Last week, I reported that I’ve teamed up with award-winning narrator Nicole Poole to offer a free 23-minute mystery audiobook as a gift to our readers and listeners. When Gregg accidentally discovers his neighbor’s lingerie collection drip-drying in her shower, he stares in fascination at a scene that looks like laundry day at the whorehouse. After his neighbor is found dead – strangled with her own fishnet stocking – the next victim might even be closer to home.
Download it for free at:
Below, you’ll find a fascinating interview with Nicole as she offers a rare, behind-the-scenes glimpse about what it’s like to be a professional audiobook narrator. Nicole is an award-winning narrator, voiceover artist and actor who splits her time between New York City, Paris, and Norman, Oklahoma. She has toured with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and as a Certified Soundpainter, can often be found getting her hands dirty with dog-eared jazz musicians and scrappy experimental theater. She adores “wordsmiffery,” and in her spare time produces a podcast of short works at Wordsmiff Audio.com.
How did you first get interested and involved in narrating audiobooks?
My grandmother did a good deal of raising me. She was a retired country schoolteacher, and made sure that the house was full of books and magazines that would expand my mind. Grandma lost her sight when I was around 9 or 10, so I’d read articles and stories to her and she’d tell me some of her own. There’s something so intimate about sharing a story with another person. I think of it as acting in the dark. Once I moved to New York, my native Oklahoma accent earned me the opportunity to audition for Recorded Books in 2008, and they still can’t shake me.
You’ve been honored as an Audie Award Finalist, with the AudioFile Earphones Award and the Publisher’s Weekly Listen Up Award. When you’re constantly recording different books, how do you get yourself immersed enough in a project to deliver the strong performances that you’re known for?
Oh, you’re very kind! I certainly hope to deliver strong performances, but it’s not always easy. A book demands a lot of focus – each hour of recorded time takes between 1.5 and 2 hours in the studio due to stomach gurgles, phone calls, bad pronunciation, noisy neighbors and all manner of distractions. But this is one of the most fantastic jobs in the world, and an essential part of my job is to remain present and focused with the goal of honoring the author’s work and the listener’s experience. On my bulletin board, in front of my mic, is the phrase “Do behave, darling. Someone will hear you.”
What is your process for recording a book – do you read it from beginning to end before recording, or do you read as you go along? How do you keep track of the different voices that you use for each character?
Great question! I think it’s important to prep a book before narrating to get a feel for the pace, arc and characters, not to mention the research to be done for accents and pronunciations. It’s also one of my favorite parts of the job – propping up with as many pillows as I can stand to read a novel. (Don’t hate me!) That being said, there are times when deadlines are simply too hairy to allow for a full read; on the rare occasion, I’ll read a few chapters before recording and so on for the next day. It’s a form of “bareback” reading that can be thrilling, but can also leave you with a big pain in the rear!
Do you need to do any warm-up exercises or take any measures to protect your voice?
I’ve given up on smoking and screaming…until the world comes to an end, and then I shall do both. I have actually turned into quite a baby about my voice – if I feel even the slightest tickle of a cold, I grab a bunch of B, C and D vitamins, hot tea, neti pot and a very hot shower, then hit the hay for as many hours as I can manage. Before recording, I avoid dairy and usually have a big cup of Yogi “Throat Comfort” tea with me. If my voice feels garbled or I have a lot of what we call “mouth noise,” a green apple seems to clear it up. Finally, and this is not a paid advertisement, I use Entertainer’s Secret spray religiously when I’m recording a book. It’s glycerine and aloe and just wonderful stuff.
Among the books you’ve recorded are House Rules and Change of Heart by one of my favorite authors, Jodi Picoult, who I interviewed several years ago for an article in The Writer. (You can get a PDF of the article here.) The diversity of the kind of books you’ve narrated is impressive. What qualities draw you to a book?
I enjoy first person narrative. Jodi is a master storyteller – I feel as though I’m integral to the experience because her subtext gives me all of this luxurious room to roll around and really explore a character. At the same time, a lot of books are jolly good, well-written romps. I adore Katie Lane and Katie MacAlister, and have narrated several of their books – the ability to work with the same writer repeatedly; that’s the good stuff. It’s a voyeuristic thrill to see the world through the eyes of another person, whether they’re in the throes of suburbia, the wilds of Texas or in other worlds surrounded by vampires. I also work under an alias for erotic fiction – how lovely it is to let every aspect of my personality have a chance to play!
When I interviewed Rob Granniss of Brick Shop Audio, he praised you for your skill at recording a production in your home studio, saying that you “deliver a great performance while handling the recording aspect with aplomb.” Not all narrators have the ability to handle the technical aspects of a production so adeptly. Can you tell us how you developed this ability?
Rob is a gem for saying that. He’s a cornerstone for my learning to record at home and I do owe him cookies! A couple of years ago my partner and I realized that we would be traveling overseas more often and for longer durations because of his job, so I needed to find a way to continue my own career while away. I attended a seminar for narrators interested in home recording for ACX, and getting set up to self-record seemed like the most logical path. However, the only thing I sort of knew how to do was narrate. I was a babe in the woods when it came to pushing buttons and editing waveforms and technical stuff. I was lucky enough to have access to Rob, who at the time was one of my directors at Recorded Books, and their resident technical genius. He very patiently showed me the basics of Pro Tools over a few sessions, and also literally went microphone, headphone and cable shopping with me to find what equipment would work best for my voice.
I then got up the nerve to ask Grammy Award-winning producer Paul Ruben if he would work with me on my delivery. He continues to kick my butt!
Not long thereafter, Australian author David Crookes asked me to narrate his novel “Borderline” as a royalty share arrangement. I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to figure out firsthand how to produce a book. There were many moments where I had my knuckles in my mouth to meet the deadline, but luckily David’s writing did most of the work for me. (phew) I built on that to market myself to other publishers, and, here we are.
We recently collaborated on recording a short story in an effort to offer our readers and listeners a free story that they can listen to in one sitting. What was it about Laundry Day that appealed to you and who was your favorite character to portray?
I adore short stories! They’re guilt-free snacks that a writer can have a ball with. Laundry Day was a Desperate Housewives-worthy juicy drama based in suburban reality. Gregg really appealed to me for his normalcy and realness, and I loved your descriptions of the worlds that he and Julia inhabit with their neighbors. I’d also never thought of a humidifier as a weapon before. Thanks for the tip!
Your website shows how extensive your theatrical background is. What were some of your favorite performances?
Most of my favorite performances were those of my castmates! But I adored playing Roxy in Chicago; one of the only musicals I’ve ever done and I just couldn’t get enough. Fosse and Fishnets. What else could a girl ask for? I’ve played Lady Macbeth several times now and she’s just so misunderstood… :p
Can you tell us about your training?
I lost a bet playing pool and had to audition for a theater company in my hometown. Much to my horror, I got the part. After the company closed, I went to college for theater, and lucked out with a few extremely inspiring professors (namely Ray Paolino, Mark Brotherton, Kae Koger and Michael Buchwald). I graduated and drove a rental car to Brooklyn, where I continued to seek out coaches and classes as I gnawed my way through the NYC theater scene. I landed a role touring in England with the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of “Tantalus,” by John Barton, directed by Sir Peter Hall and Edward Hall, which was pretty much the pinnacle of my traditional theatrical career. I can’t believe all of those years just fit into a paragraph.
Tell us about SoundPainting.
Soundpainting is something you have to experience to truly get, which is part of what I love about it. The communion between artist and audience when you’re performing live is indescribable. Primal. Lovely. I’ve gotten to perform with some of the best jazz musicians in the world and I can’t play an instrument, and they’ve taught me more about improvisation than most of my theatrical training. On my website there’s a page about it including a link to a video or two. I’m producing a project called “The Parisian Jazz Chronicles,” by the late, great Mike Zwerin, which will be developed this year in Paris and performed next year in New York (and beyond, I hope)!
And don’t forget to download our free collaboration Laundry Day!