Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Interview with Tim Lundeen, narrator and director


from the Vault: Tim Lundeen's career in audiobooks has encompassed most aspects of the business, including narration of both fiction and non-fiction across multiple genres.  Both national and international publishers have found his low key narration style captivating to their listeners.  He has also directed and edited authors Gary Chapman, Shannon Ethridge, Nate Larkin, Andy Andrews, Elizabeth George, Michelle McKinney Hammond, Louie Giglio, Joel C. Rosenberg, among others, (and my novel The Methuselah Gene for Crossroad Press.) Tim and his family live in a suburb of Chicago, IL.

Jonathan Lowe)  As a family man from Chicago, how did you come to narration?  What influenced you?

Tim Lundeen)  I was the tech/audio/lights/catwalk guy for the school theater, with a tiny bit of acting in high school and college, so I was around the storytelling and character work, while also being comfortable with the minimal technology of on-stage productions, like a soundboard and various microphones.  A fellow actor in college invited me to a multicast audio production that needed some extras, and it felt right. . . challenging, with a mix of acting and technology, and thankfully no memorizing.  Just before I graduated college I was offered a job for a print publisher, but I turned them down, saying I was interested in audio/studio publishing work. They directed me to an audio book production company in the area, which had me convert old reel-to-reel stuff to digital format for either cassette or CD mastering.  Then I edited some narration, engineered some recording sessions, and eventually produced/directed other voice talent through full-length audio book productions.  It wasn't even the recording sessions that inspired or influenced me most, but the opportunities I had to take the various voice talent out to lunch.  I might be producing the same voice talent all week, so getting to know these actors outside of the studio was crucial for me, in directing my efforts toward an effective voiceover career.

Q) Being an engineer and a producer, you're into most aspects of audiobook production. What makes for a great production?

A)  Assuming the writing is good, it's my opinion that the words on the page should be dictating how we narrate.  Discerning that dictation could be called the "interpretation of literature," which is an internal, cognitive, mental exercise.  Properly interpreting the words on the page isn't verbal, it doesn't happen as I'm narrating.  Ideally it would be happening subconsciously, before I even open my mouth.  Of course the more well-read we are, the more familiar we'll be with language and vocabulary in general, and the greater our sense of properly interpreting the printed word.  But narration involves imagination and creativity to properly convey those printed words to the listening audience.  A "great production" results in a listener who fully experiences the words that author has written, the point being made, the message being shared, or the story being told.  The sooner I get out of the way as the voice talent, the better.

Q) You've also done Christian audio in various genres like suspense, and non-fiction like the "Anne Frank Remembered" bio that earned an Audie award. What is most difficult, and why?

A)  The most difficult to produce, even when I'm not the narrator, is a Christian fiction title that has no substance.  I've just experienced titles by honest and sincere believers who feel they have a purpose or meaning to the stories they tell, but it's almost like they're afraid to push deeper into their own God-given skills to draw out the very best of their writing capabilities.  The really tough stuff is in theological non-fiction or the personal-health / medical genre.  Fiction story-telling is a walk in the park, compared to keeping all the Greek and Hebrew pronunciations straight or quadruple checking the phonetic accuracy of pharmaceutical terminology.  First century proper nouns have a little flexibility, but I could be putting someone's life at risk if I mispronounce a medical term.  Especially when sites like Amazon.com mistakenly list me, the narrator, as the co-author of an audiobook.  That's scary!

Q) Industry peers mention your own "low key" narration style, which tends to avoid melodrama and gives a natural approach to listening, making the actor himself disappear behind the words. That's always a goal, but I'm wondering how differently you approach fiction, and how you direct other narrators, utilizing their own set of talents.

A)  Want to hear a cheesy analogy?  If I'm canoeing down the Mississippi River, sometimes it's fast and sometimes it's slow, sometimes it's choppy, and other times calm, and sometimes it's murky.  Well, it's always murky.  But regardless of the temperament of the water, it's always the Mississippi River.  In storytelling, the voice of the narrator is that river, carrying the listener along the journey.  So I never forget the journey the listener is on.  The listener is never in control over how that water is moving, and that lack of control can make them struggle to pay attention (at best) or just become disinterested (at worst) and hop off at the next port.  But they'll want to keep listening if there's a reassuring undercurrent, that the story is still flowing, and moving in the right direction.  I believe the voice of the narrator in a story is what makes the listener feel safe enough to want to hang on for the ride.  When it comes to directing other talent, if the narrator knows what he or she is doing, I usually don't do much.  They have their own style and I'll make sure they stay true to that.  Now, if I'm producing a novice narrator, I still usually don't do much.  While I'd love to coach and mentor the talent through every paragraph of the book, I don't have that luxury.  That kind of guidance and practice should respectfully be handled outside of the recording session.  To me, directing other voice talent, with their own skills and styles of narration, is like directing any other musical instrument.  I can't direct an oboe to sound like a clarinet, even if they're made out of similar materials.  I can help them feel comfortable and confident in their own level of performance, maybe even help them sound better than they would have on their own, but I cannot perfect them.  By the way, want to know the difference between a violin and a viola?  One burns longer.

Q) Any anecdotes to share from the production booth?  What's the most interesting thing that's happened, and who do you wish you could get in front of a microphone?

A)  I was working on some analog conversion project in studio B, while studio A was producing Barbara Rosenblat on some fiction title.  During one of the breaks, I went over and introduced myself as "just one of the 'lackeys' at the studio."  To which she said, "you don't seem to be lacking much to me."  Once I was producing an author, reading her own book, and half way through the session that day we had to stop.  She had her own radio show and was determined to host it.  All we had was a phone patch, so she called into her own show and handled the topic of that day and other callers.  She also went through a case and a half of water bottles, and a lot of bathroom breaks.  It would be a blast to have Tim Curry in my studio.  While most Hollywood actors are not voiceover talent at all, there are some great folks that would be fun to have in my studio, like Gary Sinise, Jon Voight, John de Lancie, etc.  There are some Golden Voice audio book narrators that I've edited, though I've never had them in my studio.  I would rather earn the right to meet them some day and buy them lunch, rather than host them at my studio.  They do just fine in their own studios.

The Methuselah Gene novel (original small press hardcover from Five Star, 2010, then audiobook from Crossroad Press, 2014 and ebook.) Mentions Frank Muller lookalike. Predates discovery by real science of the use of a neutered HIV able to fight cancer, as of 2014 on Ron Howard’s Breakthroughs. Interviewed a Pfizer scientist and researched the plot: a pharmaceutical scientist is hacked and followed by a nefarious entity which steals his delivery formula and secretly tests it on a small town in Iowa. When it fails, and many die, they try to cover it up. Climax on cruise ship. 

Frank Muller narrated my first novel, Postmarked for Death. He was Stephen King's fav.


Thursday, December 29, 2022

Interview with Nicholas Sparks

from the Vault: Nicholas Sparks is author of eight New York Times bestsellers, including The Notebook, Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember, The Rescue, A Bend in the Road, Nights in Rodanthe, The Guardian, and The Wedding, all recorded for Time Warner Audiobooks by various narrators. His audiobook is the non-fictional memoir "Three Weeks with My Brother," written with Micah Sparks and narrated by Henry Leyva, with an introduction read by Nicholas.  A family man, Mr. Sparks lives in North Carolina. (His latest novel is DREAMLAND. Also THE WISH, THE RETURN, EVERY BREATH. He is winner of a first ever Audiobooks Today Influencer Award in Romance, along with Nora Roberts.)

JONATHAN LOWE:  Your new book "Three Weeks With My Brother" is biographical in nature, using your world trip with Micah as a framework to do a parallel story about your relationship with him, and the losses you've faced together among your shared family members. Have you written non-fiction before?

NICHOLAS SPARKS:  No, this was my first attempt at non-fiction, and Micah's first attempt at writing anything, but I found the process enjoyable in that I knew where the story was going because I knew what we'd lived through.  Unlike novels, where you're debating on the structure and events while trying to figure things out, sometimes without a clear goal in mind, this was very clear to me.  It was just putting it down the right way that presented the challenge.

LOWE:  You guys look so alike. In what ways are you different?

SPARKS:  We're not that different, really. Micah tends to be a little more moody than I am.  I tend to be very driven.  I get focused on a task, and try to do it as best I can, whether it was school or track and field or writing.  Micah tends to have a better balance about things.

LOWE:  So he's a bit more laid back than you?

SPARKS:  Slightly, but that's not to say he doesn't work hard. He's had successful businesses, has a professional career in manufacturing as well, it's just a little different than the way I do it.

LOWE:  You've admitted to being a Type A personality, though, true?

SPARKS:  Well, see, that's the thing.  That's what my wife says, and that's what my agent says, and that's what my editor says, and practically everyone who knows me says, but I personally don't feel I'm Type A.  I feel I should work harder!  But I make time for my family and my kids, too.  They each need individual attention, and then my wife and I will go out to lunch or on a date two or three times a week, just the two of us, and we do all the family stuff too.  Trips to Disneyland, things like that.  So I do try to keep some kind of balance, it's just that for Micah it comes a little more natural.

LOWE:  What was the most interesting thing that happened on your trip together?

SPARKS:  So much was interesting. You have to take the whole trip in context.  Universal truths we learned like "money can't buy happiness."  We went to poverty stricken countries like Cambodia or India where people might earn $25 a month, and yet they were happy. Kids were playing, and hanging out with their dad, and you see the dad proud about their son just like we are about ours.  And that's always a wonderful lesson to have reinforced because people fall prey to the opposite belief.  But probably the most unique part of it was the epic role of history, these temples were built so long ago. . .the rise and fall of civilizations. We got to this Mayan temple, and we climbed to the top, and it's amazing, but this temple had stopped being used about 900 A.D., so it was abandoned, and 500 years later Columbus floats over.

LOWE:  Gives you a perspective.

SPARKS:  It really does.

LOWE:  Years ago I saw that 48 Hours show, which gave the impression that Warner Books discovered and developed you into a bestselling author. Was wondering how much credit do you give to your early editors for your success?

SPARKS:  Well, I will say that I've worked with the same editor for every book, all eight novels and this book, and I've been with her since the beginning of my career, and my agent, and pretty much the same team at Warner Books.  Unlike many publishing houses, nobody has changed.  The same person has designed all the covers. . . everyone is the same, so it's like old home week when I go to New York to visit.  It's been a wonderful experience, you see all your friends, and it's nice.  About my debut, Warner paid a lot of money upfront, but of course not everyone makes it that way, regardless of what a publisher pays, and so you need to have good reviews in major markets, or go on Oprah, and word of mouth is important too.

LOWE:  Until a book is read by the public, it's like the old Hollywood saying, "Nobody knows anything."  Then magic can happen.  Now, when your novel "Message in a Bottle" was made into a film, and you got to go to the set and talk to Kevin Costner, that must have been an exciting moment for you.

SPARKS:  It was exciting, and I reacted like just about anybody would react. . . "oh my gosh, there he is."  Same thing.  You know, I'm certainly not a big wig in Hollywood or anything.  I've met these people, briefly, but I'm not on their Christmas card list.  (laughs)  But that's okay.  They've all been wonderful to work with, and they've been gracious to the family I'd bring to the set.

LOWE:  Any anecdotes to share?

SPARKS:  My son had a crush on Mandy Moore when she starred in "A Walk to Remember."  He loved that girl.  She was 17 at the time, and he was 10.  It was funny, he'd go right up to her door and knock, and say "can I come in?"  She'd be doing her schoolwork or something, and he'd just stare at her.  That was cute.

LOWE:  Women readers will want me to ask this. Are you really as romantic as you seem? I mean, you don't sit with a remote and watch sports all the time, like most men, and communicate with grunts and requests for beer?

SPARKS:  I don't.  I try to do nice things for my wife frequently.  This makes my wife happy, and my wife is wonderful to be around when she's happy.  So I send flowers and buy unexpected gifts, and we make time for each other, and at the same time, my wife does a lot of stuff for me too.  It's not always easy living with an author, but we're happy with each other most of the time.

LOWE:  One of the most amazing things I read about you is that you read over 100 books a year.  Other authors I talk to have little or no time to read.  How do you do that, given that you have five kids and so much else going on?

SPARKS:  I love reading, and I read very quickly, obviously.  Most books don't stay with me, with that magical quality, other books I linger over longer.  I have wide interests, so it's almost like watching television.  You turn off the TV and pick up a book, read a page a minute or faster, and pretty soon you're reading a hundred books a year instead of watching TV.

LOWE:  Do you listen to audiobooks on the road?

SPARKS:  Yes, I do, and generally I prefer non-fiction for the road. . . biographies and histories. . . but then, to be honest, I really don't drive much.  I live in a small town in North Carolina.  Put it like this.  My car is four years old.  I drive it everywhere.  Everywhere, I take my car.  Four years.  Nine thousand miles.  (laughs)  I mean, I just don't go anywhere!  I go to the store, drive back, drive to post office, drive back.  Nothing.

LOWE:  I interviewed Dennis Kao and Linda Ross, producers at Time Warner Audiobooks, and they talked about the choice of Tom Wopat as one your narrators.  He's a macho guy who can be sensitive too. That's the ideal, don't you think?  Was wondering what you think of audiobooks as a medium.

SPARKS:  They're great.  I remember as a kid driving with my parents there'd be radio stations with plays and stories. You almost never hear that now, but I remember hearing that, and I loved it.  It's a wonderful thing for people who spend a lot of time in the car.  If you're going to drive 45 minutes or more to work every day, you know, you can go through 50 books a year.  So you can be as well read as anybody you know.  It's a wonderful choice, and I actually recorded "A Walk to Remember" and the prologue for this new book, and I love it, although I do prefer to read.

LOWE:  You mentioned living in Greenville SC at one point, which was my home town.  What did you think of the area?

SPARKS:  It's a great town. Greenville was very instrumental in launching my career.  It's beautiful upstate country, but I'm more of a water person.  So in the end, we moved a little closer to the coast, into North Carolina, and live on a river, and it's beautiful.

LOWE:  You have a new movie coming out, right?

SPARKS:  I do. "The Notebook" stars James Garner and Gina Rowlands. I've seen the film a couple of times, and I did the DVD commentary, meaning I really liked it and was pleased with the adaptation, so no problem doing any publicity work that they want with the film.  When the DVD comes out you can hear my commentary, if that interests you. The film is very romantic, beautifully shot, and wonderfully acted, and I think people will really love it.

See interview at this blog.


from the Vault: Janet Evanovich has written nine bestselling novels featuring a would-be detective named Stephanie Plum, who is actually a bounty hunter.  Her latest books include HOT SIX (her first NY Times bestseller), SEVEN UP, HARD EIGHT, and now TO THE NINES.  The books are produced on audio by either Brilliance Audio or by Audio Renaissance. (NOTE: Have interviewed Janet twice, but can’t find the other interview. Her latest titles are Going Rogue and Game On. Upcoming: The Recovery Agent.) 

Janet Evanovich has written fourteen bestselling novels featuring a would-be detective named Stephanie Plum, who is actually a bounty hunter. Her latest books include Twelve Sharp, Lean Mean Thirteen, and now Fearless Fourteen. The books are produced on audio by either Brilliance Audio or by Audio Renaissance. I caught up with Janet by phone and via email. 

JONATHAN LOWE: Hi, Janet. Started the new book tour yet?

JANET EVANOVICH: No, not yet. Soon.

LOWE: No more little mystery bookstores, this time?

EVANOVICH: I'd love to do those, but they need to have shelter and restrooms for at least 700 people, and most just can't handle that.

LOWE: There's a problem we'd all love. Remind folks of your humble beginnings. What got you started writing, and what is your background?

EVANOVICH: Well, I majored in Fine Arts in college. I was a painter. Somewhere in my late twenties I realized painting wasn't where I wanted to be and started searching out other avenues of creative endeavor...like baking chocolate chip cookies and making party dresses for my daughter. I was a stay-at-home mom and when the kids went off to school the chocolate chip cookie baking somehow morphed into trying to write a book. Previous to this my only English background was Freshman English 101. I learned to write by analyzing books I loved and hated.

LOWE: A bounty hunter is certainly more interesting than the typical sleuth. Where did your character Stephanie Plum come from? And how did you come up with the name?

EVANOVICH: I have a lot of history with Stephanies. My favorite niece was named Stephanie, and there were a lot of Stephanies in my home town. I think it's a pretty name with a lot of music to it, and I used it once as a pseudonym back when I was writing romance as Stephanie Hall. I chose Plum because it seems to go well with Stephanie, and I wanted people to think of something that was ripe and juicy. When I decided to move into crime fiction (reached menopause and had a lot more ideas about murder than about sex!) I searched around for the perfect job for my protagonist. One day I happened onto the movie Midnight Run. It's about a bounty hunter and I thought the job suited my purposes. Stephanie Plum is probably not the world's best bounty hunter, either.

LOWE: You like to keep things humorous...murder mysteries with a light touch. Is this Stephanie's modus operandi, in order to stay sane, or do you also react to tense situations with humor?

EVANOVICH: I'm one of those people always laughing at inappropriate moments. I suspect I see things at a slightly off-center point of view. I also think laughter is important. Some of my humor comes from my formative years watching I Love Lucy, and some of my humor is social commentary.

LOWE: Describe Fearless Fourteen, if you will.

EVANOVICH: There's a monkey named Carl, a kid who's a Blybold Wizard, Moonman Dunphy saves the day with his potato rocket and there's a dead guy in Joe Morelli's basement.

LOWE: Quirky, to say the least! Look forward to hearing it. How many numbers do you anticipate writing? Those Alphabet mystery novels have an end point at Z, but you can go on forever, at least in theory, can't you?

EVANOVICH: I'll continue writing as long as people keep reading. I'm contracted through book fifteen.

LOWE: Do you listen to your own audio books? What do you think of Lorelie King?

EVANOVICH: I do listen. And I love Lorelie King! She was actually my request. She'd been doing my U.K. books, and I was having a hard time finding someone to do my books in this country. The Recorded Books reader C.J. Critt does the library editions here, but she was contracted to them, and although I love her, she wasn't available. So I asked to get Lorelie. What do you think of her?

LOWE: She captures Stephanie's character very well, and does a marvelous job.

EVANOVICH: Yes, she's articulate and consistent. By the way, do you know Lance Storm? Have we ever talked about Lance?

LOWE: Not that I recall.

EVANOVICH: Well, Lance was a wrestler, and I don't know if you realize it, but Cracker Barrel plays a big part with WWF wrestlers. If you go to his website at StormWrestling.com, and read his links, he lists his favorite restaurant as Cracker Barrel.  Reason I know him is that he has a book club, and we trade off a lot of readers, and when he's in town we hang out with Lance.

LOWE: [Note: I was audio book reviewer for Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores when I first interviewed Janet.] That's a hoot. A wrestler with a book club. So who influenced you? Who are your favorite authors?

EVANOVICH: The earliest influence was Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge. They were always setting off on adventures. And of course, there was Lucille Ball. On my last book tour the book that traveled with me was Slightly Shady by Amanda Quick. Shady is a Regency romance and I love reading about the Regency period. They're comedies of manners much like the Plum books.

LOWE: Is anything going to film? Have you written any screenplays yet?

EVANOVICH: TriStar bought the rights to One for the Money, the first book in the series. I've never written a screenplay but think it might be a fun future project.

LOWE: Am trying to think of who might best play Stephanie. Ashley Judd? Cameron Diaz? Sandra Bullock?

EVANOVICH: Or maybe Anne Hathaway or Ellen Page.

LOWE: Wow, that's even younger than I imagined. A Stephanie Plum for a new generation. Now, you are truly everywhere, these days. Ever signed books overseas, and does any of this ever interfere with the writing?

EVANOVICH: Once I did a month long tour of Australia, three weeks in England, Scotland, Ireland, and then a month long tour of the U.S. The result of all that touring is that you can get behind on the writing. I love the signings and media but hate the flying.

LOWE: At this point, can you even remember being at a signing where few people showed up?

EVANOVICH: When I first started touring I had signings where no one showed up. It takes a lot of Cheez Doodles and beer to get over that sort of thing! An average signing now runs anywhere from 500 to 5,000 people.

LOWE: No more Cheez Doodles for you, then, Janet! (She now loves Butterscotch Krimpets cake).


Grover Gardner

These days, beauty no longer defers to age. The opposite is true. We all seem to prize youth, and discriminate indiscriminately against those we perceive as old. We seek Botox, plastic surgery, drugs and diet pills in an effort to stave off the inevitable. To Dr. Andrew Weil, however, such a mindset is unfortunate. With his book HEALTHY AGING, Weil has become Tucson's most famous full time resident author. Appearing on the cover of Time magazine, and featured in the NY Times and on the Today show, Weil talks about aging gracefully as an option to being influenced by Hollywood's belief that if don't look under 30, you're not really alive.

Certainly Weil is himself a proponent of both traditional and alternative diet and lifestyle choices to optimize a slower aging process. On Today, Katie Couric even called him a "guru" of such. Yet as founder of the Program in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, he has talked nationwide about wellness based on diet for years, causing Time magazine to recently declare that, "No other physician has done more to shape the direction of medical education in America." This doesn't sound at all like a man dispensing questionable remedies from a desert cloister, despite his large gray beard. Maybe he just looks like a guru.   

Weil's book is indeed quite scientifically realized.  Despite its subtitle, "A Lifelong Guide to Your Physical and Spiritual Well-Being," it parallels--in many ways--the bestsellers of Dr. Nicholas Perricone, with an analysis of the biological changes that appear on the cellular level due to stress hormones, free radicals and the natural, progressive shortening of telomeres on the ends of chromosomes. Weil even advises adopting an anti-inflammatory diet, using spices like turmeric, and eating fish like salmon. Dermatologist Perricone, meanwhile, appears on the cover of Life Extension magazine, with the head of a salmon on the plate before him. The irony here is not that both men espouse the same regimen, but rather that Weil appears to be more skeptical of an industry that exploits our desire for immortality. As Weil puts it, "I am dismayed by the emphasis on appearance in anti aging medicine."  The other irony is that he dismisses claims that real life extension is on the horizon, because "nature doesn't care about individuals, only their genes." Ironically, for sure, once you pass your immortal DNA on, nature is pretty much done with you. So where's the irony here, you ask?  Most visibly of all, salmon die soon after spawning.

As to whether there may ever be a pill that can extend human life beyond the current upper limit of 120 years, Weil cites the success of Dr. Cynthia Kenyon in her research with nematodes. It is the same scientist who inspired my own upcoming suspense novel “The Methuselah Gene,” due to the 50% increase in life span that Kenyon observed in worms known to researchers as caenorhabditis elegans. Yet despite Kenyon's gene manipulation, and the hope of the company she founded, Elixir, worms are still not humans.  (Or at least not MOST humans, although the killer who steals an experimental longevity formula in "Geezer" in order to secretly test in on a small town's residents might qualify).  

Until a real breakthrough in life extension comes, what are we to do in the meantime?  This is the question that Weil answers in "Healthy Aging," with proven science to back him up.  What distinguishes his answers from the more aggressive fad diet and exercise books on the market is his tone. This is especially evident on the audiobook version that he narrates. "Aging can bring frailty and suffering, but it can also bring depth and richness of experience, complexity of being, serenity, wisdom, and its own kind of power and grace," he says. Weil is not preaching or conducting a pep rally here.  He respects his audience.  They are, after all, not children, and what aging Americans needs now, especially in this area, is a little dignity. His advice? Live in moderation, eat a wide selection of natural whole foods, exercise regularly but not too much, touch a lot, and don't fret over those wrinkles or a few extra pounds. In this way, you will be joining good company, including even those few in Hollywood who have seen the insanity of an unwise obsession for what it is, like Jamie Lee Curtis, star of "Perfect” and “The Dorothy Stratten Story.” Or Lauren Bacall, Paul Newman, and Robert Redford. Or Colin Powell. Pair this book with "The Power of Now" by Eckhart Tolle, another book without a trace of hype, and you have a roadmap for real peace, health, long life, and happiness.  -0-

"Live long and prosper..."

If you prefer description and characterization over choreographed special effects, then James Lee Burke's mystery masterpiece, PURPLE CANE ROAD, is your huckleberry. The plot here has no significance to anyone outside the heart and temperament of its main character, Dave Robicheaux, and the creator of that character wouldn't know a cliche if it climbed into his green turtle soup. Actor Will Patton performs this regional Louisiana story with a native and intuitive skill bordering perfection. In Purple Cane Road, Dave seeks the truth about the long ago murder of his mother, following a new lead implicating crooked cops. During his gritty and sometimes grisly hunt, he manages to learn more about his mother, and gains an identity which he can finally grasp in being her son.  In an interview, Burke told me this was the book he was most proud of writing. And Patton won an Audie award for reading Burke. (Simon & Schuster Audio)

What is the fascination people have with race horses?  I wasn't sure until I heard SEABISCUIT--AN AMERICAN LEGEND by Laura Hillenbrand.  With little time or interest in spectator sports, I found myself nonetheless riveted by the suspenseful description of the races run by this champion, an underdog with ferocious will and blinding speed who captured more news headlines in 1938 than anyone--even FDR or Hitler. The travails and games played by the owner, trainer, jockey, and the press are examined here, during a Depression era run of ups and downs all the way to a glorious victory. Actor/narrator Campbell Scott tells this amazing true story with an understated reverence, keeping out of the way as Seabiscuit threads his way through the pack to pull out in front. "See ya later, Charlie," said the jockey atop Seabiscuit to the jockey next to him, and then urged his horse for a final burst to the finish line.  The other horse was exhausted, but Seabiscuit---much like a few rare audiobooks---had power in reserve.  (Random House Audiobooks; have interviewed Laura.)

Bill Bryson has a knack for making difficult subjects understandable, even enjoyable.  In his book, A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING, the author of "A Walk in the Woods" and "I'm a Stranger Here Myself" does just that, tackling geology, astronomy, chemistry, even physics in such a way that boredom is replaced by wonder.  It's a matter of wording.  Knowing how much to include in an explanation, and where to crack the shell to get at the nut.  All the great men of science are here, too, including the patent clerk who became Time magazine's "Person of the Century," (Einstein), and the guy who invented the drip coffee maker only to die sniffing laughing gas.  So turning off the ball game does have its rewards, including the discovery that you're riding on a big blue ball weighing five million million tons, hurtling toward any number of hazards on the back 9 of the Cosmos Invitational. Your caddy, Bill, carries this bag of tricks himself, and explains each one. (Random House Audio)

GUARDIAN OF THE HORIZON by Elizabeth Peters is a historical mystery involving a missing journal and an expedition to the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. The novel follows the well drawn character of Amelia Peabody and her husband Emerson as they set off to aid a friend and royal heir who's been struck down by a mysterious illness while others plot against him. As they revisit the city of the "Lost Oasis" in this established series, you'll find yourself drawn in by Barbara Rosenblat's talent at creating characters, and her uncanny ability to make each one distinct and memorable.  Peters is a two time Grand Master winner in the mystery genre, and is known for her authentic research and intricate plot twists.  So you have all the usual and unusual villains, from tomb raiders to soldiers of fortune, pitted against our intrepid explorers as Amelia once again finds herself duped and betrayed, and must deal with her unruly husband and impulsive son. It's a melodramatic, humorous and entertaining audiobook boasting historical accuracy, a command of language, and a "grand master" narrator to nail the accents. Who could ask for anything more?  (Recorded Books)

Avatar's Stephen Lang is also a narrator of audiobooks, particularly Sandra Brown's.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Interview with Nora Roberts

from the Vault: Nora Roberts has over 500 million copies of her novels in print, making her one of the most well read romance writers in history. Although primarily a romance novelist, she has also published many futuristic mystery novels as J. D. Robb. (Latest: Nightwork, Shelter in Place, and movies Carnal Innocence, Brazen, Tribute, Midnight Bayou, Northern Lights, High Noon. She is winner of a 2022 first ever Influencer Award in the category Romance.)  

Jonathan Lowe: After IRISH THOROUGHBRED you wrote IRISH ROSE and IRISH REBEL. Are you Irish yourself?

Nora Roberts: Yes. I'm Irish on both sides of my family, with some Scot thrown in. I've always had a strong connection to Ireland. When I was able to go to Ireland the first time years ago, it felt like going home.

Lowe: How surprised were you at your success? How difficult was it to establish your name?

Roberts: It was a gradual process. Selling the first book was like a miracle. I had, until that point, sought some avenue for creativity in every craft known to man. Ceramics, embroidery, sewing. I even put little flies in overalls I made my sons. How sick is that? Canning, macrame, needlepoint, baking. I had a distressing craft addiction. Fortunately writing cured me of it, and Silhouette opened a marvelous door for me.

Lowe: Do you have many male readers?

Roberts: Yes, I do. A varied and interesting base which has expanded since the Robb books were published. I got a letter from a guy who drives a rig, and habitually listens to my audios when he's on the road. He assured me he was a real guy, but that parts of JEWELS OF THE SUN had him in stitches at the truck stop. I love that. I've also seen father-daughter readers at signings. I've always had mother-daughter readers, and I love knowing my books are a bond between generations.

Lowe: How did you decide to mix the SF and romance genres in the Robb titles?

Roberts: I write quickly. That's just my natural pace. As a result, both of my publishers had considerable inventory. For some reason they refuse to publish only my books. Go figure. My agent and editors suggested I write under another name. I dragged my feet on the idea until my agent said, "Nora, there's Pepsi, there's Diet Pepsi, there's Caffeine Free Pepsi." And the light went on in my head. I could be two popular brands! So I agreed to try it if I could do something a little different. I'd had the germ of the idea for Eve Dallas years before. Tough, haunted, driven murder cop of the future. I really enjoy writing romantic suspense, and was intrigued by the idea of adding just a whiff of SF. Nothing too fanciful. Fun tech toys, societal changes, but keeping the basic human element. And I wanted to do it as a series, with continuing characters so I could develop relationships, and the romance between the man characters, over a number of books. Then Roarke walked onto the page, and the rest is history.

Lowe: What about female readers for Roarke?

Roberts: I have a lot of female readers who seem to enjoy the In Death books as much or more than the books I write under my own name. Roarke has a lot to do with that. After all, he is Roarke. And Eve seems to appeal to both men and women because she's strong, just a little dark, courageous and sexy. They're grittier, more violent books in many ways. So I've found there's considerable overlap.

Lowe: What about films, like SANCTUARY with Melissa Gilbert. Did you visit the set?

Roberts: Yes, I was able to spend a couple days--nights really--on the set in Toronto, to meet Melissa and Costas Mendaylor, the marvelous and gorgeous actor who plays Nathan. The cast and crew were wonderfully welcoming, and I had the opportunity to watch them make a hurricane. It was freezing! Cold, dark, rain machines, wind machines, lightning machines, mud. And our actors out there in shirt sleeves as this was supposed to be summer on an island off the coast of Georgia. I felt the script stayed very true to the book, to the characters and the emotions. But filmmaking convinced me to keep my job where I can stay inside and stay warm.

Lowe: Where did you find the time and determination to do what you have done?

Roberts: You don't find time. You make time. I have a fast pace--that's just the luck of the draw, like eye color. But I also have a great deal of discipline, a gift from the nuns who educated me for the first nine years of my schooling. Nobody instills the habit of discipline and the shadow of guilt like a nun. I write six to eight hours a day, occasionally on weekends as well.

Lowe: So you do overtime, and you're a fast writer to boot! How many drafts?

Roberts: I do a first draft fairly quickly. Just get the story down and don't worry about fixing or fiddling. Straight through, no looking back. Once I have that initial draft, I know my characters more intimately, know the plot more cohesively, so I can go back to page one and go through it all again, fleshing out, fixing little problems, finding where I went wrong and adjusting it, or where I went right and expanding that. Adding texture, sharpening the prose. Then I go back to page one again, for a third draft, polishing, making sure I hit the right notes.

Lowe: The hard part is in the rewrites, so true, and the initial draft is a voyage of discovery. More fun. So you have an instinct when it's ready?

Roberts: No book is perfect. I try to send in the best book I can write at the time. And I trust my editor to tell me if it can be made better.

Lowe: Now tell us about the phrase "a day without fries is like a day without an orgasm."

Roberts: (laughs) Actually, that was one of those on-line message board conversations. Just silliness. There was some discussion on one of the AOL boards about dieting and cutting out beloved yet fattening foods. Fries came up, and I happen to have a deep emotional attachment to fries, so this was my response. Some of my readers caught it, so when they established a reader web page for me, they named it ADWOFF--A Day Without French Fries. A delightful and fun site.

(Note: read my new romance "The Final Plot of Valerie Lott.")

Interview with Christina Delaine

Lowe) How did you discover voiceover?

Delaine) Kids do funny voices, but I was that weird little kid walking around impersonating John Moschitta,the fast-talking guy who did the MicroMachine commercials, and acting out whole scenes from The Wizard of Oz, doing all the different character voices. Later on, when I had gotten out of grad school for acting and was cast in a popular show in NY, I quickly realized that despite its success, pretty much everyone in the cast had a day job besides acting to make ends meet, and they spent much of their day doing things they hated so they could do this one thing they loved for a few hours a night. So I made a vow that I would never do anything other than perform to make my living. VO was a natural fit for me. I started to aggressively pursue it,and it became the way for me to support my theater habit. 

Lowe) Influences? 

Delaine) As far as audiobooks go, I’d say my heroes and strongest influences are Barbara Rosenblat and Will Patton. Barbara was my first listening experience. My mom got me Elizabeth Peter’s Amelia Peabody series, narrated by Barbara, and I was just blown away. I don’t think I could have asked for a better introduction to the art form. Barbara is a wonderful actor. Her ability to inhabit character is simply awe-inspiring, and her facility with accents and vocal characterization are unparalleled. I had no idea the breadth of acting and skill involved in audiobooks and her work just opened the door to this whole world for me. Will Patton is simply sublime. His acting is so beautiful, so effortless. He’s always so alive, spontaneous and existentially present within the text, just channeling the emotional subtext so fully. When I daydream about doing the job well and what that means, I imagine I’m the love child of Barbara and Will.


Fav authors and why? 

Every single author I narrate for! They pay my mortgage! Also, they picked me, and I’m a sucker for flattery! I am cheekily serious, but that’s also a hard question, and a long list. I was an English major in undergrad. My double focus was on Shakespeare and 19th Century American Fiction, both of which I love, so Shakespeare, Hawthorne, and Irving are on the list for sure, but my tastes are wide and varied, and books are a huge part of my life. My dogs are Boo Radley, named after Harper Lee’s "To Kill a Mockingbird", and Esme, named for the title-character in "For Esmé—with Love and Squalor" by J.D. Salinger. I’m a huge fan of Stephen King, especially when narrated by Will Patton, and my guilty pleasure is any kind of apocalyptic fiction. Give me a few zombies, a plague or a post-armageddon hellscape, and I’m a happy girl. Jonathan Maberry's Joe Ledger series is a favorite.

What are you working on now, and what’s next?

I’m currently working on TAKE WHAT YOU NEED by Idra Novey for Penguin Random House Audio. What’s next is me taking a little time to work on children’s book I’ve been writing about my dog. Hopefully, one day, there will be an audio edition available! 

(Note: Will Patton narrates James Lee Burke, and my Rosenblat interview appears at this blog. Also, my audiobook The Final Plot of Valerie Lott drops today).