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Monday, September 30, 2013

Welcome Audiobook Producer - Stevie Zimmerman!

Today it’s my pleasure to welcome audiobook producer Stevie Zimmerman to Lady Scribes! I have been fortunate enough to have Stevie produce/narrate all of the books in my Scandalous Series. (She’s currently hard at work on A Scandalous Past as we speak.) And I could not be happier. Stevie has such a wonderful voice and hearing her narrate my stories always brings a smile to my face. It’s been so long ago that I wrote the Scandalous Series, and hearing her retell the story reminds me how much I loved writing those books.

My good friends Deb Marlowe and Rose Gordon have also worked with Stevie on some audiobooks, and we thought it might be fun to have a little “chat” between the four of us.  So without further ado, please welcome Stevie Zimmerman!

AVA: Hi, Stevie, thank you so much for being with us today. I was hoping you could tell everyone how you became a voice talent and how you started producing audiobooks.

STEVIE: Hello everyone. Lovely to be here!

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Well, I got started quite by chance really. I took an evening class several years ago that turned out to be a thinly disguised sales pitch for a company making demos. I decided to ignore their expensive plans for me but was intrigued at the idea that there might be a niche for my accent in the US market. I found someone else to make a demo with and then contacted some local studios (in Hartford, CT) and got a few radio ads. My first job was doing 10 second ads for Hartford itself – promoting the things there were to do in town that summer. I think they wanted me because the spots were so short and my accent at least sounded different in the crowded radio noise. That started getting me some attention and I was hired to do a lot of e-learning narrations for companies that needed a voice that would work in lots of different markets and countries. My natural accent is perceived as sort of neutral by multi-national companies. I enjoyed the long-form much more than the quick commercials and so I started trying to find audiobook work.  Ava’s  “A Scandalous Wife” was my first ever book!

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ROSE: What is your typical day like recording?

STEVIE: I work from home so a lot depends on what is going on with the rest of the world – it needs to be quiet, undisturbed, focused time. Not always the easiest thing in the world. I have an ancient cat who thinks she should be part of the action quite often! But ordinarily I try to record several chapters at a go and then return to edit them later. That way I get more of a flow to the narration and consistency in the tone and feel of the story and characters.

DEB: Do you read the whole book before you start recording or do you read them a chapter at a time as you record?

STEVIE: I read one chapter at a time. I like to get some sense of discovering the story along with the reader. I don’t want to know ahead of time that at the end of the story the bad guy turns out to be the hero and have that affect how I read him earlier in the story. Going chapter to chapter allows me to be part of the unfolding, the journey, not some omniscient presence. Perhaps I would have a different approach with a different type of book, but the novels I have done so far have all had an element of romantic suspense to them which I want to keep immediate.

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AVA: When I do a search for your name at Amazon, Audible and iTunes, it seems you have become quite the star of Regency Romance audiobooks. Was that by chance? Or was it a genre you were looking for? (And since you ARE English, do you find it odd the number of American writers who focus on that specific time period of British history?)

STEVIE: Thanks for the ‘star’! When I started auditioning for audiobooks the authors looking specifically for English accents were all Regency Romance authors.  You were the first person to offer me an opportunity and it grew from there. So yes,  quite by chance.

I do find it amusing how popular the time period is over here – the popularity of Jane Austen on TV and in movies has always amazed me. Not because I don’t absolutely love Jane Austen – when I got married I made it a stipulation that my husband read “Persuasion” on our honeymoon! But because it always seemed to me her ironic commentary on England’s class structure and social rules and restrictions would be lost on a country which so prides itself on inclusiveness and the possibility of everyone ‘making it’. But the romance of that era is undeniable, and I see in my daughter, who is all-American, that there is still a real desire to be swept off your feet by a gallant hero. And there are nasty gossipmongers and rakes and cads everywhere. Pretty Little Liars is Regency Romance in modern clothes…

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DEB: I adored how you gave life to the different classes (from guttersnipes to dukes!) in The Love List, as well as the different nationalities.  Do you enjoy the different accents?  Or are they difficult?

STEVIE: I love doing the accents. It’s one of my favourite parts of the job. And “The Love List” has a great cast of characters to convey. I don’t have an endless supply, but when it’s called for it’s a really fun thing to do. I wanted to be an actress from the age of about 5 and, although I realized when I was in college that I didn’t have “it”, I am still very involved in theatre as a director in the DC area. The audiobooks allow me to still do a bit of acting!

ROSE: Be honest, did you imagine yourself as the heroine as you read the book?

STEVIE: Honestly, no!  I identify with the longing the women in all the books feel for romance, for independence within a strong and protective relationship, for the feeling of being adored and longed for. But since every heroine is absolutely drop-dead gorgeous, and I’m well into my twentieth year of marriage, that’s about as far as it goes. I did recognize some of the frustrations she feels (in “Her Reluctrant Groom”) dealing with such a reluctant and recalcitrant hero, especially when their mutual attraction is so obvious.

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AVA: As romance authors, I know I’ve gotten the “look” from people who find out what I write. Do you experience the same thing when people find out you’re narrating romance?

STEVIE: I think most people I work with in the theatre understand that all story-telling is valid. It may not be their choice of genre, but ultimately that’s what all actors and directors and designers are doing. Years ago I had the privilege of meeting Patrick Stewart, a great Shakespearean actor who had just taken on the reboot of Star Trek. He was being given a lot of grief about that but his view was that had Shakespeare been alive, he’d have been writing just the type of stories Star Trek told every week. Great story telling is nothing to do with the snobbish values some people want to put on it. Having said that, there are probably some people I actually haven’t told about this aspect of my work because it would change how they perceive me!

DEB: So, how do you feel about reading those sex scenes?  :-)

STEVIE: Well, I must admit I was a bit surprised when I came upon them in “A Scandalous Wife” only because I hadn’t expected it. I am no prude but reading them out loud took a little doing, and I had to make sure no one was eavesdropping!  It’s kind of like eating chocolate though – part of the fun is in the sinning…….

ROSE: Was there a part where you had to record it more than once so you could keep a straight face and a steady tone?

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STEVIE: So far no. I have narrated one book that was so sexually focused - and different from the rest of the books I have done -  that I decided to put it under a different name. I didn’t realize going in what kind of book it was, and then I was committed. It wasn’t that I was embarrassed, although I didn’t get it quite, but that I didn’t want to put listeners off books such as “The Love List”, “Her Reluctant Groom”, and the Scandalous series by association with something honestly rather kinky. I hope listeners enjoy my narration enough to seek out other books I have done, but I also hope I can stay out of the way enough to allow them to have their own fantasy moments through those scenes.

AVA: Well, we know you are busy working on several projects, Stevie, but we really appreciate you taking the time to be here with us today and for answering our questions. And we’d also like to thank you for doing such an excellent job producing our books!

STEVIE: It’s been great having this chance to talk about the work! It can feel a little isolated sometimes, sitting reading into my microphone so it is great to have this chance to connect with all of you, and your readers. Cheers!

AVA: You are all in luck! I talked Stevie into stopping by some today to answer any questions readers or authors might have about all things audibooks. And I'll select one commenter to win a free Audible copy of A SCANDALOUS WIFE today. I am curious...Are you a reader or a listener or both? And have you listened to any of Stevie's awesome narrations? 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Sidney Bristol on Cajun Country

Bonjour mes amis!

Come with me down the bayou to the crescent city where we’ll listen to the caimons sing and eat beignets with a cup of joe.

Okay, okay, I’ll stop pretending like I can speak Cajun or know what an alligator sounds like without playing an MP3. These last few weeks have been a whirlwind of Swamp People, Gator Boys and an endless search for the right turn of phrase for a Creole woman to use when speaking to her lover. Yes, I’m in full on research mode!

Spend any time around authors and you’ll hear us talk about the crazy things we do to research a single line in a book. One of my absolute favorite things about writing a culture that has its own language or dialect is learning it. I used to do a lot of traveling for humanitarian work around the world. There was little to no time to learn the language except for important phrases like, thank you or where is the bathroom. So I would let the locals teach me, immersing myself in their lives and getting the sink or swim treatment. And let me tell you, I learned to swim as fast as possible! I’m a horribly picky eater, so it was really important to learn how to order food properly.

One of the most unique language learning experiences I had was in Thailand. Our group visited a school for the blind, and they did not communicate the same way as the other Thai people we’d met. We had no idea we were attending the school, the opportunity literally cropped up about half an hour before, and we went with it. Where most people used words, these children used their hands to see and communicate a lot of the time. Above you can see me with one little girl and she has her finger tapping my knuckle. It’s her way of saying, hello.

I try to take this same approach when writing. I learn what phrases and words I can and ask for help with the rest. One of the most valuable phrases I ever learn in a new language is, “What is it?” Which thankfully people than interpret as, I want to know the word so I can say it. I to this day will point at things and ask, “What is it?” in Russian.

Recently I was asked to be part of a multi-author boxed of original stories set to release in November/December. The location is New Orleans and themed around tattoos and the New Year. I was so excited! I was just in New Orleans last year and I’ve been kicking around the idea of going back just for the fun of it. Besides, I might be a fan of Gambit from the X-Men and I’ve always imagined him with a delicious Cajun drawl and the idea of writing a character with that sort of speech pattern fascinated me.

You see, the language is one of the reasons I was so excited about this project. The local culture around New Orleans, and really the whole region, has really developed its own language, a fusion of English, French, Native American and straight up slang. The jargon doesn’t follow all the rules of the root languages, so it’s been complicated and a heck of a lot of fun to comb through Cajun dictionaries and language guides to figure out what my characters should say! I’ve even resorted to watching Swamp People to pick out cadence and slang.

So what are some words or phrases I’ve been using?

A bon couer – To do something wholeheartedly.
Alohrs pas – Of course not.
Bebette – A little monster or critter.
Cunja – A spell put on someone.
Dit mon la verite’ – Tell me the truth.
Gris-gris – An object used to ward off or inflict evil.
Mais, jamais d’la vie! – Well, never in my life!
Pirogue – Small flat bottomed boat.
Qui C’est q’ca? – Who or what is that? ((MY FAVORITE PHRASE!!))

As you can see, the French roots run all through the Cajun dialect. The difficulty is that the Cajun usage doesn’t always follow French rules, and my grasp of French is rather pitiful.
I have a lot left to learn, but it’s a fun process that I completely enjoy. Maybe someday I’ll be able to use all the snippets of language I’ve learned!

How many languages do you speak? Is there a particular one you'd love to learn?

It can never be said that Sidney Bristol has had a ‘normal’ life.  She is a recovering roller derby queen, former missionary, and tattoo addict. She grew up in a motor-home on the US highways (with an occasional jaunt into Canada and Mexico), traveling the rodeo circuit with her parents. Sidney has lived abroad in both Russia and Thailand, working with children and teenagers. She now lives in Texas where she splits her time between a job she loves, writing, reading and belly dancing.