Audiobooks are all the rage these days, which got us to wondering: who exactly is the voice behind these recordings? To find out, we spoke with narrator Jorjeana Marie, who recently recorded both Gayle Forman’s I Was Here and Meg Wolitzer’s Belzhar, among others. The actress, comedienne and narrator was happy to talk. (We pun because we love.)
Tell us how you go about recording an audiobook.
Both of these books [I Was Here and Belzhar] have been playing a big part in my life. Because you spend a lot of time with them, reading the material. First you find out what the story’s about and who the people are in it. Who are the major players? Especially the lead character. Who is this young woman? What is she going through? I don’t take a lot of notes, so for me, a lot of that is instinctive. I just feel it and get to recording.
At Penguin Random House, you get to work with these amazing directors. They’ll tell me some more input sometimes, than what was emailed to me with the script. They’ll be messages there, from the author or producer. We’ll get started, do a little bit and they’ll say, not so much this or do a little bit of that. It’ll be a little bit of a play in the beginning, even with the sound engineer. But once we get that set — we’re just going for days.
What’s it like?
You’re working the whole time, you don’t stop. You go into this tiny room and you forget about the United Sates and the world at large, and move into this world that was created by the author. It’s amazing to get to live inside another world for three or five or however many days.
Is what you read different from the book itself?
It’s the exact same thing as the final copy that readers are reading. It’s very important that I don’t make up my own interpretation for anything, including even a plural or singular. I try to be very present when I’m working so that I make less mistakes and I’ve found certain things to help me to do that.
I’ve found that meditating before a recording session helps me make less mistakes and stay in the present moment in the story. Because it’s possible when you’re getting tired that you start thinking about the avocados waiting for you at lunch. So you don’t want to be doing that while you’re acting. At least that’s not my training. I don’t have the avocado technique down.
I do always have my water with me, that’s a big, big thing that I really learned from Scott Brick, who’s an incredible narrator. He was very adamant about drinking a lot of water, even before you go into the booth, because you’re just talking the whole time.
It’s almost like you’re performing a play but you’re the only actor?
I feel that way too, except it’s a play with one person on the other side of the glass, or one person right next to me in the booth. You’re not projecting and straining your voice in that way, but it’s a strain in the length of time that you’re going for. It’s like a long, Shakespearean drama that goes on for six hours, where you’re doing a monologue.
How do you decide how the characters sound?
I do that in the process of reading the book, once I’ve read the entire story. It’s almost like being a detective. You learn on page 67 that this guy has a limp, and you go, okay, so this is the kind of a person who goes through life with a little bit of a limp. What would that do? And I don’t think too much about it, but a person who travels through life with that kind of disability, it affects them. Whether they’re succumbing to it, or overcoming it. So it’s the character, it’s a point. So are things like if an author says, “she says boldly,” a couple of times, then this is a character who will speak their mind. And so these things simmer in the pot, and then the idea is, I hope, that they come out with the creation.
In the past I’ve written out long character descriptions, when I’ve worked on films and other things, but I think that, like anything else, after you do that for awhile, hopefully it becomes a part of you. I’ve done a lot of improvisation where you just walk out on stage, select a character and do it. So in audiobooks, the research is from reading the book, knowing if the author said anything, and just going and committing to it.