I am so glad that Summer Shorts has returned again this year for another round of wonderful short narrations recorded by the best of the best audiobook narrators in the business. This year I have the good fortune of featuring John Lee, the multi-award winning narrator of over 400 titles to date. To prepare for his visit here during Poetry Week, I asked him a few questions.
Literate Housewife: How did you get into the audiobook industry? Did you have any idea at the time that you would one day have recorded over 400 titles?
John Lee: All actors are looking for ways to make a living doing what they love. We audition for plays and films and commercials. I had some experience doing voice work for movies in what’s called post production, all that stuff they do to a movie that makes it sound and look as good as it can. I did some work for a friend who then recommended me to an audiobook publisher, I auditioned, got the job (it was Kazuo Ishiguro’s When We Were Orphans). Slowly that became two books, then four, then eight and now it’s the bulk of my work. It’s like a lot of businesses, the more people encounter your work and like it, the more work you get, though it did take a long time to get enough work to make a living doing it. I thought at first it would be a great way to make at least a part of my income while I did all those other things (which I still do) and I had no idea it would become the thing I am known for. The notion that I would do hundreds of books would have been the farthest thing from my mind.
LH: Do you consider yourself to be a reader? Do you have a favorite spot to read when you read for pleasure?
JL: When I read for pleasure I mostly find a shady place in the yard of our house in Los Angeles though one of my favorite places in the world for anything is the Huntington Library and Gardens. Whenever I go to Los Angeles County Museum of Art or to the Hammer Museum I take a book. The Hammer does a wonderful celebration of Bloomsday, June 16th, the day on which Joyce’s Ulysses takes place and I will be performing in that again this year with a great group of actors and musicians.
LH: You have worked on many audiobooks that in print would be called bricks. I’ve personally listened to and loved The Pillars of the Earth. You’ve recorded other Follet novels as well as huge classics such as The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers. Those projects are certainly commitments. When you’re beginning a project like that, does it require different preparation? How do you maintain your enthusiasm keep for stories and characters for the length of time it requires to record those novels?
JL: Ah, The Pillars Of The Earth. What a great time I had reading that one. It’s still among the books I recommend to people when they ask for something to listen to. The “bricks”, such as Monte Cristo, are a bit like well known tourists spots. I always say to people who complain about the crowds at well know places, such as Florence, there’s a reason people come here – it’s very beautiful and the art is fantastic. There’s a reason we are still reading Dumas, even if the size of the thing is daunting. These are very good books. Preparing for a large book is different because the likelihood is that the cast of characters is larger and the variation in tone and pace and pitch for each voice has to be even greater than in shorter books because the listener has to be able to grab a hold of a character through the voice and tracking so many voices is complicated. I have been very fortunate in the long books I have recorded. The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers, James Joyce’s Ulysses, Pillars Of The Earth: I am as keen as the listener to know what happens next, even when I know what happens next. One of the basic elements needed to do this job is stamina and the longer the book, the greater the stamina. I usually build in some shorter days on long books just to break them up.
LH: When you’re not recording, where would we be most likely to find John Lee and what would he be doing?
JL: Where would you find me when I am not recording audiobooks? Quite often at the library or in a book shop, I really am a fanatical reader, mostly of non fiction. I still perform on stage and last Fall I was playing King Henry in “The Lion In Winter” in Sierra Madre. I also write plays and screenplays and I am currently involved in casting a play of mine, “Frankincense”, at Pacific Resident Theatre here in Venice, Los Angeles. It’s about money and the value of things and it has transvestitism, morphine addiction and a gun that most certainly goes off.
LH: You recorded a poem for this year’s Summer Shorts event. Why did you select a poem of short fiction or non-fiction? Why did you select this particular poem?
JL: Why did I pick a poem for the shorts project? I’ve always thought that poems are to be read aloud. The audio world allows us to get back to that. I chose Yeats’s “The Stolen Child” because his poems are dazzling and because my parents are Irish and I like to use the accent they used and that I grew up with, the accent in which I first heard stories told by my mom and dad and aunts and uncles. The poem itself has that feeling of a dream state and I remember visiting Ireland in the summer when I was a kid and how different it felt, partly because I lived in a big city and my family in Ireland lives deep in the country and partly because it both looked different and sounded different. It was odd to travel such a short distance and find yourself in a completely different country.
LH: I am so glad to have worked with you on this project. Here’s to a wonderful JIAM! Now on to “The Stolen Child:”
Today I’m featuring John Lee, but this isn’t the poetry being featured today during Summer Shorts. Check out Lakeside Musing, too!
About the Program
The audiobook community is giving back! Spoken Freely, a group of more than 40 professional narrators, has teamed with Going Public and Tantor Media to celebrate June is Audiobook Month (JIAM) by offering Summer Shorts ’14, an audio collection of poetry, short stories and essays. All proceeds from sales of the collection will go to ProLiteracy, a national literacy outreach and advocacy organization.
Throughout June 2014, 1-2 stories, poems and essays will be released online each day via Going Public, as well as on various author and book blogs. As a “Thank you!” to listeners, pieces will be available for free online listening on their day of release. As a bonus for those who purchase the full collection from Tantor Media in support of ProLiteracy, there are over 20 additional tracks only available via the compilation download. Full release schedule on the Speak Freely page.
ProLiteracy, the largest adult literacy and basic education membership organization in the nation, advocates on behalf of adult learners and the programs that serve them, provides training and professional development, and publishes materials used in adult literacy and basic education instruction. ProLiteracy has 1,000 member programs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia and works with 52 nongovernmental organizations in 34 developing countries. Its publishing division, New Readers Press(NRP), has for more than 40 years provided educators with the instructional tools they need to teach adult students and older teens literacy skills for functioning in the world today. Materials are available in a variety of media, including the flagship publication, the weekly news source News for You, which delivers articles online with audio. Proceeds from sales of NRP materials support literacy programs in the U.S. and worldwide.
Summer Shorts ’14 is made possible by the efforts of the Spoken Freely narrators and many others who donated their time and energy to bring it to fruition. Post-production, marketing support and publication provided by Tantor Media. Graphic design provided by f power design. Project coordination and executive production provided by Xe Sands. Nonprofit partnership coordination provided by Karen White.
For more Summer Shorts, check out yesterday’s posts:
There’s even more tomorrow:
For the complete schedule, head over to the Going Public website.