Zizza says that part of her funding today comes from the National Endowment for the Arts, and part from the local arts councils where the festivals are held, and from individual contributors. The audio drama community as it exists today consists of “about two hundred independent companies or individuals producing mostly new material, although maybe half will produce both old time and new scripts.” For her own part, she produced The Radio Works, a sampler series which is heard on 70 public radio stations, and features a different producer each time, with all new work. Other audio drama companies currently active include the Full Cast Audio company, founded by Bruce Coville, a producer/publisher of teen and young adult titles primarily in the fantasy genre; the Atlanta Radio Theater, Great Northern Audio Theatre, ZBS Foundation, Firesign Theatre, Shoestring Radio Theater (an amateur San Francisco company), and the Radio Repertory Company of America. Seeing Ear Theatre, associated with the Scifi channel, produces original plays for publishers like Harper Audio, like the excellent “Two Plays for Voices,” featuring actors Bebe Neuwirth and Brian Dennehy performing Neil Gaiman’s “Snow Glass Apples” and “Murder Mysteries.”

What does the future hold by way of opportunities for actors, writers, directors and technicians in the full cast segment of the audiobook industry? Zizza is cautious, but optimistic. “Full cast audio is costly to produce, as you know, and so there are not as many titles available. This is also true for public radio stations, who find it more economical to produce news or talk shows. But I think the situation is improving over what it was just three years ago. Listeners are becoming more astute, and they enjoy hearing a story, and so after seeing something like Spider Man, which has an incredible sound track, you can’t expect them to listen to a dry audiobook with nothing but a voice. With all the webcasting and iPod downloading going on, and with the variety of Mp3 players that are starting to come standard in new cars, I think people will seek out audio drama, and already a new crop of directors and producers are studying the craft the same way as those who study stage acting. Our challenge is to produce better quality material, and take those interested to the next level of skills so that audio theater looks forward instead of backward.” 

Lorna Raver

Lorna Raver was married to Yuri Rasovsky until his death in 2012. She had a lead role in DRAG ME TO HELL, which also starred Alison Lohman, and Dileep Rao (who was in Avatar.) Lorna has performed on stage in New York, and has narrated many audiobooks, including CUJO. In real life, she’s a sweet lady! (It’s all about makeup…and great acting.) She was also in the films The Caller, and Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage. Interview at this blog HERE. –Jonathan Lowe

A Fairy Tale Wedding

MeghanWhen Meghan Markle and Prince Harry were set up by a mutual friend on a blind date in July 2016, little did they know that the resulting whirlwind romance would lead to their engagement in November 2017 and marriage in May 2018.

Morton goes back to Meghan’s roots to uncover the story of her childhood growing up in The Valley in Los Angeles, her studies at an all-girls Catholic school, and her fraught family life-a painful experience mirrored by Harry’s own background. Morton also delves into her previous marriage and divorce in 2013, her struggles in Hollywood as her mixed heritage was used against her, her big break in the hit TV show Suits, and her work for a humanitarian ambassador-the latter so reminiscent of Princess Diana’s passions. Finally, we see how the royal romance played out across two continents but was kept fiercely secret, before the news finally broke and Meghan was thrust into the global media’s spotlight.

Drawing on exclusive interviews with her family members and closest friends, and including never-before-seen photographs, Morton introduces us to the real Meghan as he reflects on the impact that she has already had on the rigid traditions of the House of Windsor, as well as what the future might hold.

HarryFrom his earliest public appearances as a mischievous redheaded toddler, Prince Harry has captured the hearts of royal enthusiasts around the world. In Harry, Britain’s leading expert on the young royals offers an in-depth look at the wayward prince turned national treasure. Nicholl sheds new light on growing up royal, Harry’s relationship with his mother, his troubled youth and early adulthood, and how his military service in Afghanistan inspired him to create his legacy, the Invictus Games. 

Harry: Life, Loss, and Love features interviews with friends, those who have worked with the prince, and former palace aides. Nicholl explores Harry’s relationship with his family, in particular the Queen, his father, his stepmother, and his brother and reveals his secret “second family” in Botswana. She uncovers new information about his former girlfriends and chronicles his romance and engagement to American actress Meghan Markle. Harry is a compelling portrait of one of the most popular members of the royal family and reveals the inside story of the most intriguing royal romance in a decade.

Tyra Banks

Tyra Banks narrates.

The President is Missing

The President is Missing

UPDATED: The name of James Patterson is ubiquitous. Go to any hotel or cruise ship pool in summer, and you’ll see someone reading a Patterson thriller, written by himself and co-authors. A former ad man, he is now the reigning king of pop fiction superstars, and lives in Palm Beach, Florida, where Mar-a-Lago is. (Bill Clinton and Trump were photographed golfing together years ago.) Patterson’s latest book, written with Bill Clinton, is THE PRESIDENT IS MISSING. Narrators are actors Dennis Quaid, January LaVoy, Mozhan Marno, and Jeremy Davidson. The book was published June 4. This interview was several years ago. 

JONATHAN LOWE: What led you to writing? Were you a voracious reader?

JAMES PATTERSON: I was a good student in high school, but I didn’t like to read at all. I’m still not a big fan of Silas Marner. Just after I graduated from high school, I got a job working at a famous mental hospital. I had a lot of free time, and I started reading everything I could get my hands on. At this point, I was reading serious fiction, poetry, essays, plays. I still didn’t read any commercial fiction. When I was in my twenties I read two commercial novels that turned it all around for me–Day of the Jackal and The Exorcist. At that point, I decided that I wanted to write a novel that readers would find almost impossible to put down.

Q: What was your reaction to the success of “Along Came a Spider?”

A: Long before I had a success with “Along Came A Spider,” I had learned to stop and smell the roses. Consequently, I savored every moment when Along Came A Spider hit the bestseller lists. That included every bookstore I visited on tour, every interview, every kind review.

Q: Was the Alex Cross character your first choice as protagonist? How and why did you develop him to be who he is?

A: Actually, when I began “Along Came A Spider,” Alex Cross was a woman. I wrote about fifty pages, and decided to go in another direction. I’ve told the story about where the Cross family came from, but I’m happy to tell it again. When I was a kid growing up in Newburgh, New York, my grandparents owned a small restaurant. The cook was a black woman named Laura. When I was three or four, she was having trouble with her husband and my parents urged her to move in with us. Over the next four years, I spent incredible amounts of time with Laura and her family. I got an incredible feeling for the warmth and good humor that they shared. That certainly influenced my creating the Cross family.

Q: Did you begin by thinking of Alex as a series character? Coming up with nursery rhymes as titles is obviously good for name recognition, but how much did they influence the actual plotting?

A: When I wrote “Along Came A Spider” I wasn’t thinking about creating a series. The publisher wanted to make a two-book deal, and the more I thought about writing about Alex again, the more I liked it. I don’t think the nursery rhymes have much to do with the plotting at all.

Q: Nor do I. One thing which strikes me about your books is your creative use of short chapters for dramatic effect. Knowing when and where to end a chapter which leaves the reader guessing or biting their nails or just staring at the page in shock. Two of your chapters in ROSES ARE RED, for example, are mere one liners, which explains a total of 125 chapters in a relatively short book. When your wife asks how much you’ve written today and you say “two chapters” doesn’t she just stare at you?

A: The short chapters were kind of an accident. I had written about thirty chapters of The Midnight Club and I expected to flesh them out later. When I read them, however, I liked the pacing a lot. I eventually fleshed the chapters out, but not as much as I planned to. My wife and I never talk about the quantity of work I’ve done on any given day, just the quality.

Q: Please describe your new book.

A: You get on a roller coaster, it goes on and on, you can’t believe how many twists and turns you’ve experienced, and when the ride finally stops you get off exhausted, shaken, but strangely satisfied.

Q: Do you listen to audiobooks on the road? 

A: Ever since I moved out of New York City, I’ve been addicted to audiobooks. I listen to one or two a week while I’m driving around town. Generally, I listen to the books that I used to buy, but never get around to reading.

 

The President is Missing book

 

The Kentucky Derby #Goodreads

Horses

Audiobooks

Won by JUSTIFY, trained by Bob Baffert, who also trained AMERICAN PHAROAH. The horse AUDIBLE placed third. From ESPN producer and Audible narrator Barry Abrams, whose last narration was Awakening Storm: “Audible should have won. He was the best of Todd Pletcher’s four horses. He showed an ability to succeed either by racing just behind the leaders or coming from much further back, so he had versatility.” Barry has a podcast on iTunes called IN THE GATE, about horseracing. “Justify your love” by joining Audible and downloading American Pharoah, and get it and another free in the process.  

 

Animal rights

In America dogs eat better than kids. Dog food is often 100% grass fed, “grain free.” McDonalds is grain fed. Relevant books: Fast Food Nation, Sugar Fat Salt, Brandwashed, The Filter Bubble, Future CrimesCoffee? Time to wake up.

Peter Berkrot Interview

Peter Berkrot

Jonathan Lowe) How did you come to voice acting? 

Peter Berkrot) I started acting and training in New York in 1973 when I was in 13 or 14, so how I came to voice acting is like how I came to Massachusetts or marriage. The longer the trail, the more paths there are. My focus then was theatre, of course. I was a theatre major at SUNY New Paltz but when I was cast in Caddyshack halfway through college, I began to see my career through a more expansive lens. The majority of voice work came when I left New York in 1989 and moved to New England. Very soon, I was doing VO work for documentaries, occasionally playing the American translation voice for the on camera speakers. That eventually translated into a great relationship at WGBH in Boston where I’ve been doing that type of work for FRONTLINE since 2004.

JL) Wow. A fav movie, and a fav PBS series! Bannon’s War? As a footnote, I once communicated with Frontline’s main narrator Will Lyman, who also did the voiceover for Jonathan Goldsmith, the World’s Most Interesting Man, who has a biography out titled Stay Interesting, which Goldsmith reads on audio. Interesting story, too. Jonathan says he was living out of his truck, and was killed on screen as an extra more than anyone, until that Dos Equis commercial. Lyman can’t talk about it, still under contract. Other formats? Commercials, games, documentaries?

PB) There was a ton of industrial work in the 90’s and 00’s so I did all sorts of on camera and VO work, often playing characters with a variety of dialects. Then I did a bunch of local games, creating a character called “I.M. Meen” at the end of the MS-DOS revolution. Google it. People have taken my song and twisted it around so I’m saying all sorts of nasty things. I started looking into audiobooks in 2006 and did my first in 2007.

JL) You recorded The Art of War, which is Trump’s favorite book, and a big seller. Any thoughts to share on the Machiavellian Sun Tzu philosophy, and if you think it relates in any way to Leadership and Self Deception, or maybe the stress levels described in Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, both of which you’ve also narrated?

PB) I was lucky enough to come of age between wars so I never experienced the horrors of war either first or second hand. I actually always feel a bit like a fraud when I’m playing all the real life and fictitious Navy Seals and marines I do in books. For The ART OF WAR I found that I was most authentic after channelling my inner Klingon, giving context I could understand to experiences I could not. As for this being trump’s favorite book, an oxymoron if I ever heard (or met) one, I would be astonished if he ever read a book cover to cover that didn’t include instructions on connecting the dots. It is a favorite of some of the greatest warriors, generals and military strategists in history and that’s part of his delusion so no doubt he said that. I bet his other favorite is the Bible.

JL) Yes, but he couldn’t name a favorite verse.

PB) If he were somehow “clockwork oranged” and forced to read the whole book, there is no indication that he understood a single concept based on how he conducts himself. I’m sure his lawyer’s lawyer’s spokesman would agree. As for LEADERSHIP AND SELF DECEPTION, unlike many self-help books in the Business category which are about leveling the playing field and getting the edge on the competition, this is a much more spiritual approach to leadership, asking the listener to look within him or herself to deeply evaluate ones relationship to oneself, to others, to work and so forth. It is about growing and getting out of your own way and not blaming or undermining anyone else along the way. It’s tremendous popularity is probably attributed to the creative prose which is a series of scripted scenes and opportunities for self evaluation. There actually are some connections between THE ART OF WAR and WHY ZEBRAS DON’T GET ULCERS, although it may seem to be reaching. The ability to reduce stress will add years to your life. Planning for every contingency in battle and holding the better defensive position requires a calm and logical mind as well as strength and resolve. In Dr. Sapolsky’s book, he brilliantly illustrates through the explanation of his title why we can also live longer, though the war is internal. Stress is supposed to be a survival mechanism. If you’re a zebra running from a lion, you absolutely require the adrenaline and hormonal barrage that stress brings to make sure you’re not the slowest zebra in the herd. The moment the threat is gone, the stress levels drop to neutral and the zebra renews his strolling and grazing. A human being would lie there on the steppes and worry about the next lion until one came and he’s ‘run and worry and run and worry’ until eventually, he’d die of a heart attack or diabetes.

JL) We’d eat pizza too while worrying. Comfort food. What did you read as a teen that may have influenced you?

PB) I loved series books as most kids do. And Dr. Seuss. But I was 6 or 7 when the original STAR TREK hit the air and 12 or 13 when I saw my first Twilight Zone. Those were my major influences which drew me from the small screen to the small page. I started writing a lot of Horror and Science Fiction stories, big on time travel. Then the real reading kicked in. Robert Heinlein’s STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND was huge for me and everything by Kurt Vonnegut. Then Catch-22 and Stephen King.

JL) You narrated a couple of Richard Matheson titles, who was a short story master, like Ray Bradbury. You’ve also done Philip K. Dick and Dean Koontz. That’s a lot of genres under the umbrella “speculative fiction.” Any preferred genre?  

PB) Yes! Time Travel! Anything related to time travel! Watching STAR TREK and TWILIGHT ZONE naturally led me to Harlan Ellison, Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov. Of all the comic books I read as a kid I liked Legion of Super Heroes best because they were in the future. When I get to narrate anything by Philip K. Dick or the others in this genre, I feel it as an honor and a challenge, a thread connecting me to my past and my future.

JL) Another footnote, did you know Harlan Ellison is an audiobook narrator too, and he knows the scoop on both Star Trek and Scientology first hand? His tell-all is the audiobook The City on the Edge of Forever, the story behind the script he wrote. He actually saved Star Trek from cancellation, early on, by petitioning for it. Bradbury helped launch Playboy magazine, too. Fahrenheit 451 was first published in the first issues. What is next for you?

PB) In terms of books, “Caddyshack, The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story” by Chris Nashawaty is just released, certainly the most personal and bizarre narrating experience I had, especially quoting myself. Next I go into the booth to record BLOWN by Mark Haskell Smith, the sixth novel of his I have had the extraordinary pleasure of narrating. Funniest. Guy. Ever. Then, the opposite. The brilliantly crafted but emotionally shattering memoir THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT by Robert Goolrick for HighBridge Audio. And then I’ll be spending 46 hours with Dwight D. Eisenhower courtesy of Audible Studios. More books. More teaching! I haven’t talked about my teaching or private coaching but its one of my strengths and passions. More Skyping, and maybe one day I’ll save up enough money to do a play again. While I can still memorize. And walk.

JL) I once saw a woman walk into a tree while reading a print book. As I passed her with my iPod, I said one word: “Audiobooks.” Thanks for taking time for an interview.

Happy World Book Day

Ariana Grande

Reading list?