Between the Sheets with Noah Michael Levine
Romance Narrators: Take us back in time a bit, Noah. Do you remember your first time? Narrating a romance book, that is. What was it?
Noah: The first romance book I narrated was in mid-2013 - KILL SHOT, by Liliana Hart. Her writing is so crisp and clean. She’s really great at conveying action, character arcs and plot progression with economy. And her sex scenes … haha. Um. Yeah. I’ve also been fortunate to work on Liliana’s McKenzie Family series.
Later in 2013 I started recording Debra Holland’s God’s Dream Trilogy. These stories were lush and epic. They were the first Fantasy Romance novels I recorded. Working with Debra was great. She gave me a lot of insight into her characters which helped me in giving them their voices. The series was very sexy.
In mid-2014 I began Cherise Sinclair’s Masters of the Shadowlands series. These were my first BDSM/Erotica romance titles. Cherise is just awesome. Her depiction of the lifestyle is spot on (um … you know … from what I’ve heard) – from the ways in which Doms/Dommes and subs have this symbiotic, consensual, caring but envelope-pushing relationship, to the ways in which aspects of their “personal life” ebb into their professional life – or not, as the case may be. Cherise’s sex scenes are innovative, personalized and … just scorching-hot!
I recorded the first five books solo, but have performed the last 7 books in the series in duet style with Erin deWard.
Romance Narrators: You had to know we’d ask about your partnership with the wonderful Erin deWard. You’ve narrated 41 books together so far! Does it feel like cheating when you’re paired with someone else?
Noah: I’m grateful for being able to work with Erin. She’s an outstanding actor. We play off each other so well – and encourage each other to do our best. It’s such a different experience narrating solo as compared to alongside another performer. Both are great. When you’re in the booth, alone, voicing all the different characters, keeping your eye on pacing and mic technique and the emotional ebbs and flows, punching in and out when necessary, bringing that author’s story to voice – it’s an incredible experience. Arguably, we all have our challenges voicing characters of a different gender. So to be able to sync up with a partner, and have all the voices be authentic (gender-wise) and have those dialogue conversations be (watch out for the hippy word here) organic – it’s really great. Of some small interest is that, when we work together, because we’re both looking at the text at the same time, we catch each other’s mistakes. So there are far fewer pickups to be done when we work together than when we each work solo.
I’ve not done any duet narration with another actor. I do feel a LITTLE like I’m cheating when I do a Dual POV with someone else. But it’s great. Erin and I have a few Dual Narration titles out there. I’ve also done Dual projects with Natasha Soudek, Carly Robins and have one in the works right now with … YOU, the ever-awesome Erin Mallon!
Erin deWard agrees that it would be really cool to be able to do duet work with other people – but that it would also be a little weird. It would definitely be interesting! One of the great things about pretty much every other kind of acting is that you get to work with different people – which can spark new facets of your own performance based on how you mesh with the other actor(s).
Luckily for Erin and me, we’re best friends, so there’s never any embarrassment when I burp or she has gunk in her throat that she has to cough around. Plus – we laugh a lot at our mistakes and flubs.
Romance Narrators: Yes! You’ve been known to release some of your outtakes from recording sessions. Listeners love it! Any particular doozies you remember fondly?
Noah: Oh wow – the outtakes from the The Good Doctor Trilogy and The Symphony Of Light Series, both by Renea Mason were hysterical. (At least to us.) It’s hard to say why those particular books spawned so much hilarity. Maybe because there was a great sense of humor infused into the characters and dialogue. But also, now that I think about it – at that time Erin and I were in a phase of “Snapping” when there was a mistake, instead of stopping and punching in. So we could let recording keep rolling and just … go with it. When we went back to “punch-in” correction, it kind of stopped the flow of comedy – but, ultimately, was a more efficient way of recording.
Romance Narrators: Well whatever you’re doing, it seems to be working! You, Erin and Renea Mason won the 2016 Audie Award for Erotica for CURING DOCTOR VINCENT. Congrats! What was that whole experience like?
Noah: That whole week, in 2016, was incredible. It was my first time going to APAC. Getting to meet and hang out with fellow actors and meet authors and producers was just great. Going to the Audies with Renea and Erin was so much fun. The Adler Planetarium on Lake Michigan was a beautiful setting. It had been cloudy and rainy that whole week. But I remember standing outside at one point, looking at downtown Chicago across the lake from the peninsula and this shaft of light briefly hit the skyline. Incredible. I will say that sitting in the auditorium, five floors below street/lake level … that place was NOT well ventilated. Haha. So – it was a little warm in there for me. When the presenter called Curing Doctor Vincent as the winner for Erotica – I don’t know … it was just … I felt really happy and proud and – let’s face it, we actors LOVE recognition. So to be in a room filled with peers – all of us entangled in this very specific slice of the entertainment world – and to be singled out for something … it was great.
Romance Narrators: Well deserved, sir! Can we really go there and ask you a saucy question? Apparently many listeners wonder if we get –ahem- excited in the booth while narrating these steamy stories. Dare to share? Any pro tips for keeping it together?
Noah: Okay … let’s get down and dirty. I will go on record, right here and now, and say … yes … there have been times when I’ve had “reactions” while narrating steamy scenes. More so in the past when narrating romance/erotica was a newer thing for me. That’s not to say that the writing is less engaging now – just that … you know … when you “perform” things with regularity the brain gets a bit used to certain stimuli and doesn’t react as readily. But in truth, for the most part, there’s so much going on in the booth that the main thrust (did I just say “thrust?”) is bringing the best performance you can bring, while keeping tabs on all the other intricacies of recording. As for keeping it together … focus. If you’re doing a scene that’s a five-way between 2 female were-ocelots, two male werebears and a non-gender-specific alien from Klarpschnark – and that just happens to be your erotic fantasy go-to – stay focused on the performance of each character. Making it sound authentic will be enough of a distraction for your brain to keep your bits in line. Probably.
Romance Narrators: Five-ways between were-ocelots, were-bears and non-gender-specific aliens are our favorite! Thanks so much for bringing them up! Alright, back to business. Many people get confused about the difference between dual narration and duet narration. You do plenty of both, so set the record straight for us once and for all, will you? Which is which? Do you have a preference between the two styles?
Noah: FOR THE RECORD:
Dual narration is where, for example, a woman will read all of the characters (male and female) in the chapters that are from her character’s point of view and likewise for the man narrating his POV chapters. The two narrators are, presumably, not recording in the same location at the same time.
Duet narration is where, for example, a woman and a man are recording together, presumably in the same place at the same time, side-by side. Some books will be third-person, omniscient where either the man or woman will do all of the narration – others will be third or first person with altering POVs (and so the person narrating will be based on that POV). But all character voices will be voiced gender-specific.
I do prefer Duet style. Primarily because it’s great to work with another actor. It feels more real/realistic and, I think, brings a more interactive (aw Crapspackle … I’m going to say it again …) organic experience for the listener.
Romance Narrators: Crapspackle. You don’t hear that word often in our genre. Sounds like some fantastical goo that may show up in the sci-fi books you narrate. Do you find that genre requires a different approach from your romance titles?
Noah: Yes and no. Subject matter, genre, style, etc. can effect things like pacing, intensity of delivery, time spent figuring out pronunciations, things like that. But a story is a story is a story. In most types of romance and science fiction there are central characters with a conflict of some sort to overcome, all the things that get in the way of resolving that conflict, the emotional components of wants, desires, urgency, danger, etc. So in that respect, it’s not different. I’ve done a lot of action-oriented sci-fi and fantasy. So there, in particular, it’s a little trickier because you can’t go 100 miles per hour the whole time – even in a great battle scene. And I suppose the same could be said for an intense sex scene. Finding those ebbs where you can sort of slow down, re-set and then ratchet it back up is a fun challenge.
Where I find I DO have to take a bit of a different approach is with non-fiction. Non-fiction often contains data and information and it’s not always conducive to “telling a story.” But that’s what we have to do – tell the story. I’m working on a great non-fiction title right now. It’s about “The Gilded Age” in America from the end of the Civil War to just before the beginning of the twentieth century. It’s incredibly well-written and interesting and, while there certainly is a lot of data and information, finding that story – a specific time in America when people behaved in specific ways in furtherance of whatever were their goals at that time – has been very easy. And not to get political, but it’s interesting to observe that the way people and our government were 150 years ago … their wants, hates, and their motivations (good and bad) are not so different from the world we live in today.
Romance Narrators: There are a few male romance narrators – not naming any names - who keep quite a shroud of mystery about them. You however are quite open to interacting directly with your listeners. Is that something you enjoy?
Noah: I do enjoy it. Listeners are the best. And if it weren’t for them, you know … Not much of a point to what we do for a living. And I’m not at all opposed to using a pseudonym. Narrators and authors, alike, have very strong reasons to do that. And I also think the mystery shroud is very cool. In a way – maybe it heightens the experience for some listeners.
Honestly, when I started narrating in 2012 – I was completely green and I really didn’t know anyone in the business except for a friend who was an audio editor. It didn’t even occur to me to use a pseudonym when I started narrating certain material. And then, after a while, it felt like it was too late. Not that I regret that. Plus – with all the voices already in my head, if I had to juggle more than one identity, I might go a little bonkers. Haha.
Romance Narrators: Forgive us for the somewhat shallow question, but sometimes you rock the facial hair and sometimes you do not. We’ve noticed you look like a completely different human sans facial fur. Is this something you use to your advantage? Any stories of mistaken identity?
Noah: I have a long and sordid history with facial hair. Back in the 80s I had a band for about 8 years. Long hair … moustache. I tried growing a beard at one point but I looked like a bad science experiment. So I just stuck with the stache. I often got mistaken for John Oates (Hall and Oates for those unfamiliar). We had the same hair – above the nose and below. He and I met a couple of times at this club in NYC called Heartbreaks - and the first time … I think we literally just bumped into each other, stared for a moment and then broke out laughing. The 80s were marked, in part, by that stache and the bad clothes that came with the era. Somewhere in the early 90s I grew a goatee. My dad, who passed when I was 23, rocked that look for most of his adult life, though his was a bit longer and more chaotic than mine. But I liked how it looked and it felt like a little connection enhancer for me with my dad. Late 90s into the 2000s – clean, clean, clean. Part of it was because I felt the facial hair made me look older and I wasn’t ready to look older. I would only grow it out if I needed to for a role I was playing. (I once had to bleach my whole head – top hair and stache/goatee – so that it all turned this weird shade of orange. I was playing a villain, appropriately nicknamed … Orangehead. Haha.) But otherwise I was always clean-shaven. In the late aughts and into the teens of the 21st century, I would dabble with growing the stache/goatee for a while, sometimes just a soul patch, and then shaving it off. And then … I started narrating – 2012. I wasn’t “going out” a whole lot. Shaving became … I don’t know … unnecessary. So I let the whole beard thing happen. I didn’t think I would like it – but I do. I don’t care about the gray. And I keep it all very closely cropped. So for now – that’s what I’m sticking with. I think the only way in which I’ve used it to my advantage was just personal preference. But it’s never been a strategy of any kind to change my image.
Romance Narrators: Not everyone can rock the soul patch. Well done, you. So, what exciting projects do you have on the horizon that you can share with us?
Noah: As I mentioned before, I’m working on this great (though also sad and infuriating in some ways) American History book for Audible. It will clock in at somewhere near 30 hours long. After that, another American History book about Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine and James Monroe. Then a 6-book romance series.
Erin deWard and I will soon be starting a new (to audio) series by Cherise Sinclair - Wild Hunt Legacy (which, no doubt, WILL be WILD!) and also a new book from Lily Atlas – Escapades. So we’re very excited about those.
Romance Narrators: Tell us about book you’re particularly proud of, why don’t ya.
Well – okay! I will! The Chronicles of the Black Gate, by Phil Tucker. These are not romance books, though there are two, different love/romance arcs throughout the five books. It feels a little uncomfortable for me to say this – but I think this series is some of the best work I’ve ever done as an actor and I’m really proud of it. Phil’s writing is incredible. Think of Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings … but, in my opinion, jacked up a few notches. His command of the fantasy realm and world-building is superb. The characters are incredibly multifaceted and real and complex. Without discounting any other book I’ve recorded, I felt connected to this writing in a way I never have before. I was completely immersed and invested. And I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to record the series.
Keep up with Noah online:
Noah Michael Levine’s Audible Catalog: https://www.audible.com/search/ref=a_hp_tseft?advsearchKeywords=noah%20michael%20levine&filterby=field-keywords
And here are links to people Noah mentioned in his interview:
Liliana Hart: www.lilianahart.com
Debra Holland: www.debraholland.com
Cherise Sinclair: www.cherisesinclair.com
Erin deWard: www.erindeward.com
Natasha Soudek: www.natashasoudek.com
Carly Robins: https://www.facebook.com/carly.robins.98
Erin Mallon: https://www.facebook.com/ErinMuffyNarration/
Renea Mason: www.reneamason.com
Hall & Oates: www.hallandoates.com