A Live Chat with Hilary Huber, Cassandra Campbell and Karen White – Friends Narrating Katie MacAlister

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The Dark Ones – Fun Paranormal Tales

The Dark Ones are soulless male vampires who must, in order to redeem their souls, find their Beloveds and go through the Seven Steps of Bonding. Each book follows one of the Dark Ones as he finally finds his Beloved whether he wants to or not. The Heroine always proves to be an independent type with unique quirks and a paranormal ability of some type. Said heroine has no trouble sharing her opinions or idiosyncrasies which makes for a humorous courtship, to say the least, as the couple goes from lust-at-first-sight to life-bonded soul mates while dealing with evil or solving a mystery. The stories prove to be an appealing mix of romantic comedy and adventure that fill a niche between heavier tales.

MacAlister’s Dark Ones series got its start in audio with the release of the sixth series title followed shortly by the seventh. The eighth, ninth, and tenth were released simultaneously in print and audio. Now with the release of the first three in the series, anticipation is running high among fans.

 

The Chat 

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Cassandra Campbell

Brenda: Hello ladies. Welcome to AudioGals! Thanks for joining us today. Before we get started, let me say how happy I am to be working with narrators I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to and can highly recommend. It’s a pleasure!

Hillary: Pleasure to be here!

Karen: I knew we should have had wine :)

Cassandra: So nice to get to talk to you all.

Brenda: Unlike Katie MacAlister’s other three series, Light Dragons, Silver Dragons, and Aisling Grey, the Dark Ones is very loosely connected. The definition of a Moravian Dark One is more the common denominator rather than a continuing couple. It’s the perfect type of series to utilize a different narrator for each book. When did you realize you’d all been given part of the same series to narrate?

Karen: I found out when you posted the January releases at AudioGals, Brenda!  I thought, 1) How cool that my friends also did these books and 2) they’re going to be so perfect in them.

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Hillary Huber

Cassandra: One of us tweeted or posted on Facebook about MacAlister’s books and then we started chatting about it.  They’re so delightful and I was having such fun recording Sex and the Single Vampire.  It was a great discovery to realize that two of my dear narrator friends were also doing them!

Hillary: Love a collaboration with girls I love!

Karen: Hillary has such a great sense of humor that I can see matching MacAlister’s – i.e. dry and irreverent.  And Cassandra is amazing with accents and a fabulous story teller.

Cassandra: These books were such a great romp!  And I love that we three long time colleagues got to do them.

Hillary: Me too.  A nice little surprise.  Now if we could only get together… for some fun!

Brenda: Karen, my PNR listening experience with your narration is Savage Nature, the fifth in Christine Feehan’s Leopard series, which also utilizes a different narrator for each book. It was an easy success for me so I’m looking forward to the Dark Ones as well.

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Karen White

Karen: I think this kind of series is perfect for multiple narrators, as you said.  Whatever changes in tone the author makes for the different books is then amplified by the different (literal) voice.

Karen: I have to chime in, too, that MacAlister’s books read so much more like a humorous contemporary romance than a PNR.  She doesn’t take the vampires terribly seriously.

Cassandra: And the Moravian accent is delicious.  I love Eastern European accents!

Brenda: All three of you have narrated a wide variety of genres including paranormal romance. Have you performed other books with the level of humor that Katie MacAlister is known for? Did you ever feel the need to just laugh out loud when performing your MacAlister tale?

Cassandra: I was laughing all the way through this book (except the really dramatic parts.)  She’s got such a wonderful sense of humor and I was so delighted by the characters.  Sometimes you have to stop because you’re just guffawing.  Which is weird, too, because you’re the only one in the room with the book.  I didn’t know MacAlister’s books and it was a great surprise!

Karen: My favorite thing about MacAlister’s writing was the heroine’s inner voice – and how that voice escapes out her lips without her meaning for it too.  E.g.  “I never stripped you with my eyes!  Well, OK, maybe just the once, but you were looking in the other direction, so don’t tell me you could see me doing it!”  The fact that I found that quote by randomly choosing a page shows you how often such text shows up!

Brenda: The funny quotes from these books could fill pages. :D

Hillary: Yes!  At one point, Nell, the main character in my book, Sex, Lies and Vampires, has three mummies following her around and they are so silly they just made me giggle.

Hillary: give me irreverence any day of the week.

Karen: all kinds of things happen alone – in the booth in these books ;)

Cassandra: I thought CJ Dante, the Moravian Dark One in my book was truly sexy.  And I agree with Hillary, the heroine is a goof and a klutz.  So real.

Karen: I know – Dante was in mine, too!

Hillary: I wish I’d known at the time that we were all doing them WHEN we were recording.  We could have shared stories!

Brenda: Being able to relate to the heroines while still having hot heroes is a large part of Katie MacAlister’s appeal.

Karen: Totally agree, Brenda.

Hillary: In a lot of PNR books, the vamps overshadow the heroines, so this was indeed a treat to have strong, funny, personable women!

AGirlsGuidetoVampiressquareCassandra: I think she’s really successful at treating the genre with respect while still being very cheeky about the heroine’s journey.

Karen: I would think that these PNR would appeal to, um, mature women like ourselves.  As opposed to the Bella types (of Twilight).

Cassandra: Yes, I actually looked the series up while I was recording it because I was so enchanted with her as a storyteller.

Brenda: Do you have the choice of interspersing lighter jobs such as MacAlister’s books with darker or heavier projects to help you refresh? Or is it easy to shake it off, leaving one book behind as you head to the next?

Hillary: The costume changes are pretty rapid!  A non fiction about drone warfare one week, followed by a moody literary fiction, followed by a paranormal thriller.  We really have no control over how they come over the transom.  Getting a fun, witty romp such as Sex, Lies and Vampires is a welcome palate cleanser!

Cassandra: agreed!

Karen: yes, I often refer to the romances as dessert!

Cassandra: Part of the joy of doing this job is the constant changing of venue.  One week you’re having sex with a Moravian Dark One, the next you’re in a courtroom in Portland, Maine.

Cassandra: You never know where you’re going or who with.  I love that.

Karen: It’s great to have the intellectual challenge of a book on DNA or world economics, as well as the emotionally draining but satisfying dramatic story, but if I haven’t done a romance in awhile, I start hankering for one.  And one with humor, even better!

Cassandra: yes, the humor books are such a nice little buzz!  They always catch me off guard.

Brenda: I found it interesting to note in Cassandra’s audio backlist that she goes from Inspirational romance to Zombies – that’s variety!

Hillary: Something for everyone!  She’s a versatile gal!

Cassandra: Those books by Jesse Petersen are really funny!  Married with Zombies is a great title!

Cassandra: another series that really had me laughing.

Karen: probably not the same set of listeners, though :)

Brenda: Interesting thought on not having the same listeners. A narrator can pull a listener into other genres – it’s happened with me more than once and is another plus with audiobooks. They broaden us … I think I’d like funny Zombies!

Karen: I have heard that, Brenda, and it’s a great honor to be dragging people across genre boundaries!

Cassandra: In those books the marriage is falling apart. But love is rekindled after the Zombies invade. Great premise.  And it works.

Karen: Are the Zombies like the Mafia?

Cassandra: No.  They’re just the walking dead.  But killing them is somehow REALLY satisfying.

Cassandra: Hillary, you’ve done a bunch of humor books, right?

Hillary: I have.  Most notably Laurie Notaro’s books.  hi-lar-ee-us.

Cassandra: yes, the Notaro books, I remember reading your journey through those.  Very funny!

Hillary: I had to stop regularly due to spit takes.

Karen: It really helps when one’s own sense of humor aligns with that of the author, I think. You just “get” it.

Hillary: TOTally agree

Cassandra: It’s such an awe inspiring thing when the book cracks you up like that.  Because I’m not really a funny person, but the book takes you there!

Hillary: Oh but you are my dear.  You’re just subtle.  Not obnoxious like me.

Brenda: Let’s back up a moment – A spit take??

Cassandra: How to describe a spit take? Spitting because you’re laughing so hard.

Karen: Bad for the mic.

Hillary: yeah. Spitting your throat coat tea cause you’re laughing so hard…

Karen: not as embarrassing as it coming out your nose.

Cassandra: Imagine a mouth full of liquid (wine) and someone makes a great joke.  You explode with laughter.

Hillary: That’s the spit take.

Karen: We might need a video demo inserted at this point.

Cassandra: Good idea.  Let’s have wine first.

Hillary: I concur.  With the wine part.

Brenda: Having that much fun by yourself – I can see the further appeal of narrating these humorous books!

Hillary: Now THAT could sound dirty…

Karen: I wasn’t gonna say it.

Hillary: oh I always will…

Karen: and that’s why we love you.

Cassandra: so, again, what happens in the booth…

Hillary: STAYS IN THE BOOTH

Karen: !!!

Hillary: except when we’re here.  Chatting with AudioGals!

Brenda: LOL – we want to know all!

Cassandra: I used to have my studio in my son’s closet.  It was always a little weird to record a steamy romance and then open the door to see his crib.

Karen: I don’t think I could have handled that, C.

Hillary: I taught mine to not say a word.  Just stand outside the booth and I’d notice them.  Changed that rule during the recording of the Midnight Breed series…  MAKE LOTS OF NOISE AS YOU COME IN PLEASE!

Cassandra: I also had to turn off the fridge when recording back then. Lots of spoiled milk!

Karen: my kids like to sneak out and then pop up at the window and scare me.

Cassandra: yeah. He was never in the crib when I was recording at least.  That would have been too much.

Karen: you had to turn off the fridge because of its vibration?  Noise?Sex and the Single Vampire

Cassandra: Vibration.

Hillary: DIRTY.

Karen: Again.

Cassandra: That is hilarious. I just did a spit take with my tea.

Hillary: aah, we digress…

Karen: because we don’t have writers!

Brenda: Okay then – baby cribs outside the “studio” door, children sneaking up on you, and vibrating refrigerators need to be taken into consideration when narrating. We want behind the scenes and we get it – I love it.  :D

Next question – how important is it to incorporate accents that are clearly defined by the author in a story? Is it something you’re encouraged to do or is it a personal choice?

Cassandra: I love accents.  Some I feel really comfortable with, some are more challenging. I’m always working on them. But I don’t think it’s realistic to be able to be good at all of them.   I try to use them judiciously.  When I’m good at it, I go all out. When I’m less secure with it, I give a slighter indication mostly on the vowel sounds.  Love accents!

Karen: I don’t like to incorporate an accent unless the author indicates it.  It feels like I am imposing something.

Hillary: I love accents.  Get tired of my own voice after awhile.  :)

Cassandra: Like I said, the Moravian accent was delish.

Karen: What resources do you use to create accents, C?

Cassandra: tons.  Lots of CDs, great performances in movies (Meryl).

Hillary: I was going to say Meryl…

Karen: It does help with the differentiation of characters…

Cassandra: Especially when you have lots of people in the room.  It’s so nice if they are from somewhere else.

Hillary: or you have a dozen 6 foot 6, well proportioned (and I mean WELL) vampires.

Cassandra: I like the way they feel on my tongue … and even the way they can change your gestures.  It’s pretty cool.

Cassandra: Not the vampires!  The accents!

Hillary: Oh that was such low hanging fruit…

Cassandra: It was completely unintended!

Brenda: You’re killing me here. :D

Karen: I have a great book called Accents, A Manual for Actors by Robert Blumenfeld (recommended by Scott Brick) It breaks them down by everything from the origin of the language to the mouth placement to the music.  Then there’s always Accent Tag on YouTube.

Cassandra: I have it.  It’s great.

Hillary: I need it – the book.

Cassandra: My book in this (Dark One’s) series was set in London. And Katie MacAlister writes the characters so clearly; you had to have the accents.

Cassandra: Got to do High and low Brits, some Cockney and a lusty Spaniard.

Karen: There’s also the IDEA website.  An academic that is collecting examples of people speaking English in accents and dialects from all over the world!  I needed Greek and Hungarian this week and the site was down and it was SO hard to find a substitute.

Cassandra: Hungarian = impossible.

Brenda: As a big fan of accents, I always appreciate the extra effort given to include them in a narration.

Karen: Yes, A Girl’s Guide to Vampires was set in Czechoslovakia and had French and Brits, too.

Cassandra: Yes, I think they do add something.  But like Karen said, they really have to be given by the author, I think. Otherwise they’re an imposition.

Brenda: I can tell you all put a lot of effort into including accents but how much should we as listeners reasonably expect when it comes to narrators and the topic of accents?

Hillary: I think listeners should expect accuracy – they should be able to recognize the accent but I also think there should be enough subtlety so as to not be taken out of the book – out of the fact that it really is just one person reading to you.  The book should be your guide – is it larger than life, filled with crazy characters ala Mark Twain? Go for it!  Is it a more realistic, current day romance?  Maybe hold back a bit.  The book will tell you.

Cassandra: Yes!  Intonation has so much to do with it!  So right!

Hillary: I felt like I had permission to go for it with Katie’s book.  Such fun characters.

Cassandra: I think if you can’t do it well, its better not to do it much.  It’s very hard on the listener (to say nothing of the narrator) to do them poorly.  It detracts rather than adding to the listening experience.

Sex, Lies and VampireKaren: Totally agree.  And while some people are simply deft at copying accents, a trained actor should be able to pick up at least the basics.  Most actor training programs include 2 – 3 years of both voice classes – where, depending on the school of thought, you learn about your instrument, how to use it healthfully, how to open it up in terms of range and expressiveness (basically you unlearn all the habits you developed in adolescence where you avoid allowing your voice to reveal ANYTHING emotionally true).  Also, you’ll have 2 – 3 years of Speech and Dialect, where you unlearn your home accent if you have one, or any other weird habits you have (I made my s’s wrong) so you can start from a clean slate and not impose your own speech habits on every character.  Then you learn tools that allow you to adopt other accents.

Cassandra: Yes, Karen, totally spot on with that.  But you can cheat accents by emphasizing vowel sounds in a subtle way if you’re not skilled with that particular one and sometimes you absolutely have to have it.  And then you just have to follow some basic rules.

Hillary: A lot of accents have a musical lilt and that’s a great little trick to employ as well as the vowel changes.

Karen: I have to agree with Hillary, too.  Like levels of characterization, you have to follow the author’s style or tone.  MacAlister definitely set a playful tone and I found myself having a lot of fun with the Euro characters.

Cassandra: But there’s great fun and challenge in learning them well.  They help transport both the narrator and the listener to a different world.  Why we read, or listen, right?

Brenda: I can vouch for the added enjoyment of the listener when accents are included. Hillary, the various accents you used in Lara Adrian’s Kiss of Midnight proved to be the highlight of the listen for me.

Hillary: Thanks.  That’s the series with the dozen 6’6″ well proportioned vamps! Thank god they have accents!

Brenda: I was more attracted to their voices than proportions but the total package was very nice. :D

Hillary:  :)

Cassandra: Yes, but you could see the proportions in your mind’s eye! I can! And I haven’t even read or heard the book!

Hillary: H.O.T.

Hillary: but again, we digress…

Karen: so easy to do with vampires.

Brenda: Seeing with the mind’s eye is a true gift for an audiobook lover.

Cassandra: Agreed!  And in being a narrator!

Hillary: Well said Brenda.  We try to create the movie in your mind.

Hillary: or your ear I guess.

Karen: requiring ear buds, I would imagine, for certain books ;)

Brenda: So true! ;)

Cassandra: I read this great quote the other day that said something like books let you run away from home without ever leaving your house.

Karen: OMG that’s what I did my entire adolescence.

Cassandra: in which case we are all on the lam all the time!

Hillary: speaking of which… I have to get back to Acapulco soon…

Karen: Here’s a question – when you guys read in print for pleasure – do you hear the words in your head or see it like a movie?  Or something else?

Brenda: I see a movie! Reading or listening – a good narrator just adds more to my movie.

Lea: I must jump in! Movies for me.

Hillary: Reading for pleasure is a busman’s holiday … I almost always play out how I would narrate it…

Cassandra: I see it in images.  One of my favorite directors (John Runnette) said once, you must see through the words to the thing itself.  I love that.

Hillary: Oh I love that from John.

Cassandra: The quote comes from a William Carlos Williams poem.  John adapted it.  He’s brilliant.

Cassandra: Sometimes the words are so rich they demand your attention, the way a sentence twists and the language is wound. That always takes my breath away.

Brenda: I can see why we’d all be friends. :) Speaking of which – In the initial contact for this interview, we learned that though the three of you have known each other for years, you’ve become close friends the last couple of years despite being direct rivals for the same projects. Has your friendship benefited from the growing popularity of audiobooks, which, in turn, makes narrating jobs more plentiful? Or were you drawn to others with like interests and goals regardless?

Karen: Yes!  I don’t remember what sparked it.  But I do remember thinking distinctly that I wanted to get to know these women who were my “competitors” so they’d feel more like “colleagues”.  We started getting together socially a couple years ago, and it has been so nice to cheer my colleagues on.  I suppose having more work to go around helps, too!

Cassandra: Yes, we’ve worked together in different capacities. I’ve directed Karen, she’s directed me.  We’ve been on committees together and met socially.  It’s an amazingly supportive business.

Karen: but as we work so much on our own these days, it’s good to make the effort to have fun together, too.

Cassandra: I rely on these women as my colleagues because the one down side to the business is that we work in isolation.  I want to know what they’re thinking about inside the work and the business.

Hillary: It’s not like the on camera world… rife with cat fights and petty jealousy.  We truly support each other and while we might come up against each other on some titles, we each possess individual strengths.  I love these gals and am thrilled when they score a good book, a good review, an award.

Karen: I think actors tend to crave collaboration, and that’s the only downside to the trend of working in home studios.

Karen: well, not the ONLY downside.

Brenda: Do the three of you ever talk shop or use each other as creative sounding boards when working on projects?

Hillary: Fellow narrators are the BEST sounding boards and I have no problem helping out a colleague, or leaning on one!  Especially Cassandra & Karen. We spend a lot of time alone, in our booths, with no director, bowing to the sound of one hand clapping – our own!  It’s so valuable to get outside perspective.

Cassandra: Yes, I do miss the collaborative aspect!  Most days it’s just me and a bunch of imaginary people.

Hillary: Our biggest problem is finding the time to get together!

Karen: I find that with all my mom friends – so hard to get together!

Cassandra: Yes, the sounding board part is huge.  And I have tremendous respect for these two.  We like to get together!  I love it!  Let’s do it and the two of you come out too!

Brenda: I would love that – what about you Lea?

Lea: Seriously, you all may see Brenda and I one night looking to talk. We’d love the opportunity!

Karen: We should really reach out more often for collaboration.  One night, a few of us were drinking wine and having snacks at Hillary’s (she is an amazing hostess) and somebody had an editing question.  We all tromped down to Hill’s garage and she gave a quick ProTools tutorial.  Like many programs, ProTools can be inscrutable, and there was this way of revealing stuff you’d “recorded over” that was completely counterintuitive and I’d never have figured it out on my own.  But Hillary showed us in a way that I will never forget (and I use that little trick all the time!) yay!

Cassandra: Our business has changed a lot in the last couple of years with Audiobooks becoming mainstream. That’s really helped us come together as a community.  And we’ve formed a deep friendship through it.

Hillary: I am grateful.

Cassandra: and yeah, share the tricks of the trade!  Thanks, Hills!

Karen: What do we say, that Narrators are the “Cream of the Actor Crop”?

Hillary: I’m an open book.  What’s mine is yours.

Cassandra: We are marathoners.  Ultra marathoners.

Karen: and bookish people, which not all actors are.

Hillary: borderline nerds.

Karen: I own it.  I’m a nerd.

Cassandra: I would never have imagined this as a career, but when I think about it, it’s just exactly what I would have chosen.  Some acting, a lot of intellectual inquiry and stories.  I was elected the queen of the geeks in my high school.

Cassandra: I wave my geek flag high.

Karen: This interview has made me think of reaching out to you guys to get advice on CREATIVE choices, too.  Which I wouldn’t have thought of.  So watch out!

Brenda: I’m going to quote Renee Raudman from Speaking of Audiobook’s 2011 Narrator Forum here – it sounds like you’d all agree with her? “…with Tivo and XM radio, commercial VO has reduced its productions. However, Audiobooks seem to continue to explode. I know so many folks who want to transition, due to lack of work in the other areas. But they don’t realize the marathon that recording long-form narration can be! It’s the hardest work you’ll do in VO!”

Hillary: Oh yes. It. Is.  And it is not for everyone.  Tread cautiously ye actors!

Cassandra: Yes. It’s hard work.  It requires tremendous concentration and long hours.

Karen: I think it just suits some more than others, Brenda.  But it does annoy me when people who don’t have any actor training say, Oh, yeah; I’d like to get into that.  Is it hard?

Cassandra: I like what fellow narrator Robert Fass says about it.  If you want to narrate, pick a book randomly from a shelf, don’t choose it.  Read it out loud for six hours a day.

Karen: In a dark closet … with the refrigerator turned off.

Cassandra: Do that for three days.  If you make a mistake, go back to the top of the sentence and start again.  If you still want to do it after that, you might be a narrator. I think that’s good advice to give someone.  Two criteria: be a performer and love books.

Brenda: Sounds like excellent advice and I’ll stick to listening, thank you very much. ;) Can you each share with us your next romance project? Or, if you don’t have one on the horizon, what’s next up for you?

Hillary: I’m wrapping a frothy little mystery called Evil in all its Disguises and will then start #2 in the Stormwalker series by Allyson James – It’s called Firewalker.  It’s a PNR – heavy on the PN, a bit lighter on the R.  After that, a fun little book called The Mermaid of Brooklyn.  Haven’t prepped it yet so don’t know if it’s a romance or not!

Cassandra: I have two PNR books coming from Yasmine Galenorn, Shadow Rising and Haunted Moon.  Also, a great mystery called The Next Time You See Me.  And then The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout.

Karen: As I think you know, Brenda, I am doing #4 of the Julie James FBI/US Attorney series Love, Irresistibly. But I was literally just offered the 3rd in Jill Shalvis’ Animal Attraction series, too, Rescue My Heart.  So excited to find out what happens next in both of these.

Karen: I also have to give a shout out to a Harper title I completed recording yesterday called Until I Say Goodbye by Susan Spencer-Wendel.  It’s a memoir and if you check it out, you’ll think, oh, no that’s too depressing.  But it is just about the most inspiring book I have ever read!

Karen: I love that title, The Mermaid of Brooklyn.

Hillary: right?  Can’t wait to see what it’s about!

Cassandra: I just got the pickup file for Haunted Moon!  They need the pickups for tomorrow!  Of course they do!

Karen: Back to the booth, then, eh?

Brenda: Thanks Cassandra, Hilary, and Karen for joining us today. A behind-the-scenes look at romance audiobooks always makes for an entertaining discussion. My listening anticipation for today’s Katie MacAlister releases has definitely increased after our chat.

Hillary: Thank YOU!  We evidently could go on and on….  but the closet beckons.

Cassandra: Thanks so much for having us!  This was a blast!

Karen: Thanks for having us, Brenda!  Next time, in person with wine and snacks.  Let us know when you’re in town.

Brenda: Sounds like a plan. :) Have a great evening all…