Excerpt // Dark by Paul Arvidson
When did you know you wanted to be an audiobook narrator?
Going way back to 8th grade (‘92?) – in my speech class we were required to do a read aloud from a book for the class. I chose the novelization of The Empire Strikes back & did the iconic scene where Darth Vader reveals (SPOILER ALERT) he is Luke’s father. I did it complete with a jar for the Vader echo. Still love that scene. Fast forward a few years & when I met my wife, we started reading aloud to each other. I started thinking about doing it then (early 2000’s), but life was busy happening. We had our first kid in 2003 & from about the time she was 5 or 6 years old, we’ve taken turns picking what we wanted to read as a family every night. We’ve read silly, serious, Fiction, non fiction. I found it somewhat maddening when I read Jane Eyre to the kids – The oldest couldn’t have been more than 11 or 12 – and the two oldest girls were able to guess the plot points before they happened. Right down to (Spoiler alert) “I Bet his wife will jump off the Roof.” Though we do sometimes take turns, I’ve probably read 4/5ths of the books at least. I didn’t really know how to get into doing audiobook narration, but I knew it was something I wanted to do.
How did you wind up narrating audiobooks? Was it always your goal or was it something you stumbled into by chance?
Almost 3 years ago, I got home from work one day & my wife said, “Hey, you should check out this ACX thing.” That night I set up my account. The next day I attended an uncle’s funeral. When one of my cousin’s I hadn’t seen for probably a decade asked me what I’ve been doing, after the normal update of job, kids etc, on a whim I said “And I narrate Audiobooks.” My first official audition was for one of his books (Prior to the conversation, I didn’t know he was an author). For the record – My audition was abysmal & he thankfully went with a different narrator – however, earlier this year I narrated Walls of Glass for him (J.W. Elliot) My audition for that one he said was head and shoulders above anything else he got. I quit the day job in April (which was part of the plan before all the covid junk started happening) and haven’t looked back.
Did you find it difficult to “break into” audiobook narration? What skill/tool helped you the most when getting started?
Short answer – No, not really. I would say the best tool & skill that has helped me to move forward continually & exponentially, is passion though. I LOVE narrating. I LOVE storytelling & bringing books to life. My wife told me I should put on here years & years of practice as well. The biggest thing that helps me now that it’s my fulltime job – Planning & sticking to it. Focus on what I’m doing & look forward to future projects.
A lot of narrators seem to have a background in theatre. Is that something you think is essential to a successful narration career?
I took Drama for 3 years in High School & I’ve always had a dramatic flare. I’ve never been cast for more than a bit part though, but it’s also not something I’ve ever tried to actively pursue. For years, I kind of felt like I really wasted those 6 semesters worth of time in Drama, but in the last 6 months especially, I’ve come to see that many of my “instincts” were trained then – now over 20 years ago. Including studying dialects and so much more. The acting ability of a narrator is essential however, and now that I am narrating, I’m using a lot of the skills I developed in Kay Jenkins’ Drama class more than 20 years ago. I’ve also always enjoyed improv games that I initially learned in that class. There are 2 main schools of thought I’ve found in audiobook narration – That of the “Strait read” or that of the “Characterized Read.” I’ve listened to both & by far I prefer the latter, but my imagination can fill in the blanks on a strait read as well.
Are you an audiobook listener? What about the audiobook format appeals to you?
ABSOLUTELY! When my wife & I were in college, we delivered newspapers ridiculously early & would frequently check out books on tape from the library. I’ve gone up & down with listening, much more UP of late. My day job for years was a 40 minute commute, so it’s perfect for listening. Now that I’ve canned the day job, I’ve traded the commute for an hour walk every day because I still want my listening time. I’ve listened primarily to classics on Librivox up until recently (in the last 2 years I’ve listened to or read the complete works of Charles Dickens). I now am trying to listen to an audiobook a week from a newer narrator/author. I try to review everything I read & listen to, so I listen to at least some of it at 1x speed. If it’s non-fiction, I’ll pump the speed up to about 1.9 & if it’s fiction I listen at about 1.3. At present though – I’m WAY behind in actually reviewing what I’ve listened to… But I’m right on schedule for my narration gigs!
What are your favorite and least favorite parts of narrating an audiobook?
I LOVE storytelling. I love it when I’m in the recording booth and I’m so into the performance that I’m just… emoting. When I get goosebumps when I’m narrating, its a pretty good indicator that I’m doing it right (and also that the author did their job well. I also LOVE voicing Dragons. On the flip side…I hate waiting. (Inigo, Princess Bride). Waiting to find out if I get picked for the book, waiting for my schedule to free up so I can get to the one I REALLY want to narrate, waiting for the author to get me back any changes, waiting for ACX to approve it & make it live, waiting to see if anybody likes it.
I pretty well love everything else though. But I’m not incredibly fond of when an author is Uber picky in the editing process. I did one (no disclosure here as to what it was/ who wrote it, etc) that if I read “Said [character]” instead of “[Character] said,” they wanted me to fix it. In that book the author gave me basically one correction a minute, some of which were due to their writing errors. Not gonna lie, I got burned out on that title. That being said, I think my accuracy has improved from the experience.
What would you say are your strongest narration abilities?
I’m a really good storyteller. I love doing it & creating characters with the author. One thing I like to do with authors is kind of assemble who they would cast as such and such a character. With Dark, Paul had me listen to Phil Hartmans performance from an animated show – I don’t remember which one – for the characterization on Padg in particular. I’m also pretty darn versatile when it comes to styles and accents. The other day I was chatting online with a publisher from New Zealand. He had listened to samples of most of my books & asked me where I was originally from. He was sure it would have been Ireland, or UK, or at least Eastern Canada. Nope. Born & Raised in Idaho. (I did spend a couple years IN eastern Canada, but aside from that… Just Idaho.) I love doing character voices & I think I’m pretty good at it. There’s a character in Dark, and several other books, where I was essentially told… Saruman… Do Christopher Lee’s Saruman. I don’t pretend that I hold a candle to him, but I love voicing over the top characters. Dragons in particular.
How closely do you prefer to work with authors?
As Closely as they’ll let me. Though nobody wants to be micromanaged. But I like to be able to pick their brain. And Its THEIR book first & foremost. If they’re not happy with my performance, I want to know why & be able to fix it. I’m very excited for Dark & some of the other projects I’m involved in now because of just how involved the authors are with me.
Who is your “dream author” that you would like to record for?
Timothy Zahn. I was introduced to him via Star Wars in the 90’s, and I love all of his Non Star wars stuff. He’s got a pretty big list of books with no audio. I’m planning on approaching him/his agent later this year. 🙂 I’d also love to do anything Patricia Wrede or Shannon Hale.
Also Charles Dickens – I’ve already recorded A Christmas Carol. It’s on SoundCloud for free here: https://soundcloud.com/user-29643215/sets/a-christmas-carol-by-charles-dickens-narrated-by-benjamin-fife
What’s next for you?
OOh… Lets see… I just finished up 3 books for Brad Swift – A children’s to Middle grade series: The Zak Bates Eco-Adventures. That’s forthcoming along with the first of a fantasy series by Jenelle Leanne Schmidt – King’s Warrior. Those & book 5 of Jane Austen’s Dragons are currently caught in the QC bottleneck at Audible. I’m currently editing my recording of Book 6 of Jane Austen’s Dragons for Maria Grace, Recording a Kids book Tony & The Haunted Goldmine for Steve R Romano with my daughter Rosy, Just starting Finding Home by Jessica Sims (doing a bunch of southern Black voices from the 1920’s – interesting challenge & very moving book), Memoir of the Minotaur by Tom Shachtman (narrating under a different name due to some of the… Greek content…), Darker – The next one in this series – Should be starting on it by the end of the month), then the remaining 3 books of Jenelle’s fantasy series… And whatever else gets in line. 🙂 I love being so booked.
Paul Arvidson is a forty-something ex lighting designer, now SFF author who lives in rural Somerset, UK. He spends his non-author time bringing up his children, fighting against being sucked in to his wife’s chicken breeding business and preventing Morris the Dashund contributing to his typing. His SFF works form ‘The Dark Trilogy’. Dark is the first book in the trilogy and came out in 2017. The sequel Darker came out in 2018 and the series will be completed by a final book in 2019. There will not be a prize for guessing it’s title.
Benjamin Fife has always had a passion for learning. With a mind that remembers all sorts of numbers and useless trivia, he regularly wins local radio shows and enjoys confusing people with sci-fi quotes.
Fife grew up in Southeast Idaho. He attended college at Idaho State University, where he met his future wife in their music theory class. They have been married nearly 20 years and now have six children and a whole menagerie of animals. When their oldest daughter was three or four years old they started reading aloud from novels every night at bedtime, and have continued the tradition ever since. The family loves exploring various worlds and topics through Fife’s wonderful reading skills, which get better every year. They all have his Christmas Carol voices memorized (and the older kids are known to quote along with portions), since he has read it to them every December.
Benjamin enjoys all kinds of sci-fi and fantasy – both books and shows – is an extremely eclectic music lover, and prefers his chocolate to be of the 90% cocoa variety. Above all, he loves to be with his family. He loves recording audiobooks, and is delighted to tell people, “I’ve finally found what I want to be when I grow up!
Social links: Website
Click here to view the entire tour scheduled for Dark by Paul Arvidson via Audiobookworm Promotions.