Great that we can finally get you here to Tucson. Ever been to Arizona before?
A few times, sure, to visit friends over the years. My father lived in Phoenix years ago, so I've been to that area a number of times, but this is my first foray into Tucson.
You're traveling with your producer, Dan Musselman, who also "discovered" you. What do you remember about those early days?
I distinctly remember thinking, "Wow, this audiobook thing is cool. If I could read one of these every month, I'd be ecstatic." Now, because of Dan, I get to read one of these every week, and we chat about stuff like that whenever we hit the road. We travel across the country and will often reflect on how things started, and how far things have come since.
Isn't your throat sore, after passing the 400 mark on the number of audiobooks narrated?
I've actually had a sore throat since title 63, but I hide it well. You do tend to get a sore throat, of course, after speaking for six to eight hours every day, but when you get to read as many great books as I do, you learn to live with the discomfort.
Do you ever feel at a loss for time, after recording, working on your own mystery novel and doing film acting, too? And what does your girlfriend say about all this?
I had to hide from pretty much everybody in my life to finish the novel, and my family and friends thought I'd disappeared for six weeks while I did so. I had just made a movie and had a full plate of audiobooks to record, too--which I still managed to do--so the timing was tough. Fortunately, my girlfriend is also a writer, so we'd set up our laptops in different rooms and start working. I'm such a cheap date.
Narrator Barrett Whitener once told me that the hardest thing about narrating a book is keeping the arc of the drama intact--knowing how each character contributes to the conflict, and the timing of that. Same for you?
Knowing the arc of the story, and how it has to play out, is integral to the process. Ultimately, as the verbal interpreters of the work, we're entrusted with the keys to the puzzle, and are asked to dole them out at precisely the right time. If we're doing a murder mystery, we need to parcel out the clues in the proper order and at the proper time. I've done a few whodunits, and they require a lot of care. I may know whodunit, but I always have to remind myself that the audience doesn't, at least not yet. Sometimes the culprit will say something that's extraordinarily suggestive, a real neon sign if you know the ending. I need to know not to color that comment with too much meaning.
What's most fun about the audiobook business for you?
The exposure I get to material I may not have read ordinarily. I've been asked to read books I couldn't imagine myself reading for pleasure, and found some real treasures in the process. What Makes Sammy Run?, for instance, was a book I'd heard of but had no real interest in reading. Yet when I recorded Sammy, it leapt to the top of my list of favorite books. I actually listened to old Sam Spade radio shows on my way into work each morning while recording it. I completely emulated Howard Duff's Sam Spade voice and inflections.
Any other favorite titles?
Frank Herbert's Dune. I read the original six novels while in college and absolutely loved them, so when I was asked to record Dune a few years ago, I was overwhelmed. Frank Herbert's son Brian co-wrote the prequels with Kevin Anderson, and he was so giving of his time. He spent 4 1/2 hours on the phone with me, guiding me through extremely difficult pronunciations. After we'd done the first prequel, we recorded the original Dune, and Brian shared all his father's notes with me, to ensure that all our pronunciations were correct. It's hard for me to convey just how special an occurrence this was.