When my friend Angela Carr asked me to write about narrating the BDB series, and in particular the newest installment in the series, The Shadows, I thought, “why would anyone want to hear about that!” But after a bit of back and forth she finally convinced me that there are indeed folks out there who are fans of the series, and of audiobooks in general, who really would like to hear a behind-the-scenes account of how an audiobook gets prepped and ready for the studio. So, dearest reader (and listener)… here goes.
I had heard back in late October or early November that The Shadows was coming out and I was awaiting word from the publisher about the where and when, etc. For this latest book, I knew the scenario would likely change for several reasons having to do with the intricacies of the wide world of publishing. Suffice it to say that on this book I was not going to be recording at the same studio in New York City where I had recorded all the previous books in the BDB series. I was to go to a new studio. The previous studio was a place I’d really loved and where I’d felt very comfortable. It was a place I knew well and where I had a good rapport with everyone. I even had my own teacup there (tea being a very important part of my audiobook life!). So I was a bit apprehensive. Well lo and behold and to my great delight, I was finally contacted in late December/early January by a producer at Penguin Random House Audio in New York (Diane) asking about my availability, etc. I mean c’mon, just the thought of them going to someone else to narrate the series did not sit well with me (nor did I imagine it would sit well with Ms J.R. Ward) and I was anxious to finalize the whole thing… which we did in fairly short order. We were to record in a lovely studio at the Penguin Random House Studios in midtown New York City.
So, it turned out I would have a producer and an in-studio director with me for The Shadows. I was also assigned an engineer whom I knew from other audiobooks, Ethan, who is really great, and funny (always a good thing) and just a joy to work with. The director was great too. His name is Kevin and while it was his first book in the series, he understood the genre and the story immediately. And of course, read the book carefully before we got into the studio. Which is critical. I was sent the first draft as a pdf and that’s how I read all the books. I have an iPad and I read everything on it and also use it in the studio when I record. Why use all that paper? The iPad changed my life.
So I set about to “prep” the book, which means I read the book and as I go through the book I pay particular attention to story points, focusing on character voices and tone. I have my own style as I prepare an audiobook and as a general rule I would say it’s “Less is More”. You, the reader, (or listener) don’t necessarily want a narrator to go too overboard with character voices unless, of course, it’s called for in the story. I tend to prefer not drawing attention to myself as a narrator, but rather seek to find the balance between delineating the characters vocally only enough so that the reader understands who is speaking. For instance, with the Shadow brothers Trez and iAm, I found this particularly tricky. Both are big, tough guys and both require a strong, resonant voice. But they also have to be different, in a sense. They are both protagonists and are asked to carry the main storyline in this book and thus require a lot of thought as to how to make them similar, but at the same time I wanted to give them distinct vocal qualities. And undeniably sexy! I will say that the intimate and very combustible scenes in this book (and there are several, between both Trez and Selena and iAm and the Princess Catra) are particularly good and were so much fun to voice. I will also say that in addition to the sexual scenes in this book, the twin stories of enduring and timeless love between both the brothers and their mates were some of the most powerful and moving I have yet recorded. I think you’ll enjoy them very much.
As I prep the book I tend to get a picture in my mind about how the story flows, who the main and secondary characters are and from that all the rest will follow. Having narrated all the previous books in the series I have a pretty good idea and a sort of fluxuating database of voices for each of the characters: Wrath and Beth, of course, Qhuinn and Blay, Phury, Boston Butch, Cormia, Selena, Vishous, Doc Jane and Manny, Xhex, Tohr, the Rehv, Fritz, Lassiter (whom I always have a lot of fun with), etc. It’s lots of fun to meet these people in subsequent books and follow the ups and downs in their lives. Oh, that Assail. He is a dark one. But fun to give voice to.
By the time we got into the studio the story is all pretty much ready to tell. What remained was the actual narration. Piece of cake! For this book we recorded in a lovely and comfortable studio at the Penguin Random House Headquarters in midtown. I’d get there a bit before 10am and after a cursory cup of coffee and settling in, I switch to green tea decaf—I drink a lot of it as the day progresses. Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate. That’s the key to sustained voice control. We’d usually record til at least 5pm each day with a break for some take out for lunch. It’s a lot of strain on your voice and by the end of the day I don’t mind telling you—I’m a bit of a wet noodle. So, afterwards I usually go home and rest up for the following day’s session.
I really enjoy this series and I have received lots of well wishes from fans and I really appreciate this forum on the UTC Blog with Angela and the other ladies. They are so nice and have been big fans of my work and I will certainly be checking in over the next few days and will hopefully have the opportunity to respond to some of your questions or comments. I hope this brief missive gives you some idea of what it’s like to record an audiobook and in particular, The Shadows. I know some of you will have specific questions about the book and I’ll do my best to answer those if I can.
Also, for those of you who have followed this series via audiobook and have yet to listen to The Shadows, I will mention that in this newest installment there are a few words (character names, mostly) that will sound slightly different to you. Due to the author’s invaluable input, we have changed the pronunciation of just a few names in order to set the record straight. Most notably: Xcor, which had been pronounced “Scor” in earlier books, will now be pronounced “Cor”, also the name Primale, which had earlier been pronounced “PRI-male”, will now be pronounced “pri-MAHL-ee, and finally Xhex, which had been pronounced “Zhex” in earlier books, is now pronounced “Hex”. Not a lot, but these changes reflect the author’s wishes and you better not mess with Ms J.R. Ward!
Have fun everybody and thanks for welcoming me to UTC! You’re gonna love The Shadows!!
Two brothers bound by more than blood fight to change a brutal destiny in the heart-wrenching new novel of the Black Dagger Brotherhood by #1 New York Times bestselling author J. R. Ward.
Trez “Latimer” doesn’t really exist. And not just because the identity was created so that a Shadow could function in the underbelly of the human world. Sold by his parents to the Queen of the S’Hsibe as a child, Trez escaped the Territory and has been a pimp and an enforcer in Caldwell, NY for years- all the while on the run from a destiny of sexual servitude. He’s never had anyone he could totally rely on… except for his brother, iAm.
iAm’s sole goal has always been to keep his brother from self-destructing- and he knows he’s failed. It’s not until the Chosen Serena enters Trez’s life that the male begins to turn things around… but by then it’s too late. The pledge to mate the Queen’s daughter comes due and there is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and no negotiating.
Trapped between his heart and a fate he never volunteered for, Trez must decide whether to endanger himself and others- or forever leave behind the female he’s in love with. But then an unimaginable tragedy strikes and changes everything. Staring out over an emotional abyss, Trez must find a reason to go on or risk losing himself and his soul forever. And iAm, in the name of brotherly love, is faced with making the ultimate sacrifice…
About Jim Frangione
Jim has recorded over 100 audiobooks. He loves being part of the Recorded Books family. In addition to Spencer Quinn’s Chet and Bernie Mysteries and his new young adult series, the Bowser and Birdie stories, he is also the narrator for J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood Series and many others. Jim is a NYC-based actor and co-artistic director of the Berkshire Playwrights Lab, a new play development forum in Great Barrington, MA. He’s performed on TV, in many of the plays and films of David Mamet, with NY’s Atlantic Theater Company, On and Off Broadway, and at many theaters across the country.