Our Exclusive Interview with Shawn Saavedra, the Audiobook Narrator of Torture Man
June is audiobook month and we are celebrating all month! Many talented voice actors have narrated Warren Adler’s repetoire of 50+ works of fiction, including Shawn Saavedra who narrated Torture Man, a psychological and political thriller.
Tell us a bit about your background. What inspired you to become an audiobook narrator?
My first love is acting, and there is something magical about being able to sit alone in a booth and bring to life all sorts of places and people that will, like a movie or a text, live on indefinitely for countless people to enjoy. Audiobook narration is particularly appealing because we can take whatever time is necessary to develop and grow our characters, the tone of the book and so on, unlike the frenetic pace the film/commercial acting world tends to have.
What do you look for in a project? Is there a particular genre you gravitate towards? What initially drew you to Torture Man?
I naturally lean toward the otherworldly environments of sci-fi and fantasy tales (I love the escapism and ‘discovering’ fantastical environments). On the other hand, it also matters a great deal to me that the characters themselves be interesting, even charismatic, or otherwise compelling, as they definitely are in Torture Man. In addition, stories can just be fun to narrate because they have a quick pace or quirky characters. Torture Man was compelling because of the extremely polarizing, passionate characters who are absolutely married to their ideals, and because of the quick pace that is electric and exciting.
What were some of the joys and challenges of narrating Torture Man?
The challenges were voicing the intense emotions the characters experienced, without becoming a caricature or cartoonish. The joys were giving life to the two military colleagues and their tight bond with one another, as well as the time I found myself reflecting on the principles and philosophical challenges presented over the course of the story.
How did you prepare for Torture Man specifically?
Torture Man stretched my abilities in terms of accents and characters. A New York Jewish family and New York military men made me practice and practice my accents and work to distinguish the characters while trying to avoid too-much cartoonish stereotyping. I pre-read to anticipate the characters’ changes throughout the story as well as to get a feel for the overall lightness or weightiness of the book, which dictates how the narrative voice will sound.
What kind of book would you consider Torture Man to be?
I consider Torture Man to be a thinking book. One that keeps your attention while also making you reflect on your instincts and the values you take for granted.
What was the most unexpected thing about narrating audiobooks that you didn’t foresee going in?
The amount of time involved in precisely cleaning up the recording and properly processing all the audio after the recording itself is finished (which is far more time than the recording itself).
Is there anything you learned about yourself or life in general after completing production of Torture Man?
After having finished Torture Man, I realized I would not go as far in trying to establish my idea of justice, shall we say, as I thought I might before. And that, if I were in Sarah’s position, I might be entirely mistaken.
What are the top three pieces of advice you would give to an aspiring voice-over artist?
1) Immediately start to do work for others, whether recording audiobooks or auditioning for other work. 2) Don’t wait. Be willing to pay to consult with a successful professional who can advise you on next steps, standards you should be reaching for, etc. 3) Don’t waste a lot of time doing unprofitable work, or you will not make the demands on yourself that are necessary to actually become professional financially.
Tell us about your work routine. Do you work from home or do you commute to a studio?
I work from home and have generally recorded overnight, though that is very disruptive to sleep and normal daily activities. I’m hoping, with an upgraded booth, to be able to regularly record during the day.
You bring such nuance and breadth to the characters. It must be hard to articulate, but can you tell us about your process? How do you become these characters?
I first try to simply voice a character as it comes to me instinctively when I come across the dialogue. Then, as I am reading through the book or even as I am recording the voice, I have to feel whether the voice actually sounds true to that character or might be too jarring to the book’s overall tone, or not dynamic enough to bring out the actual breadth of emotion the character is experiencing. Occasionally I have to go through and adjust the character’s voice or change it entirely to better suit the book or that character’s true nature.
What inspires you?
That in spite of all of our own fears, pain, and failings, and in spite of all the evil in the world that seems so permanent, the truth of God’s creation and design for us will absolutely triumph in the end.
What do you think makes audiobooks so appealing? What does an audiobook offer that a book cannot?
Audiobooks can bring text to life in a way that reading text typically does not. Often when reading books, I “see” the environment very richly in my imagination, but I don’t hear the characters “in their own voices” nearly so much as when I hear a well-narrated book. Hearing a character “speak for himself” so to speak, is a terrific experience when the character is compelling and fun (or even challenging and vile).
How would you compare narrating an audiobook to acting?
Narrating an audiobook is very similar to stage acting, yet dissimilar to film acting, in that in the booth we can be very expressive and emotive, as we would on stage, whereas film actors are taught to be very physically restrained so that the observer will project his emotions and expectations on the actor. Narration is very freeing in that way – we can have a lot of fun and rarely do we have to “reign it in” since our physicality contributes to the authenticity in our voice.
Do you have any rituals you practice while you’re recording an audiobook? Certain foods you’ll eat or stay away from? How do you take care of your voice?
I have to stay away from spicy foods and such, and I can’t allow myself to get too hungry or my stomach will have half the dialogue in my recordings. I sometimes have to fill myself up with carbs which prevent rumblings.
My pre-recording ritual is to brush my teeth, use a nasal wash called Alkalol, and then have a bottle of water and a bottle of diluted pineapple juice in the booth, both of which I sip from throughout the recording.
How often do you listen to audiobooks?
I listen to audiobooks quite a lot, and began listening years before I ever began narrating. (Sometimes the narration of an audiobook can make an ordinary book terrific and sometimes it can make an excellent book unendurable.) It’s also just a little bit satisfying to hear some of the greatest luminaries among audiobook narrators having made some of the same mistakes I get so frustrated at myself for overlooking.
Do you think audiobooks will one day replace reading?
I don’t imagine that’s possible, given the advantages of physical reading: taking time to reflect, reviewing previous text, flipping back and forth physically, the convenience of maps and charts… Some people just don’t like audiobooks, of course, but even among those who do like them, there are so many occasions in which the audiobook narration isn’t what a listener would like (dual narrators, a boring or overexcited narrator, pacing too slow, etc.) so fundamentally the audiobook is one more option but not a replacement.
What’s next for you? Do you have a project you’re itching to work on?
I am currently working on a terrific epic fantasy trilogy and I might be working on a New York cop story.
Listen to Shawn narrate Torture Man here.