Meet Audiobook Narrator, Writer and Director Tavia Gilbert

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I had the pleasure of meeting Tavia Gilbert at a Darien Library audiobook event in late August. Struck by the beautiful tone of her voice, and her vivacious personality, I was eager to learn more from Tavia about possibly creating an audio version of The Vintner’s Daughter. Once she learned more about the novel, Tavia, in her generosity, introduced me to Blackstone Audio. After reading the galley, Blackstone made me an offer and naturally, I mentioned that I’d love for Tavia to narrate my novel. And that was before I knew she’d received six Audie nominations, four Earphones, a Publishers Weekly ListenUp Award, a long list of stand-out reviews, and consistent placement on Top Ten and Best Of lists! Thank you, Blackstone Audio, for providing a giveaway of the audiobook (enter below), and kudos to Tavia, for your dynamic read of The Vintner’s Daughter!
 

Listen to Tavia Gilbert read The Vintner’s Daughter

 

How did you become a voice actor/book narrator?
I specifically set out to become a narrator because I recognized the great opportunity in that career path. Working as a professional audiobook narrator would allow me to be a full-time actor, be engaged with story-telling and literature, connect to listeners and writers, have an independent business, and help me grow as an actor, writer, and artist. All those expectations have been more than fulfilled. I love my job, and feel incredibly fortunate to have made my living full-time as an audiobook narrator for the last seven years. It took a great deal of work — getting coaching specific to the craft of narration, setting up a home studio, cultivating relationships with publishers. I am still learning and growing as an actor, and hope and expect to do so for the rest of my life.
 
Why do you think audio books have become so popular?
Being told a story is a very intimate, tender experience, and no matter what age we are, we need that kind of deep, human connection. We’re wired for story. That’s how we make sense of the world around us, how we learn, how we develop culture and community. Shifts in technology — from analogue to digital — have made production much more efficient, affordable, and faster, so it’s easier than ever for an audiobook to be created and brought to market. I’ve been listening to audiobooks since the 1990’s, so I hardly remember a time when they weren’t part of my life. A wonderful audiobook is an absolute delight. The listener falls in love, in a way, with the story-teller and the story. Audiobooks comfort the lonely-hearted, the afflicted, the ill, the sightless. They keep busy lovers of language company when there’s little time available for the dedicated reading of a book in print. Human beings have been telling stories for thousands of years. It’s nothing new, just updated versions of technology.

 

Courtesy of Blackstone Audio

Courtesy of Blackstone Audio

Could you describe the process of creating an audio book, from the moment you receive the manuscript to the final production stages?
I’m sent a digital manuscript of the print book by an audiobook publisher, and I open the manuscript in iAnnotate on my iPad. I read the manuscript closely, marking the script carefully with various highlighters and underline tools; I mark every unfamiliar word or term I need to research in red. Every new character is highlighted in purple. Every bit of character description is marked in orange. Chapter headings are marked in yellow. In a scene with various characters in dialogue, especially those without attributions (“Jane said,” “Richard answered”), each character’s line of dialogue will be underlined in a different color, so I can visually track the flow of the back and forth of the conversation without missing a beat. Dialogue direction (“he growled,” “she hissed,” “she shouted”) is marked in green, so that I can deliver the dialogue with a touch of that suggestion. Character’s specific vocal qualities are marked in blue (“his textured baritone,” “her adenoidal squeak”), so that I know what the writer has offered for vocal characterizations. I research all the red terms, often in partnership with the writer. If the book has many characters, I’ll make a character chart where I break out different aspects of characterization, like attitude/emotion, tempo, pitch, placement (does the voice come from her chest? his throat? his stomach?), so that I can frequently refer to the chart throughout recording to ensure that the many characters are differentiated and consistent. The book I’m recording now — Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night — has taxed me more than any other project. I’ve recorded a series of lines in dialogue in Lithuanian dialect, researched the Welsh and Polish dialects, recorded native Welsh and Polish speakers voicing the foreign language phrases the writer included in the book, listened to several bird calls to include in the book (a young boy is an expert at bird calls, so I have to approximate a cardinal, a blue jay, and more), learned the Welsh national anthem — in Welsh, reacquainted myself with several old hymns…I’m recording very slowly and carefully, while preserving a fresh sense of discovery and using the technology to make my many, many stops and starts sound seamless. That’s more than most books require, but it does offer a glimpse into the challenges of an audiobook narration. I want my work to be excellent every time. Each project is different, but it’s great to really commit and make sure I’m doing everything I possibly can to make the most complete audio world I can. Once the recording of each chapter is complete, I upload it to my publisher. They edit and proof the recording, ensuring that my narration is word perfect to the script. They send a list of corrections, which I record and send, and then the book is ready to go out into the world!

How do you prepare yourself to successfully switch from one character to another while reading? What is the largest cast of characters you’ve brought to life in a single book narration?
I’d heard before of narrators underlining characters in dialogue, but until a recent project — The Memory Garden — in which three elderly women, two teen girls, and a young man were in conversation, I hadn’t ever used that technique. But it’s so helpful. When I see the blue underline, it’s a quick visual cue that character A is talking. Pink is character B, yellow character C, and so on. Even though it creates a good deal of work to prepare a script with that level of detail, it makes my job in the recording booth easier when I give myself a roadmap. Other than that, I just record the scene — acting and reacting character to character. The largest cast so far has been around 100 characters. One of my strengths is character differentiation, and I’m trying to get better and better at this all the time, because I love listening to virtuoso narrators play a huge cast of specific characters who sound, almost unbelievably, like 100 different people. I want to offer listeners the kind of performance I myself would want to spend 8 or 12 or 15 hours with.

 

Which accents have you used in your audio book narrations, and what do you do to perfect them?
I’ve done a lot — French, Russian, German, Hawaiian, Welsh, Australian, Cockney, upper crust Brit, Manchester, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican…and the truth is, they’re not perfect. Some are more fully realized than others. But the important thing — the imperative thing — is that the acting is good, meaning real, authentic, human in every bit of character dialogue. Not every native French speaker sounds the same. Not every native Spaniard sounds the same. But they all have to sound like real people, with needs, desires, motivations behind their speech. If I get that right first, the accent follows, but is always secondary. I use the International Dialects of English Archive daily, and Paul Meier’s dialect materials. I work with a great coach from time to time. I practice. I listen. But then I just act.
 
What steps do you take, i.e. sleep, diet, vocal exercises, etc. to get ready for a book narration?
I don’t do a lot of special stuff. This is what I do all day every day, so my voice is pretty ready to go and flexible. But I definitely take good care of my health — exercise 4-6 times a week, eat a healthy diet, get enough sleep, use a humidifier in my bedroom at night, stay hydrated, don’t strain my voice, don’t smoke, drink moderately. The healthier and stronger I am, the healthier and stronger my voice will be. I also sing, which I think is really important, not only for my emotional/spiritual health, but for my vocal flexibility and stamina.

 

What advice would you give to someone who’d like to break into voice acting? 
I’d say that specific coaching is imperative. Seeking training specific to the genre in which you’re interested is a must. Find the right vocal coach for your desired goal — audiobooks, animation, corporate/medical/documentary narration, commercial work. Don’t believe that someone is the best coach in the world just because they say they are. Don’t spend thousands of dollars on coaching until you have affirmed that the coach is worth it. And then, if you’ve identified a great coach, be prepared to invest in their training. Don’t make a demo until you’re ready. Don’t think that things happen easily and quickly. Don’t ignore the business of your business. Being a voice actor is being an independent small business. Take yourself and your business seriously. Read everything you can about the business of voice acting. Get involved in voice acting communities. Ask a million questions. Get to know the culture you want to be a part of. And thank everyone, sincerely and meaningfully, for their help and support. Gratitude and humility go a long way.

 

What advice would you give to authors, like me, who read their books aloud at book signings?
What a great question! SLOW DOWN. Don’t be afraid to take time to breathe. You don’t have to read like a freight train hurtling down the tracks. You can pause for breath, to swallow, to allow a pregnant pause. SLOW DOWN. Imagine the thoughts as the character thinks them, in real time. See the scene playing out in your mind in real time. SLOW DOWN. Breathe. Pause. Enjoy the opportunity to tell your story!

 

The Vintner’s Daughter: Now Available on Audiobook!

I am overjoyed to announce that The Vintner’s Daughter is now available on audiobook via MP3 download or audio CDs! (Ask your local library to order it for you!) Thank you Blackstone Audio and award-winning narrator Tavia Gilbert for this riveting read, which is perfectly entertaining on those long winter car rides! Click here to order your copy now, and click here to enter to win a free download from Flashlight Commentary’s Erin Davies!

Stay tuned this week to learn how audiobooks are made from performer/writer/producer Tavia Gilbert, and for more giveaways!!!

Courtesy of Blackstone Audio

Courtesy of Blackstone Audio

Introducing Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance Author L.G. O’Connor

Trinity-Stones_webI had the pleasure of meeting L.G. (Liz) O’Connor this past August at the Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City. She attended my presentation on hybrid publishing and graciously accompanied me to my first signing afterward, where she hovered near the grand ballroom doors, peddling my book to the conference attendees as they exited (I think you sold at least four, Liz!)! She is a fun, sharp, and dedicated writer. In 2013, she published Trinity Stones, the first novel of the Angelorum Twelve Chronicles. Publisher’s Weekly says, “O’Connor tackles important worldbuilding, while also kicking off the story with a bang.” Her second novel in the series, The Wanderer’s Children, will be published in in December. She’s accomplished all this – while working a full-time job! Thank you, Liz, for taking the time to answer a few questions!

What are you working on?

childrensmallWow. A better question might be what am I not working on *laughs* given my list. Right now, I’m buried under an avalanche of projects that are coalescing all at once. I’m in the throes of finishing production—literally this week—on the second book in the The Angelorum Twelve ChroniclesThe Wanderer’s Children—which will be available for presale during the first week of October through all major print and digital retail outlets with my new publisher, Collins-Young Publishing. On top of that, the audiobook production of Trinity Stones is in the final stages for an end of October launch on Audible and iTunes. But three’s a charm, right? I have a new project—a contemporary romantic women’s fiction novel—that I’m partnering with an agent on to potentially go wide on rather than small press. But I can’t really say any more about that for the moment *smiles*. All of this while continuing on with the Trinity Stones publicity tour and working a full-time job. Next stop: New Jersey Romance Writers Conference October 17 – 19.

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

I love this question because I made a conscious choice to deviate somewhat from the formula of pure urban fantasy or pure paranormal romance for the The Angelorum Twelve Chronicles. As an avid reader of both genres, I found that I preferred a blend of both rather than either genre straight up. I’m very character driven when I read. I want to fall in love the cast and feel like I’m part of their team, but I also want a rich and complex story that keeps me thinking. As result, The Angelorum Twelve Chronicles are not predictable reads or books that you can skim through without paying attention. That said I kept my world recognizable by using contemporary settings in New York City and San Francisco in an attempt to simplify. The series has some elements of Science Fiction and Fantasy, but I tried to ground the story in reality and biblical history as we know it. From there I applied literary license.

When I first started the series in 2009, there weren’t many “angel and demon” stories on the market in the adult category and now there are too many *chuckles*. But I feel my take still provides a fresh perspective. My objective was for the story to have a broader mainstream appeal than just the two genres it’s associated with. Truly, my goal was to appeal to literary readers who wanted a change of pace; mothers who had been reading their teenagers Young-Adult series and needed something with a bit more spice; and New Adult readers looking for strong mid-20s characters whose college bonds are still very much alive and well. Based on my reader feedback so far, I’m definitely appealing to readers of all ages new to the genre and looking for a change of pace.

 Why do you write what you do?

I write what I love to read. I take the best of it and blend it together into my books. At the end of the day, writing is hard work. If I didn’t love my characters and their stories, I couldn’t be this passionate and devote as much time to writing on top of a full-time job. Writing is like a marriage of sorts. For me, I have to love my worlds and the people in them. I could never write a depressing book with unredeemable characters—nor could I read one—which leaves out roughly half the bestseller list for me *laughs*. As an example, Gone Girl was a did not finish (DNF) for me after chapter 3.

How does my writing process work?

Except for times like now when I’m on a short writing hiatus having just finished the proofread phase on two books simultaneously – I’m usually super disciplined. Working a full-time job leaves me with only 45-minutes every morning, about 1.5 – 2 hours most nights, and then 8-hour blocks on the weekends. I write on average 20 – 30 hours per week depending on what phase I’m in. Just to give you an idea how this translates: I’ve written three full length novels in three years and partials on several others.

My actual process varies depending on the book. I started as a “pantser” and have developed into a “plotser.” That said, my contemporary came to me in outline form over three days, and the first draft was fully written in six weeks as part of National Novel Writing Month last year. As a result, I try to outline a little more but only use it as a guideline. I’ll participate in NaNoWriMo again this year using the third book in The Angelorum Twelve Chronicles. I’m hoping to launch it this time next year.

On a day-to-day basis, I write in scenes and never in order unless I’m finishing the connective chapters at the end. I draft, read & revise three – four times before moving on to the next scene. All scenes are read morning and night to give my brain a chance to see it clearly. Most scenes start in medias res, must have a goal, and leave us in a place where the page must be turned. Honestly, I think I’ve done this better on my last two novels than on the first.

My biggest piece of advice for new writers is “writing is revising.” Embracing both the drafting and revising will make you a stronger writer. I happen to love both.

Headshot - BioL.G. O’Connor is a member of the Romance Writers of America. A corporate strategy and marketing executive for a Fortune 250 company, she writes adult urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and contemporary romance. She is currently working on the third book in the Angelorum Twelve Chronicles, Book of Four Rings, for publication in 2015. In addition, she is writing an adult contemporary romance series. An avid antiques collector, L.G. lives a life of adventure, navigating her way through dog toys and soccer balls and loaning herself out for the occasional decorating project. When she’s feeling particularly brave, she enters the kitchen . . .

Find & Follow L.G. O’Connor Online:

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Amazon

Darien Community Association Book Launch Photos!

Wow! I had such a wonderful time chatting with the members and friends of the Darien Community Association at my Fairfield County Book Launch this past Friday! Thank you Amy Bell and Heather Pommernelle for arranging and promoting the event and to Barrett Bookstore for selling The Vintner’s Daughter! Also, special thanks to Autumn Howard for snapping these photos and Carolyn Eddie for baking her delicious (and my favorite) scones!

MAA Girlfriend Weekend and Book Club!

I thoroughly enjoyed spending the weekend with my mother and her high school friends in, who are celebrating the 50th anniversary of their graduation from Maria Assumpta Academy in Petersham, MA! What an inspiration these strong, funny, independent women are – and I’m so appreciative that I was able to join them in Punta Gorda, FL this weekend! Here are some pics of our MAA Alumni Book Club (discussing The Vintner’s Daughter of course!).