Welcome Lauren Fortgang back to The Book Nympho. I first feel in love with Lauren’s narration through Jennifer Estep’s Elemental Assassin series. Once I saw she was the narrator for Shannon Stacey’s Kowalski Family series I knew I had to listen. Lauren nails both UF and Contemporary Romance. Next I’m trying some of her Young Adult work.
Can you walk us through your prep work for a narration project? Do you prepare any notes to help decide the tone and voice to give a character when there’s not a clear description of their voice in the novel (when they do not have a distinct accent)?
The most important element is, of course, reading the book in advance. It’s useless to begin narration without knowing your characters or the tone of the story. The producer gets me a copy (usually in .pdf form these days) and I can start prepping.
I generally contact the author to get her/his take on characterization, accents, etc., and simply to open the door for input. I find most authors are quite helpful in this regard, though there are a range of responses. A few don’t get involved at all, a few are very specific about a great many things, but most genuinely trust the narrator’s abilities to craft the text into audio and offer awesome supplemental information. I make a variety of notes on the script including character notes and pronunciation clarification. I often pepper the text will little sound files so I can reference voices or whatnot without having to hunt back through the whole script. I sometimes have additional notes and bookmarks located in previous audiobooks in a series, too. This helps me keep track of characters over the long run.
In terms of voicing a character without obvious textual clues, I’ll either discuss it with the author or use my best judgement depending upon how clear I feel the choice is and how comfortable I am with making that choice. For instance, knowing where a character is from might inspire an accent. Personally, I tend to give lesser characters bigger accents (if it seems right) because they aren’t going to be distracting with only a minor role, but having the accent can help shape the setting and landscape of the book. It’s really a mixed bag of options!
You narrate a wide variety of novels. How do you decide which books to perform?
Most of what I narrate (and this is true for many professional narrators) is simply offered to me by a variety of producers I have established relationships with, and I accept most projects, if time allows. Additionally much of what I have on my plate at the moment is series-related, so it’s generally preferred the same narrator continue (barring obvious complications).
Incredibly, I’m pretty busy these days(!), so occasionally a title needs to be turned down based on lack of availability, which is a bit bittersweet.
Some titles require auditions, but it’s actually pretty dissimilar from the rest of the acting world in that if we’re asked to audition for an audiobook, it’s generally more for approval purposes than ‘battling for the job’ reasons. Most producers have a good sense of what we’re right for and will only recommend a handful of appropriate narrators for author- or publisher- approval.
Naturally, there are books and genres I prefer over others, and I occasionally express that, which helps to add variety to my workload.
Last time you were here we talked about your work on Jennifer Estep’s Elemental Assassin series. Since then I’ve followed your work over to Shannon Stacey’s Kowalski Family series. How fun is it performing those crazy Kowalskis? Which Kowalski romance has been your favorite to perform?
Ah, I’ve actually just started on the next Elemental Assassin title, Poison Promise. Gin and the gang are back for more!
The Kowalskis are definitely a bawdy bunch! I know a lot of fans of the series, so I’m glad you’ve jumped on board. It can be a bit intimidating trying to voice all those brothers and cousins and KIDS, but Shannon Stacey does a great job of giving them their own identity, which helps me translate them into audio. I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite story, but I really love the rambunctious little Kowalskis, especially Bobby. He makes me laugh out loud. I’m a fan of the women in the family too, so I really enjoyed the latest installment (Love a Little Sideways) with Liz. Shannon knows how to keep the humor dry with a touch of sass which keeps the series feeling contemporary and real.
Since you spend so much of your time reading novels for work, do you enjoy pleasure reading in your spare time? If so, what types of books do you enjoy? And, do you find yourself thinking how you would narrate those books while you’re reading them?
I LUUURRVE reading for pleasure. But sadly it’s really hard to squeeze in pleasure reading like I used to. I still buy books by the bushel-full (…what even is a bushel…a unit of measurement?), but I feel guilty when I crack their pages open because I’m probably meant to be prepping something else.
I love literary fiction, but I’ve also gotten the YA bug, and am keen on many genres. And, no, when I pleasure read I try extremely hard not to think with my ‘narrator’ mind. I just want to enjoy the book the way any reader or listener would; that is to say I want to get swept up in it, enveloped in it, and not venture back out into the real world until I absolutely have to. I sometimes worry that my job will one day hinder my ability to allow a book to provide the escape it promises, but I still find myself getting swallowed up in pleasure reading when I have the time, so I know the whimsy of a good book hasn’t eluded me yet.
Name one book/series/character that you’ve read that you wish you could narrate?
To Kill a Mockingbird will always be on the top of this list for me. I can’t imagine another character winning my heart quite the way Scout Finch has.
What narration job are you currently working on?
I just finished Ruin and Rising, the final installment of Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy, which I loved. It was a real treat for me to do these titles and working with Leigh is ridiculously fun. I’m so sorry it’s over but there are some short stories coming and she’s recently announced new titles which will continue tales of the ‘Grishaverse’. I’m fingers-crossed that the audiobooks call for, well, me! Also, I just wrapped up Jennifer Estep’s latest Elemental Assassin book, Poison Promise, which I imagine you’re psyched about, too. On the literary fiction front, I found myself particularly passionate narrating Kim Church’s gorgeous, beautifully written novel, Byrd. And in the whodunit category, surprised by how much fun Diana Killian’s Mantra For Murder series is. I’m recording book one, Corpse Pose, now, and we are having a blast! You’ll be treated to a full cast of hysterical characters. There’s more YA on the horizon for me as well this year. Whew!
Big thanks for including me in your Audiobook Month festivities!
Lauren Fortgang currently works as an actor and voice over artist. She had early training at A.C.T.’s Young Conservatory and is a graduate of Fordham University’s Theater Program. She has since pursued diverse avenues of the field, taking on roles as actress, spokesperson, narrator, and costume designer and works in theater, television, independent film, and audiobooks.
Credits inclue Law & Order(s) (NBC), Important Things With Dimitri Martin (Comedy Central), Susan Mosakowski’s Escape (Creation Production Company, La Mama E.T.C.- 50th Anniversary Season), Laughing Pictures (Creation Production Company, The Flea) and the independent films Astoria, Queens and The Sunnyside Murders, both featured at a variety of festivals, including Queens World Film Festival, NYTVF, Brekenridge Festival of Film and NewFest
Commercially, she’s done national on-camera and voiceover spots for the likes of Walmart, TJ Maxx, Applebee’s and Woolite. She’s given voice to material spanning from video games to educational textbooks and works professionally as an audiobook narrator, having recorded roughly 100 unabridged titles and some 200 segments for monthly programming, including works by Joan Didion, Twyla Tharp, Bret Easton Ellis, and Judy Blume.
She’s participated in a variety of endeavors with a delightful smattering of companies headed by Fordham alumni and professors, and hopes to continue to support the work of this network of artists and friends.