Wednesday, May 29, 2013

SPOTLIGHT on #Narrator Craig Jessen: From comics to narration!

Craig Jessen is narrating three books for me.  I think that says it all.  When he auditioned for JAKE'S BRIDE, there was no question that I wanted him to narrate that book and more!  He approached this marriage of convenience novel that has an emotionally tough plotline for the hero with aplomb and sensitivity.  He was Jake.

I can't say enough good things about the way Craig works.  His audio quality is superb.  I never have to be concerned about background noises, or echoes, or anything other than the perfect silence that his voice drops into.  He's professional down to the forms I can use for each chapter to relay my notes to him.  And...I can even print out a spreadsheet with all of them on it.  He's prompt with responses and works steadily.  We completed JAKE'S BRIDE within a month.

So with pleasure and the highest recommendation, I introduce to you Craig Jessen whose interview after a day of editing made me laugh (no easy feat), and I appreciate even more the talents of this narrator.

(Note for authors:  When I first heard Craig's samples on ACX, they were mysteries, thrillers and sci fi.  But it was the quality of his voice that I suspected would be right for romance.  And it was.)

Can you tell me a little about your background and experience thus far?
Growing up, my first experiences performing all had to do with singing.  For some reason (probably bad parenting), my two brothers and I learned just about every song from The Music Man, and performed them at the slightest invitation (again, parenting.) We also sang in a number of choirs, performing every chance we could get.

While I never lost my love of music, I did lost my beautiful boy soprano voice.  There was an uncomfortable period where I tried to pretend I was a tenor, but by the time I realized I was a baritone, my singing days were over.

But before they were, I found my way into theater by way of musical theater, preforming in a community theater production Godspell (stop me if you've heard this story before).

In high school I dove headlong into the craft.  But my interest was much broader than acting.  I enjoyed working on the entire theatrical experience.  After school, I'd work on the sets for as long as they'd let me before rehearsals began, and after rehearsals I'd stay up much later than I should building props (the crowning achievement of which was an animatronic tortoise for Tom Stoppard's Arcadia, that swayed its head and tail from side to side.)  As I began to develop my own voice as an artist, this love for total theater led naturally into playwriting and directing.

After high school, I continued studying theater at Southern Oregon University.  Though my emphasis was in performance (for which I earned a BFA in 2005), the school had an excellent directing and playwriting program, and I continued developing those skills as well.

I got married after college and spent the next two years in New York, where my wife and I worked on a variety of small theater projects together, including a production of N. Richard Nash's "Echoes" in which we played opposite each other as inmates in an asylum (if there is a more fitting metaphor with which to begin a marriage, I haven't found it).

After I'd fully disillusioned my childhood memories from growing up in the Big Apple (fun fact nostalgia blocks out the smell of urine), my wife and I moved back to Oregon, where I was briefly involved in the theater scene before moving to Los Angeles to begin work on a Playwriting MFA at UCLA. In Los Angeles, my theater work has been primarily as a director, helming nine shows since I moved here in 2008.

Why did you decide to begin narrating audiobooks?
When the opportunity arose two years ago to become an audiobook narrator, I dipped my toes in very tentatively.  But as I began to learn the craft, I was amazed at how many of my skills as a theatre artist I could pull over.

As a performer, its tremendously fun to play all the roles in a story.  Sure, it's a lot of work, but how often do you get to seduce yourself? (Well...)

As a director, it brings to bear my skills for pacing, building dramatic tension, and overall storytelling.  And my work as a playwright gives me kind of an inside line when I'm trying to get into an author's head, learning the speech patterns they are writing with, and how they are using language to metabolize thought.

Did you read a lot as a kid?  As an adult? 
This is an extremely embarrassing question to answer.  In school, sure I read everything I was told to.  In third grade, I won the "Top Reader Award" (though the system was flawed--they counted total page numbers and I was reading those abridged classics where every other page is a picture.)

In terms of reading for pleasure, it was not something I did growing up.  Reading was always done by assignment whether by teachers or by parents.  I think I also grew up in a house where there was a stigma against pleasure reading.  Reading was serious business, and my brothers and I were handed weekly assignments from our father in various non-fiction tomes.  (Now to be fair, he also provided us access to 30 years of collected comic books.  But I don't want to get into a lengthy defense of comics, or an even lengthier treatise about my love for them, so suffice it to say that in my head, at that time, this did not count as "reading.")

Yes, I read novels in school but even then it was work, as you read to absorb every minute detail so as to pass those silly reading comprehension tests we're so hell-bent to destroy literature with.  I was 17 before I read a novel strictly for pleasure.  The novel was James Clavell's King Rat, and I remember quite clearly standing in my high school library, seeing the book on a shelf, remembering a story my dad had told about the movie version, and thinking to myself  "I want to read this."

I did.  And I was enthralled.  Freed from the strictures of reading to pass a quiz, I felt immersed in an intimate conversation with the author.  I devoured King Rat, as well as the other six books in Clavell's Asian Saga (for many years, these were the only books I returned to read multiple times, until Neil Gaiman's American Gods joined the repeat hits brigade.)

Since then, I've read voraciously. 

Why narrate a romance?  What other genres are you narrating?
I like narrating romance because it's the genre that comes closest to working on a play.  Much of the book tends to be dialogue, and that's really my favorite thing to do as an actor, wrestling through emotions and ideas with another character.

Of course, there's an added twist--as an audiobook narrator you're playing the other characters, too!  It's an interesting mindset you have to get into like a momentary selective amnesia.  Because each character is trying really hard to get something, but they don't have the full picture--that third person, camera-in-everybody's brain that you get as a reader.  So you have to find ways to compartmentalize your character knowledge, as you go back and forth between them.  Often times you want your characters to be able to surprise each other, which means you have to surprise yourself.

Besides romance, I've narrated science fiction, mystery, horror, inspirational, history, and memoirs. 

What do you like to do most when you're not narrating?
Go on adventures with my wife.

What are you planning next?  
This weekend I'm workshopping my play The End of Sex, which is having a world premiere next year by Theater Vertigo in Portland, Oregon. 

 Craig can be contacted at Craig Jessen's website.

JAKE'S BRIDE on Audible

JAKE'S BRIDE on Amazon

JAKE'S BRIDE on iTunes

©2013 Karen Rose Smith

Karen Rose Smith's romance website 
Karen Rose Smith's mystery website
Karen's Facebook Author Page

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