For me, selling the Mark of the Vampire series to Tantor Audio was a serious milestone in my writing career. I was so honored and flattered that they thought so much of the series to buy it, and so excited to actually hear the boys out loud- not just in my head:) But when they told me WHO would be narrating the books, I flipped! Tavia Gilbert is not only highly respected in her field, but she’s one hell of an actor. Lucky, lucky me:)
#1. When I started getting into audiobooks, I soooo wanted to do voice-over work…until I heard my first really explicit sex scene. LOL! I was just thinking, “okay, for me, this would be a total Beavis and Butthead moment with me giggling all the way through it.” LOL! Guess I wouldn’t be cut out for voice work. So my question is, does Tavia have an acting background? And how did she get into voice work?
Ha! You get used to sex scenes. My first scene was awkward and uncomfortable, but it is really no different than any other scene – you still have to tell the story, further the character development, stay true to the intent of the author…so really, it’s not a big deal anymore.
I earned my BFA in acting at Seattle’s Cornish College of the Arts, where I studied classical and contemporary theater. It was a rigorous conservatory that prepared me for stage, film, and voice work, and I call on the skills I learned from my magnificent teachers every single day.
I got into voice work when I moved to Portland, Maine. I never intended to stay in Maine for long; I moved to Maine from Seattle for what I thought would be just six months to study documentary radio at the Salt Institute, and when I fell in love with a Mainer, I realized that I needed to be highly creative in my acting pursuits, since there were simply not enough professional theater opportunities for me to ever make a full-time living on stage in Maine. When I learned that voice actors could work from anywhere in the world, I set my sights on developing a vibrant career as a professional voice actor. I dreamed of doing audiobooks, and I am so blessed, and lucky, that my goals have been met and exceeded in this industry.
#2. How far in advance does she read the book and what kind of notes does she make in preparation for reading it in the studio?
I read the book as soon as the publisher sends it to me, and identify proper names and geographic names that I need to research to pronounce correctly, as well as vocabulary that is unfamiliar. I also mark the script with whatever character information is available, including socioeconomic information, where the character was born and raised, and any other such information that would contribute to their dialect or voice quality. What the character says about themselves and other characters is also revealing, so I note those details. I don’t mark my script much, as far as emphasis or phrasing – that just comes in the reading aloud.
#3 What really IS the role of a director on an audiobook? Can Tavia give examples of her working with directors?
Directors keep their eyes on the script and catch missed words, and they also catch the clicks and pops and noises that an actor might otherwise not hear themselves. But more importantly, they are there to advise when to pull back or lean into the narration, if it would be better to take a passage a little slower or faster, they can hear when a piece of dialogue doesn’t ring true. They can advise about character voices and ensure voice consistency across the life of a book or a series. For the first year and a half of my narration career, I hired a wonderful director for each title, who worked with me tirelessly to hone my skills, and he was invaluable. I didn’t learn bad habits that many new narrators who start out self directing unfortunately develop because they don’t have a partner to help them with the incredible amount of detail that must be attended to in audiobook production.
#4 Do voice people contact authors with questions before they go into the
studio? Like to ask how things are pronounced or stuff like that?
Certainly. I don’t always have an opportunity to speak with the author prior to recording, but I’m always delighted when I do! When I spoke with Laura I asked her if she had any input into character voices, so if she had been hearing the characters a certain way in her head I would be able to match her interpretation. She gave me free reign, which was kind, but I would have been pleased to give life to the characters in the way she imagined them.
#5. How does one get into this type of voice work? Where do you go to start?
A strong background in acting is pretty essential, I believe. Taking classes is invaluable, and there are great teachers for audiobook narration one can work with. But start by listening, and training your ear to listen through the story to the technique. Listen to the breathing, which is the body language of voice acting. Listen voraciously, to narrators you love and narrators you don’t, so that you learn what you think works and what you know doesn’t. Attending the Audiobook Publishers Association Conference can also be a good entry into the business.
#6 Who are Tavia’s favorite narrators in the business and why?
My favorite narrator of all time is Davina Porter, who is magnificent. She is so intelligent, so skilled with dialects, and such a gorgeous storyteller. I admire her and will always be so appreciative to her, because she narrated the first audiobook I ever listened to, so she set the bar incredibly high, and she inspired me, making me think, “Oh! I want do DO that!” Katy Kellgren and Barbara Rosenblat are wonderful, skilled artists who teach me by their constant excellence. Simon Vance is always exceptional, and Norman Dietz is in a class of his own, as a writer and a narrator. I am also grateful for Anna Fields’ narration. She was masterful, and her very premature death was a great loss to listeners and to our narrating community.
#7 how are narrators chosen for books? I mean, it really bugs when you’re in the middle of the series and you’re loving the narrator and then the next book is narrated by someone different. Hate that most of the time. And still others have the same narrators–Lara Adrian and JR Ward have had the same narrators all the way through (so far…)
Voice actors might audition for a book project, or they might be cast directly by the publisher. Hopefully the casting directors think carefully about who would be the perfect choice to handle a piece of writing. It IS terrible when a new voice takes over a beloved series! There might be a few reasons for the change in a narrator. If a different publisher acquires the rights to a series partway through, they might cast a different narrator, or if a narrator finds they have a conflict in their schedule, they could be unable to continue on with a series. But that is an understandable loss to listeners who love the performance and want their narrator to continue. Some author/narrator teams are such a winning combination that they continue their collaborations for years, and that is wonderful for everyone – the writer, the voice actor, and especially the devoted fans.
#8. Wow! Tavia Gilbert did a great job of the Night Huntress series – you’ve got yourself a great narrator Laura! I’m always interested in how narrators prepare for audiobooks so it would be interesting to know how Tavia does it.
Thank you for the nice compliment! Glad you enjoyed the series! See the above detail about how I prep. I also work with a wonderful dialect coach, Alyssa Keene, who assists me with her incredible skill with the character accents that come up in my work.
#9 There are many things I would like to know…
However, let’s not stare at the elephant in the room any longer…
I want to know what it’s like reading the “steamy” scenes. Especially when she has to be both the male and the female character. …
My rule is that if I am turned on, you will be too. Ha! How do you like that? : )
#10 I know narrators “contract” with a number of audiobook publishers. Has there ever been a time when she’s had to choose between two projects due to scheduling conflicts?
Not yet, but I’m sure it will come up. So far, if I get a couple projects back to back, or nearly overlapping, I just decide I can do with less sleep, rather than miss out on a project I’ll love.
#11. How does she handle going to school and narrating? Does she travel to the studios owned by the audiobook publishing companies OR does she do most of her work where she lives?
Oh, it’s difficult. I’m very fortunate to have such a successful narration career, but it means that I’m constantly responding to new opportunities that arise. Exciting, but not always conducive to the best balance between work and grad school. I’m a work in progress, and I’m trying to be gentle with myself while I strive to excel in all areas of my life. It’s difficult, though, to simultaneous develop a career, while studying and focusing on a time-intensive endeavor like school.
I do most of my audiobook work in my own studio, but from time to time I do travel to a publisher’s studios to record. I really adore my home and my community, and my lovely cats, and my own bed, and my coffee shop and the neighborhood Pilates studio and swimming pool, so I’m always reluctant to leave home for an impersonal, lonely hotel room. I love to travel, but traveling for work is somewhat less of an adventure than traveling for pure pleasure and exploration. But if I am a valued partner with the publisher, and if the writing is wonderful, I will gladly go where I’m invited to work.
#12. Are there events that narrators and fans can attend? Does Tavia ever do public appearances? Will she sign audiobook MP3s? If so, is there an address where one can mail the “CD” to her to have her autograph it?
That’s an interesting question! I’ve been talking with some of my narrator friends about the possibility of developing a national event where listeners and fans can connect with narrators, because I think it would be so meaningful to everyone. We shall see what comes of the conversation! Glad to know there would be some interest. I have been invited to do some appearances at libraries, but nothing has come to fruition yet. I’d be delighted to be an advocate for audiobooks by doing public appearances.
And I’d be honored to sign your audiobook! You may send it to me c/o The Studio, 45 Casco Street, Portland, ME 04103. Be sure to hold on to it as a collector’s item; I’m certain it will be worth $0.18 more in ten years with the addition of my signature. : )
Thanks so much for honoring me with your questions. Feel free to send me a Facebook friend request if you like. I always really love connecting with listeners, and it continues to delight and surprise me that people know I’m out there! I met Davina Porter about a year ago, and immediately burst into tears, making a total fool of myself, so I know what it is to connect deeply with someone because you’ve spent hours with their voice. I’m not sure that I’ll ever have someone sobbing on my shirtsleeve, but I’m thrilled to know that there are those who appreciate my work.