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Thursday, April 1, 2021

Putting a Face to My Audiobook Narrator by Susan Van Kirk

 


This past Tuesday, my first ever audiobook downloaded on my phone from Findaway Voices/Orange Sky Audio in collaboration with Encircle Publications, the original publisher of my book, A Death at Tippitt Pond. Forgive me if this sounds too gushy, but I’ve never had an audiobook of any of my novels before, and when I heard the first words of Chapter One, I’m afraid a tear or two trickled from my eyes. How astounding to hear a professional narrator read the words I wrote during the long, Midwest winter of 2018.

 

I’ve lived a quiet life in a small town in the Midwest, and my career was spent in academic institutions, not in the business world. Since I began writing mysteries, all of that changed—to my surprise. I’ve worked with cover artists in California, Colorado, and New York; a formatter in Oregon; an editor who lived during our years of collaboration in New York, Hawaii, California, and Illinois; and a publisher whose contract came from Toronto, Canada, and whose tax forms were sent from Switzerland. I hadn’t anticipated collaborating with people in such faraway places when I retired from teaching in 2011.

 

When my narrator for A Death at Tippitt Pond was kind enough to answer my email, I put a person to that name on my audiobook. It has been a joy to have her bring my mystery to life, so I asked her some questions about her own career as an audiobook narrator because I was curious.

 


Her name is Patricia (Tricia) Santomasso, and she lives in New York. She has won an Earphones Award and recorded over 150 audiobooks. Santomasso has worked with many publishers, among them Blackstone Publishing, Hachette, Harper, Harlequin, Penguin Random House, Scholastic, and Simon and Shuster. She also works with independent authors. She also is an avid cook and genealogist, and genealogy is a passion for my protagonist, Beth Russell.

 

These are the kind words she said about reading my book: “It was such a pleasure recording A Death at Tippitt Pond. Beth’s journey to find out the mystery of her family’s past was something I could identify with as an amateur genealogist myself. Van Kirk set up an atmosphere of doubt and intrigue that made each day in the booth a wonderful labyrinth of twists and turns!”

 

This is where my curiosity took me.

 

How did you happen to become a book narrator, and what do you like about this job?

 I fell in love with audiobooks when I was in college. They saved me from complete boredom one summer while working a data entry job. I escaped the claims department and roamed Middle Earth in my mind while listening to Tolkien's The Hobbit. Little did I know that years later, after becoming a professional theatre actor, I would find an opportunity that allowed me to read books for a living! I started narrating in 2013 after watching a seminar about audiobook technique and ways to get started. I began doing independently published books through ACX.com and went on to work with larger publishers. I stopped performing on stage and decided the booth life was for me!

 The things I like about my job are too numerous to count. There is a beautiful intimacy in the recording of an audiobook. It's just you and the story and everything else disappears. I have the joy and the responsibility to bring these characters to life. Finding each of their voices through text work, research, and creativity is one of my favorite things. I have burst out in laughter and been brought to tears in the booth, so much so that I've had to take a breather and come back. It's magical.

 Most people don't know a thing about recording booths or equipment for freelance audio narrators. How would you describe yours to lay people?


There are many ways to set up a studio and many different mics to choose from. I started out recording with a very simple USB microphone in my 4x4 NYC closet, and upgraded to a larger space and better microphone as I started working full-time. I find that overall, simplicity can be very effective for an audiobook narrator. I know people who have recorded in nooks under their stairs, bedrooms, closets, and cars. On the other end of the spectrum, many have expensive, free-standing studios. Narrators can be very creative with their "booths.” If our home recording spaces are less-than-perfect, we rely even more on engineers to make us sound great.

 Do you think you and your husband might someday narrate a book together--or doesn't it work that way?

 My husband and I have narrated many books together. In fact, we'll be narrating one together next month! The audiobook community is a small and lovely one, and we are lucky to be paired together often. We have recorded in the same booth, but most of the time we record separately. Our booths are right next to each other in our apartment, and our audio is put together in post-production. 

 Did the pandemic affect your job like that of so many others? 

 Last March, in-person studios for the larger publishers closed, and our work increased when all recordings went to home studios. About the same time this happened, we lost our wonderful babysitter for about a month due to possible exposure. My husband and I worked full-time churning out books with tight deadlines while caring for our one-and-a-half-year-old daughter. It was challenging but we were very lucky to be so busy and able to work safely from home. Since then, our babysitter has returned, and she's been working with us exclusively this whole year, which has made our lives much easier than most. We are very lucky. 

 How did you become interested in your family's genealogy? 

 I am the fourth generation to live in our house in Connecticut, so our attic has always been filled with treasures that amazed me. Photos, documents, letters, taffeta dresses, hats, programs, and assorted ephemera from the mid-1800's all the way to the present that no one had ever seemed to take an interest in cataloguing. Well, I took up the mantle! I started by sorting the many photographs, and it led me to ask about (and write down) stories about ancestors and to collect as many records as I could find. It's a work in progress, and I constantly wish I had more time to work on it. My parents still live in that same house in Connecticut while I’ve been in New York almost twenty years.  

 Tricia’s website is here if you’d like to learn more about her work.

 Thanks you so much, Tricia Santomasso, for sharing some of your life with us and spending many hours of recording my words in your recording booth. What a joy to have you bring my characters to life!

18 comments:

Annette said...

I love audiobooks! Thanks for the peek behind the curtain at the creation process!

Jim Jackson said...

A fascinating interview, and congratulations on hearing your words, Susan.

Susan said...

Thanks, Annette and Jim. Almost like seeing my first book ever.

Kait said...

Fascinating blog and interview.

Susan said...

Thanks, Kait. I was so curious about the woman behind the voice. Now I have an idea of what her job is like. That is the fascinating part!

Tammy Euliano said...

I just had my novel recorded as well. My publisher chose the narrator without my input, apparently that's normal. But she's terrific!

Susan said...

You will love hearing it, Tammy. Lucky you!

Shari Randall said...

Susan, I loved this peek behind the curtain. Fascinating process, and Tricia seems like a dear! What a thrill to think of how many people will be listening to your words! Congratulations!
All three of my Lobster Shack Mysteries are on audio and I loved the reader's voice, though I had no input in choosing her.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Fascinating! I had a KRL story on their podcast and I agree with you, it was amazing to hear my words spoken by a marvelous and versatile actress.

Susan said...

Wow, you are lucky, Shari, with all your audiobooks. I’m coming into this area late.

Susan said...

Margaret, you are so right. Happy you had that opportunity. That podcast is so popular that my book will be on it sometime in 2022.

Debra H. Goldstein said...

Congrats on the audio. So thrilled for you. Appreciate the behind the scenes look, too.

Susan said...

Thanks, Debra!

Molly MacRae said...

A wonderful post and interesting peek into the world of narrating. My favorite part is learning about her house. I want to go visit her and poke around in the attic. Road trip, Susan?

E. B. Davis said...

How people earn their livings amazes me. How wonderful for her to have found her niche. Like Margaret, one of my stories was put in the verbal form. Really cool to hear my words spoken by a professional. Thanks, Susan.

Susan said...

I agree, Elaine. So many jobs I’d never thought about.

KM Rockwood said...

What an exciting development! You've worked hard for it, and I' glad you're pleased with the results.

Susan said...

Thank you, Kathleen. Love her narration.