Christina Delaine has voiced three of Chelsea Cain’s thrillers, including her most recent, Let Me Go. Here, the author and the narrator discuss celebrities, burping, and what’s so special about having someone read to you.
CC: Which character is the hardest to bring to life vocally in Let Me Go? Which character comes easiest? (That second question sounds dirty, doesn’t it?)
CD: Archie, in all his damaged, complicated, messy, human glory, is the soul of the series to me, and as such he’s both the easiest and most challenging to voice. It was important to me that everything Archie has struggled with, all the torture and suffering he has endured, whether it’s physical torture at the hands of Gretchen or the mental anguish he inflicts on himself by means of his own conscience, manifests itself in the sound of his voice. It was so clear to me that he needed to sound damaged, because it’s so fundamentally a part of who he is. Technically, it’s very difficult to sustain his voice over a long record. I’m basically doing a full-blown glottal fry to get his sound, and, physically, it’s exhausting. My graduate school voice teacher would be appalled. As to who comes easiest? Bliss, who’d also probably be the first to tell you that nothing about sex is dirty.
Have you ever been tempted to clean up the writing a bit as you’re recording? Because I do that when I read my book out loud at events. So if you notice that I use the same phrase six times on a page, you have my permission to go ahead and change it. Or if there’s a boring part, just summarize. Seriously, you must see all kinds of glaring errors (the continuity!). Is that distracting sometimes?
Of course, I never have those issues with your books, but when some little quirk of editing or a typo comes up, I’ve got a producer and an engineer and the publisher to hash things out with. Most questions get cleared up long before I even sit down in front of the microphone, as part of the process of my prepping the book for recording. The most distracting things when recording usually have nothing to do with the book itself. It’s mundane stuff like the sound of my stomach grumbling or the chair squeaking or whether I can get to the end of a line without burping. (All narrators burp. You swallow a lot of air when you talk much. Our outtakes are awesome.)
Is Henry black? (I poll my readers about this, and it comes out about 50–50, which I just love.)
Henry immediately popped into my mind as this strange hybrid of cowboy actor Sam Elliot and my Grandpop, who was a New York teamster nicknamed Pete the Ox, so I just ran with that.
I get asked all the time which actors I’d cast in the movie version of my books. Which actors would you cast in the radio play? (You can give a part to yourself, but only one.)
Archie—Ed Harris; Gretchen—Glenn Close; Susan—Ellen Page; Henry—Sam Elliot (since my Grandpop is unavailable); Claire—Kate Burton; Anthony Robbins—Lennie James. Ray Porter and Barbara Rosenblatt would play all the assorted supporting parts. Morgan Freeman, of course, would be the narrator, because in a perfect world, Morgan Freeman would narrate everything. As tempting as it is to cast myself, I think I’d really enjoy sitting back and listening to what other people bring to characters. Of course, the TV miniseries version would have a completely different cast. In that version, I think I’d play Debbie.
What is your favorite book, besides all of mine, to read aloud?
The Sesame Street Little Golden Book The Monster at the End of this Book, starring lovable, furry old Grover.
Any thoughts on how listening to a book, as opposed to reading a book, changes the experience and the relationship to the story?
Other than the obvious fact that one can multitask while listening to an audiobook, I think the primary difference is the story becomes a shared experience when told through audio. Physically reading a book requires a lot of solitary and dedicated attention. It challenges certain parts of your brain to participate in the fleshing out of the imaginary world. It requires responsibility and work on the part of the reader.
Listening, on the other hand, is an entirely different quality of attention. While by no means passive, listening frees the readers to merely have the experience of the story rather than to have to participate in making the experience of the story happen. As a narrator, I’m doing that work for them. It’s not that I’m creating anything, but I think when I’m doing my job well, I’m being a conduit for what the author has put on the page, interpreting it, and amplifying it for the listeners, so that we go through the story together and it becomes a communal experience rather than a merely solitary, imaginative one. Whether you’re a child being read to by your parents or you’re sitting around a campfire while someone spins a tale or you’re listening to an audiobook, there is something tremendously comforting and downright primal about listening as a story is shared with you.
I feel like we are collaborators—you take what I’ve done and are able to add a whole new dimension to the story, much like the work that translators do when they translate my books into foreign languages. But we’ve never met, and we don’t work together. You are on your own (with your producer) in the studio. Yet most of the voices you’ve created sound just like [how] the characters talk inside my head. How do you do that? Are you inside my brain right now?
I am able to do that because I am inside your brain right now. Wait a minute….. What if you’re actually inside my brain? I mean, I do hear your characters’ voices in my head. Whoa. Freaky.