If you enjoy audiobooks or have ever wondered about the process of narrating and producing an audiobook, then have I got a treat for you! Below is an interview with Cassandra Morris, who narrated my paranormal young adult novel Dark Before Dawn. Cassandra and I met through the Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX) and she has quite an impressive background. She has narrated over 80 audiobooks and received multiple awards from Audiofile Magazine and Publisher’s Weekly. Recent awards include two 2011 Earphones Awards from Audiofile Magazine and a 2010 Audie Award Nomination for Outstanding Fiction Narration. Among her credits, Cassandra has narrated books in the Gossip Girl series, Pretty Little Liars series, Disney Fairies series (as Tinkerbell), The Magic School Bus series, Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew series, The Clique series, and Ivy and Bean series, and has narrated biographies for Miley Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers, Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato.
How did you get involved with narrating audiobooks?
An audiobook project came across my agent’s desk called Dear Zoe, and the author wanted an actor who sounded like a 15-year-old girl. He sent me the script, which was about 3 pages of the book, and I just fell in love with the main character, Tess. She’s dealing with her younger sister’s death while trying to navigate her relationship with her mother, stepfather and her real father, plus the usual teen girl angsts about boys and high school. I had never narrated an audiobook before, but I knew that I wanted the part purely because I wanted to portray the character. I ended up booking the part, and that started off my career as a narrator!
What do you most enjoy about narrating books for teens and children?
I have always loved storytelling in general, so being able to give so many wonderful stories a literal voice is something that I consider a privilege. I also truly enjoy YA books- the characters, the firsts, the angst and the heightened drama are just really entertaining to me. It reminds me of that time in my life, and sometimes makes me glad that all that is over with and I made it out alive, ha!
How hard is it to shift gears from narrating a book for kids like one of the Magic School Bus books, to doing a book for teens like the ones in the Gossip Girls series or a paranormal YA?
Well, there are definitely differences to narrating a kids book vs. a novel, but it’s not that hard for me to switch gears. Narrating a Gossip Girl book in a Magic School Bus voice just wouldn’t sound natural- if you know what I mean!
You’ve been amazingly successful, winning multiple awards for your narration. Is there anything you’ve learned along the way that you believe has helped you to give such strong performances and is there any advice you would give to new narrators?
Get lots of sleep the night before your recording sessions, rest your voice before and after your sessions, and bring snacks. Audiobook sessions are often six hours long, so you basically need to be ready for a marathon. It’s like performing back-to-back one-woman shows. As for new narrators- if this is something you want to do, listen to a lot of audiobooks first. Paul Ruben also teaches a great intro class on audiobook narration in New York and occasionally in Los Angeles, too.
What kind of voice training do you have? Have you also acted in other areas, such as stage and screen, or do you mainly focus on voice work?
I started out doing musical theater in Connecticut, and went on to study acting in New York and Los Angeles. I’ve acted in commercials, TV pilots and a film, but voiceovers are my main focus these days.
Do you read the whole book before you start recording, or do you read it in sections so that you’re surprised?
I will read the whole book before I start recording – it’s important to know how many characters you’re going to be portraying, whether they have accents that you need to brush up on, and if there are any words you come across that you don’t know how to pronouce, or sentences in other languages that you need to get clarification on.
How do you keep track of the different voices and inflections that you give to the characters? Do you need to write reminders to yourself?
I keep a list next to me during recording. The engineer also marks the first appearance of a new character so I can go back and listen to the voice I used.
Do you ever do voice warm-up exercises, or need to take measures to protect your voice?
Yes, I do vocal warm-ups on my drive over to the studio. I try not to yell or scream too much if I go out to a concert or a club either… it’s not good for your vocal chords, for obvious reasons!
Who was your favorite character to portray in Dark Before Dawn, and why?
I liked Candace the best – she was dark and mysterious and super sure of herself.
I was super-impressed with the detailed production schedule that you set for Dark Before Dawn. Could you briefly tell us about where you go to record books and what happens after that?
Thanks! I produced and narrated Dark Before Dawn so there was a lot of scheduling and coordinating that I had to do that I wouldn’t normally do if I were just narrating. I booked two full days at Studio Zero in Van Nuys, CA and recorded the book myself using a self-record booth. After I was finished, I sent the sound files off to an engineer who edited and QC’d them for any mistakes or misreads. He turned around the book in a few days. Then I re-recorded about ten sentences that had mistakes in them, and sent the book off to the author for final approval. Luckily, she liked it on first listen, so I didn’t have to go back and re-record any parts!
About Dark Before Dawn:
Dawn Christian has been psychic since she was seven years old and has always considered herself an outcast. Even her own mother discourages her talent, so Dawn has kept her abilities quiet and feared a lifetime of loneliness. When she gets involved with a fortuneteller and two teenage girls who share her mysterious perception, Dawn finally belongs to a group. As her intuition strengthens, so does Dawn’s self esteem. However, when she learns her new friends may be tied to two bizarre murders, she has an important choice to make – continue developing the talent that makes her special, or challenge the only people who have ever accepted her.
Listen to a sample on Audible.