THE NAKED TRUTH With Noah Michael Levine (Vol. 4)
Our final installment of The Naked Truth, Audie Awards edition will bring together the last two nominated audiobooks – “The Wedding Date” and “Shadow and Ice.” Narrated by the brilliant Janina Edwards and The Romance Narrators Group’s own Melissa Moran and Leo Barnabas.
Noah Michael Levine: Janina, Melissa, Leo … congratulations to you all! Two very different books and three very impressive performances. Janina, what drew you to The Wedding Date?
Janina Edwards: The Wedding Date is a fun, and sexy book with a sense of style and class. I fully admit to reading/listening to romance novels. (I mean, who needs realism anyway?) As a romance novel addict, I find Jasmine Guillory’s books and characters really enjoyable, and they’re also believable. The characters rang true for me, which makes it a lot easier for me to jump into the story as a narrator. And just like you, I want to know what happens next!
NML: Yeah – we get enough of realism every day as it is. Sometimes it’s great to lose yourself in a compelling story. But as most narrators know, getting steeped in the text and bringing out that top-notch performance can be challenging at times. Leo … what kinds of challenges did you face in recording Shadows and Ice?
Leo Barnabas: Voice matching can be a challenge.
NML: Explain what that is for our studio audience.
LB: So … In a Dual Narration audiobook, the male and female narrators have to tackle several of the same voices in their respective POV chapters. We try our best to match each other so, you know, one of us isn’t doing a gravelly voice and the other a high-pitched, nasally voice.
NML: Haha – yeah … that would be … a little TOO interesting. So – how did you two handle it?
LB: Melissa and I communicated a good amount, both during our preparation process and while we were narrating. Which characters were the leads, what accents, attitudes and appropriate vocal ranges we would choose for each character. We did have access to each other's sound files, so we could easily reference the character's voice, based on what chapters they appeared in. We discussed the tone of the book, and the key similarities and differences of our POV's.
Melissa Moran: Yeah – the communication was great. It’s a really interesting way to work. I think anytime you’re taken into a different world where the rulebook gets shredded as you step over the threshold, you become drunk with creative freedom as a narrator. Just think of all the fun you could have?! But…oh…there’s a whole other human being narrating this too, so you gotta tap the brakes on the willy nilly. Two different people may and probably will have completely different takes on what that voice on the page sounds like. Communication is crucial when it comes to working with a partner and, I have to say, Leo was a very generous co-narrator in that respect. I think we both went in knowing we were going to totally lean in to these characters and honor the way they were written. He was open to the collaboration and I think it really shows that we had a blast along the way.
NML: That’s so great! What about you, Janina? What sorts of challenges did you run into?
JE: The book has characters of several different ethnic backgrounds. So, for me, the challenge was creating characters with an African American and Latino flavor without lapsing into aural stereotypes. Regarding my process for character voices. I try to focus on 2-3 main qualities in the character’s voice (tonal placement, pace, unique qualities mentioned in the text). I try to make sure that I don’t strain to do any character voices, because that’s rough on a narrator. A 7 hour book takes ~14-21 hours to record. You have to be able to sustain whatever characterizations you set up. I make notes on a spreadsheet I create for each book. Also, having a director helps. They let you know when the characters are getting ‘blurry.’ If the character voice is really complicated or hard to remember, I’ll save a short recording of that character voice in a folder on my computer to reference. It’s usually not that difficult to keep the characters straight, unless there are more than 2 characters in a conversation. The Wedding Date has that. To make it easier, I literally go into the script and note at the beginning of the sentence the character name. For some reason, authors often note the character name and vocal quality at the end of the sentence. Lol.
NML: Haha – yeah, it definitely helps when the author tells us what they hear in their head for the characters’ voices, but sometimes you might not find out until two-thirds into the book. So important to do your prep work!
NML: Melissa and Leo … I understand you’ll be attending the Audies Gala. What are you most looking forward to? Melissa?
MM: This will actually be my real, first time to The Audies. Last year, I volunteered to help Suzanne and PJ with the red carpet, but I couldn’t stay because….no ticket. I had trouble keeping my jaw off the floor then, so I can’t imagine what it will be like when I’m part of the whole shindig. Imposter Syndrome, anyone? I’m blissfully unaware of what to expect. So, I can honestly say that I’m looking forward to just being there.
When I found out I was nominated … My gosh- this is the biggest award in audiobooks! It was certainly a book that I put my heart and soul into and felt a genuine connection with Vale (my character). Leo Barnabas is a tremendous talent and I knew HIS performance was flawless. Not to mention, Gena Showalter is a powerhouse writer who just pulls you into this epic world. So…yay…oh my Gosh!!
But then I found myself refreshing the nomination page waiting for my name to disappear because obviously they made a mistake. But wait…my name is still there. How is this even possible? Oh okay here comes the guilt. Guilt because I can think of SO many other narrators who deserve this more than I do. Well, it’s not really me because Leo really carried the book. DO YOU SEE WHAT HAPPENS?
I think I’ve finally settled on gratitude. Yeah, I’m sticking with that.
NML: Gratitude is always a good thing to stick with! What about you, Leo?
LB: Well, this is my first Audie nomination, and also, the first time I'm actually attending, so I'm looking forward to just feeling the energy of the room. To be surrounded by such wonderful talent, and to have the honor of taking part in such a prestigious award ceremony as a participant, is quite humbling. Many thanks to Gena Showalter, John Marshall Media, and Harlequin Audio for the opportunity!
NML: Excellent! Well – this has been awesome. But we’re coming to the end of our time together. Let’s wrap up with … What’s coming up next for you all. Janina?
JE: Soon to be released, if not already out, for Tantor Media, I have a series of Christian romance titles by Reshonda Tate Billingsley, including The Pastor’s Wife, and The Devil is a Lie, and also 2 new romance series—Love After (Higher Love) and the Strickland Sisters (Believe Me). I must admit to being a sucker for a good romance series. In the non-fiction arena, I just co-narrated Parting the Waters with Prentice Onayemi for Simon & Schuster. This a monumental project. My portion was 22 hours! It details the background and heyday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s presence on the Civil Rights Stage. It gets into the nitty gritty of sparring personalities, backstage compromises, presidential and FBI catfighting, and other minutiae of the that time, in addition to describing the people and reality of seminal moments like the Montgomery bus boycott, or the March on Washington. It was fascinating.
NML: Someone’s busy! Haha. That’s so great, Janina! Leo? Talk to me.
LB: Leo just finished recording the Forever Young Trilogy by Daniel Pierce for Podium Publishing, and up next is Destruction, the first of a series written by Jennifer Bene, published by Insatiable Press.
NML: That’s sounds exciting. But … you DID just refer to yourself in third-person. You’re one of those Illeists, huh? You’re in (mostly) good company … Bo Jackson, Jimmy from Seinfeld, Ricky Henderson, Elmo … Freakin’ ELMO, Salvadore Dali, and, of course, THE ROCK. Just some fun facts. And what about you, Melissa?
MM: I feel so blessed to have worked with some incredibly gifted authors and ‘Shadow and Ice’ definitely represents the style I really love sinking my teeth into. Give me romance with a twist of magic any day, thank you very much. If you loved that book, then check out Elizabeth Hartwell’s ‘Guardians of the Fae’ series over the next couple months with my fabulous co-narrator Aaron Shedlock. I also just signed on to narrate DG Swank’s ‘The Chosen’ series. If you’re feeling particularly naughty, there are a few Krista Wolf books on the way under my pseudo, Melissa Barr with the incomparable Tristan James. I…uhh….get to record a lot of fun things in my booth 😉
NML: Yes, you DO! Well, thank you all, so much, for spending some time sharing The Naked Truth. I’ve put your Social Media links below so anyone who isn’t already following you can, you know … make that happen. Wishing all three of you – as well as all the nominees, the very best.