One of my favorite narrators is definitely a superhero! Read on and find out more…
When did you first start doing vocal performance? What were your earliest projects?
I started out as a volunteer for LibriVox.org, and am still producing recordings for them when I have time. My first solo for LibriVox was Carmilla, by J. Sheridan LeFanu, which was recently featured on the SFF Audio podcast. It’s one of my favorite 19th century novellas. Other early projects included E. M. Forster’s Howards End and Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon.
What did you do with your earliest efforts? Did anyone listen to them them? Did you still have them?
Actually, if I’m going back even further than my first LibriVox recordings, I should admit that I made tape-recordings of some of my favorite books when I was a kid. I don’t think any of them have survived, which is probably a good thing. I remember recording some of A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and I’ve been thinking of doing that as a solo for LibriVox soon – hopefully doing a better British accent than I could do as a kid.
If you were to write the ‘origin’s episode’ of your performance career, what would be the most important scenes? How did you get started doing audio books?
I listened to a lot of audiobooks when I was a kid – I have clear memories of some of them. I’m reading James Howe’s Bunnicula series with my daughter right now and can remember how the audio series sounded, so I must have listened to them a lot. My mom would get the audio tapes from the library and my brother and I would just wear them out. This was after we had read the print books about a million times and worn those out, too. We liked to imitate the voices on audiobooks (and TV and movies, of course) and would quote from them a lot. So when I discovered LibriVox in 2007, I remember thinking about how it would be great to read out loud and have people listen to my recordings, just like I did when I was young.
Who are your partners in crime? What are their superpowers?
My six-year-old daughter is my biggest fan, but also my most ruthless critic. Of course she doesn’t actually hear me reading any of my professional projects (which are not suitable for children!) but I read to her nearly every day, and she enjoys it a lot – but will also tell me when she doesn’t like one the voices. She has a good ear!
Where is your secret lair and what does it look like?
I record in the walk-in closet in my bedroom, which is a source of much amusement for my husband. I set up my microphone, laptop, and soundproofing booth and take it apart every time I have a recording session. I would love to have a Whisper Room in my house someday, but I don’t actually see that happening – not only because that kind of secret lair is expensive, but also because we just don’t have the space.
What kind of training do you do to keep your superpowers in world saving form? How do you insure they are used only for good? What do you do to bring the characters to life?
I drink lots of water with lemon and hot tea while I’m in my “booth,” which, along with lots of lip balm, keeps the equipment in good working order. As for only using my power for good, not evil, I have been very happy with the projects I’ve chosen, and for which I’ve been chosen, so far. Although I’ve narrated a wide range of fiction, they have all had their own individual strengths. I make sure to do a good read of the book in advance of the recording, ask the author any questions I have about the voices, characterizations, or pronunciations, and make my own notes on the book. Although I rely quite a bit on advance research, I also tend to go with my instinctual response to a character and the language s/he uses to create a voice, often in the moment of performance.
Granted, you probably don’t’ get to wear your superhero costume a lot, but if you did, what would it look like?
Ha – my everyday outfit for recording is as comfortable as possible – sometimes even my pajamas! If I had a superhero costume, though, it would be sleek and Matrix-like, with a long black leather trench coat. (I actually have a vintage navy blue leather trench which might work…)
What was the supervillian that threatened to stop your latest project and how did you vanquish it?
My personal nemeses are cold and flu viruses, when tend to come home a lot with my daughter from school. The worst is a 2-3 week cold that kills the voice and hangs around forever, since that can really wreck havoc with my recording schedule. I try to pound the Emergen-C in those cases and just be patient.
What important lessons have you learned along the way?
It’s hard to not respond negatively to bad reviews, but I know from experience that you can’t win everyone over all the time. Not everyone is going to like my voice or my narrating style, and that’s okay. I’m trying to learn how to shake off the bad reviews (which are a distinct minority of the response to my work) and focus on the positive ones.
What have been the best/most memorable experiences along the way?
I have never had a bad experience narrating a book, and I don’t want to pick a favorite of the authors I’ve worked with, since they have all been fantastic. So I’ll pick a volunteer project: my LibriVox recording of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. This has been my most successful LibriVox solo by far, and has been downloaded nearly a million times at this point, as well as featured on the CraftLit podcast a while back. I love this novel so much, and it was such a joy to read, especially since it’s all written in Jane’s voice. I also did it in part for my mother, since it’s one of her favorite novels, and she introduced me to so much classic literature when I was young. So this was a special project for many reasons.
If you did this again what would you do differently and what would you not change?
If I could do it over again, I might have tried to “go pro” a bit earlier, and to educate myself more fully about the audiobook industry. I don’t think I had the confidence to make that leap (not until Hugh McGuire recruited me for Iambik Audio in 2011), and there was also the not-so-small matter of becoming a parent that took up quite a bit of time. Other than that, I don’t think I would change anything; it has been a wonderful experience so far.
What is the best (performing or otherwise) advice you have ever gotten and why.
I’m heavily influenced by a lot of the acting training I received in college, which was based in vocal training and in both Method and Meisner techniques. So I draw a lot on the voice classes I took, and I try to connect emotionally to the material I’m reading, but also to rely on my instincts, as I said before. I had a wonderful acting teacher, Joe Patenaude, in college, who was great at drawing out emotional responses to characters.
What kinds of vocal performance do you like best? What makes them your favorites.
I listen to a lot of audiobooks, and enjoy a wide range of narration styles. Sometimes it’s great to hear an author read his or her own work, as with David Sedaris (I think he could make anything funny), or with a book like Tina Fey’s Bossypants. Right now I’m listening to Cary Elwes’ As You Wish, which is about the making of The Princess Bride, and features the voices of many of the participants in that film, which is fun. I tend to read a lot of British fiction, so I enjoy listening to a lot of great British narrators, such as Simon Vance, Simon Prebble, Juanita MacMahon, Susan Duerden, Rosalind Landor, Stephen Fry, and Virginia Leishman. I also have a series fondness for the Harry Potter series read by Jim Dale and Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials read by a full cast.
What do you enjoy most in the process? What parts of it do you really dislike?
Character dialogue is the best part, especially if it’s with characters I’ve really come to love. The editing is the worst part – removing all of my (many) mistakes, and cleaning everything up. I could never be an audio editor, and I’m always so grateful when I work with a professional editor, as I do at Bee Audio.
You can hear some of Elizabeth’s work on
Twelfth Night at Longbourn
and Remember the Past
You can find Elizabeth at: