Our Exclusive Interview with Will Tulin, the audiobook narrator of Natural Enemies
What do you look for in a project? Is there a particular genre you gravitate towards? What initially drew you to Natural Enemies?
When considering a project, some of the most important aspects to me are great storytelling, and smart and realistic dialogue. Personally, I am always attracted to an element of darkness. I can’t say that I am particularly drawn to any one genre except to say that I am vastly more interested in performing novels as opposed to non-fiction. With Natural Enemies I knew I wanted to do it as soon as I read the book’s description. A young Manhattan couple being chased through the Colorado Rockies by creepy rednecks? Sign me up! As I read the novel, I soon realized that what Mr. Adler had written was an amazing exploration of two people who are deeply connected, yet complex in their thoughts, reactions and interactions with each other as they fight for survival in a foreign and unforgiving environment.
Tell us a bit about your background. What inspired you to become an audiobook narrator?
I have always been an actor on various levels, and have always loved books. Additionally, I have worked in the radio and voice-over industry for several years and have always felt comfortable in front of a microphone. It was only in the last couple of years that I really became aware of the resurgence of audiobooks and have since found that I love being able to do long form narration. I have had the opportunity to really dial into a character’s thoughts and motivations and hopefully translate those nuances through my voice.
How did you prepare for Natural Enemies specifically?
I can’t say that I did anything different in preparing for this one than I would do with any audiobook project. It’s been said before a million times by narrators and producers, but I want to reiterate, you simply have to read the book and absorb it as a reader first. Once you’ve taken the journey, the payoff in being able to get into the character’s heads throughout the process is extremely valuable. One of the particular challenges of Natural Enemies was that such a large portion of the text consists of two very complex characters who each present a wide range of inner and outer dialogue, and not a word is wasted. It was extremely important to really get into their space as much as I could.
How did Warren Adler’s descriptions influence your narration?
I can truthfully say they made me better at my craft. While his descriptions of the environment itself immersed me in the sights, sounds and smells of the Rockies, it is Mr. Adler’s ability to explore the good, bad and ugly of the human mind that gave the characters so much depth.
If you could be present during one scene in the novel, which one would it be?
Just one? For pure adrenaline, I would have to say the early chase scene. The tension, fear and sheer creepiness of it. I would also want to be there to sample one of those improvised wilderness meals. (Beavertail, anyone?)
What kind of book would you consider Natural Enemies to be?
I feel that the book could be seen as both a psychological thriller and an adventure novel.
What was the most unexpected thing about narrating audiobooks that you didn’t foresee going in?
As many narrators are both narrating and fully producing the books, I certainly underestimated the time and work that goes into the editing and mastering process.
Is there anything you learned about yourself or life in general after completing production of Natural Enemies?
Definitely. From the book itself, I was reminded of the common adage to never give up, but had to wonder at which point in the story that I myself might have simply said, “Enough… I can’t keep going.” I was also reminded of the idea that most of us are ultimately much stronger than we think we are.
What are the top three pieces of advice you would give to an aspiring voice-over artist?
First, don’t obsess about your voice. I don’t believe in the concept of good voices or bad voices for VO (voice over) work. The important thing is to learn how to use the voice you have to your best potential.
Second, take advantage of the wealth of online information, tips, and training at your fingertips. Watch tutorials, read blogs, and continue to learn as much as you can.
Third, building a career in VO, much like the production of an audiobook is like a marathon, not a sprint. You really have to be willing to put in both the work and the time.
Tell us a bit about your work flow. Do you work from home or do you commute to a studio?
I work from a home studio. As for workflow, I have to be a bit fluid with regard to scheduling recording time, as even with good sound blocking treatment, there are times when outside noise will simply not let you record. I almost never voice and edit during the same day. I’ll do a couple of days of narration sessions, then a couple of days of editing, and so on.
What were some of the joys and challenges of narrating Natural Enemies?
Working with primarily just the two characters, I would sometimes find that while I was in the flow, their voices would start to sound too close to each other, and I would need to stop, stretch, and re-set. Another challenge was in performing characters that had so many moments of panic and peril and I tried to make sure that their reactions and sound varied realistically from one particular challenge to another. My favorite moments were when editing, hearing a bit of dialogue I had performed maybe days earlier, and thinking, “I believe this character.”
You bring to life such variety in the two characters of this audiobook. It must be hard to articulate, but can you tell us about your process? How do you become these characters?
I appreciate the kind words. In addition, the process of the first read and taking the entire journey with the characters before performing them, in my case, I have to be able to see them. I tend to create very specific physical representations of the characters in my mind so I’m not just reading the dialogue, but I can see facial expressions and gestures that may or may not be in the text.
What inspires you?
Perseverance. Kindness. Stepping out of your comfort zone, especially in the service of others. All qualities I aspire to be better at. More to the subject of this chat, I have always been inspired by great storytelling in any form.
What do you think makes audiobooks so appealing? What does an audiobook offer that a book cannot?
I wonder how many people who love books in general have fond memories of being read to as a child. That could be a factor. I know that for some people, the process of reading feels more like a chore than a pleasure and for others, audiobooks are a great way to enjoy great books in a very different way. I would also say the flexibility and portability that today’s technology offers the experience is a huge part of the explosion of popularity of audiobooks.
How would you compare narrating an audiobook to acting?
If I’m acting in a film or a play, I have one character to worry about. You do your best to bring your own interpretation, but so many decisions are made for you. With an audiobook It is my job to find a way to breath a separate life into each character. There is also the element of control. Most of the audiobooks I’ve done are self-directed, so everything from voices, nuances, pacing… it’s up to me, which also gives me plenty of opportunity to over-think and nitpick sometimes!
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 wouldn’t say I have any rituals per se, but I make sure to have plenty of water on hand. Nothing sounds worse on mic than a dry mouth. I also avoid dairy within an hour of recording.
How often do you listen to audiobooks?
I always have at least one I’m listening to, mostly in the car. Earlier, you asked about advice for aspiring voice-over artists and I should mention that specifically for people who want to narrate, I would say listen to a lot of audiobooks. A new narrator can learn a lot of insight and technique by doing so.
What has the reaction to Natural Enemies been among your fans?
Very positive. Much of the feedback centers on being engrossed in the tension of the story and feeling pity for, even sometimes frustration with, the characters as they make both good and devastating decisions throughout their ordeal.
You also narrated another title by Warren Adler, Banquet Before Dawn. Tell us about that project. What was that experience like? How did you prepare for that book?
Another fantastic story. That was my first narration for Mr. Adler, and I believe I had just finished something much lighter. I remember from the first chapter of Banquet Before Dawn thinking “Oh, now here’s something I can really sink my teeth into!” Working on the book was incredibly challenging, given the large number of distinct characters and points of view, but was also very rewarding to do for that very same reason.
What’s next for you? Do you have a project you’re itching to work on?
I just completed the Eli Easton novel, A Second Harvest, and am currently producing the supernatural thriller Reluctant Gods by A.J. Aaron. I have really wanted to tackle a fully
produced audio-drama trilogy and have finally begun the development process with playwright, Rachel Lopez. I continue to audition and evolve and do what I can to be a better narrator today than I was yesterday.