Who Gives My Characters Their Voices? Q&A with Audiobook Narrator Teri Clark Linden

Audiobook narrator and actress Teri Clark Linden during a recording session.

When I’m not writing fiction, I work as a journalist, which means I can’t pass up a good interview opportunity. Earlier this year, as guest host of the Lake Union Authors page, I had a ‘behind the scenes’ chat with a key player in bringing novels to life: the audiobook narrator.

Teri Clark Linden, Audiobook Narrator/Actress, did a superb job narrating my second novel, AT WAVE’S END. She has also recorded a host of Lake Union titles.

Here are some highlights from our conversation, which ran the gamut from SpongeBob SquarePants to Katherine Hepburn:

PPD: Welcome, Teri. How did you first get into audiobook narration?

TCL: I began eight or nine years ago narrating for Assistive Media, a web site for the blind, which is something I still do today. Back then, there were no standards for narration (no one was teaching it, certainly), so I used my experiences from voicing over commercials and corporate narration, as well as performance and storytelling skills, to tell the story.

PPD: How do you prepare to narrate a book? Do you rehearse?

TCL: I end up reading each book entirely two times, sometimes three, including reading behind the microphone for narration. There’s no ‘rehearsal’ per se, but at times I find myself reading aloud passages, especially dialogue, as I initially go through a book. I highlight characters, words to look up and make notes.

PPD: What direction do you receive before and during audiobook narration, and from whom?

TCL: Some publishers provide me with a questionnaire where the author has communicated basic information related to characters, i.e., accents, background, etc. If I’m on-site for a publisher (like Brilliance Audio) there’s a director/engineer who preps the script as I do. He/she offers occasional feedback on pace, or stops me to re-record on the spot if I’ve made a mistake.

When I’m narrating from my recording booth at home, I wear all the hats; I’m creating the characters’ voices, performance and pace. I’m also researching and notating pronunciations and engineering as I narrate, ‘punch-editing’ my mistakes as I go along, stopping and starting recording. At the studio or in-home, it’s all about serving the story and hopefully performing it as the author envisioned it.

PPD: Please share one funny outtake or experience that occurred during book narration.

TCL: I was once stopped during narration by a director and told to go back because I misread a sentence. Turned out even though my eyes read the words, “…fell on her behind…,” I ended up saying, “…fell on her butt.” It always amazes me the mistakes I make – what my eyes read and what my brain translates and I say!

It’s also funny during romance narration to be stopped by a male engineer or director behind the glass. For example, he’ll tell me, “Okay, let’s pick it up from, ‘caresses her soft peaks,’” or something like that. Another benefit from narrating from home!

PPD: I’ll remember that the next time I read a romance novel! You’ve narrated books in a wide range of genres. Do you have a favorite genre to narrate?

TLC: I really don’t. I know some narrators prefer or think they are better in one genre than another. I like them all, though some subject matter will sometimes be more interesting to me than others. Whatever the genre, I try to do my best with each narration.

PPD:  Since you frequently record in your at-home studio, please set that scene for us.

TCL: Ha, ha! When I’m narrating romance scenes, I like to joke I’m like the woman in curlers in that sexy rock music video, ironing in the basement while on the phone. You’re thinking all along she’s this sexy, gorgeous person.

In reality, I’m in a soundproof booth in my office about the size of an old-fashioned telephone booth. I’m usually in shorts and a tee shirt, with no make-up, glasses on, hair disheveled, and sometimes saying things between two people in a story I’d only be ever cast to say! My microphone and monitor, keyboard, mouse and iPad sit atop a Spongebob Squarepants blanket, which covers an Ethan Allen vanity table that was my Nana’s. Too specific?

PPD: Not at all. In fact, you’ve pretty much described the way I look when I write! You’re the sole narrator for my latest book, AT WAVE’S END, which has a large cast of characters. How do you distinguish different characters during narration?

TCL: As I read the book for the first time, more often than not characters begin to remind me of people, or of other actors’ performances. That’s usually the first step in my approach to voicing characters for audiobook narration. The protagonist is always me (some version of me, depending on age) and there’s always the “third person narrator” character – me, but more vanilla. (That’s the person who says, “she said.”)

PPD: How long does it take for you to narrate, say, a 350-page novel?

TCL: Every narrator is different, but when recording from my home studio, it’s about two hours of recording for every one finished hour. When someone else is engineering and all I have to do is read, it goes a little faster, and also depends on the material. A page usually comes in at around 90 seconds, but that varies. There’s a formula for estimating this because the casting or publisher who assigns me books can always tell me the number of finished hours based on the pages, and it’s generally right on!

At home I tend to work six hours (generating three per finished hours) and on-site a bit more because, again, I’m only narrating. A 350-page book usually takes around ten hours, which would take me three to four recording days at home to complete.

PPD: How difficult are accents?

TCL: Regarding accents, my teacher Pat Fraley says, “Don’t die trying,” meaning don’t focus so much on accuracy that the meaning and story get lost. I think that sums up audiobook narration: “Tell the story, but don’t die trying.”

PPD: That’s very good advice for writers, too. Which genre you like to read in your spare time, and in what format?

TCL: I like print best and have books all over the house with bookmarks in them! Genre depends on the mood; every couple of years I revisit all my Katharine Hepburn autobiographies and biographies during winter months, reading them in the morning. Sometimes plays, sometimes historical fiction or inspiration. Reading for audiobook narration, I am lucky to read so many different genres and titles I otherwise wouldn’t ever probably stumble across.

PPD: Has narration affected your personal book selection?

TCL: No, but it has broadened (and continues to broaden) my vocabulary and general education. I’ve become genuinely interested in some topics I’ve narrated, and am at times incredulous at my lack of awareness. For example, thinking about being a homeless woman in the United States, or coping with the unavailability of women’s sanitary products, a problem highlighted in a book I’m currently narrating. That book addresses not only women and menstruation in the United States but globally.

PPD: I think the best books are those that open our eyes to something new. Teri, thanks so much for guiding us into the world of audiobook narration. We will be listening for you!

Readers, find out more about Teri at tericlarklinden.com or connect with her on Facebook at Teri Clark Linden.


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