Interview with Uneasy Spirits Narrator, Alexandra Haag

US_audibleYou know how your own voice always sounds so strange when you hear it recorded? Well, my voice in my head always sounds warmer and deeper to me than it does in real life. Not surprisingly, that is also how the voice of my main protagonist, Annie Fuller, sounds to me. This difference between my real voice and what I think Annie should sound like is one of the reasons I would never narrate my own books.

Unfortunately, the narrator of my first book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series didn’t produce a voice that satisfied me—or many of my fans, so I put off getting Uneasy Spirits, the second book in the series, narrated for some time.

Then, at a local book club in town, I met Alexandra Haag, a professional narrator, and I fell in love with her voice. Here was the warm, rich tones I envisioned for Annie Fuller. I also liked the idea of working with someone local. This has worked very well for me with my cover designer, Michelle Huffaker, and I looked forward to duplicating this experience.

Alexandra Haag and I first collaborated on the short stories connected to the series, getting feed-back from fans who have their own ideas about what my characters should sound like. Links to the audiobooks of Dandy Detects, The Misses Moffet Mend a Marriage, and Mr. Wong Rights a Wrong, individually, or as part of the Victorian San Francisco Stories (a collection of these stories) can be found here. As a bonus, currently, if you already have a Kindle copy of any of these—you can get the audio versions for $1.99!

However, what I am most excited about is Ms. Haag’s production of the second full-length book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series, Uneasy Spirits, which has just come available as an audiobook on Audible, Amazon.com,and  iTunes.

I thought that this might be a good time to interview Alexandra Haag about what it is like to be a professional narrator and to narrate a long work of historical fiction such as Uneasy Spirits. Here is what Ms. Haag had to say!

How did you become involved with making audio books? 

Alexandra Haag

Alexandra Haag

By the time I first considered audiobook narration, I had read the newspaper on our local PBS Radio Reading Service for about three years and was a lector at my church for many years. I’d received some very kind encouragement about my presentation which “primed the pump,” so to speak, for exploring voice work.

There was a book that the afore-mentioned book club had read that I thought should be in audio format but wasn’t. So I began to explore how to get that done. One thing led to another and here I am! But that book never did get published as an audiobook – maybe the publisher didn’t think there was a huge market for the work of a 14th century mystic; go figure.

What special qualities to you personally bring to your work?

When I was just out of college, I attended a monthly acting workshop (Tom Selleck studied with the same coach) which just captivated me, but I knew I couldn’t move to a major market to pursue the craft, so I just, as they say, “Let it Go.” But after getting into audiobooks, I soon found that they were so much more about performance than about simply reading, and so discovered that I had now revisited my dream. I keep up with the performance aspect by taking workshops and classes (including improv comedy), and studying languages and dialects. I like to think I’m a voice performer specializing in audiobooks. 

Additionally, I have been a reader my entire life. I remember the first story book I read, Danny and the Dinosaur, and I have such fond memories of that book. I deeply respect the written word and try to convey that to both my authors and their readers/listeners. I am also fascinated by history, which works well with the books you’ve written. Finally, I guess, my various roles in life as mother, wife, daughter, sister, etc., give me great sympathy for the various characters in the stories.

How long does it take to record an average length novel, and what are the different steps you take from start to finish? 

On average, it takes 7 times the length of a book (in hours) to narrate and produce the finished product. In other words, Uneasy Spirits, which is just over 13 hours, took at least 91 hours to produce.

WARNING: If you’d prefer to imagine the narrator/performer sitting in a wing-backed armchair cradling the book and reading while stealing the occasional sip of tea (which is, in fact, the atmosphere we like you to imagine), DON’T READ THIS NEXT PART.

So, if you’re still with me, here are the steps I take:

  1. Read the manuscript & make notes of where the characters speak in each chapter (I use a spreadsheet);
  2. Rehearse the main characters and live with them for a while, working out their dialect, voice placement, voice quality, etc.;
  3. Look up unusual words, terms, and pronunciations even of words I think I know (I’ve sometimes found I’ve been pronouncing some words incorrectly for years!);
  4. Before each recording session, prepare the voice and listen to previous sessions for smooth and even transition;
  5. Record the narration (usually 40 minute sessions) noting errors and re-recording to fix;
  6. Do a “rough edit” to ensure all words are precisely voiced; fix errors;
  7. Do a “fine edit” to take out extra noises (the mouth is a remarkably noisy space), manage breaths and timing, and make performance changes when necessary; fix errors;
  8. Do a “quality control edit” to ensure it all sounds right;
  9. Master all files (a multi-step process of preparing the audio for distribution) and deliver to distributor.

Not all narrators do the editing and producing. I find I like the ability to mold my performance through editing and tweak it to the point that I feel comfortable in moving it forward to distribution. 

Are there particular kinds of books that you have found easier or more difficult to narrate (fiction versus non-fiction, books with a lot of dialog, etc.)

The first book I narrated was a short motivational book where the author’s own personality was very distinct. I immediately “clicked” with it and it was a lot of fun to do. But, generally, I find it harder to do non-fiction that’s not a story (memoirs are often more like a story). One must stay engaged and engaging throughout the explanations, which can be long and laborious. Initially, I found dialog very challenging, and so I spent a lot of time trying to deconstruct voices to get the qualities in them that best represented each personality. It’s still quite a challenge, but one that I really enjoy.

What were some of the special aspects of narrating Uneasy Spirits?

As I mentioned, I love learning about history and particularly this point in history. The years preceding the turn of the last century were just so rich in texture because of the changes brought on by the Industrial Revolution and the evolving cultural changes of civil rights for many sectors of society, particularly for women. Inventive imaginations were let loose in science, technology, politics, medicine, architecture, and more.

Additionally, your writing is very precise and vivid, bringing that time to life through your descriptions of everything from the horse cars rumbling down Market Street to the threads floating off of the Misses Moffet newly-cut fabric. The reader/listener is immersed in this world.

Your readers truly love the characters of your books and have a history with them – they are like friends and family. My most cherished wish is that you and the listeners are pleased with my presentation of Annie’s world. 

Thanks Alexandra!

M. Louisa Locke, January 2, 2015 

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