In Part 1, I sat down with narrator Tavia Gilbert and talked to her about all manner of audiobook narration. In Part 2, we talk about specific projects, her dream role, and the specific challenges of different genres.
Is there a difference between narrating fiction and memoir? You wrote on your blog about your experience narrating Blue Plate Special by Kate Christensen, in particular. With memoir do you feel that you have to distance yourself from the author, especially when you know her personally, or is that actually a benefit when narrating memoir?
No, I don’t think that you need to distance yourself at all. I think it should be as close to you as anything. There shouldn’t ever be distance in what you’re narrating, even if it’s a business book, or a scientific book that’s information-based. It should still come from right in the heart of you. … I feel like memoir is just naturally the closest thing to me because I’m narrating somebody’s own story, becoming their voice. I’m their proxy, stepping in for them. … I love, love, love narrating memoirs. And it’s such a delight to know and really feel love for the person whose book I was narrating. I love Blue Plate Special and I love Kate, and that was such a once-in-a-lifetime experience to have that project.
You also recorded a few humor titles, like White Girl Problems. There’s such a critical element of timing to humor. Is that a particularly difficult genre because of that?
I love humor, and I actually just recorded the sequel, which is called Psychos, so there’s more from Babe Walker coming. I love doing it. I would love to have a director for stuff like that because I have no idea if the timing works. I’m doing the best I can, just trying to make it work. I’ve heard from listeners that they loved it and that the timing was spot-on, and I hope that that’s true, and I hope it’s true for the sequel. I am naturally pretty funny if you know me well enough … so maybe I’m well suited for humor. I’d like to do more of it. It’s so fun. And those books are ridiculous and hysterical, so it’s great to do it. And she’s so different than I am, so it’s always fun to play a completely different character.
You also recently did We Are Water by Wally Lamb, where you were a member of a cast. How is the experience different narrating only one character and being a member of a cast?
I really had such a great experience with that book. I read the whole book because it was just as important to read the whole book even though I was playing the smallest character. I think I had eight pages out of the [600-page], 23-hour audiobook. But I was a part of that world and a part of the story, so I read the whole book, and then I knew that my whole recording would be about a half an hour of time out of this 23-hour book, and I thought, I better nail it. Because Marissa is a really wonderful, complex, flawed character and she had this one little piece in the book to make an impression. So I didn’t want to overdo it and overact it by any means, but I did want to not miss any opportunity to bring her completely and fully to life even though she had such a small amount of page time. So that was an interesting challenge that I hadn’t encountered in my career before and it informed me for the future when I have a small role to play in any genre of acting that it doesn’t matter how small your role, you really can find every opportunity to find something authentic, present, really seamlessly integrating with the world of whatever you’re creating. Make that a real, live, whole person, even if you’ve got just a second to do it.
You’ve also narrated numerous classic works of literature, including The Wizard of Oz. Are there different pressures when you’re narrating such a well-known, classic work that everybody thinks they already know?
I didn’t feel it before but now I will! … I think that it’s a pleasure to read classics because you know why they’re classics. When you spend that time with them closely you understand that they deserve to have that reputation. I feel honored and humbled by it. Not anxious about it. … But I do love narrating classics and I love narrating children’s work. Because I don’t actually think there is children’s work that’s different than books for adults, I think there are books, period.
Do you have a dream role that you’d like to play, a classic work that you dream of narrating?
Oh, that’s an interesting question. My grandparents, when I was little, gave me Little Women. My grandfather was a visual artist, and they bought a hardback copy of Little Women with the most beautiful paintings in the book. And then my grandfather made a bookplate for me. He had this font that was his own font that was for elegant gifts. He was just such a wonderful artist. He studied with Grant Wood and he was an oil painter. So he did this very elaborate bookplate on the inside, and I read that book the first year I was given it for Christmas, and then I read it every Christmas of my life from then on. So, I suppose narrating Little Women would be quite dear because I just have that book, I’ll never part with it, and it was so special.
You recently recorded Visible City. Can you tell us about working on that project?
Yes, I loved Visible City by Tova Mirvis. She’s a New York-based writer. I loved that book. It’s an interweaving story of lonely people in New York City. It starts with a woman looking in the window of the apartment across from her. She’s a lonely mother, former attorney, who left law to raise her young children. … It was just beautifully written and one of the characters studies stained glass artists. My mother is a stained glass artist, so that was interesting to learn about the artists in the book. … It asks the question of who we want to be, what kind of life are you going to make for yourself? Are you going to go on autopilot through your lifetime or are you going to make choices? Think about deciding how you’re going to live in the world and who you’re going to be in the world. So it was asking questions that we all ask ourselves, I think. Who am I? Who do I want to be? And how do I fall into a role of mother or wife or lawyer, or when those roles fall away who’s at the heart of me? Who am I when I don’t have a label? … She’s a writer who’s a sublime writer. She knows how to write. Her heart is so open. I wish there was a better, less woo-woo way to put it.
What are you working on now?
I was doing the second novel by a wonderful young writer, Jolina Petersheim. She’s just awesome. I’ve gotten to know her through narrating her first book The Outcasts, and I really admire and respect her work as a writer, and she’s a lovely person. The book is called The Midwife, it’s coming out from Oasis [Audio]. Then I have more Jeaniene Frost novellas coming up. And a little bit of vampire stuff. So an assortment of stuff. I just had a great run with Alena Graedon’s The Word Exchange, which was unbelievable. That was just fantastic. I finished that last month. And I did Daryl Gregroy’s Afterparty last month, which was also wild and crazy. So I’ve done a ton of work lately, in all different genres, with all different publishers.
Thanks so much to Tavia for taking the time to talk with me and answer so many questions. After I got off the phone with her I wanted to run off to New York to just hob nob with narrators and go to parties with so many beautiful voices chattering together.
We have more narrator interviews coming up, so check back soon!