Hello Dear Readers,
Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time in traffic and as I’m not a particular fan of the radios we have nowadays I started buying audiobooks to have some distraction, and of that, I did become a fan. It started as a way to get distracted, but it proved to be a wonderful way to get to know more stories and to relive some of them in a different way. I started enjoying audiobooks so much that I no longer listen to them only in my car, now I listen to audiobooks every time I’m cooking, cleaning and even running (I couldn’t do it without audiobooks to distract me).
When my husband started to notice I was listening to books he found it strange as he had no idea this was such a common entertainment. Our discussions led me to investigate a little about audiobooks and I was surprised to discover that they are not as recent as I though going back for several decades.
I also found some interesting articles which told me that the audiobook releases are now almost always simultaneous with the publication of the printed book, and that we see around 36 000 new titles released per year. If you are curious about the growth of this industry, you can find our more in this Publishing Perspectives article about the FutureBook conference that took place in London a couple of months ago. I found it very enlightning and interesting.
As you may imagine most of the audiobook I listen to are JAFF and one of my favourite narrators is Stevie Zimmerman. When I heard she would be narrating The Courtship of Edward Gardiner this year I though it would be the perfect opportunity to interview her and get to know a little about the other side.
I’m sure some of my readers will be as curious as I am regarding audiobooks and Stevie, so today I’m sharing the interview with you. You can read it along with some author testimonials below:
***Interview with Stevie Zimmerman***
I come from England and moved to the US when I married – my husband is an orchestral conductor and is half English half American. I have two children, both in college now. I am a theatre director and had wanted to be an actor when I was in school and college. I quickly discovered I didn’t have “it” to be a successful stage actor and when I started directing I felt really at home. For a few years I didn’t work while I had to make ‘real’ money, and then to bring up my two children. Over the last ten years I have been able to take on more work in both the theatre and the voiceover world and now it is a great balance.
And how and why did you start narrating audiobooks?
I stumbled into a night class on voiceovers several years ago and really enjoyed it. The teacher of the class said I could get work because of my English accent – and offered to help me for a rich fee! I decided to try it on my own. At first I was just doing short commercials and then got into some longer narrations for e-learning. Then a few years ago I found out about a website where authors and narrators could meet and produce audiobooks without going through traditional publishers who usually want to use famous names for their audiobooks – which I am not. Yet! ; ) My very first book remains one of my best sellers and it was a regency romance so that became my main niche. I’ve done other genres but the period romance is by far my most popular.
How do you prepare the narration of an audiobook?
I must be honest – I do not read the book ahead of time. The main reason for this is that I like to go on the same journey as the reader. Obviously there are certain things I need to know ahead of time so I ask authors if they have specific requirements in terms of accent and class and so on. There have been a couple of times when an author doesn’t reveal “James’ wonderful Scottish burr” until Chapter 4 – and that is a pain! But otherwise I like to uncover the characters and story along with the reader. I don’t want to know at the outset that this person turns out to be evil, because if the characters and the readers don’t know I don’t want to put it into my characterization.
It’s interesting to know you don’t read the books before narrating them, I thought you did to choose which ones you would accept and which you would not.
When it comes to choosing which books to do, rather than read them ahead of time, which would probably be impractical as the audition process implies interest in a project before you get to see the full manuscript, I do some research on Amazon. I look at reviews, and sales, and I can judge the quality of the writing from the audition sample usually. There have been a couple of occasions when I’ve wished I’d been more cautious in auditioning for a title – when I end up being a sub-editor for a book that has been badly written and lacked an editor. And sometimes reviews can be good even when the story is ridiculous. But I think I’m getting better at choosing! Certainly, Nicole, Jennifer, and Joy have well written and carefully edited books thank goodness!
What’s the hardest thing about narrating an audiobook?
It’s kind of a lonely occupation. I get caught up in the books and keep narrating for as long as my voice holds up – or until my dog Charlie grumbles about being ignored. But that can mean I spend several hours, as I put it – ‘in the basement talking to myself’.
When did you first heard of JAFF? And when and how did you start narrating JAFF?
I’m not sure but I think I first realized there was this whole genre when I was offered my first JAFF audiobook. I had been aware that there were spinoffs of other classic books like the really well known prequel to Jane Eyre – Wide Sargasso Sea – although I’ve not read it. But I had no idea there was such a huge interest in retellings and expansions of Austen’s books. It’s a funny thing in a way, to look at a story that is so well known and retell it even though the outcome is inevitable. But I always think about Romeo and Juliet. Even if you were in the audience at the very first performance the ending is revealed in the prologue of that play, so the fact that we know what is going to happen doesn’t have to mean the story isn’t compelling and rich and enjoyable.
Who’s the most challenging JAFF character you’ve ever had to interpret while narrating a book? And why?
With most of Jane Austen you’re dealing with a large number of female characters, many of whom are of similar age and class. Look at P&P – you’ve got five Bennett daughters, two Bingley sisters, Charlotte, and then the other female characters, Mrs B, Lady Katherine, Anne, and the other townsfolk. So that’s really hard, to come up with distinguishing vocal features without making caricatures. That’s true of the men as well, but there aren’t quite so many of them. But the most challenging one I think is Mr. Collins. Finding a way of communicating his obsequiousness and social ineptitude without making him entirely ridiculous is tough. Some JAFF authors do write him to be ridiculous and that’s fun, but after all, we love Charlotte don’t we and we don’t want her married to a complete idiot. I must admit I like the P&P variations where she ends up with someone else.
I’m intrigued more authors haven’t expanded or retold other of the novels . It’s really more P&P fan fiction than Jane Austen. It’s the most popular of course. But I love the others too. Persuasion has always been my favourite.
Persuasion is a favourite of mine too, my second favourite Austen novel, but I’ve got another one in my heart and that is North & South. You’ve recently narrated Northern Rain by Nicole Clarkston which is a N&S variation. Did you find it too different from P&P in terms of narration? I’m assuming the working class is a little harder to narrate, but I might be mistaken 🙂
I loved reading Nicole’s Northern Rain. I had actually listened to Juliet Stevenson reading North and South so I had her in my head a lot. It was a very different book from P&P variations as there was almost no comedy and, although it is at heart a romance, there is a lot of social history and political observation that marked the original too. The challenge with this book was to have a range of accent levels to reflect class and education, some accents very broad and others slight. And of course a large number of men to do! I hope I managed to distinguish between the various men of industry in the north, as well as the working class men and women.
I think the right narrator can bring a book to life like nothing else. If you’ve got multiple characters and you listen to a narrator with great acting chops you’ve got a movie in your head. I love listening to books on long drives, on walks with Charlie in the woods, when I’m tidying the house, times when I couldn’t read a book. It’s not a replacement – it’s a different experience. I hear from listeners who both read and listen to the same book and they say it gives them a new take on the book either way. Unfortunately the wrong narrator can kill a book. I’ve started several that I just couldn’t go on with because of the performance not the writing. But the right one! Wow! I listened to Dan Stevens (who was the romantic lead at the beginning of Downton Abbey) read a really long, complex historical novel that I might have struggled with on the page and he gave every single character the most wonderful, defined quality. I’d listen to almost anything he narrates.
Do you want to know more about Stevie? Check out her website: http://steviezim.wixsite.com/stevie-zim-voice
Stevie is so well liked in the JAFF community that some of my favourite authors agreed to talk to us about their experience with her.
Jennifer Joy, Nicole Clarkston and J. Dawn King are my very specials guests today as they share their experience with Stevie, the narration process and the auditions. They also bring several gifts for many of my readers as an incentive to started listening to books and share with all of us some very hot news!!!
There’s a reason why Stevie is so busy. It’s because she’s one of the best JAFF narrators out there! On the two occasions I’ve had the privilege of working with her, she’s always made the process easy with her timeliness and professionalism. Not to mention her narrative talents! The range of voices give each character a distinct sound— which is so important for audio listeners. We can’t have readers confusing Mr. Collins with Mr. Darcy, now, can we? With Stevie, that’s never an issue. (And she does an amazing Lady Catherine!) As an author and reader, I’m a fan!
I first “met” Stevie through an audition she submitted to produce Rumours and Recklessness. For some reason, I was not getting notifications from ACX (Audible’s publishing platform) and I had forgotten to log in to check new auditions. Therefore, by the time I heard her sample, it was already a few days old.
I had no idea at the time what an honor it was. All I knew was that her voice was exactly what I had been hearing in my head as I wrote. She was so “light and pleasing,” to paraphrase Austen. You could hear the restrained laughter as she voiced Elizabeth, and the coiled agony in “Darcy’s” tones. No further auditions were necessary!
Stevie is a busy lady, so by the time I heard her audio sample she had already accepted some other projects. I was content to wait for her, it was well worth it. I still giggle when I hear her voicing Lydia, and Lady Catherine absolutely sent me into hysterics! No character was too small for special attention, and I was impressed that one person could so beautifully bring to life so many different people.
It was truly her take on Darcy which took my breath away. I was so impressed that her natural tones could take on a deep richness without sounding like “a woman trying to play a male part.” She is just fabulously talented in that regard. She has played Darcy in so many other JAFF books that she has a real handle on him.
When I published Northern Rain, I knew right away I wanted to see if Stevie was interested. Ana Clements had produced No Such Thing As Luck (with the same characters from North and South) for me and has done a spectacular job, but her career was taking a path away from audiobooks. I was thrilled beyond words when Stevie accepted the project, and giddy every time she sent me a new file to preview. These characters were new to her, but she captured them beautifully. John Thornton’s voice was key, and she crafted him perfectly.
Stevie is a joy to work with. I enjoy chatting with her as she is working on a project, and she pays close attention to detail. When an author hands their baby over to a publisher or audio producer, there is a hope and a trust that the original vision will not be lost, but brought to life. I have learned I can depend on Stevie to catch the heart of the characters and create a wonderful listening experience for the “reader”.
Rita, can I make a little announcement? Stevie will be producing The Courtship of Edward Gardiner early this year!
I have used three different narrators for my audiobooks and all three were excellent to work with. When I first place a book up for auditions, my nerves take over. (Yes, I become Mrs. Bennet.) I think to myself, “what if nobody wants to produce my story” and “what if nobody wants to listen to it.”
Catherine O’Brien produced ‘A Father’s Sins’, ‘One Love, Two Hearts, Three Stories’, and ‘Yes, Mr. Darcy’. Her ability to differentiate between characters by changing her voice is incredible. When our schedules didn’t work for the next project, I listened to many samples of other narrators and contacted Stevie directly. Within a few weeks, she had produced ‘Compromised’. As she posted each chapter and I listened closely to her reading, I was again reminded of how much theatrical skill a good narrator needs. Like Catherine, her characters are a pleasure to listen to. She has also produced ‘The Abominable Mr. Darcy’ which was released in Audible today!!
My latest project, ‘Love Letters from Mr. Darcy’ was narrated and produced by Jannie Meisberger. Like the others, she was an absolute delight to work with and was equally as quick.
Rita, these women are true professionals. They edit their own work carefully before returning the files to me. The challenge for an author is to wiggle our projects into their already tight schedules. All three of them are in high demand so it is a privilege and honor to be accepted by them.
My next audiobook I will be posting for auditions is ‘Mr. Darcy’s Mail-Order Bride’. This will be my first audiobook where the narrator needs an American accent. I’m considering a male voice and have two in particular I’d like to pursue to produce the project.
I’m always excited to hear my stories come to life at the hands of a capable narrator. The first time I listen, I follow along with the manuscript to check for errors. I find few. Then I listen to it again with my eyes closed to see how closely the character voices fit. The last time, my eyes still closed, I listen solely for enjoyment.
The demands for audiobooks has grown so I cannot imagine not having my Jane Austen fan fiction stories produced in this format. With the help of Catherine, Stevie, and Jannie, I truly believe these become the best they can possibly be.
These authors are so generous they decided to start the year by bringing lots of goodies to my readers!
And J. Dawn King would like to offer two copies of Compromised and two copies of the just released The Abominable Mr. Darcy’
Let us know if like me you are a fan of audiobooks, and when/where do you listen to them, or if you are not yet convinced with audiobooks, and why not?
Every opinion is accepted and we would love to hear your yours 🙂
Let us know in your comments which audiobooks you would like to receive. If you are uncertain as to which you would like, you can always visit the authors Amazon Page and check the description of each book:
The giveaway is international and is open until the 22nd of January, to be eligible all you have to do is participate in the audiobook discussion by commenting this post.
Good luck everyone!