We’re shining a spotlight on Lynn Norris, the multi-talented audiobook narrator of Warren Adler’s highly-charged political thriller The Casanova Embrace.
What do you look for in a project? Is there a particular genre you gravitate towards? What initially drew you to The Casanova Embrace?
Generally, when I’m reading the audition material for an audiobook project, I’m looking for a writing flow that I am immediately drawn to read out loud. That can sometimes be tricky, even with a fantastic story. I’m also looking for characters that capture my imagination and settings I can immediately visualize. I’m regularly hired to read romance, but as a reader, I love a wide spectrum of books – for instance, I devour all the Jack Reacher stories though I’d never be appropriate for narrating them – so I can’t say there is any one genre I’m drawn to – it’s more the hero of the story that I look to relate to. I’m a fan of quirky heroes (male or female). The material for The Casanova Embrace was the first scenes, when we get to meet Dobbs and I immediately started reading it out loud. Good writing just inspires that.
Tell us a bit about your background. What inspired you to become an audiobook narrator?
I’ve really been drawn to acting and singing all my life. In grade and high school, college and then in NYC. I’m a classically trained opera singer, but I’ve sung all kinds of different music, and been on stage a good amount singing opera, concerts, cabarets and doing improv. I also had a substantial day job in financial tech as a business analyst helping firms build financial software, because NYC is an expensive place to live. A few years ago I decided that my day job wasn’t making me happy and I wanted to pursue voiceover. So I literally just flung myself at it (in direct opposition to the “don’t quit your day job” advice everyone gives performers). I’ve been able to do animation and corporate narration, explainer videos, e-learning and commercial work as well as audiobooks and whatever I’m voicing, I’m in my happy place. But with audiobooks, I get to play more than one role, and that certainly makes me happy! I also remember a long time ago sitting in a hospital room with a friend who was going through cancer surgery and reading a Stephen King novel to him. He told me later it was something he looked forward to every day during that hard time. It kinda just stuck with me, you know? To maybe be a bright spot in a hard day and help someone escape their world for a bit, that is difficult to pass up.
What was the most unexpected thing about narrating audiobooks that you didn’t foresee going in?
That there would be vast opportunity to use my accent and dialect chops. I just finished a book where the bad guy aliens got to have Russian accents and am working on a couple now with Southern accents. I guess I just hadn’t had enough experience prior to jumping into narrating and listening to audiobooks to realize that would be the case and I love it!
Is there anything you learned about yourself or life in general after completing production of The Casanova Embrace?
That I really like working with an audio engineer! Ha! I worked with ARS Audio because the deadline for publication was tight and I love having any opportunity to work with Amanda Rose Smith who is an extremely talented engineer and who lets me just be the “talent.”
What are the top three pieces of advice you would give to an aspiring voice-over artist?
First, the advice I give to aspiring vocal performers of any kind – singers as well – is that as an artist, your craft is never “done.” You should seek out opportunities to work with respected teachers in the craft and always be exploring and stretching and trying new things. Your art grows as you do, so you never want to stifle that growth or stagnate. No matter how successful you are, you benefit from continuing to learn and explore. Second, find a TRIBE. It doesn’t have to a big group, but surround yourself with people who are successful in their own right, endeavor to understand you, hold your feet to the fire, celebrate your successes, sit with you in your disappointments and encourage you along the way. And then be that person to them as well. There is nothing more valuable than the counsel of people with shared experiences who genuinely wish nothing but success for you. Third, be flexible. If something isn’t working in your VO business, try something else, change it up, look for new ways to accomplish your goals. There is no “one way” to have a career in voice-over. Do what works for you. Seek out guidance. And don’t punish yourself if it isn’t what works for someone else who seems to “have it all.” Adapt, learn, grow.
Tell us a bit about your workflow. Do you work from home or do you commute to a studio?
My workflow is pretty simple. I read the book, I make a character list, note important things about them that will inform the performance, make any notes or highlights that I will need “in the moment” of performing the book (things like “he whispered” or “she shouted” AFTER the line, which I’ll need to see to whisper or shout as needed). And that’s it. I’ve been fortunate to be able to both work from home, and from a studio. I have a home studio and have done a number of titles wearing every hat – narrator, director, engineer, editor – but I’ve had the luxury of working with the fabulous ARS Audio studio in Brooklyn and at Edge Studio in NYC as well where all I have to do is show up and perform. Which is truly lovely, as I mentioned.
What were some of the joys and challenges of narrating The Casanova Embrace?
I think the conversations between Marie and Eduardo were probably the most fun and the most challenging – switching back and forth between French and Chilean accents as well as switching gender was a first (but hopefully not the last) for me. I had a couple coachings before recording to be sure I had the nuances down and my coach gave me something to keep in mind – “you can always stop and do another run at any line that feels off” – which took the pressure off of getting it exactly perfect at every turn. Ha! Also, no person speaks with a flawless, textbook accent, so it was ok to let the accent be organic.
You bring to life such a variety of characters in The Casanova Embrace. Can you tell us about your process? How do you become these characters?
I got some sage advice early in my training on audiobooks, which was to “cast” the book. Meaning to decide who would play these people in my “movie”. Are they my college roommate? Maggie Smith? The guy next door? So as I’m preparing the book, I decide who each of these people are and then embody my “version” of those people. Maybe a character doesn’t SOUND like Maggie Smith, but has the same affect and demeanor so I’m envisioning that part of her character as I perform. And then it’s all about acting choices and layers of personalities. When I have a clear picture in my mind of who these people are to me, it is so much easier to bring the person to life than if I’ve only found something superficial, like “this person has a British accent.”
What inspires you?
Kindness. Keeping your word. Owning your mistakes. Willingness to grow. Smart, capable, leadership. Doing things for others, even if it is something small. When my family went camping as a kid, my Dad would tell us we had to leave the campsite better than how we found it. Flawed human beings endeavoring to be good human beings are super inspiring to me.
What do you think makes audiobooks so appealing? What does an audiobook offer that a book cannot?
Audiobooks are like movies in that they are someone else’s presentation of the author’s truth. And I think that just like with movies, we like to sit back and be entertained and surprised. I feel like in every culture there is the ancient role of “storyteller” – that person whom children or whole communities gathered around and listened to, that’s always been revered. So listening to someone present a story that someone else (or they) crafted, we’re still participating in that history. Humans tell each other stories.
Which part of The Casanova Embrace did you enjoy narrating the most? Why?
I think my first reaction is “all of it” because as with any well-written story, it’s a journey. But after a little more thought, I think I enjoyed finding humanity and truth in the hardest scene with Eduardo and Uno. I know it’s weird to say I enjoyed it and maybe enjoy is a slight mischaracterization, but it’s an ugly scenario, and I believe intentionally not meant for the reader/listener to take pleasure in, but the author’s truth and Eduardo’s truth required me to remove my personal reaction to the scene from my performance of the scene. I had to find the humanity in these two characters and leave Lynn outside the booth.
How would you compare narrating an audiobook to acting?
I think narrating an audiobook IS acting. And it’s also directing. And scene design. And cinematography. And theater. The author gives me everything I need and I get to make it come to life in a new way, like a one-woman show! For me, the best moments of watching an actor are when I as an audience member forget that person is an actor and believe that person is the character. What a luxury that as a narrator I get to be ALL the characters. So in order to have the listener believe the world of the story and be transported by it, I have to act, not just read.
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 really don’t have any specific rituals, other than being well rested and making sure to eat something so that my stomach doesn’t audibly rumble when I’m in the booth. Unless always having Ricolas on hand counts as a ritual (I think of them more as an addiction! ha!) I’m a lifelong singer so vocal health is sort of second nature at this point. I try to avoid making choices in a performance that are hard to sustain like a raspy or overly tight character vocal choice (though I’ve done that occasionally and paid for it because I’ll have to stop and reset or drink some water, etc). But usually my brain wears out before my voice will in a long session. ha!
How often do you listen to audiobooks?
Before about 2 years ago, I didn’t really listen to many. I love to read – I love to hold a book in my hands and let my mind be drawn into the world that the book paints for my imagination. But now, I listen to them all the time. In part because listening to fabulously talented narrators can be a master class in the craft of how to do it well, and in part because it allows me to be regularly studying that craft while I do other things like exercising or commuting to sessions, but also in part because I get to experience fantastic stories, that I otherwise might not have time to sit down and read, told to me by the world’s best storytellers.
Do you think audiobooks will one day replace reading?
I don’t think reading will be replaced, but I imagine audio content of many kinds will continue to grow. I’ve read articles that say multi-tasking is actually bad for our ability to focus, but having the option to listen to a story while driving or making dinner or doing the laundry is an awesome way to enhance those “chores” with entertainment. And it is a great way for people who wouldn’t otherwise be drawn to sitting down with a good book to still experience great writing.
What do you hope fans will take away from The Casanova Embrace?
I hope they’ll enjoy it for the excellent writing and recognize the humanity in these characters that do things that are disagreeable or uncomfortable or seemingly desperate in the course of trying to get what they want.
What’s next for you? Do you have a project you’re itching to work on?
I have a number of titles from indie authors in queue, which is always great. And I’m Mackenzie in Dead Air, which is both a podcast that will be on iTunes and a serial novel from SerialBox coming out in August and has been a huge amount of fun to perform. I’m loving the appearance of musical audiobooks on the scene with Spin: The Rumpelstiltskin Musical and I hope it is something that takes off and grows because that would be SO much fun to be a part of!
Listen to Lynn’s performance of Warren Adler’s The Casanova Embrace here.