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Narrator interview and giveaway: Karen White

February 24, 2012

Have I got a treat for audio book lovers!  I had the pleasure of meeting award-winning audio book narrator Karen White on Twitter and was thrilled when she agreed to answer a few questions for me.  Here’s what she had to say:

What is the correct term for someone who records an audiobook – reader or narrator?

I have always heard “narrator” – though lately I’ve heard the term “voice actor”.   In my experience, as a listener and performer, it does take a well-trained actor to create a good audiobook performance.  You need to have a well-tuned instrument that can intuitively express the words and you have to be a storyteller.  The other word that’s interesting is “audiobook”.  The Audiobook Publisher’s Association prefers it as one word, but most dictionaries still consider it two.  In fact, spell check is having problems with my typing it as one word right now!  Getting those angry red underlines.

How did you get started in the business?

It’s funny, I was just hanging out with some other female narrators the other night and we jokingly referred to this as our “accidental career”. Which we were all grateful to have fallen into!  We agreed that there are some common things that got us into it:  strong acting training and a stage background, a lifelong love of reading, and, interestingly, being the kind of person that thrives on spending a lot of time alone!  My “accident” was being introduced to (the tragically late) Kate Fleming (aka Anna Fields) who generously gave me a lot of advice about getting work as a narrator.  I actually started editing narration session for Dove Audio, then worked for several years editing, directing, proofing and narrating (while my kids were small). It was a great learning process as I got to hear what works and doesn’t from different perspectives.

How many books have you recorded?

I finally went over 100 last year and now I’m not counting anymore!

How do you prepare for a new book?

I’m rather “detail oriented” so when I get the manuscript I read through it and highlight for three things:  words I don’t know how to say, all character descriptions, and descriptions of how a line is spoken (i.e. she said angrily).  (Now that I have an iPad I have all kinds of nerdy fun with different highlighter colors…)  Then I make an Excel document for the pronunciations, and a Word doc for the character descriptions – including physical & temperament descriptions as well as specifics on the voice.  Then I pick a key word or phrase that hooks me in to who each character is so I have an image that I can play through when I voice that person.  It’s pretty much the same prep work you do for any acting job, you just have to do it for more than one character!

Karen very generously allowed me to choose one of her recordings to give away.  I chose The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew and asked how she came to narrate it.

Although I’ve lived my adult life in the Northeast and Southern CA, I was raised in VA/KY/NC and my parents will never leave Chapel Hill, NC, which I consider my hometown.  I’ve always been a fan of “Southern” fiction and often read it for pleasure.  While at the beach this past summer (Oak Island, NC – just south of Wilmington – gorgeous, wonderful place to go on a family vacation) I happened to pick up THE DRY GRASS OF AUGUST and basically read it in a day, then gave it to my mom and said she had to read it.  We were both so moved by it, that I wrote AJ (the author) a fan letter.  I told her that I was a narrator, and that I would love to be considered to record it if she ever sold the audio rights.  Whenever I read a book, I hear it in my head – but I really heard these people talking to me.  I just knew them.  Then we ended up choosing the book to read in my Southern Fiction group and all enjoyed a great discussion with AJ about the book, so we got to know each other more.  Then one day, she called to say that Blackstone Audio had purchased the rights and she made sure that her agent requested me.  Blackstone called the next day, and I recorded the book right away.  Of course, then I got really nervous!  I was so attached to the book and wanted AJ to love what I did that it was hard to get started.  But once I did, it was a great experience to record.  So grateful that I got to!

About The Dry Grass of August:

In this beautifully written debut, Anna Jean Mayhew offers a riveting depiction of Southern life in the throes of segregation, what it will mean for a young girl on her way to adulthood—and for the woman who means the world to her…

On a scorching day in August 1954, thirteen-year-old Jubie Watts leaves Charlotte, North Carolina, with her family for a Florida vacation. Crammed into the Packard along with Jubie are her three siblings, her mother, and the family’s black maid, Mary Luther. For as long as Jubie can remember, Mary has been there—cooking, cleaning, compensating for her father’s rages and her mother’s benign neglect, and loving Jubie unconditionally.

Bright and curious, Jubie takes note of the anti-integration signs they pass, and of the racial tension that builds as they journey further south. But she could never have predicted the shocking turn their trip will take. Now, in the wake of tragedy, Jubie must confront her parents’ failings and limitations, decide where her own convictions lie, and make the tumultuous leap to independence…

Infused with the intensity of a changing time, here is a story of hope, heartbreak, and the love and courage that can transform us—from child to adult, from wounded to indomitable.

Thanks to Karen White, I have one audiobook to give away.   To enter to win the audio version of THE DRY GRASS OF AUGUST, by Anna Jean Mayhew,  (read by Karen White) simply fill out the entry form.  Contest is open to those with a US address only – one entry per person, please.  I will use to determine the winner. Contest ends at midnight EST Sunday, March 4, 2012.   Winners will be announced on Monday, March 5, 2012.  Comments are welcome (and appreciated) but will not get you an entry in the contest.
30 Comments leave one →
  1. Lisa Garrett permalink
    February 24, 2012 6:55 am

    I loved this interview! I have often wondered what preparations there are for someone who narrates books,

  2. February 24, 2012 7:11 am

    Great interview! I loved learning about KW’s process from prep to the finished product.

  3. February 24, 2012 8:47 am

    Wow, this is so interesting! And so glad to hear there is a narrator who pays attention to proper pronunciation!

  4. February 24, 2012 8:51 am

    What a terrific interview of a fascinating process!

  5. February 24, 2012 8:55 am

    Wow, what a great interview. I love that she’s so detailed oriented. I wouldn’t even begin to know where to start when preparing to be a narrator for an audiobook.

  6. February 24, 2012 8:55 am

    So interesting to learn her process. I am DYING to read this one!!!

  7. February 24, 2012 10:19 am

    Great interview! I thought it post was very interesting. I loved the details that she provided about her career.

  8. February 24, 2012 10:26 am

    Very interesting to learn how a narrator prepares to record a book. I’m not into audiobooks but it takes me back to how much joy my late aunt and my late former husband got out of Talking Books when they lost their sight. The Talking Book program is such a blessing for the blind.

  9. February 24, 2012 10:27 am

    What an amazing interview! I had never much thought about all the preparation that goes into narrating an audiobook, but it sounds as if there are tons of things to think about. I also think the giveaway is extremely generous, and wanted to thank you and Karen for letting your readers take advantage of that! Great post today, Kathy!

  10. February 24, 2012 11:03 am

    What an awesome interview. I loved Kate Fleming (aka Anna Fields), and she was one of my go-to narrators. I still shudder when I think of her sad/tragic death. Funny how some of us kind of fall into our careers. As an avid listener, I’m so glad you became a narrator.

  11. February 24, 2012 11:08 am

    I read (listen to?) a ton of audiobooks and was always kind of curious how the narrator went about it. Really, really cool.

  12. February 24, 2012 11:59 am

    I really enjoyed this interview. Now that I’ve been using audiobooks more, I find that so much of of a book’s success depends on the actor reading it. It’s truly an art.

  13. February 24, 2012 12:10 pm

    I love interviews with narrators. I love audios, and thus think being a narrator would be a fantasy job. It is probably really really hard, but I so wish it were something I could do! I had to go look up her books, and realized that I have listened to her with the Sarah Addison Allen audios.

  14. February 24, 2012 1:14 pm

    Loved this! It was so interesting to hear about the process of narrating an audiobook (I think it is one word too). I think it takes a lot of prep work and thinking — it isn’t an easy process I imagine. Thanks so much .. this was fascinating!

  15. February 24, 2012 1:35 pm

    I must find a book narrated by Karen White now! I am impressed by her preparation.

  16. kpbarnett permalink
    February 24, 2012 3:07 pm

    What a great interview – so many questions about audiobook narrators/narrating no answered. How nice that the two of you met.

    Karen B

  17. February 24, 2012 3:10 pm

    Great interview! Isn’t Karen the best?

  18. February 24, 2012 4:16 pm

    How great that you interview a narrator. She sounds lovely. Makes me want to go get some audobooks she has narrated.

  19. February 24, 2012 4:49 pm

    Great interview and some nice insight on the voice behind the audio.

  20. February 24, 2012 5:57 pm

    Excellent interview, Kathy! This is the first interview I’ve read with an audio book narrator. The importance of the voice (or voices) in an audio book is paramount to the book’s success.

    I’ll post this great giveaway in my blog’s sidebar. Thanks for hosting this, Kathy!

  21. February 24, 2012 6:30 pm

    Lovely interview and she has the best job ever!!!

  22. February 25, 2012 12:18 am

    Oh I love this interview! And it’s always so cool to find out how narrators fall into the job…i wonder if she would consider trading lives for a few weeks =}

  23. February 25, 2012 10:39 am

    Interesting interview and that book sounds fascinating. A quick question – do you mean continental USA or would you ship to the USVI? It’s in the same postal system but some people mean only the States, not the possessions.

  24. February 25, 2012 10:43 am

    Great interview. It’s really interesting to learn what goes into narrating an audio book. I’ve often wondered how one gets into doing that.

  25. February 25, 2012 3:28 pm

    O how I adore audios.
    I was just thinking about that this morning.
    I haven’t had the pleasure to hear her yet.
    Thank you for the awesome contest.
    *fingers crossed*
    GREAT questions.

  26. February 25, 2012 6:45 pm

    I really liked reading about how she prepares for the book. I watched a video that Mary@Bookfan posted last week that took us inside and found that fascinating too!

  27. February 26, 2012 9:57 am

    I can certainly see why she’s in demand – she sure does her homework! I love that she has such an organized approach!

  28. February 26, 2012 11:46 pm

    Loved the questions. What an interesting career.

  29. February 27, 2012 4:14 pm

    What a great glimpse you have provided behind that curtain where the audiobook voice actors/narrators reside. I am so interested to hear about her process. It sounds like she is so thorough in her preparations she makes to get ready to read the book. I imagine she must be really good at it!

  30. March 3, 2012 6:31 am

    I was completely fascinated by this interview (just found it through Stacked’s AudioSynched). When I was younger I used to think that I would be an amazing audiobook narrator, just because I loved to read books out loud 🙂 Now I’ve definitely realized just how much work/training goes into any one recording. Thanks for such an interesting interview!

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