Freebie Friday: The Freedom Maze
Posted by: Mary Burkey
Win the audiobook written by Delia Sherman, co-winner of the 2012 Prometheus Award for Best Novel, and narrated by Robin Miles. Just leave a comment below and I’ll announce the winner on November 2nd. Thanks to Listening Library for providing this freebie, along with a fascinating 13-minute audio interview by Rebecca Waugh with author Sherman.
Robin Miles wears multiple hats in the audiobook community, as she is involved in all aspects of production – I featured her role as a narrator coach in my Got Audiobook Talent? series of posts. Today, I’ve turned the tables and used the same set of questions to hear Robin’s answers from the narrator’s point of view. You can see her behind the mic recording The Freedom Maze below.
Robin, you’ve narrated audiobooks for both adult & youth audiences. Do you find that the experiences are different? How has your considerable expertise prepared you to voice a young adult title such as The Freedom Maze, described in the Booklist review as a “Multilayered story combines fantasy, clever literary allusions, and societal observations… a unique coming-of-age story?”
I find that that narrating for young adults is different, in that kids, teens and young adults up to college age, really listen to what you are doing and demand truth from you, in a way that adults don’t always. I find the young adult imagination is, for the most part, sharper and more willing to extend itself into the fantasy, the make-believe. I have got to be living on that same level or my narration just won’t cut it. Also, the performance has to be reflective of their experiences; you can’t let a jaded adult viewpoint color your performance, even when the character has had experiences way beyond the usual for her age. You have to see things through their eyes and be true to that. I have had many opportunities to play characters in extreme situations and on different planes of reality, which helped me place the Freedom Maze characters into a context that I think will make sense for my listeners. I am sure they will let me know whether I’ve done a good job or not.
What impact does your range of experience as an actor, audiobook director and vocal coach have in your work as a narrator?
The first thing I have to say is “trust.” I had great training and experience acting on stage and screen before I started narrating, and I learned to let my instincts guide me. They never fail me. If I am playing a scene and it just doesnt feel right, I trust that feeling by letting go of the first choice and taking another run at it, re-recording the part that felt “off.” Secondly, speech and vocal coaching have exposed me to many ways of using my voice to create characters, not the least of which is accents (which I taught at SUNY Purchase) and of maintaining a healthy voice, even through allergies and colds.
What preparation skills do you focus on as you encounter a new title such as The Freedom Maze? Do you “cast” the parts by choosing vocal characterizations as you read the book? Are there times that you consult with the author? How do you portray the setting and cultural environment, and denote the shift between eras, such as in this time travel tale?
My preparation consisits of noting traits, physical details and behaviors the author places there as clues to the “who am I” of each character. Good authors embed alot of details in both the narration and scenes. However, you have to listen for what is implied, not just explained; you have to see the scenes, and walk in the characters’ shoes if you hope to “get” the layers. I consult with my author whenever I am allowed to, even when I feel confident about my understanding of the text. Sometimes, I just want to “feel” their personality, how they express themselves, because I know I will come across a character that reflects that writer’s personality. Delia was really good at setting up the emotional and status contrasts between characters. That made it easy to shift voices & personalities to reflect behavior codes from the past & present, and between the empowered and powerless.
How does the changing world of audiobook creation – digital technology, home studios, and such – impact the way you record? For example, have you traded in paper scripts for an iPad with color highlighted characters? Are there vastly different situations now depending on the title and publishers – and if so, what are ways a narrator must adapt?
I initially went kicking and screaming, ’cause I loved my pencil & paper, but now I’ve got the iPad, and I find there are certain advantages to it (page turns being my favorite). My eyes hate the backlit screen, my back loves that I’m not carrying 400 pages in my bag. The hardest change really, is sometimes having to record all alone when I’m in my home studio. I work much harder to create the intimacy between narrator & listener. A piece of my brain has to stay tuned to the technical, catching extraneous noises, wonky grammar, and when I over- or under-play something. It’s always better to have an outside set of ears that free you to concentrate solely on the art of it. That said, a good actor will project their listener into the booth with them. It works for me.
Are there any other fun and interesting facts about this title in particular – or about some of your favorite narrations or directorial roles – that you’d like to share?
While preparing Freedom Maze, I was also prepping a fantasy title for Canadian author, Nalo Hopkinson. I don’t know why I always do this, but I like to read the acknowledgements before I dive in. Imagine my surprise when Delia thanks Nalo as an advisor on Freedom Maze! I couldn’t wait to tell the two friends that I was recording for both of them in the same month.
Are there narrators that have inspired you or served as mentors or coaches in your career?
I got my start at American Foundation for the Blind reading for the National Library Service, and the incredibly talented narrators there could handle anything! There was no one teaching anything even close to audiobook narration then, so after my recording sessions, I stayed and observed them working, listening to how they turned phrases, how they made audio art. I never could have grown and improved had it not been for that amazing crew of NLS narrators, particularly the versatile Suzanne Toren. And yet, I learned a simple adjustment for better tone just 2 years ago from my director, George James, on the Warmth of Other Suns. He is just brilliant! I hope to never stop growing and learning.
Thanks so much for stopping by Audiobooker again, Robin. It’s always a pleasure to discuss all things audio with you!
And be sure to stay tuned for more freebies – have you enter to win American Grown by Michelle Obama yet?