Welcome to Up Around the Corner, Michael. Please, tell us a little about yourself, your interests, and how you became interested in narrating novels.
Thanks, Terry, and thanks for inviting me onto the blog.
In day-to-day life, I teach English (mostly composition and literature) at a community college in southern California. I have a lovely wife and three exciting children, and they keep my days full. When free time comes around, I enjoy hiking and camping, reading (of course), and doing some writing of my own. One of the things that attracted me to Flank Hawk, actually, is that it’s the kind of book I’d like to produce myself one day.
As for voice work, I’d done a few local commercials and other projects, but my heart has always been given to audiobooks. I’ve always loved to read aloud. One of my favorite works is the Lord of the Rings trilogy by Tolkien: when my wife was pregnant with our boys, she had motion sickness so fierce that she couldn’t watch television, so at night I read through the books aloud to her—and was happy to do so again for my boys before they were old enough to read them for themselves. I attended some workshops and had a demo produced by one of the greats—Pat Fraley—and had some coaching from industry vets like Stephan Rudnicki and Scott Brick. I have a demo, but the first work I got was through ACX, the Audiobook Creation Exchange, an offshoot of Amazon.
I’m happy to have taken up Flank Hawk as my very first audiobook. It was a challenge and a huge learning experience (though I’m still learning, and probably will continue to do so throughout what I hope is a long career).
Thanks for the compliment with respect to Flank Hawk.
Was there a particular audiobook or narrator that first caught your attention and got you interested in audiobooks? If so, what about that book and/or narrator caught your imagination?
I’ve always loved spoken-word audio. My first record (the audio format of necessity in my childhood of long ago) was the audio track of the Rankin-Bass animated version of The Hobbit. (I can still rattle off some passages from that, and I still have the vinyl somewhere…). I also vividly recall wanting to borrow a recording of a reading of “St. George and the Dragon” from the public library when I was six, arguing with my mother who thought that I would be bored. I wore the record out before it had to be returned, as I wore out our 8-track recording of Disney’s Mickey’s Christmas Carol (with the great Alan Young narrating as Scrooge McDuck). On car trips, my parents would listen to old radio shows, which were fun, and though I didn’t follow sports, even the announcer for a baseball game (Vin Scully for the Dodgers out here in California) could be interesting just for the timbre of his voice and the music of the language.
I can’t recall the first audiobook I listened to, but I enjoy just about all aspects of audiobooks: the story, the characters, the descriptions, and so on. I also take a real delight in the language and sound, the intonation and rhythm and melody of words jumbling up against one another in ever-changing patterns.
How do you prepare to narrate a novel and, when you’re narrating it, is your focus on the words from the novel’s text, images of interacting characters and setting, some combination text and novel scenes, or something totally different?
First, of course, is reading the work to get an overall view of the plot, the setting, the characters, and so on. I often mark characters as I read and think about voice qualities for each, as well as considering the narration tone and rhythm. For instance, Flank Hawk seemed to me to have a very natural, realistic tone; it’s also important that it’s told in Krish’s voice. I wanted to have a slight tonal variation between the narration and the dialogue. Part of that is rhythm, and part was my idea that Krish would be slightly older as he is relating the story. (I don’t know if that was in the plan, but it helped to mark the tone in my head.)
Physically, then, comes printing out the entire novel in large type (though I’ve heard some folk are using iPads for this now; given the cost of the copies, it might be a very wise investment) and marking character introductions and other important points.
As I’m narrating, I’m attempting to paint a picture of the action and scenery for the listener without being too intrusive (which means I have to imagine it for myself). It’s the writing that has to convey the ideas; my job is just to show it in its best light. When I’m reading dialogue, I attempt to see what the character would see, imagine what their mood and thoughts would be, and let the performance flow from that.
Sounds like a combined technical and creative endeavor to get it just right.
Can you tell us what project you’re working on now and any that you might have your eye on or lined up for the future?
Currently, I’m working on a collection of short horror stories from the 1930’s and 40’s—Hugh Cave’s Murgunstrumm and Others. It’s great fun, but very long. I have a couple of other books lined up, including a collection of science fiction works and a detective novel. And I’m very pleased to look forward to narrating Blood Sword in the very near future. I feel rather lucky to get a chance to narrate a sequel to a book I’ve already done: there’s some excitement to having the chance to get back into Flank Hawk’s world, to revisit old characters and bring in new ones.
I’m looking forward to your narration of Blood Sword. Can’t happen soon enough from my end J
Sort of off topic question: If you could sit down to lunch with any three people, alive or deceased (no longer than 250 years), who would you choose, where would you dine, and what would you hope to discuss?
Wow—that is a new line of questioning! As an English professor, writer, and reader, over the course of a lunch I might shoot for a kind of literary salon. My first pick would have to be C.S. Lewis, an author, theologian, and man I’d very much like to spend time with (and who, in the passing years, I hope to emulate more and more). In that vein, it would also be nearly impossible to pass up the chance to include Lewis’ Inkling brother, J.R.R. Tolkien. That last spot would be a difficult choice, but I’d go with Terry Pratchett, author of the amazing Discworld novels.
I can’t think of a particular restaurant that would really suit the occasion, but I’d look for somewhere quiet, dim, and relaxed, with leather armchairs and shelves of books; a place where we could enjoy the food without thinking too hard about it, let the assembled gentlemen have a pint or port, and smoke good pipes in the most genteel fashion. (I have a thing for old-fashioned Britishisms, it seems.)
And, of course, the conversation would tend toward reading, writing, and metaphysics. Not only would it be amazing to just listen to these authors discuss their works, their writing process, and their successes and failures, but these are also men of large brain and deep philosophy. Their fictional works have greatly influenced me, but so have their ruminations on art, writing, and life in general, such as Tolkien’s “On Fairy Stories” and “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics,” and Lewis’ An Experiment in Criticism (as well as his many theological works). Implicit in all this, of course, is that for the perfect luncheon, these gentlemen would for some reason value my input in the conversation so that I wasn’t just a fawning fanboy listening to them lecture.
Interesting choice and reasoning, Michael.
Focusing on technology and culture in the United States, where do you see books, literature, and reading tastes and habits trending in the next ten or fifteen years?
It’s difficult to tell, really—the advance of technology and the changing habits of readers shaped thereby is hard to predict. I have consistently seen reading habits falling off among my students in college classes: when asked, the only reading they may do is on the internet. This would not be an end-of-the-world issue—there is some great content on the internet—but most of them do little more than text one another and read Facebook updates and Pinterest memes. That’s depressing. At the same time, technology really opens up publishing (one doesn’t always need to find large publishers to have a book run, for instance, since books can be printed to order), and, of course, audiobooks have taken off tremendously. I’ve also worked a bit with a company that is working on purely online texts (as opposed to just modifying texts to be read on a computer screen): stories that can be interacted with through reading, graphics, audio, and video, and these are really stretching the boundaries of what we think of as storytelling. I bemoan the fate of the printed word, and I am sad to see what’s happened in many aspects of the publishing industry, but I try to look forward to the ways the changes can be positive when I can. In the meantime, I will never let go of a good, solid physical book when I have the choice.
We’re closing in on the end of the interview. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I’ve really enjoyed this, and I’m looking forward to recording Blood Sword. I hope many folks will check out the series, both in print and on audio. Anyone interested in listening to my demos or other voice work, feel free to drop by my web page: http://voice123.com/michaelslusser.