August/September 2013

Discover the World of Audiobooks

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In the Studio Producer Sue Zizza and co-authors Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman discuss bringing the Riverside series to audio. AF: The casts have included some top-tier audiobook narrators. SZ: Ellen and I successfully collaborated closely on all aspects of Swordspoint, and because of that initial success, we used a similar approach for each of the Riverside books. Since we had just completed The Witches of Lublin that featured Simon Jones, Neil Gaiman, Barbara Rosenblat, Nick Sullivan, and Anne Bobby, among others, we thought about the characters they could play in Swordspoint. I also suggested a few actors from other past SueMedia Productions like Dion Graham, and we also invited seasoned actors we had not yet worked with in hopes they would find the "illuminated" style of production interesting. In particular, Katy Kellgren was just wonderful from the first line she read in Swordspoint, and so we have invited her to be a part of each book's cast. EK: I was really struck with how much fun the actors had together in the studio! Many of the great narrators have known each other for years but seldom get the chance to "play duets!" Katy Kellgren and Nick Sullivan are old friends who brought incredible chemistry to their Swordspoint roles as a pair of scheming aristocrats. Nick's flexibility is awesome: He repeated his role as the villain in The Privilege of the Sword—and then we turned around and did a 180, casting him as the idealistic young professor hero in The Fall of the Kings! Neil Gaiman and I have known each other since we were both starting out, making this even more of a "family" production. Our producer for Neil Gaiman Presents at Audible, Christina Harcar, thought it would be fun to invite him to play a cameo in the second book—and he had so much fun working with Sue that he said he wanted a bigger role in book 3! When we walked into the studio that day, he looked at us and said: "What's the voice for this 'Dream Wizard' part I've got?" And I answered: "Merlin— wait, no, Sexy Merlin!" "Sexy Merlin who sometimes turns into a bear!" added Delia. And he nailed it. THE FALL OF THE KINGS Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman Read by Ellen Kushner, Neil Gaiman, Katherine Kellgren, Simon Jones, et al. The third installment in Ellen Kushner's Riverside series is flush with all the intrigue, sex, and politics of its predecessors. A young man with royal blood seeks refuge in the confines of the University but finds instead that ancient history is still living—and perhaps set to repeat itself. This "illuminated" book dances between the delicate, impassioned voice of the author and that of dignified guest stars, including Neil Gaiman. Lush soundscapes and occasional effects complement the talented cast, bringing the audio experience alive. Somewhere between an audiobook and full-cast drama, this sound-rich title delivers listeners to Kushner's nameless city of nobles, where manners often mask dark motives. F.G. Audible, Inc./ Neil Gaiman Presents/ SueMedia Productions 22 hrs. Unabridged Trade Ed.: DD $24.95 Lush soundscapes, occasional effects, and a talented cast bring the audio experience alive. 54 I AudioFile/ (l to r) Authors Ellen Kushner and Neil Gaiman, producers Sue Zizza and David Shinn DS: As the writer responsible for creating the students who appear in most of the illuminated scenes in The Fall of the Kings, I was very set on the narrators' voices matching the voices I heard in my head. In each case, there came a point when Ellen and I said, "That's him!" And when the casting process was over, we had a various and lively ensemble, with distinct voices and styles. AF: The music and soundscapes are also important. SZ: Once Ellen and I agreed we would try to "illuminate" Swordspoint, we realized we would need a composer, as so much of the sound design relies heavily on music. Nathanael Tronerud took cues from music ideas Ellen shared, and I asked for very specific elements for particular scenes or characters. We wanted to underscore moments to enhance the listener's experience but not get in the way of the words and the story. EK: Sue and David Shinn and I spend a lot of time talking about the balance of music and SFX and voices, and how they all "illuminate" the text for the listener: We're really creating a new aesthetic here, and it's very important that we mix it just right. I describe it as "You're listening to me read you the story, and then you start to dream it, that it's come to life. . . ." Usually the music or the SFX are what cue your ear that you're entering that "illuminated" state. AF: Have you connected with new fans through the audio productions? EK: Yes! The hardcore fans, who already know the books inside-out, blog about what it's like to hear me read them, and whether the cast meets their expectations (they all swoon over Dion's St Vier and Joe's Mad Duke!). I also see people on Twitter telling their friends who might not be readers to try the audiobooks. And of course I read all the reviews on the pages! When I see a review from a new read—er, listener for whom they are a revelation, my heart sings. —Jennifer M. Dowell

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