Today we’re celebrating audiobook month with our exclusive interview with Mark Sando, the talented narrator of Trans-Siberian Express, an epic train thriller set aboard the Trans-Siberian Express from Warren Adler.
What do you look for in a project? Is there a particular genre you gravitate towards? What initially drew you to Trans-Siberian Express?
I look for a book that interests me personally. Initially, I thought nonfiction; such as history, science, and technology, etc., would be more in my wheelhouse than fiction. However, Trans-Siberian Express changed that for me. When I read the synopsis of the book and then reviewed the audition script, I knew this would be an exciting and challenging project to take on. I love history and have always been intrigued by the political and geographical aspects of the Soviet Union, so this was perfect.
How did you specifically prepare Trans-Siberian Express?
My preparation for Trans-Siberian Express was very similar to how I prepare for all my projects.
First, I read the entire book. Got the feel of the story and the characters; how the two evolve. Then as I began the recording process, I went through each chapter highlighting words for which I wanted to verify pronunciation; marked pauses, words or passages to emphasize; made notes about characters in specific scenes. With Trans-Siberian Express, the additional challenge was the correct pronunciation of Russian names and places. Fortunately, I had studied Russian when I was in college, so that helped a lot — despite it having been a long time ago.
What kind of novel would you consider Trans-Siberian Express?
An historical political drama full of intrigue, deception, and interesting characters. Very descriptive and definitely hard to put down!
What did you like most about the characters? Who would you say was your favorite and why?
I liked how diverse and interesting all of the characters were. Each one had a story and some thing in each of their stories tied them to one another in the book. Dr Alex Cousins was a favorite because of his background, his ties to Russia, his predicament and the moral dilemma he tried to rationalize and resolve. I also have to say Tania, the train’s Petrovina, was, oddly, another favorite. Tania took immense pride in her job, her role on the train — which was essentially her home. I guess I was just drawn to the ownership she took in her position and how it got her involved in the story and with so many other characters.
Was there a character who was hard to imitate? Perhaps their accent was difficult?
I didn’t have to incorporate any accents or attempt any character voicing. The people I worked with on this project preferred I use my natural voice so as to not take away from the book.
What were some of the joys and challenges of narrating the Trans-Siberian Express?
The initial challenge for me was that it was my first foray into fiction. Understanding how to present the drama of the story to the listener and, at the same time, try to do it in a way that I think the author intended. Trying to make the listener feel what it was like to be on the train, to be in Siberia during the winter. To voice Mr. Adler’s description of the cold, seemingly lifeless Siberian landscape and the smells and sounds of the train was challenging, yet lots of fun and definitely rewarding.
What did you learn from narrating Trans-Siberian Express?
I learned that I have to force myself to take breaks or I’ll run my voice ragged.
With Trans-Siberian Express, the way the reader is drawn ever deeper into the story and the many interesting characters, just made it very difficult for me to stop and take a break. Even though I had obviously read the book in its entirety to prepare, it became new again when I stepped into the recording booth. I just wanted to keep going!
What did you take away from Trans-Siberian Express?
I know now what I want to look for in future fiction projects. The type of story, style of writing, and interesting and conflicted characters. Trans-Siberian Express has those elements that very much appeal to me as a narrator.
Do you have any rituals you practice to take care of your voice? Certain foods you’ll eat or stay away from?
I do all my recording in the afternoon or early evening when my voice is warmed up and more consistent. I sip water all throughout the day. It’s all about the water. Beforehand, I’ll snack on apples. I learned very early that going into the booth on an empty stomach is not a good idea. Microphones are excellent at picking up all that stomach growling!
If I know I’ll be recording the next day, I make sure I get plenty of rest the night before as well as stay away from loud parties, concerts, any place or occasion where I have to yell or talk loudly. It puts a real strain on the vocal chords. Staying away from caffeine the morning of recording day can be really tough, though!
What was the most unexpected thing about narrating audiobooks that you didn’t foresee going in?
How much work it truly is.
I think most people feel if you have some acting chops and a decent voice, then you’re good to go. But there’s so much more to it than that, especially when you work out of your own home studio, as I do.
I liken it to an iceberg. The narration and the storytelling is what sits above the water in full view, what people “see”; but the technical work of editing and mastering is the much more massive bulk of work that lies below the surface — and it’s so key to the finished product.
But I would also add that another unexpected thing for me is that audiobook narration has been so much more satisfying than I ever anticipated it would be.
What inspires you?
I find inspiration in music and books that move me emotionally. Venturing outside my comfort zone inspires me greatly, as well.
What’s next for you? Do you have a project you’re working on?
I’m currently working on a book about astronauts and cosmonauts who died during the Space Race in the 60’s. I love this topic because I was a young boy at that time and followed the Space Race fervently, so I’m thoroughly enjoying this project. As for a future project, I would really like to try a comedy. I could have a lot of fun with that.
Listen to Mark narrate Trans-Siberian Express here.
Mark retired in 2015 after working in engineering for thirty-seven years for an aerospace company. Six months after he retired, he found himself involved in audiobook narration, even though it was never a remote consideration in his retirement plan! He’s currently working on his seventh book. He lives in Burnsville, Minnesota, a southern suburb of Minneapolis. Mark has three daughters, four grandchildren, and a black Lab named Kobi.