Monday, April 23, 2012
Interview with Audible narrator Amanda Ronconi
Actress Amanda Ronconi has narrated each of my books for Audible.com, earning rave reviews from happy listeners for her wry, funny portrayal of my leading ladies. A native of upstate New York, Amanda is a regular performer in New York City’s theatre scene and independent films. Most recently, she appeared as murderer Susan Polk on Deadly Sins: Greed on Discovery ID. (Something that doesn’t scare her husband at all, by the way.)
I’m a little embarrassed that it took me this long to contact Amanda. But with NICE GIRLS DON’T BITE THEIR NEIGHBORS’ recent addition to Audible’s Biggest Romances of the Year (So Far) List, it seemed like a good time. It was insanely fun, but strange, to talk to Amanda over the phone and hear her voice say words I hadn’t written for her. Here’s a transcript of our conversation:
Molly: “I just wanted to thank you again for the wonderful job you do with my characters. I can’t tell you how many Facebook posts and e-mails I get from readers who say that you are the perfect voice for Jane, and that your voice is exactly how they pictured Jane speaking. Clearly. you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing.”
Amanda: “That’s always a relief.”
Molly: “Exactly. So, walk us through the recording process.”
Amanda: “First I get a copy of the manuscript. I read it once just like anybody would read a book, just to get a sense of the story and funny things that happen and different characters. And then I read it through a second time, chapter by chapter, and that’s when I write down all of the characters, new characters, and what happens in each chapter. That’s when I start thinking about voices. The third time, I read the book out loud and I try new voices. Reading it out loud makes me notice words and phrases that I may not have noticed before. For instance, with you, Miss Pop Culture.”
Amanda: “There are so many references I’m unfamiliar with because I grew up without a TV.”
Amanda: “Yeah, there are these giant holes in my pop culture knowledge, where I just wonder, what is that? I have to run to the computer look up what different things are… And then, I go to the studio and it’s just me and the engineer. He sits in the booth, behind the glass and I am at the mic. And I start reading. We usually do four to five hour sessions, with some breaks. It takes about two hours of recording time to end up with one finish hour of recording, with mistakes, different takes and stopping and starting. I think your books usually take three or four days.
Molly: “That’s good. I envisioned some process that took weeks and weeks and I felt a little sorry for you living in my head for that long.”
Amanda: “From the time I get the manuscript to the time we finish recording, it does take a few weeks, but that usually depends on how many new (characters) you’ve put in and new voices I have to try.”
Molly: "After reading the book that many times, is it still fun? I would imagine at that point, it would feel a little monotonous."
Amanda: “Not really. The middle part, when I’m at home reading it the second or third time, that’s when I have to force myself to focus on any book- not just yours-
I know what’s going to happen, so I have to work at it. But once you get into the studio, there’s a performance element. I’m there performing for the engineer and the mic, basically. That’s the most fun part. You get to do all of the stuff you’ve been practicing. And then you act like you didn’t do any preparation at home, that it just happens naturally, because you’re that good.”
Molly: “How do you come with the subtle differences in each voice? Clearly, most of my characters are Southern, so there’s a certain amount of accent there. But I can always tell who’s speaking, whether it’s Jane, Jolene or Mo.”
Amanda: “I have an image in my head of who each person is, especially the main characters. I have a clear picture of what they look like, maybe a hint of their tone of voice. Jolene, for instance, because she’s a werewolf, I see her as having a puppy-like quality, a sort of breathy panting. I think about how eager and happy she is, at the same time being this totally sexy woman. So it’s Marilyn Monroe meets puppy, maybe. That’s how I try to figure out. It’s a lot of fun to try to make them talk to each other, even though I’m the one who’s making them do it.
There are certainly times where if you heard the un-edited recording of me having to stop and start and saying, ‘Wait, that was the same person two times in a row.’ Or ‘I think that was the wrong voice and I’m not making it sound like those two characters are actually TALKING to each other.’ It’s more difficult than you’d think. And there are definitely times when I consult with my husband, who’s an actor and director. I’ll ask, OK, there’s this cop and I’ve already done a cop voice in this way, how else could I do it? I have to start branching out after a certain amount of time.”
Molly: “So what is the most embarrassing thing I have ever made you say?”
Amanda: “Here is the situation, I often record in the evenings. It’s just me and the engineer, who is usually a guy. There are some women engineers, but it’s mostly guys. And they’re nice guys, but still, when you get a sex scene it’s always – Maybe I’m a prude, but I feel like, ‘Oh, god, it’s just me and you, and I’m reading this and I’m trying to be cool.’ I don’t turn as bright red and I used to, but just generally, it is a situation that is for me, embarrassing. And you’re so good at that edge of – yes, you write sex scenes and they’re good. But there’s also humor in them and you recognize that sex scenes can be ridiculous. So you’ve helped me many times, through that,"
Molly: “I’m so glad.”
Amanda: “For me, it’s just the situation is more embarrassing, not the things you’re making me say.”
Molly: “Oh, good, so I haven’t scarred you for life, or anything.”
Amanda: “Not at all, you have lifted me out of the embarrassment with humor.”
Molly: “If it makes you feel any better, my mom and my grandmother read my books, so when I write those scenes, I’m picturing having to look them in the eye at the next holiday dinner- knowing they know what I’ve written. I ask myself, will I be able to face Grandma at Thanksgiving? And if the answer is no, I go back and delete."
Amanda: “That’s actually a pretty good measure.
Molly: “With Mom, I don’t worry so much. She’s actually the one who introduced me to the genre. She’s a lifetime romance reader. I used to steal her romance novels when I was 13 or 14 and was probably reading things I shouldn’t have back then."
Amanda: “I think I read plenty I shouldn’t have at that age. But my grandmother at the age of 95, started reading all of these romance novels that she hadn’t read before. I would find CRAZY things on her bookshelf. She’d get them at the second-time-around book shop and grab a whole bunch of them. And boy, oh, boy. There was some racy stuff in there.
Molly: “What do read in your spare time or do you have spare time to read?”
Amanda: “There are times when I’ve been working on a project when my brain or my eyes feel too burnt out to read for pleasure, but well, I spent a good deal of time reading the whole Game of Thrones series. Again, I didn’t have a TV until recently, so I obviously didn’t have HBO. But I started watching the series on an airplane. You could watch the first three episodes. So when I got home I was jonesing for Game of Thrones. And then I realized, ‘Wait, they started off as books!’ So I read all that I could and just didn’t get anything done.”
Molly: “We call that ‘reading hangover.’ When you spend all night reading a book you love and then you can’t function then next day. When the last Harry Potter book came out, so many of my friends were all bleary-eyed and draggy because we’d read for twelve hours and had no sleep.”
Amanda: “None of the dishes are done. You do the bare minimum of anything else. I get really angry with my husband for talking to me.”
Molly: “So when it comes to reading the audiobooks, is there a genre you prefer to read?"
Amanda: “Well, I definitely enjoy comedy, which is why you have been such a treat. And first-person stuff is great for me, because then you can actually talk like the person. My goal in reading audiobooks is to try sound as much like a real person as possible, which is more successful at times than others. But when you get first-person stuff with great characters like you have, it’s just so fun to try to talk like the person talks.”
Molly: “Are there any accents you would like me to stay away from, for future reference?”
Amanda: “I don’t know. I had to read a book recently- this is the thing, as an actor- I’m white. I have red hair. A pale person. Generally, as an actor in theatre, I’ve only done Irish parts, German, English. And I recently had to do a Jamaican accent for this book and I was panicking. I’ve never even thought about having to do that accent. Why would anyone ask me to? So now, go for it. Anything. I know I can handle anything.”
Molly: “Nothing scares you. Got it. So do you have any questions for me?
Amanda: “How close is Jane to you?”
Molly: “Very, very close. I was pretty shameless in how much of my personality I injected into Jane. I’d written a book before and it was just a miserable failure and will never see the light of day. And it was because I put nothing of myself in the character. It was years and years before I tried again. And I don’t know how much you know about my background. But we were living in this apartment, which we called The Apartment of Lost Souls, because it was where small electronics went to die, while we were building our house. And every night something else would break, whether it was the dishwasher vomiting soap onto the floor or the washing machine smoking. It was either write a book or go crazy.
Buffy and Angel were off the air and I was sort of in mourning. And I decided I was going to write a vampire story, and it was going to be the most embarrassing vampire story ever. I wanted to find the most humiliating way possible to be turned. When I wrote humor columns for my local paper, it was the columns in which I screwed something up that were really popular. People loved hearing about me humiliating myself. And the thing is, It’s not hyperbole. I really do find myself in those situations, frequently. Whether it’s because of being clumsy or just having no social filter. I could see myself being the person who was mistaken for a deer and shot and then turned into a vampire.
And one night, I wrote this 16-page first chapter about Jane being fired, mistaken for a deer and shot and turned. David came home in the early morning from working the night shift. I was so excited and I explained this whole scenario to him. And he was alarmed. But he just patted me on the head, and said ‘Whatever makes you happy, baby.’ and went to bed. We are frighteningly similar in our clumsiness and our social awkwardness and our love of books, and of course, our ability to find ourselves in completely ridiculous situations. Though obviously, Jane’s situations are much more dangerous than mine.”
Amanda: “I remember the first time I got the first book. And I usually do a lot of teen stuff and when I saw it was grown-ups, I was so thrilled. And when I read it, I just laughed out loud. I think that’s such an accomplishment. To put something out there and have random strangers laughing at it is amazing.”
Molly: “Aw, thank you. I am told I disrupt a lot of marriages.”
Amanda: “In a good way?”
Molly: “Not sure. I’ve been told that some women who read me are not allowed to read my books in bed anymore because the bed shakes when they laugh and it keeps their husbands awake.”
Amanda: “Nice. Well, we have a couple of things in common. And I always thought that if I got to talk to you, I would tell you about them. I have a good deal of family from Kentucky. My mom is from Kentucky.”
Molly: “Really? That explains why you do the accent so well.”
Amanda: “I will say it this way, because I’m a Yankee, but she’s from Louie-ville. And then I have family in Lexington. And my middle name is Duvall. And you picked Duvall for Mo’s last name. When I saw that, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh!’”
Molly (whispers) “The author is stalking me.”
Amanda: “Well, it’s a family name, from my Kentucky family. And don’t you have brothers and sisters?”
Molly: “I am the oldest of three. My sister’s name is Manda and my brother’s name is Matt.
Amanda: “Well, I have a brother named Matt.”
Molly: “That’s pretty wild.”
Amanda: “So do you think that you’ll keep most of your books set in Kentucky?”
Molly: “Well, it’s funny you mention that.”
(Tape cuts off as Molly and Amanda discuss super-secret plans for books in the works.)
To hear some of my collaborations with Amanda, go to the Audible website.