It’s no secret that I love me some audiobooks. I mean, I have a page dedicated to my favorites! For me, the thing that makes or breaks an audiobook is the narration. There have been books I couldn’t read but then heard the audio and was hooked. There are books I cannot listen to because the narration just feels wrong to me. So, when I got an email asking if I’d like to interview audiobook narrator Jorjeana Marie, the first thing I did was go and listen to excerpts of her work. I loved what I heard! I couldn’t wait to ask her some questions about working on audiobooks. She was very gracious and answered with everything I wanted to know. Read on for a bit about her, an interview, and a giveaway of the audiobook I Was Here by Gayle Forman, narrated by Jorjeana!
Jorjeana Marie has narrated more than 100 audiobooks, including Gayle Forman’s I WAS HERE (Listening Library), which earned an Earphones Award from AudioFile Magazine. She was named one of AudioFile’s Best Voices of 2014 for her narration of Meg Wolitzer’s BELZHAR, which Publishers Weekly called “adept…[an] excellent performance.” Her voice can also be heard in such video games as Final Fantasy, Crackdown 2, and Star Guardians. Jorjeana has toured nationally as a stand-up comic, opening for Richard Lewis, Louis Anderson, and Kathleen Madigan.
How did you get into narrating audiobooks?
I have always been a lover of books and of reading, so really, since I was a child. I could never get enough books and would read the encyclopedia out loud when there was nothing else to do, and anyone who has spent some of their childhood in blizzards and cold, cold winters, knows sometimes, there’s nothing else to do. Yay, Britannica. But thankfully, that opened unknown worlds to me. Mystery, poetry, science fiction, I was hooked.
What’s the most challenging part of working on an audiobook? The most enjoyable?
The most challenging part of working on an audiobook is actually occasionally enlightening. I try to get real names right, so sometimes the research on a book set in a place I am unfamiliar with can be extensive, but because I do often call real places to get the pronunciation correct, I sometimes get to interact with folks I may not otherwise meet. Once when narrating a book based in New Orleans, I caught a community leader there who must have been sleeping at the center (with the time difference, it was night and I was expecting a recorded message to tell me how to pronounce the name) and when a human voice answered, I was thrown, but ended up having an in unforgettable, in-depth conversation. What surprises life can bring you.
How do you prepare for narrating an audiobook? Do you read the entire book ahead of time? Sections of it?
It depends. If it is non-fiction, like a book on business, sometimes I will scan it. If it is an emotional journey with many characters, many accents, many ages, that I will devote more time to. That might be akin to announcing a voice-over project versus doing live theatre. I have trained to bring a script to life in a cold-reading for years, so sometimes in a pinch, that comes in handy. But I love knowing the characters, stepping into them and understanding their journey ahead of time, so nothing beats preparation, even though I am an improvisor at heart. Spoiler alert—there’s no improvisation in book narrating. Well…not of the words, but of the life, of the moments, they are of course, all improvised. There is simply not enough time to plan out 13 hours of work in two days of prep.
What kind of input, if any, do you get from the author of the book?
Sometimes tone, certain unusual pronunciations, even speed. But what I love is any insight into who the person (main character I am playing) is; their essence.
You’ve narrated many different types of audiobooks. Is narrating for a YA audiobook different from others? If so, in what way?
YA is so fun!! My goodness, I am so honored to be narrating the kinds of books I love to read. I do love just about any good literary adventure, but you know, so many YA books offer that up in themselves, exploring deep, surprising and sometimes dark themes. And icons like Judy Blume (who I had the absolute joy of meeting recently) have been doing that for decades.
But, yes, I’ve narrated so many different books and I consider myself the luckiest duck evah! I LOVE books. I love learning and so many have journeys that are emotional rides. I just narrated a book I can’t talk about yet, but on page 23 I broke out in hysterics and calmed myself enough to just accept that I would never be the same person after finishing this book. Other tales are simply, wonderfully entertaining and still others take me away into a world so far away the sound booth walls melt away and I am just gone. Living, breathing, loving being in another world. Stories have been like that for me since I was a kid.
How do you decide on the different voices for the different characters in an audiobook?
I suppose it’s very instinctively, and hopefully, respectfully. I do often have to remind myself to let the characters live in close proximity to the listener, intimately. I have a lot of theatre and live performance training, so I can be very big and broad, but I don’t usually invite that into the world of audiobook narration unless I feel compelled, er, overtaken—sometimes these characters just choose themselves and they show up like Uncle Mort and Aunt Harriet, unannounced with Mint Juleps and Moscow Mules. What am I gonna do? Sometimes they don’t even say ‘excuse me’ they just own it, own me. Thank goodness for great directors and engineers to act as bouncers to these hooligans, drunkards and clowns. Somebody’s gotta draw the line. And I won’t do it. They get too bossy and I don’t want to be self-directing so much, that’s a bad habit, and one not easy to break. So sometimes, we all sit down for tea before the morning session and I tell all the characters in the book: “Look pal, friends, countrymen, take it easy today, keep it real and we’ll all get outta this alive and have butter pecan ice cream in a cone later.” And then I just hope they listen.
Do you have a preferred type of story you like to narrate (humor, contemporary, fantasy, etc…?)
Anything crafted with care and love. You can always feel that. And I want to aim to always bring that. Care and love. Rinse and repeat.
Thanks so much to Jorjeana! I loved getting to know a bit more about the “behind the scenes” prep for audiobook narration! I can’t wait to see what she does next 🙂
One lucky winner will get a copy of the audiobook of I Was Here by Galye Forman (my review of the book.) US only. Use the rafflecopter below to enter.
Cody and Meg were inseparable.
Two peas in a pod.
Until . . . they weren’t anymore.
When her best friend Meg drinks a bottle of industrial-strength cleaner alone in a motel room, Cody is understandably shocked and devastated. She and Meg shared everything—so how was there no warning? But when Cody travels to Meg’s college town to pack up the belongings left behind, she discovers that there’s a lot that Meg never told her. About her old roommates, the sort of people Cody never would have met in her dead-end small town in Washington. About Ben McAllister, the boy with a guitar and a sneer, who broke Meg’s heart. And about an encrypted computer file that Cody can’t open—until she does, and suddenly everything Cody thought she knew about her best friend’s death gets thrown into question.
I Was Here is Gayle Forman at her finest, a taut, emotional, and ultimately redemptive story about redefining the meaning of family and finding a way to move forward even in the face of unspeakable loss.
Listen to an excerpt: