How an Audiobook Narrator Plays All the Parts

Listen to this episode

S1: Sleepless members, it’s survey time again, which means it’s your chance to tell us what you think about Sleepless and Slate, it’ll only take a few minutes and you can find it at Slate dot com slash survey. This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership.

S2: So many books have so much dialogue and you’re playing all the characters, I mean, it’s it’s actually quite a gift because I get to be everybody. I get to be the detective. I get to be the man. I get to be the woman. I get with the child. I mean, what does an actor get to do that? So that’s awesome. And also challenging. And I just have to trust myself. And if I sounds off to me, I just go back and redo it.

Advertisement

S3: Welcome back to Working, I’m your host, Isaac Butler, and I’m your other host, June Thomas June.

S4: Hello. That voice that we just heard belongs to Abby Creighton. Who is she and what does she do?

S1: Abby is an actress who these days mostly does voice work. And in the interview today, we mostly focused on her work as an audiobook narrator, but she also does commercials, video games. And as we discussed in the Slate plus segment, looping, looping.

S4: Amazing. I am very excited to hear all about this, in part because I have recently started to regularly listen to audiobooks for the first time ever. In fact, it’s been so long since they did it. Before that I still in my brain called them books on tape. But when I am taking Chile, my dog out on walks, I listen to about 30 minutes or so of a book and it’s been a deeply pleasurable experience. I take it that you are an audio book aficionado?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: Well, I too am a recent convert. I tried them before several times, in fact, but I only recently figured out how to incorporate them into my life. For me, at least, there’s some sort of alchemic mixture of the right kind of focus and attention a part of my day when I can take in language for pure pleasure and entertainment, and when it’s not rude to have headphones on and be listening to something that only I can hear. And that combination of circumstances has been much easier to find in covid time. And I also figured out some basic things like when to listen. So, for example, the ideal time to listen to non-fiction books that you want to pay close attention to is not the same time as the perfect moment for light as air romance novels, for example.

Advertisement

S4: That’s so fascinating because for me, I’ve realized the reason why dog walks are so perfect is that I have to be doing something physically or I get antsy. I do not get antsy reading a physical book, but just sitting there listening. I can’t do it. I can’t even listen to this podcast just sitting there listening. I have to be walking around or or just doing something with my body, not something that takes mental effort, but something that just takes a little bit of my mind off what my body is doing so I can just listen and enjoy.

S1: Yeah, well, my deep, dark secret is that I mostly listen again, not just to audiobooks, but to any audio entertainment when I’m trying to fall asleep like it’s a perfect thing to avoid the kind of squirrel wheel of your head, just kind of when you start going in circles and you just can’t turn off your brain, it turns off my brain. But again, that’s why I can’t listen to, you know, concentration requiring non-fiction. Then that’s for when I’m taking a walk or something like that.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S4: Amazing. After your conversation will be answering a voicemail from a listener about how to remain creative when being creative feels impossible. And then we have a bit of a special treat for Slate plus listeners. Tell us about it.

S1: We do. Abbie is going to explain what looping is, what it means in the world of TV and movie production, and then she will recommend some of her favorite audiobook narrators.

S4: That’s so great. And just a reminder, you will get access to that amazing content, along with so many other members, only benefits when you join Slate. Plus, here are some more zero ads on any Slate podcast bonus episodes of shows like Slow Burn and Dear Prudence. And you’ll get to feel good about yourself because you’re supporting the work we do right here on working. It’s only one dollar for the first month. And to sign up, go to Slate dotcom slash working plus.

Advertisement

S3: All right, now let’s tune in to Jeunes conversation with Abby Craib.

S1: Abby Creedon, how many books to record like, say, in a month? I would say on average, three to four bucks a month, do you know how many you’ve recorded over the course of your career?

S5: I believe close to 400 well, how long have you been doing it? Um, probably about 15 years.

S1: Has the pace picked up recently?

S5: It’s kind of the same. I just think the for me, I think the audience has gotten broader with covid and people just needing other forms of entertainment. And the fact that we can do it from our home studios is a really amazing part of working that continues for voice over actors.

Advertisement

S1: Yeah, well, you’re working from your home, as you just said. Is that something that you did before covid or was that a change that you made when the pandemic closed things down?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S5: It was something I did before. I think when the audible boom happened and everything was being recorded, there was such a need for recording studios that they asked people who are also other voiceover to have a home studio. So I was already set up. So I I’ve been doing this for a long time. So it was it was not a struggle for me. So what’s the first thing that you do when you’ve been assigned a new book that you have to narrate? I always have to read the book first to prep it. I take notes. Sometimes I can kind of shorthand it depending if I’m on a series and I know the characters, but I kind of get ideas of the feel, the rhythm of the book. And if there’s dialogues, you know, I sort of figure out what I’m going to do with that. Sometimes I contact the author to find out, like I just did a whole fantasy series which had a made up language. And I had to have a long conversation how this was all part of, you know, because you once you start going, you have a limited time. I do. To get it done. And you just kind of go, there’s not rehearsals. You kind of get get in your booth, you schedule your time and you go and you trust yourself. You don’t do a bunch of takes. You just kind of have to intuitively know what you’re doing and accomplish it in the time you’ve set aside.

Advertisement

S1: Are you working from, like, the book or do you have some other kind of script?

S5: I have an iPad, so I have a PDF that’s digital so I can scroll my finger and I can also I put my book into I annotate, which is a way to kind of notate things and you can look up things, you know how they’re spoken. So most audiobook narrators probably get a digital PDF of the book and then put it inside out and then they can highlight words and you have it much more accessible. So I look at that. I have a microphone that’s I have my computer outside my booth. I have a screen that mirrors that so I can activate Pro Tools and record myself and punch and roll, which is how you kind of punch in. And I sit here at my mic and I just do everything for a minute.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: So you you mentioned highlighting certain words. There’s been a move toward like inhabiting characters, doing voices. You know, there’s a lot less of that. She said stuff anymore. And you just kind of said, well, you know, that’s Canmore or that’s Blair. You can tell which series I’ve been listening to, but you go from one character to the other. But do you kind of have the different characters in different colors or anything like that to kind of just alert you? Who’s talking?

S5: I don’t actually. I what I mark often is, she said with a tremor in her voice or she whispered, That’s what I need to catch my eye. I kind of get in a rhythm and I know who’s talking, but it’s always those things that can trip me up because the smoother I can do, the less I interrupt myself. I like, the better the performances because I just kind of get in a flow with it.

Advertisement

S6: When the kiss ended, Stunk opened her eyes amazed to find she couldn’t focus. Her head was spinning too much. That was awfully nice. She managed, her voice slightly unsteady.

S7: So let’s talk about the accents, the different voices, accents, I think is not quite right, because it’s not just accents, it’s different tones of voice. Actually, I shouldn’t describe it. How do you describe how you do different voices?

S5: Well, I feel that I am lucky that I have a wide range in my voice. I can go very deep and gravelly and I can also go high and soft and kind of young. So I which is offered me the opportunity to do lots of different genres. I’ve done kids’ books, I’ve done young adults, I’ve done all sorts of different things. So I sort of fell into I always find the person who’s me, which is kind of this tone. And I’m like, Oh, thank God she’s me. OK, good. Don’t have to worry about that. And then I find that I kind of go like, oh, she’s deeper than me or and then I kind of go down here or oh, she’s up here and she’s breathy. So it is a it’s kind of like the palette of what I can do. I just sort of pick and choose because I think what’s really important when you’re listening is just to be able to know who’s talking. And one of the hardest thing is when you have a group of like five men and they’re all 40 and they’re all having a beer together. And how do you make those voices sound different?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: How do you distinguish them? What can you do with your voices to indicate five different guys when they’re all kind of similar?

S5: Yeah, well, there’s definitely pitch so high a low tone could be gravelly as opposed to nasal. Like it’s something that some of those nasal and there could be rhythm. So there’s someone who speaks really fast and then there’s someone who speaks slower and sometimes which is interesting as I imagine them. And then my voice changes a little like I can imagine the character and it adds a different flavor. It’s all of those things. Yeah. And if and sometimes I will make notes on the side, especially if it’s a long scene and they seemed it’s important. So I know who’s saying what when. And I put a little posted by my iPad so I can remind myself if they’re all talking to each other. But it is challenging for sure.

S7: Don’t you ever lose track of how a character talks, especially if you know it’s not a central character, but somebody who is in the beginning, then is disappears for 150 pages, comes back. How do you like do you kind of keep some kind of reference? How does that work for you?

S5: Yeah, I mean, I usually have notes that I have like I do digitally. So I have character notes. But I also have an ability with pro tools to flag characters and find them in a previous track. So if I do lose that character and I want to go, oh God, what did I do with that? I can actually go back and listen to myself.

S7: It makes perfect sense. And that’s yeah, that’s you’re kind of then you kind of imitate them in the sense that the.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S5: Exactly. I’m like, oh, I did. I do that.

S7: OK, well here we go. I got to do it again. I’m so I’m kind of wondering like if there are voices that are harder on you that are just like take more of your voice, which I’m sure it’s very important for you to protect given the nature of your work. Have you and I have also of course, you mentioned having read them first, but I wonder, are there ever times when you’ve kind of thought that a character was going to be relatively small and done a certain voice, which is a little hard, then realized they’re actually going to have a lot of dialogue, like has anything like that happen where you’ve kind of regretted assigning a particular timber to a character who’s who’s then it’s kind of cost your voice.

S5: I’m lucky that I have never had, like, vocal fry after working, but I definitely have picked voices too low like a man where it’s like they talk about how gruff he is and his voice is like sandpaper. And you’re like, oh, I can do that now. Yeah. What do I want to do then and listen to that for six hours, you know. So like, my gosh, I shouldn’t have done that, you know, or sometimes because Scottish accent I’m like, no, it’s so hard to make it sound clear. Right. You know, and I, you know, I could do some dialects, but I’m not a dialect and I do the best I get. And I’m sure some people are like, oh, that was you know, if they if they that’s their native dialect. But I, I try to honor that because I think it’s important.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S7: Yeah. So I was recently listening to an audio book which was very well done. You were not the narrator were one of the main characters was Australian and everybody else was American. The narrator was American. And that back and forth that you often, you know, that’s what characters do. They go back and forth, um, like do different kind of back and forth cause more problems than others.

S5: Absolutely. And I think that what I feel and I have to just trust within myself is that I can feel like the truth like that feels like, oh, that feels like the truth to me. And when I’m off, I stop and I redo it. And if it’s an accident because I have a pretty good ear and I’m like, that does not sound right to me, you know? So sometimes I will do an especially and there’s so many books have so much dialogue and you’re playing all the characters. I mean, it’s it’s actually quite a gift because I get to be everybody. I get to be the detective. I get to be the man. I get to be the woman. I get with the child. I mean, what does an actor get to do that? So that’s awesome. And also challenging. And I just have to trust myself. And if I sounds off to me, I just go back and redo it.

S1: Do you also edit, you know, so you said if you if you do do retakes, is it you that’s kind of picking up the the version to use or do you hand off the audio to some for someone else to put together. I don’t do the post. That’s I guess there’s only so much a person can do. Exactly. I think you mentioned earlier talking to authors and I wondered kind of in what circumstances you had, you know, you’d reached out. Is it to get more insight on characters or why would you why do you talk to them?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S5: I would say mainly it’s words. Well, in a fantasy book, it’s for sure a language I don’t know how to say. And I and I always feel like, oh, my God, if this person is listening to their book and I’ve mangled their language, that is awful. So I really honor the writer. I really want to do it right for them. So I would say it’s accents. Does this person need an accent? You said they grew up in Italy, but they’ve been in America for 30 years. You know, what do you think about that? And word pronunciation of a place that I just can’t find it. I had to do that research myself or I can get someone to help me. But if there’s someplace I just I can’t find how to pronounce something the author usually knows.

S1: Do you have to get buyoff for any of the voices or to do for the voices before you start recording? I mean, I imagine it would be impossible if you got feedback after you’d finished, if someone said, no, I need you to redo this voice that’s not working. So you kind of have to commit at the beginning. Do you consult with anyone? How does that work?

S5: No, I consult with myself. I have creative license, which is amazing. I really do. And I don’t know if it’s once you’ve done a certain amount of books, people trust you. And when I worked with directors in the beginning more, it would be a discussion with a director for sure, and we would try to voice and he or she would be like, I don’t know that. And we would kind of select, but when I’m on my own, I’m on my own and I just have to follow my intuition and trust myself. And they basically just come back with any mistakes that you’ve made and you have to fix or if you used a wrong character voice, if you made a mistake, you have to fix that. But in terms of selecting what kind of voice. That’s your choice. Yeah.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: And do you work for Audible or are you a freelancer?

S5: I freelance, I work for whoever. I’m sort of a whoever hires me. I have about eight different companies I work for, and I’ve also produced a couple on my own. When authors contact me directly and I have a post-production guy I know now that I can send my stuff to, but I yeah, I work for whoever contacts me and I have time in my schedule and I’m interested. Yeah.

S7: I first heard you doing lesbian romances, I know you don’t only do those, but you do a lot like how do people come to say, you know, I heard you on that series and I want you to do my books, too, and with other types of books that you do?

S5: I think I got in a pocket with the lesbian romances, which is amazing. And so I am requested more in that genre. I think people get to know me and they’re like, oh, her voice would be really cool. Like I just did a really interesting sci fi book that’s coming out called Dead Space by Kelly Wallace. That’s coming out next month, which is really interesting. And, you know, someone pitched me for it. And I think the author sometimes chooses sometimes a producer just chooses.

S7: You mentioned, you know, that you’ve done a bunch of lesbian romances, and I wonder, is that kind of more challenging? Because pretty you know, speaking generally, there are really only women characters. There are very few children. There are very few men, you know, not none, but very few. Does that kind of narrow the range that you have to kind of work for as far as where you, like, pitch the voices?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S5: I actually love it because like when I did Alone by E.J. Noize, which is one of my favorite books to do, I just love doing that book and partly because it’s so well-written and I just loved her, the subject matter. But I also having just two women. It was such a relief. The last characters, the better. I mean, I can then kind of do the pitch my voice down for one of them that kind of works for the main characters and not to stereotype, but and then and then I have a softer version. I sort of have the gruff from the softer that usually works for the main characters. And then if they are friends or whatever, that’s I kind of go from there, but that’s sort of my go to one’s me, wants me a little lower, maybe wants me a little higher.

S7: I have noticed that you tend to kind of do that, and we’re obviously speaking in a very I don’t quite know the term well to say we’re speaking in stereotypical terms, but the character tends to have a higher voice than the Butch character. If there is such a thing, which there usually is in the type of books that I’ve heard, at least, you know, the Butch character has a deeper voice, which like in real life, isn’t necessarily so. But I’m guessing that’s a decision you’ve made, you know, for sake of distinction.

S5: Yeah, I wouldn’t say I go with, like, Butch Femme. I think I go with, like, description. So and if that turns out to be butch femme, that’s just the way it goes. Like like the one you were talking about. Cameron, she’s tough. She’s a military person. She’s got that. She takes care of people. She had that sound to me, whereas the other woman was more sophisticated.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S7: She was kind of a politician. Right.

S6: The currency of power today is an arms, it’s terror. And that is much subtler and much more difficult to defend against. If something were to happen to you, nothing will play her stated emphatically, hearing the worry in Kim’s voice. I just try to figure out what the author is saying, and then I can sort of put the right feel to it, so that’s how I approach it.

S4: We’ll be back with more of Jeunes conversation with Abby Creighton after this. Hey, listeners, a couple of things real quick. First, if you’re enjoying this podcast, please take a moment to subscribe to our feed wherever you get your podcast so you don’t miss a second of working. Also, if you have questions about the creative process, big or small, whether you’re trying to loosen up your writing style or figure out what you want to work on, we would love to help. In fact, we’re helping one of you this week. So drop us a line at working at Slate Dotcom or give us an old fashioned phone call as three four nine three three w o r k that’s three four nine three three nine six seven five.

S8: It doesn’t have to be that old fashioned. Doesn’t have to be a rotary phone. Could be a cell phone. That’s fine. But we really love phone calls.

S4: OK, let’s rejoin June’s conversation with Abu Ghraib.

S1: OK, I am going to try really hard not to sound like Beavis and Butthead when I ask this question, but I have to admit that I hadn’t realized until recently that audiobook narrators who do romances or I guess any books that include descriptions of sex kind of acknowledge, you might say, the breathlessness or the different vocal presentations during that event. Like, is it hard to narrate sex scenes?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S5: No, not at all. It’s it’s I mean, I remember I have a 16 year old, but he was like when I first started doing it from home like a toddler. And I would go in here if I could hear what’s going on in here. You know, it’s like phone sex. No, it’s not. It’s just like being an actor in a on a film shoot till you just kind of it’s it’s not mechanical, but you’re just doing it. You’re playing notes. It’s like an instrument. Oh, these are the notes I’m playing right now. And yeah. So you’re in it and you’re, you know, you’re in it and you’re kind of observing all the time.

S1: And when you do street romances or pigs were, I guess, straight people have sex. Did the two of you present it differently?

S5: No, I think it’s exactly the same. I think it’s funny that there’s different styles and themes to lesbian romances as opposed to straight romances. Everybody’s got their like thing that the kind of formula almost, although I think lesbian romances have more nuance and more variety and how that turns out. But but it’s it’s just love, you know. Love is love. Yeah.

S1: I’m a relatively recent adopter of audio books, and I know that there’s a lot of variation in the animation level of narration. You know, some people vary the voices a lot, some pretty flat. How do you kind of figure out where to fall between, you know, relatively, you know, straight ahead and, you know, super animated? What drives the thinking there?

S5: I think I just follow my intuition about it, and I know some people love it and some people don’t like it, and that’s OK. I have to do what I feel is right and feels like my expression. And I’m luckily more people like it than hate it. But I do think audiobooks have become more performance oriented. So I really try to breathe life into the characters and I try to keep the narration fairly easy going on the ear and straightforward, gentle letting people come into the story. And then it gives me the ability to really express the characters fully because I want where the listener out with that, if I have the narrator is a little more gentle, unless it’s first person, which is a little different to me. I mean, I imagine because I listen to I listen back to mine sometimes just to see what I did. I listen to other people. I think it’s really good to listen to the craft of it because you get you kind of hear what other people are doing and where where you’re landing to.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S6: Sometimes it’s helpful.

S1: You don’t only do novels, you also record nonfiction books. Is it a different process of finding the voice for books where there’s just narration?

S5: It’s a bit of a relief, actually, to do nonfiction because there’s no characters, so I can just be myself. So I would say I do the voice that my voice, my speaking voice. But I will say that if it’s I did a book on the hacker group Anonymous and the book had kind of a spy feel to it like a like a sort of a dark tone.

S6: He was stationed on amphibious warships and got shot at on land in Kosovo. The experience made him resent the way war desensitized soldiers to human life. So I would say tone affects me.

S5: I will I will just sort of I can’t even tell you what that means, but I just it kind of goes in the mix. If it’s a children’s book about parenting, that will go in the mix for me.

S6: When my daughter is 18 months old, my husband and I decide to take her on a little summer holiday. We pick a coastal town that’s a few hours by train from Paris where we’ve been living.

S5: I just sort of take the tone of a book when I read it, and I’m like, oh, it’s kind of lighthearted or it’s heavy and it’s dark or it’s has a music. And I just kind of fell into it. But it’s my voice, you know, it’s basically me with that sort of tone mixed in. But it is a relief not to have to do characters sometimes. Yeah.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: Do you ever change the books, even just a little bit, to work better with narration? I mean, I don’t know. For example, do you keep all the he said she said, you know, said make little tweaks like that.

S5: I can’t do any of that. I have to. They literally pick through every single word has to be spoken that the author wrote. And my problem sometimes as I speak fast or I don’t pronounce my dad’s and it’s like you have to it’s almost like a newscaster. You have to hit the syllables of consonants. You have to make sure you don’t dip down on the endings, you know. So but you have to honor the words are in front of you to a T. You will get pickup’s and have to fix them if you don’t.

S1: So when you’re reading a book just for fun, it’s not a book that you’ve been assigned to make the audio book version of, do you find yourself like figuring out voices for the characters?

S5: I don’t. I actually read books, real books. I don’t read on my iPad. I read books where I can hold the paper because it’s a different I used to I love to read and I actually don’t read as much as I used to because I read so much to prep, but I read real books when I read for pleasure and I don’t I completely turn that brain part of my brain off. What’s the hardest part of your job? The hardest part of my job is the solitude. I am a very I’m a people person. I think most actors love to talk to people and being communicators. And it’s been a struggle for me to work alone so much in a small space. Besides, the sitting is hard for me. I’d like to move my body. I like that feels really good to me. And I like to express because I’m a theater actor. I like to express character in my body. So it’s very hard to contain all these emotions and just channel them through your voice because you cannot move or you make sounds. I get on the recording. So that is challenging. And before covid I was really like, how do I I’ve got to figure out how to have more interaction. I’m too much alone. And then covid hit and I’m like, oh, I got this. Everyone’s complaining about being isolated. Like I had to do this every day, this for years. So it wasn’t hard. But I would say the solitude is the hardest for me.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: How did you come to realize that you have a knack for voice work?

S5: Well, I believe I was in an acting class years ago and someone like you should do voice. Oh, really? OK, well well, then it took like 15 years, you know, because it’s such a hard business to break into to get a good agent. And I was I, I just stuck with it. I have a strong will and I really wanted to work and I was like, I can’t film. And TV was so elusive for a woman, especially when I came to L.A. and I started doing classical theater. And that was great. And then I sort of settled in L.A. I had a family and I just kept knocking on the door. VOICE-OVER and luckily audio books. I was working in the theater and a friend, Robert Sundeen, who’s an amazing narrator, he was like, I’ll coach you, I’ll help you, and then I’ll walk in your demo. And I was like, OK, so he helped me. And then I just kind of for the first couple of years I worked with directors and I learned a lot. And then when they asked me to have my own booth and do it by myself, by that time I had enough books under my belt that I knew what I was doing and then it just kind of grew. And then I think you build a bit of a following. Yeah, I do think it’s I think it’s very interesting. I think voice and sound is super interesting because it’s so isolates. I mean, I think all of me, all of me is poured into my voice some of the way. Look, you know, it’s not your age. It’s not it’s not any of those things, not your body. And it’s a really interesting distillation of of who you are and who is attracted to that and receives that, you know, inside of themselves is a voice in your ear. You know, telling you stories is kind of intimate.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S7: It’s incredibly intimate. And as you just said, that it just made me realize, you know, as someone as an actor who’s trained and the training is about putting your whole body into it and to kind of take that training and put it just into one of the you know, I’m not going to break down how many tools the human body is, but into one. That’s got to be a little frustrating, right?

S5: Well, it’s actually when it’s a really good book, it’s something interesting happens for me where I kind of this is going to sound a little weird, but I kind of trip out like I go into like a flow state where I’m sort of not here and I’m here. Like, I’m in the story almost when you read and you get lost in a book and you’re like, wow, I just lost three hours and I was somewhere else, I can do that and still move from character to character and narration. Like, I kind of my my imagination likes it. I got I get to Journey and it feels really good when that happens, especially when I don’t, you know, have technical, like mistakes too much. And I can really kind of go off. It feels it’s very pleasurable to do it, to narrate.

S9: Thank you so much. This was really interesting, so much fun. I feel very starstruck. Thank you so much for talking. Thank you. I really appreciate it.

S4: Wow, June, you know what struck me right off the bat there is how self-reliant Abby has to be. I have actually narrated part of an audio book once a short story in a friend’s short story collection. And, you know, you go to a room. There were lots of people there. I got, you know, asked if I wanted tea or whatever. But for Abby Creighton, she’s her own recording engineer, her own dialect coach, her own director, she relies on her own gut feeling to figure out if she needs to take something again or not. That just who that seems like a lot.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: It is. I mean, I was really struck by that, too. It really boggles my mind. But as she said, that level of autonomy only came after years of doing this work, of being mentored by experienced narrators, of working with directors and recording a lot of books, basically of having reps under her belt. And that feels really important. A lot of creative work or a lot of work, period, but maybe especially creative work is vastly improved by serving an informal apprenticeship, like doing the work, getting feedback, getting more responsibility, making a few tweaks to your approach or technique, getting more feedback and so on. And I think the problems come when there’s insufficient feedback, especially in those early stages. Sure, some people are so talented that they don’t need that loop and some people think they don’t need it, but most of us do. Otherwise, it’s really easy to get into bad habits that can then be really hard to shed.

S4: Yeah, absolutely. That’s so smart. I loved your question about her own habits of reading for pleasure and the way that she kind of has to protect that part of her brain from the working part of her brain. I feel like since we’re all working from home, it’s really hard to maintain those kinds of internal boundaries totally.

S1: A lot of my friends and colleagues have talked about sort of flattening that’s happened over the last year. Like when is the workday over? I don’t know. And I think this is particularly true for those of us who are lucky enough to make our living by doing something that’s also very close to or maybe even directly connected to the things that we really, really love. Like to take one close to home example, journalists who, believe me, love reading newspapers and magazines are always working when they’re reading newspapers and magazines, they’re like breaking down pieces to figure out why they work. They’re admiring turns of phrase. They’re getting new story ideas. They’re adding authors to their mental Rolodexes. There’s a lot going on. So when they’re inhaling the latest New Yorker, is that work or pleasure? Well, is both. But there are tricks that you can do to impose boundaries. One that I’m very fond of is changing locations from a space that you consider your office to a space that’s more leisure oriented, like where you watch TV or whatever. But it has definitely been harder to find those very neat dividing lines when we’re not commuting or going somewhere to work.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S4: As I am recording this in my bedroom literally next to my bed, I can sympathize with what you are talking about. You are clearly a fan of Abby’s work and know it well. What surprised you about her and her process over the course of this interview?

S1: I am really impressed that the books are just done straight through. Like in a novel. There can be a lot of back and forth conversations and really quick back and forth. And she acted like it was no big deal to keep those voices apart and just kind of inhabit the dialogue. And I think it seems that way to her because she’s done it for a while and she’s very talented. But I think most of us would be doing the wrong voice on the second turnaround. But, Isaac, you mentioned earlier that you have done some professional audiobook narrating yourself. Did you do different voices? What was the hardest part of it for you?

S4: I had a great time doing it and I would love to do it more. There might be a chance that I wind up doing it actually for the method. The book I wrote about method acting in the 20th century. I enjoy reading things out loud. I do it in a number of different scenarios, including to my daughter. At night. I the specific story that I was doing was a story that I had actually performed, and the reason why they asked me to do it is that all of the characters were kind of loosely based on various like Hanna Barbera cartoons and stuff like that. So they all had really crazy voices that I had had to invent when I performed it. And I think the recording team was struggling, figuring out how to make heads or tail of what the story would sound like out loud. And the author was like, oh, actually this friend of mine is already solved that problem because he had to perform it. So why don’t you just talk to him? So, you know, I had to do a stuck up. Stuffy theater critic who sort of talked like this, like he had a fake English accent because he wanted to be elegant and sort of, you know, based on George Saunders and all about Eve, maybe a little bit. And then another time, I had to be the sort of Snidely Whiplash villain and be like, I will get you, you know, like I had to do all of that stuff. But they were so extreme that I had it clear in my head. I would imagine it’s very challenging to have to do long stretches of dialogue between two normal human sounding characters. Yes. Yes. You know, that does sound to me like the biggest challenge in general. The biggest challenge in my book will be that there’s a lot of words that are in Russian that I even I don’t know how to pronounce. But the biggest challenge in general, I think, is like I must ask you to put down that knife. Oh, you know, doing that stuff, I imagine is tough.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: Right. Right. It has to sound natural in a way that I mean, that’s the great challenge of acting, I guess. But, yeah, it’s I know it seems like it’s a super hard job to me.

S4: Yeah. Especially because, you know, prose dialogue is not the same as television dialogue or theatrical dialogue, cinematic dialogue. It actually works differently. It does different things often. If you read it out loud, it sounds highly artificial in a way that it does not actually feel artificial when your eye greets it on the page, because there’s lots of conventions we expect around dialogue to give an example that anyone who’s been through graduate school for writing knows in general in literary fiction and nonfiction, all dialogue gets the tags said no matter what. Yeah, because it’s just a neutral thing that says a person is saying this. We’re going on sometimes in nonfiction. You get explained RECALDE remember, you know, because you’re trying to situate when they said the quote in time, but if it’s in dialogue you either you said or nothing. But doing that over and over again out loud can be pretty boring.

S1: And you know, when you’re writing a novel. Yes, it’s, it’s in your head, you’re hearing it in your head, but you’re not reading it aloud the way you would. Something that was intended to live is something that people read out loud. So, yeah, it’s if it does work, it’s a testament to a good reader and also maybe to a writer who just somehow did that without really necessarily thinking about itself. Very high level of difficulty.

S4: Absolutely. June, we have a great question from a listener this week, and I’d love to know your thoughts. Take it away, Cameron.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S10: Hi. I have a question about writing. When you’re stressed about non writing matters, we often hear the advice to write whether you’re inspired or not. And that’s good advice. But I’m wondering about when writing seems impossible to to outside sources of stress, such as work or child care or other other matters like that. So any advice that you have would be great and greatly appreciated. Thank you very much. Goodbye, Isaac.

S1: I’m going to throw this baby right back to you because I know this is something that you have thought a lot about.

S4: Well, thank you. I have indeed, because I’ve had to wrestle with it a lot over the last year and have often failed at it. I’ve said a bunch of times here and I know Reman and June have said this in in different ways, that creating the circumstances that allow you to be creative is actually often most of the creative job. That’s where a lot of creativity goes into. And that’s especially true right now. So, you know, when my kids school went fully remote and, you know, she’s three doors down for me and she’s, you know, yelling at the screen because she can’t figure out how to get an app to work or whatever. It’s very hard, even when I’m not directly watching her to be creative in those moments. So here are some thoughts I have that have come out in conversations I’ve had with other people who are struggling with these same things. The first thing is you have to keep expectations for what you’re going to be able to accomplish. Reasonable. I am someone prone to unreasonable expectations of what I can do creatively in a given amount of time and under what circumstances. And so I’ve had to learn this the hard way that sometimes I need to be like I’m only going to get so much done. I’m going to set low expectations and then overachiever, because otherwise it can be very easy to get discouraged. Yeah. The other thing is that I have found it’s very helpful to actually schedule specific time for whatever the creative endeavor is and to block it off in your calendar. And if you have a kid and a partner and all this like that might be difficult to do, but it involves having to ask the people in your life for the support you need. And, you know, I have a friend who has an infant and a husband with a busy job and she’s got a busy job. And, you know, she and I were talking about this. I was like, well, well, what do you think you could ask for reasonably? And she said, I think I could ask for three hours every Saturday. I was like, great, that’s three hours you didn’t have before. And she just set that aside and went right to it. And because that time was set aside specifically for creativity, she found it really helpful. The last thing that I would say, I don’t personally do this, but I know a lot of artists who find this helpful. When you have that blocked off time, have some kind of ritual thing you do that gets you into the moment. Maybe it’s you look up a poem and you hand transcribe that poem and then you put it away and you sit down to work or you light a candle or, you know, whatever it is, just have something you do the moment before the muse arrives and you will, I think, train the muse to actually arrive.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: That is some high quality advice right there. I want to add one note. One thing that you don’t mention color is why you’re looking to find time to write. Like, is it for personal satisfaction as a kind of therapy or is it something that you do or would like to do for money? I mean, probably it’s a bit of both, but and I’m kind of nervous saying this and get ready to shoot me down. But I think if you’re struggling to find time and mental space to write in order to make money, just don’t bother. It’s really, really hard to break into journalism or screenwriting or to support yourself from writing. And obviously people do it and more can do it. And a big part of this show’s purpose is to help people figure that out. But if you are experiencing a period of intense stress over really challenging life situations, and I know that more people than ever are doing so right now, writing to sell probably isn’t going to work unless you’re already well established in a writing career. No finding fifty minutes to journal or forty five minutes to work on an essay or a story for the fun of it, for satisfaction or to distract you from all your problems. Fantastic. But maybe leave it at that at least until some of the stress styles.

S4: But. June, I have no interest in shooting you down, I think it is absolutely worth figuring out why you’re doing what you’re doing and whether it’s worth doing right then. And I also think that scheduling the time might be scheduling something for weeks from now or, you know, whatever that might be some moment of hope you’re looking for. There’s a moment of hope we’re all looking for is the vaccine becomes more readily available. So hopefully there’s also that some of the external stuff will get a little bit easier for all of us and creativity will be a little bit easier to maintain.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: Yeah, I hope so. Caller, thanks for your call.

S3: We hope that you’ve enjoyed this show, if you have remembered to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, then you’ll never miss an episode. And yes, it is time once again for the Slate. Plus Petch Slate plus members get benefits like zero ads on Insley podcast bonus episodes of shows like Slow Burn and Dear Prudence. But more importantly, you’ll be supporting the work we do right here on working. It’s only one dollar for the first month. To learn more, go to Slate Dotcom working.

S2: Plus thanks to Abby Creadon and to our amazing producer Cameron Drus. We’ll be back next week with romance conversation with food writer Julia Turchin. Until then, get back to work.

S1: Hey, sleepless listeners, thank you so much for your support. We really can’t do this without you. I asked Abby a couple of extra questions just for Slate. Plus, listeners enjoy. So let’s talk about you’re an actress, as we’ve said, that’s where these skills come from, that’s what that’s what you’re doing. Your acting is audio book narration. No, the bulk of your work.

S5: I would say yes, yes, it’s sort of the bread and butter of my work. Yeah, it’s it’s my I study. I do, as you said, other things. I do animation. I do commercials. I do theater. I do video games. I do looping on film and TV. What does that mean? Looping is the sound palette in film and TV that creates the world of the film. Like, for example, a main character walks into a bar and there’s a newscast going on the TV screen above the bar. We fill in all that dialogue. It’s a very it’s sort of you kind of create the sound palette like a soundtrack, but a voice. So it’s a meeting in a in a government building. And there’s a there’s a buzz of a crowd. We create that buzz of the crowd or in like Mad Max, the pit of the people. We create the people or I worked on Black Panther words, the warriors in the fights. If you took out our sound, it would sound kind of empty. So we fill in all that extra sound. It’s called ADR additional dialogue required. And we work. And there’s it’s a cool part of the business. It’s there’s there’s I work for a great group and we are hired as a group and we come in. I’m actually working on some this afternoon. We come in and we fill in all that sound that brings the story to life without having it be kind of like poking out like, oh, this is obvious, has something to do with me. It’s me. I create a sound palette with a group of people and we fill it in.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: Wow. I’m now going to be obsessively trying to hear it, which is is hard, right. Because it’s meant to be is meant to go away.

S5: Yeah. You would notice if it wasn’t there I’d be like why does this sound like what’s happening. It sounds so empty, you know. So we fill in a restaurant scene, we fill all the buzz and or if there’s extras that are near the principal and their mouths are flapping, we fill in words and it’s like it’s turned way down low. But it’s just creates this texture of sound that makes a story, a film or TV show come to life. Wow.

S1: OK, I wonder, so if there’s anyone who is not familiar, you know, just listen to audiobooks, I definitely recommend people check anything recorded by a big Creedon. But is there a narrator that you would recommend is like this person is really good and this will give you a an idea of like how well a book, an audio book can be narrated?

S5: Well, Scott Brick is like the king of audio books. I mean, he is like the golden voice. And what’s so good about him? He’s awesome. He does a lot of spy books. He just kind of, you know, was sort of the beginning of it. And his style is different than mine, though I would say he doesn’t do as many characters, but he’s great to listen to. Robert Sundeen is amazing. He’s a beautiful voice. Julia Wailin is great. There’s a lot of people, Cassandra Campbell, I would say those are the ones that I would say to check out.

S2: All right, slipways listeners. That’s it for this week. Thanks for your support.

S11: So.