Accomplished theater and television actress January LaVoy has been steadily building a reputation as an audiobook narrator for the past five years, and in 2013 she was named PW’s Audiobook Narrator of the Year. We spoke with her recently about her career trajectory, her narration process, and what she’s doing next.
Can you tell us about your journey to audiobook narration? How did you get your start?
It was really unexpected. I had been trying for years to get a commercial agent in New York City, and I couldn’t get myself arrested at that point. I was doing lots of theater, and when I was working in a production of Two Trains Running, two guys in the cast were represented by Innovative Artists. They have a voiceover department that is very supportive of their clients’ theater endeavors, and they see everything. So I was able to meet some of them when they came to the show. They asked who I was with, and when I told them I wasn’t with anyone, they said, “Come in and have a meeting.” From that point, Shari Hoffman, my audiobook agent there, has been the key person in all of this. She decided early on to put me forth for audiobooks and has been a tireless advocate for me. It was almost a year before I got an audition [in 2008].
How many audiobook titles do you work on in a year?
In 2013 I did 20 books. I did the very controversial Salinger book [Salinger by David Shields and Shane Salerno] and some YA things. But my bread and butter is mysteries. I’ve read some James Patterson, and one of my favorite authors, besides Libba Bray (The Diviners), is Marcia Clark. I think she’s a brilliant woman. I’ve done three of her books now.
Can you tell us about any productions that were especially tricky—or particularly rewarding?
The most tricky recording I’ve done was a biography of Barack Obama’s mother. Half the book takes place in Indonesia and involved some fascinating pronunciation. We were calling the embassy from the studio to make sure we got things right. The book was also very long and very dense, in part because she was a social anthropologist.
The Diviners was an incredibly special experience. It’s a very long book for YA, but one of the most gratifying things is that the audiobook made it available to people who were maybe intimidated by the size of the print book. It’s an amazing story.
What is your preparation process like?
I like to read the whole book as a reader. I want listeners to have the experience I had when I read it for the first time. Then, when I go back through and make notes, I try to remember how I felt. Maybe I couldn’t catch my breath. I want my narration to be connected to the emotional experience of the reader. I make some technical notes about phrasing, or if there is a description in the book about how a certain character sounds.
I have to say that my greatest joy in all of this is getting to read books before anyone else. It’s mine for a minute. I feel honored that people choose to trust me to deliver a story to them in a different way. I want to be freeing the author’s intention, not changing it or commenting in any way.
Can you talk about anything that you are working on now?
I just finished recording Harlan Coben’s Missing You; [Coben’s] a new author for me. My next book will be the voice of Princess Leia in The Empire Striketh Back, the sequel to the hilarious and wonderful Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily a New Hope, which was one of my favorite books of last year. And I’m very excited that the sequel to The Diviners [Lair of Dreams] is coming in late spring.
In my other lives, the show I’ve been working on with the kids at the 52nd Street Project [as a director] opened January 31. I also have two workshops of new plays coming up in the next couple of months.
What would be a dream recording project for you?
I do have a dream project! Jacqueline Susann’s second book, Once Is Not Enough. I am named after the main character in that book. My mother was reading it when she was pregnant with me. And if J.K. Rowling writes the next installment of Harry Potter, I’d love to do it. That would be a dream project.