I have a secret ambition: to be a cartoon voice. Seriously. I’m in awe of voice talent, probably because in general I think my voice is rather high and cartoonish. (Hence the desire to be a cartoon voice.) I tell you all this because when Jeffrey Kafer contacted me and told me he was a audio book voice talent, I was immediately intrigued! I wondered how someone becomes a voice talent…. What they think of the books they read…. and I asked him that and more. I know you’ll enjoy this interview!
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to the audio book world.
I grew up as an avid reader, thanks to my parents. I also loved listening to books on tape and the old radio shows such as Lights Out and The Shadow (but no, I’m not that old). There was always something fascinating to me about audio performance. I spent 23 years in theater and majored in audio in college and eventually my love of performance, audio, and books all came together in audio book narration.
Today, I record all manner of projects from my home studio. My specialty is audio books, but I’ve also done numerous commercials, e-learning narration, real estate tours, etc. But I always come back to audio books. Although they’re the least financially lucrative of all voice over work, I find myself drawn to them. I’ve narrated 10 books in my career with 6 of them being this year alone.
What are some of the books you’ve narrated?
I’ve narrated Kronosby Jeremy Robinson and Unconventional by J.J. Hebert for Podiobooks.com. I also have a couple of other books up there, but I’ll let readers find them if they want to; They were recorded when I was just learning and I used a $5 karaoke microphone!
I’ve also recorded books for “real” publishers such as The Cornerstone by Randall Platt and 8b By John Scura. I’ve also done some non-fiction and public domain book recordings.
How does one become an audio book talent?
By sheer will and insanity. Everyone’s path into audio book narration is different. Mine involved theater and audio production. Some people transition from radio into voice over work. But the best advice I can give is to take acting classes. The best audio book narrators are actors. Scott Brick and Jim Dale are both classically trained Shakespearean actors, and it shows in their performances. And since a book is essentially a one-person play, that narrator needs to have the acting chutzpah to take on all the roles.
How is a voice talent typically chosen for a book?
It’s really about matching the style of writing with the narration ability of the reader. Even if the story isn’t written in the 1st person, the narrative has a certain voice of it’s own. Chances are, if the protagonist is a grizzled 20-year veteran of the police force, burned out and corrupt, the narrative structure reflects that. So the right voice for the narrator would be one that can bring out that emotion. If the books is told from a 1st person perspective, that rule of thumb holds true even more so.
On a simpler level, the main character’s gender is almost always the same gender as the narrator. Likewise, that main character’s voice is usually the natural voice of the reader, or a close derivative. This is done for ease of narration, stamina, and naturalness.
Favorite projects you’ve worked on?
The better the book, the more I enjoy narrating it. If the writing is clear and I know exactly what tone is coming through, then I know I’ve nailed it. And that is a great feeling. “Unconventional” by J.J. Hebert has this quality as does “8b” by John Scura. These books are very different in their narrative style, and yet both are so clear and confident, that they’ve been a joy to record.
That said, I love all my audio book children equally. I just love some of them more equally than others 🙂
I enjoy the work of Harlen Coben (but he should never be allowed to read his own audio books) and Brad Meltzer as well as Steve Martini, Dan Brown, Steve Berry, and David Baldacci. It should be obvious from this list that I don’t go for “heavy” reading. I’m well aware that some of your readers will click their tongues and poo-poo such commercial writers. But I firmly believe that literature is a personal preference. You read whatever speaks to you and gets an emotional reaction. If Ayn Rand or Tom Wolfe churns your butter, then power to you.
Best book you’ve ever read.
It’s a toss-up between A Boys Life by Robert McCammon and Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. Oddly enough, the books that I think of as being my favorites are ones from my teenage years. While I haven’t read them in years, these books are the ones that I remember the most.
What are some of your biggest accomplishments (book related or not) and career goals?
Wow, that’s a tough one. Certainly having a wonderful wife and 2 lovely small children is my biggest accomplishment. Career-wise, winning the Voicey Award for Best New Voice in 2008 was my biggest career achievement. But that seems so shallow! So I won some award. Big deal. I honestly feel that my biggest accomplishments are yet to come. I’ve just scratched the surface of this wonderful career.
Where can we learn more about you?
Anyone bored enough to want to learn more about me can visit my website at http://JeffreyKafer.com. I’ve got my reels and the covers of the books I’ve done as well as some testimonials. I’ve also got a handy little rate request tool that will give you a rate quote for almost any type of project, including audio books. Oh, and they can also follow me on twitter or visit my blog.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I like pie.