Our Exclusive Interview with Stevie Puckett, the Narrator of Immaculate Deception and Death of a Washington Madame

June is audiobook month and we are celebrating all month long! We are shining the spotlight on Stevie Puckett, the very talented narrator of two of Warren Adler’s Fiona Fitzgerald mysteries: Immaculate Deception and Death of a Washington Madame.

What do you look for in a project? Is there a particular genre you gravitate towards? What initially drew you to Immaculate Deception?

The first thing I look for is good writing that takes me there. I look for characters with interesting perspectives who I come to care about as the story develops. I seem to be gravitating to mystery and romance, which is a complete surprise to me because I originally planned to stick with nonfiction. It is because of Warren Adler and his team that I ventured into a fiction audition at all! I was drawn in by the first scene of Immaculate Deception. I already cared about and admired Fiona from an earlier book in the series that I was honored to narrate, Death of a Washington Madame, and I could not believe what Fiona was considering in Immaculate Deception…I was totally aghast! I was hooked and had to know what happened.

Tell us a bit about your background. What inspired you to become an audiobook narrator?

Love of podcasts led me to audiobooks actually. I became a huge fan myself long before I gave narrating a try. Robert Petkoff is my favorite narrator and I listened to him and many other narrators as I enjoyed audiobooks over the years. It finally occurred to me to give it a go myself.

How did you prepare for Immaculate Deception specifically?

I read through the book on my own and made notes. Then I went over certain sections of dialogue with my voice acting and dialect coach, Jeff Nokes. I watched YouTube videos of people speaking with the dialects I needed for Immaculate Deception (Irish, Trinidadian, Brooklyn, and Cajun to name a few). I read about dialects for certain regions too. And the vocabulary, my goodness the vocabulary! Pronunciation guides were my friends for this one for sure.

How did Warren Adler’s descriptions influence your narration?

It was like having a director in the room! It often occurred to me that he was writing with speech in mind. The words flowed from the tongue so effortlessly and the emotional content was tangible.

If you could be present during one scene in the novel, which one would it be? 

Several come to mind but I would love to be a fly on the wall when Fiona and Charles Rome met at the restaurant across the bridge. What a chess match!

What kind of book would you consider Immaculate Deception to be?

It’s the kind of book that will reside in the memory banks for years to come, for the complex plot weaving and thoughtful distinctions that are brought to the forefront. The characters and how they are not what they seem is extremely sticky too.

What was the most unexpected thing about narrating audiobooks that you didn’t foresee going in?

The unique combination of physical, mental, and emotional stamina along with technical savviness required to produce an audiobook. It’s a marathon and a delightful, if exhausting, challenge.

Is there anything you learned about yourself or life in general after completing production of Immaculate Deception?

It was a continual learning process in many ways. I learned more about myself as a narrator for sure. I certainly pushed beyond my capabilities and am a better performer for it. About life in general, I learned about courage from Fiona. I really like her style of feminine toughness.

What are the top three pieces of advice you would give to an aspiring voice-over artist?

First, choose your projects carefully. You are building a body of work that will represent you for years to come. Second, get coaches! Choose them carefully too and don’t be afraid to use a multi-coach approach. I prefer one-on-one coaching rather than classes to get where you want to be faster without the distractions of everyone else in the room. Each coach has their expertise so take charge of your personal curriculum in a way that builds up your unique style. Finally, remember it’s a slow build. Keep following those hunches and taking that next little step. It will all add up!

Tell us a bit about your work flow. Do you work from home or do you commute to a studio?

I have a home studio. It’s a big closet with a great noise floor! I’ve beefed it up with audio panels and mic positioning to very good effect. I travel a lot too and will rent studio space when I’m away from my home studio. I’ve been tweaking my workflow a lot over the past year, always looking for the best output. Currently, I’ve settled into punch and roll, recording the whole book chapter by chapter, then full edit, and then pickups. At first I was doing all the editing myself and would edit as I read. That worked too but I sure was slow switching from performance hat to editing hat so often. My plan for this, my second year, is to streamline and pick up the pace.

What were some of the joys and challenges of narrating Immaculate Deception?

The challenge for me is always getting recording started. I can research forever! It is hard to know when to stop and just dive in and record. I can also edit and tweak forever. When to stop is the challenge. Yet, there is joy in completion! I love getting it done. Producing an audiobook feels like a wonderful accomplishment to me.

You bring to life such a variety of characters in this audiobook. It must be hard to articulate, but can you tell us about your process? How do you become these characters?

The writing is the key! My process is to trust the author and let myself flow into the mood he has set and the characters he’s created. I really don’t think about “my” interpretation, instead I try and follow the author’s intention.

What inspires you?

Answering these questions inspires me. I have so much to share! The creative process is inspiring to me. I love to see a story idea develop into something that can be passed along and experienced by others who are interested.

What do you think makes audiobooks so appealing? What does an audiobook offer that a book cannot?

Audiobooks offer a whole other dimension of connection to the story. It is just a different animal. To me, the greatest benefit of audiobooks is the potential for enlivening the mundane parts of life. With an audiobook, my hands are free to work while my mind travels into the story. I love the experience.

How would you compare narrating an audiobook to acting?

Narrating an audiobook is a form of acting where the only way to develop the nuance of the story is through the words and the voice. Sure, I’m standing at my mic and making certain facial expressions, gestures, and body movements as the story moves along but the only piece that is captured is the voice. It is surprising and delightful to me the variety and pertinence of emotion that can be conveyed with the voice alone. This is acting, but restrained and lovely in its simplicity.

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?

Right by my mic, I keep three things: water with a splash of apple cider vinegar and no ice, minty lip balm, and mint chewing gum. Each recording day while I set up, I chew some gum. Then when my station is ready I do a few body and neck stretches. Next I rid the gum and put on lip balm and start warming up my voices with a few crazy sounds and tongue twisters. I try to stay loose and relaxed at the mic and push record, then off we go!

How often do you listen to audiobooks?

I nearly always have an audiobook on cue on my phone. I listen almost daily to either an audiobook or podcast or both for an hour at least. On one of the several road trips I tend to take each year I will finish a book or two. For the past several years, I complete 12-20 audiobooks a year.

Do you think audiobooks will one day replace reading?

I believe there is a surprising potential for that! Ears get tired though and silence is so rare and lovely. I think there will always be a least some time spent reading. As voice interaction becomes more and more the norm with our machines and computers, I think reading time will continue to be prized by many.

What has the reaction to Immaculate Deception been among your fans?

Most who know me will express some level of surprise about my narrating Immaculate Deception…and I do love to surprise them! They are surprised that I got to narrate a book by a writer of the caliber of Warren Adler, and so was I.

You also narrated another Fiona Fitzgerald mystery by Warren Adler, Death of a Washington Madame. Tell us about that project. What was that experience like? How did you prep for that book?

That was the book that started me off on the road to narrating fiction. It was scary as hell! I would not have done it without the encouragement of Warren Adler’s team. I prepped by getting several coaching sessions under my belt before diving too deep and I took lots of script notes.

What’s next for you? Do you have a project you’re itching to work on?

I have several books in the cue so my work is cut out for me for a while. I’m excited to start outsourcing the editing and proofing parts of my work more and more and picking up the pace. I want to become better at my craft and I love the ongoing learning. I look forward to the next book in Jinx Schwartz’s Hetta Coffey Mystery Series (comedy/chick lit) and the next book in Pamela Morsi’s historic romance series Territory Trysts.

Listen to Stevie narrate Immaculate Deception and Death of a Washington Madame.