When I went on a search for my narrator for HER SISTER, I knew exactly the type of voice I wanted. I definitely wanted a female narrator for this novel. It is women's fiction and the story of three women--a grandmother, a mother, and a daughter. Not only did I need a women for a narrator, but I wanted someone who could make all three of my female characters sound a bit different so the listener could easily distinguish one from the other. I thought I might want the impossible. But then I found Diane Piron-Gelman. I asked seven women to audition. From listening to their samples on ACX, I thought they might have the right voice and tone. But no one did until I heard Diane. I knew instantly she was the right person to narrate this story.
I've been intrigued by the narrators I have used, how they work, as well as their backgrounds. So I asked Diane to do this interview with me. So now I introduce to you Diane Piron-Gelman.
Tell us a little about your background. Where are you from?
I'm a Chicago area native, born in the city and raised in Evanston, the first suburb to the north. Chicago is a great city to grow up next to--the lakefront, world-class museums and parks, terrific theater and writers, and of course a highly colorful history including bare-knuckle politics. With a couple of temporary exceptions--college in Wisconsin, a year abroad in the UK and drama school in Berkley, CA--I've lived in or near Chicago all my life.
What was your schooling?
I have a BA in English and Theatre from Lawrence University in Appleton, WI, and an MFA certificate from the Berkley branch of the Drama Studio London.
How do you train to become a narrator?
I started out as an actor before doing anything else. Between high school, college and post-graduate conservatory training at the Drama Studio, I've accumulated more than 30 years years of acting experience, mostly stage. My conservatory training included voice lessons along with acting, and I've also taken workshops on Shakespeare for actors over the years. There's nothing like working your way through Shakespeare to sharpen your awareness of spoken language--the sound and weight and shape of it. The emphasis in the performance classes is all on how the sounds of the words shape their meaning and emotional impact, cuing actor and audience in on what the characters are going through.
What has been your experience with narrating so far?
HER SISTER is my first audiobook through ACX, with my home studio set-up, and I really enjoyed doing it. Before that, I recorded two audiobooks at a studio for Libby Fischer Hellman, a terrific Chicago-based writer and a friend and colleague of mine. Libby was looking for someone to narrate SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE, her 1960's thriller; she mentioned it at Love is Murder, a mystery conference we were both attending, and I offered to do it. She had me audition on the spot and liked what she heard, so I ended up reading that one and her next book, A BITTER VEIL, set in Iran during the 1979 Islamic revolution.
What genre do you like to narrate the best?
I love mysteries, of which I read a lot. I'd also enjoy a chance to read fantasy/SF, another genre I love. Beyond that, anything that's well-written is appealing to me. I love the sound of well-crafted prose; it's like music.
Did you read a lot as a kid? As an adult?
Oh, tons. I was one of those kids who always had her nose in a book. I still can't go to sleep at night without a little reading time first--and this in spite of, or maybe because of, my also being a writer and an editor. Between that and audiobooks, my various jobs require me to read a lot, so it's a good thing I enjoy it so much.
Why did you decide to begin narrating audiobooks?
I've always enjoyed reading out loud, and audiobooks offered a way for me to use my acting skills. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of money in theater unless you're extremely lucky...but when I read an audiobook, I get to play all the characters and bring out the full flavor of the language. And people pay me for this. What's not to love?
How do you know what voice to use for each character?
I start with cues from the book itself--whether a character is male or female, how old they are, where they're from, whether they have (or are written with) an identifiable accent. After that, I go by the kind of person they are. Is a character laid back, or high-strung, or a brisk no-nonsense type? Are they young and innocent, streetwise, optimistic, chatty, reserved? What profession are they--a cop, a grade-school teacher, a coffee shop waitress, a high-powered lawyer, a politician?
How do you keep your characters straight?
Auditory memory. I'm blessed to have a good one; I can still recall lines from plays I did back in high school. I also find that if I think myself into a character's head, the voice I chose naturally comes out of my mouth. That's the acting part.
Do you feel as if you become the characters as you narrate?
Oh, definitely! That's part of the fun of it. Of course, it can get tricky switching rapidly from one character to another during a stretch of dialogue, and from character to "neutral character" and back. But I enjoy the challenge.
Do you read the book before you start or narrate scene by scene?
I read the whole book first. That way I won't miss any information about a character that might not be given the first time they turn up in a scene. Reading the whole book also gives me a feel for the characters' emotional journeys, which helps me bring out their experience as I read. I also use that first read to mark cues in the text as to how a particular line should be read: things like "her voice dropped to a whisper" or "he said through gritted teeth." If a sound-based description like that is right there, I want to make sure the dialogue it goes with sounds the way the author wants it to.
What is the toughest part of narrating?
One: mouth noises. You never notice until you read out loud for a stretch how often your mouth either goes dry or builds up too much saliva and you start sounding sloppy. And the mike picks up everything, so I have to stop recording to swallow or take a swig of water. Second: getting so caught up in the words and story that I speed up without realizing it. If you go too fast, you lose clarity for the person listening.
How do you protect your voice?
I have a water bottle nearby for dryness, and I do vocal and breathing warm-ups before I get started. Breath support is vital for not straining the vocal chords.
What do you look for in an author's history to sway you toward narrating their book?
I look not so much at the author's history as at the work itself. If I like what I read in the audition script, and/or in the description of a book, I'm likely to try it. That said, it is nice to see that an author has a track record of being published.
What do you like to do most when you're not narrating?
I read voraciously, and I also like to cook. I'm never happieir than when trying out a new recipe, especially if I can use my own homegrown veggies and herbs in it.
What are you planning next?
My next audiobook project will hopefully be another of Libby Fischer Hellman's books, the third in her "revolution" trilogy along with SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE and A BITTER VEIL. I've also just finished a really gripping read, TRY THE MORGUE, for Audible via Bee Audio. It was my first book for them, and I'm looking forward to whatever they might have up next. After that, I may finally have time to start recording my own mystery, NO LESS BLOOD (which is out in hardback and as an ebook).
Diane Piron-Gelman's contact information:
Author website: http://www.dmpirrone.net
Business website: http://www.wordnrd.com
©2013 Karen Rose Smith
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