We are so excited today at Under the Covers to be able to bring you an exclusive. As some of you probably already know we love audiobooks. One of our all time FAVORITE narrators is Jim Frangione. He narrates the wonderful Black Dagger Brotherhood series by JR Ward, as well as the Men Who Walk the Edge of Honor series by Lori Foster, among other books. Today he's here with us doing his first blog interview ever (yeah, we popped his cherry) so please help us give him a warm welcome to UTC.
I love to cook! I got into vegetarian cooking a few years back. I’ll eat chicken and fish but generally try to limit my amounts of meat. But a tofu stir-fry with greens? Get out! The trick is to marinate the tofu after dry-frying it to imbue it w/some different, unique flavors. I make a mean kale and squash and ginger combo that’ll get your engine going. I’m also a huge ice hockey fan. Yes, an odd combination (tofu and hockey) but it’s true. I played hockey through college and beyond and vent my need for fisticuffs (a la Vicious & Wrath?) vicariously thru my HDTV. What else? I’ve been getting into gardening lately and am fascinated with hummingbird-attracting bushes and plants. I have a few beautiful butterfly bushes (Buddleia Davidii) with more to arrive this summer. But let’s not forget bee balm, black-eyed susans and ox-eye sunflowers. When I’m narrating the BDB Series I’m in a studio in New York City near Union Square but spend as much time as possible in the country north of the city in the area where the three states (CT, MA & NY) meet… a magnificent part of god’s green earth and in the early stages of summer as the seasons change, one of the most colorful and aromatic places you can imagine. Why is it that the olfactory sense (smell) is one of the most powerful and erotic senses we have? Don’t you just love the smell of earthly things? Lastly, I have five sisters! I’m from a big Irish/Italian family; lots of drinking, fighting and laughing growing up. I’m close with all 5 of the girls and see them (and their kids) as much as I can. One of my sisters is also an actor and was a soap opera star many years ago. Prior to that she found herself on Broadway at the early age of 21, buck naked in the play Equus… doing the soap during the day then going to the theater at night. She’s raising a family and out of the biz.
I am a character actor and have always been interested in dialects and character voices. I started out (still am) a theater and film actor and worked for many years in several of the plays and films of the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer/director David Mamet. But I had always been interested in working in the audiobook industry. Years ago, I remember writing to the producer at Recorded Books in New York where we record the series and asking her for an audition. She brought me in and gave me some copy to read. It was a globe-trotting crime thriller with lots of diverse characters, including a Jamaican thug and a few Russian mobsters. I got the gig and that was the beginning of my career as a narrator. She hired me for that particular book which led to many more. Then, some years ago I was brought in for an audition sample for the BDB Series. It may have gone to JR Ward for a final decision, but I’m not really sure. I got the gig and the rest, as they say, is history. I love narrating, and I really enjoy the BDB Series with all its different storylines. The most crucial part is delineating the different voices of The Brothers so that You (the audience) can tell who is speaking. The guys have such similar physical attributes and the narrator has to look for traits that will in some small way distinguish the characters from each other. For instance, Butch is from Boston so I give him a bit of Beantown (Oh yaa, wickid) flourish to set him apart. Wrath has a bit more vocal gravitas. But when it comes to narrating a series like the BDB, the key is “Less is More”. Nobody wants to hear a narrator “over-acting”. Agreed?
With the BDB Series, because the books are pretty hefty, I usually allow myself at least two full weeks, give or take, to get it in the can, spending anywhere between 4 and 6 hours a day in the studio. If the engineer and narrator are working well together things move in sync and the flow of the book is seamless.
At first, the sex scenes in the BDB were a bit overwhelming. Let’s face it they ARE pretty graphic at times. And vey highly charged. What I found was that I didn’t want to do it if I wasn’t going to dive in and give a full-throated performance. I’ve embraced the erotic elements of the stories, the integral aspects of each storyline that the author intended, and I perform those parts with relish. I may have made an engineer or two blush on occasion, but hey in the final analysis I hope the story the author has written is being told honestly, truthfully and with all the passion it deserves.
I’ve done lots of thrillers and books from several other genres. Each requires a different type of preparation as well as execution. The BDB Series is unique and requires a certain approach that is much different than I would use in other books and other genres. For instance, I narrate a series called The Chet and Bernie Mysteries, by Spencer Quinn. These are really fun books but are geared toward a much different, much younger, demographic. I prepare for and attack those books with a much different voice in my head. But as a narrator, you have to bring your “A Game” to each book you perform. Once you think you can phone something in, you’re not giving the audience your full talents and the audio you hear will reflect that lack of passion. I usually have no trouble getting psyched up for a BDB Series book. JR Ward is a really good writer and I look forward to getting into the studio to tell her stories. Oh, those lovely, dangerous and sexy Vampires. And all that blood! And those pale, nasty Lessers… Lots of fun.
To be honest Angela, there is little I do to get into character with these BDB books. I just settle into the studio with my mug of green tea with a touch of lemon and maybe some honey and let ‘er rip. The series is a lot of fun to do and the characters are well drawn which precludes me from having to do too much prep. I read the book ahead of time, of course, to find the voices I’m looking for as well as the various characterizations.
Generally, after I’ve been assigned the job by the producer and given the material, either in book or galley form, I go through it and do what we call “prep the book”, which means poring through it and marking up the text and even on occasion making different color notations to remind me to differentiate specific characters and perhaps particular vocal things about those characters. After I’ve finished with the narration, the book (in digital file form) goes to be proofed by the producer and then by the publisher. Someone will sit and listen to the entire book and take notes for accuracy and look for errors. At some point, usually a few weeks after the studio aspect, I’ll be called in to do what we call “retakes”, that is, fix any errors or words that didn’t come through properly, or any extraneous sounds that need to be re-voiced over. Or a mistake I’ve made reading the text. Yes, we all make mistakes on occasion and it’s a good thing when a proofer grabs it before it goes out. At that point, the audiobook goes into production and is readied for the market, either as a download-only audiobook, or the traditional way, with a jacket, etc and cd’s or tapes. Many books are download-only these days, which is where the market seems to be heading.
I almost always put together a wordlist for the author to verify. Most times there will be words that are unfamiliar to me, especially in fantasy books where there is a pronunciation I’m not sure about. In those instances, I’ll submit my wordlist to the producer and then the research department will contact the author for verification on the pronunciation on certain words. When I arrive in the studio for my first day there is a phonetically spelled out wordlist waiting for me with the correct pronunciation for each word I’ve requested. This is very important, especially with character names and all the ancient historical references in the BDB Series. For those of you have actually read the books (but why would you when you can listen to them?) there are many words you might think would have multiple possible pronunciations. I take great pride in getting it right.
Here’s the thing; because I narrate so many books, these days I find it increasingly difficult to just read for pleasure. When I go on vacation, I find myself reading a lot of news and periodicals. In addition, I have tons of reading to do in my other profession as an actor, director and playwright, that I guess I need to give my poor eyeballs a rest.
I narrate lots of individual books. Additionally, I’m a narrator for three different series of books, each with several volumes. Narrating a wide variety of books has allowed me a great opportunity to actually stretch myself, whether it’s crime fiction, mysteries or romance. What I’ve found is that it’s exciting to be exposed to different styles of literature. Ultimately, there is always something I can hang my hat on, that draws me into the story. But is there a book I’d like to narrate? I honestly haven’t found it… yet.
Well, the one thing I’m curious about is how JR Ward will continue, and perhaps resolve, the storyline of Blaylock, Qhuinn and Saxton. Beyond that, I probably shouldn’t talk too much. Wouldn’t want the residents of Caldwell NY on my trail…
And on a good note, he told us he's finished recording A Perfect Storm by Lori Foster, so keep an eye for the audiobook of book four in the Men Who Walk the Edge of Honor coming soon.
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