Ellen Archer was also at the luncheon we had in New York In May. Audio book listeners may know here from her work on audiobooks such as ROOM by Emma Donoghue, Sunday’s At Tiffany’s by James Patterson, The Penny by Joyce Meyers, and more. Please welcome Ellen to Book Journey.
My name is Ellen Archer. I am a New York City based actor and voice – over artist. I’ve been narrating books for over 12 years and have recorded somewhere around 175 titles. I say “somewhere” because I used an alias for some of my earlier raunchy titles and I’ve “forgotten” what the alias is. Now I’m on the straight and narrow and use my own name. I recently finished MIRROR SIGHT, the latest book in the GREEN RIDER series by Kristen Britain. These fantasy books are seriously good. She’s a wonderful writer. ROOM by Emma Donoghue and WHEN WILL THERE BE GOOD NEWS by Kate Atkinson are also great books, and I loved recording them.
How are the books chosen?
About half the time, my agent sends me auditions for specific titles that I have requested to audition for by the publisher or the producer. These days, more often than not, the author chooses the narrator from the auditions submitted to him or her. Other times, publishers call my agent and offer me a book or series without my having to audition. I think I’ve only turned down 3 books in 12 years. That either reeks of desperation or is a testament to how well publishers and producers know me.
These days, more often than not, the author chooses the narrator from the auditions submitted to him or her.
When I am given a copy of a book, usually it is in a downloadable PDF so I can save a tree and work off my iPad. It took me a while to get the hang of not having the actual hard copy in my hands, as I like to write little notes in my horrible handwriting, replete with scribbles and arrows and different colored highlighting. I also like to write “to do” lists and funny things my kids says. I’ve found that the iAnnotate app, is not the enemy – now I can actually read the notes I make. Bonus!
I always read the book before recording. I try to read it as I would a book for pleasure. I don’t stop to make a slew of notes in a separate notebook or stop to look stuff up – I just read. I’ll underline passages that I think are important, put a question mark next to something for which I need clarification, make a quick note about a character to jog my memory later (maybe underline a particular line they speak). After I finish the book, I’ll go back through and look over all the pages on which I made notes and (try to) decipher what I meant. I’ll make a list of the characters and something to describe them/their accent or voice/their story. If they remind me of someone I know, or a celebrity or even another character I’ve done, I’ll make a note of that. Then, for that gem of a book for which I get a director, I make a list of questions for him or her (usually pronunciations for character names, but sometimes for regular every day words that big time smarty pants use, and I don’t know how to say). The director calls the author to get pronunciations on character names or places they’ve made up and then looks up the rest of the stuff. When I don’t have a director, (which is more than half the time) I do all that stuff myself. The more complicated the book is, the longer the process. Non fiction is way easier to prep, while a 27 hour-long fantasy book with 73 characters takes a bit more work. I also do a fair number of books that have long passages in other languages. Fortunately, the fine folks at the Boston Conservatory of Music required I take French, Italian and German to complete my degree in Opera and Vocal performance. I’ve been tempted to write the alumni committee a check more than once. They must know that somehow, because they send me a donation envelope every year.
What I enjoy most about narrating a book is getting lost in it. It is such a great feeling. I love the excitement of finding a character’s voice and it feeling completely right. I know I’ve gotten it right when I’m sad to read the last few lines and it’s over. I remember reading an amazing and deeply personal memoir called THE ORCHARD by Theresa Weir. It was beautifully written in first person. The director, Suzanne Torn, the editor, Tommy Harron and I called the author to ask her a few questions before we got started. It was a lovely two-minute conversation. When we finished the book four days later, I had the strongest urge to call Theresa and talk about what happened to “us” — ask how everyone was doing, how she was doing. I nearly picked up the phone before I realized that I actually don’t know Theresa. At all. I knew it would be completely inappropriate to ask her such intimate questions…but after reading her story for four days, it felt like we were friends. I was that invested. I did “like” her page on Facebook so, I guess we’re kinda friends now, right?
While recording my very first audiobook, I kept stumbling over a word. This was a very easy and unfunny word that I couldn’t say – something like “donut.” I’d get as far as “Let’s go grab a coffee and” (wait for it….) “BWHAHAHAH.” Then the engineer, Kay Ells, started laughing. It was that same feeling you get when you start to laugh in church and it just gets worse and worse. I simply could not get through the sentence without hysterical laughter. This went on for several minutes, as I, red-faced and gasping for air, tried to explain to the director why “donut” is so damn funny. She was unmoved. In the end, I had to read the line with my eyes closed so I couldn’t see Katy’s shoulder’s shaking. And, hey, they hired me back!