Friday, March 29, 2013
Paul Fleschner on COME UNTO THESE YELLOW SANDS
narrating/producing audio books? How many audio books have you narrated?
I like the sound of the human voice. Not the just the English language, beautiful
as it is, but the whole spectrum of human vocal expressiveness--from Vergil to
grunts and wheezes; from Hemingway to Goodnight, Moon. In fact, it probably
started when I was very young, I remember my mother reading children's poetry
to me from the Childcraft series, and my Dad reading Black Beauty...and there
was real pleasure in listening to a story come alive in the act of reading aloud. I
think most children, if they're lucky, hear a lot of books out loud before they
learn to read themselves. Much later, I had the privilege to study under and
then work with the writer Reynolds Price, and he was a master of reading
aloud...you could tell he really enjoyed it, and was good at it, too. He was
paraplegic and I lived with him for a year to help him get around, and one night
he was very sick and anxious--and he asked me to read to him, and I read the
entirety of To the Lighthouse, and by the end of it he had some peace and
calm, through the experience of listening to Virginia Woolf's luxurious text.
That was my most tangible experience of how reading aloud can be a real
palpable balm to people, it can really ease suffering, when you get right down to
it. I also read a little for my grandma in the nursing home...she loved romance
novels, so that's what it was.
When I was in acting school, one of my teachers told me I should capitalize on
my voice, he really didn't mince words. So that made me think, hey, I should do
audiobooks! I like reading aloud, so why not? And when I started auditioning, I
was blessed to start getting offers. Right now I have nine audiobooks set to be
released in 2013. Four are already complete.
2 - How much acting is involved in narrating a story?
As little as possible. Of course, craft does enter the picture when you have
dialects or a lot of characters to differentiate, for example. But I approach an
audiobook like I am reading a book to a friend, like my best experiences reading
aloud. And if you're reading to a sick person, they don't want to hear you
attempt the world's greatest performance. In fact, I would wager they don't
want to hear you perform at all. So it has to sound kind of effortless. Like
you're just reading! So that's what I try to do. Make it comfortable for the
Now, if I have to think about how I do this, I would say it comes from a few
things I've heard from other film actors--actors that don't speak the text until
the camera rolls, because that ensures that the words will actually be fresh, the
experience of those words will have a virginity to them, so to speak--very
different from theatrical performance. However, I also think of my
improvisation teacher, and the concept of "yes, and..." to whatever is thrown
out there, so when I'm reading, I just go with it, and enjoy the story as it goes
along, letting it surprise me, hopefully, letting myself be swept away by it, in the
telling of it.
3 - What was the most difficult or challenging aspect of narrating COME UNTO
THESE YELLOW SANDS?
Nothing pops out as being technically hairy territory. Maybe the erotic stuff!
But that's another question. Um, perhaps the dialects--the Irish priest, for
example, sometimes that takes a few goes. Sometimes you have to be extra
careful to differentiate between characters, but not so much that it becomes a
radio play. I mean, I'm not going to sound like a woman, no matter what I do
with my voice, so you just have to imply it, give it the flavor of femininity,
perhaps, it's whatever the part calls for.
With Yellow Sands (as I like to refer to it), the moments I enjoyed the most may
have been the most challenging, the most intimate, the most unknown.
Because what is intimate is essentially what has been unknown prior to that
moment, or unknown in the public sphere. And it's not necessarily the erotic
moments, though it does encompass them...it's anything that is raw, tender,
nervy. And a lot of this book is those things for Swift. So, to my surprise, I
would say that a lot of this book was difficult...because it is a difficult
experience for Swift. He's going through difficult times. He's doubting himself,
he's doubting his partner, he's scared. And the most difficult moment for Swift,
I think, is when he contemplates walking back into the ocean...ending his life,
because he doesn't want to start using again, doesn't want to hurt other people
through his using. That's sad stuff, that's where it's most difficult, and that's
where it's the best, I think. No amount of research or "work" can bring you to
connect with the character in that moment, you just have to reach out your
hand and touch him. It's like being there for someone that needs you. It's
difficult, but it's what makes life worth living.
Swift. I relate to his struggle with substance abuse, his love of language, his
occasionally hot temper--he is very guarded and explosive about his little box of
poems, for example--and I like that. I also, now that I think about it, like his
fascination with Choose Your Own Adventure stories! I loved those too...I had
the entire series of the Lone Wolf books, and they were great! It's those kind
of things that really stretch and stir a young person's imagination, and can lead
to a love of more nuanced writing and literature, as was the case with Swift.
5 - What character was the most difficult to narrate? Why?
Max. Max is a "tough guy", somewhat emotionally repressed in his masculinity.
I mean, he's a great guy, you can tell that about him, but sometimes he's hard
to read. I actually like that. He keeps his cards held close. It's a surprise when
he reveals himself to Swift, it surprised me, actually. I liked that moment, but
up to then, it was hard for me to know what he was thinking, or rather...feeling.
And that may be because a lot of the time, Max doesn't let himself feel deeply,
or doesn't let himself connect with his deep, underlying feelings. He has a job to
do, as police chief. At least, that's how I read it.
6 - Was there a particular scene you think you read especially well? Or that you
particularly enjoyed reading?
Oh, probably the one I just mentioned--when Max reveals himself to Swift. It's a
touching moment, and so important to Swift. To Max too, but it really is about
Swift being impacted by this revelation, the thing he's been waiting for and
hoping for despite his serious doubts. Also, I like the last scene in the book, and
without giving anything away, it's the kind of redemption that Swift really needs
to heal himself. It's such an easy thing to do, but so hard at the same time.
7 - How awkward is it to read erotic scenes aloud?
Well, often I record with an audio engineer sitting in the other room, and you
have to know that he is hearing every single word that is said. So when you're
reading an erotic scene, he is in that moment too. It's the same with a film set-
-you're connecting with another actor, you're in your own little world, but then
there is the mechanism and apparatus of a film set, people looking at a monitor,
through a camera, listening through the sound equipment. Now an audiobook
situation is much less expansive, which makes it more intimate! So it's actually
just me, the text, and the engineer. These erotic scenes call for a heightened
vulnerability, and so you're exposing yourself--literally exposing yourself! as you
read them. I had a class with Austin Pendleton and he helped me to a revelation
that was important to me....vulnerability is just letting the other person have
power over you. Maybe that's obvious to some people, but it wasn't to me, and
in an acting situation, it can be felt tangibly...who has the power. Now, to give
that up is a considerable gift or concession, however you want to look at it.
And these erotic scenes demand, I think, a submission of power! As an actor,
as an individual, I give up my power by totally letting down my guard--or letting
it down as much as I can bear. So if I'm feeling awkward, it's not a bad thing,
it's part of the moment. It's the fig leaf coming down, the face getting red. If
you blush, you're feeling something, good! Feeling is totally unpredictable, but
if it does get awkward in these scenes, I do take that as a good sign...a sign of
entering territory that could be authentic, sincere.
8 - What’s the most satisfying or rewarding part of narrating/producing an
Getting paid! Just kidding, but for the working actor, the actor that wants to
make a living at the craft, audiobooks can be more lucrative than a lot of other
forms of acting. Not that it's about the money, because there are million easier
ways to make money than exposing yourself as I just shared. But audiobooks
can be a calculated gamble. You know what you need to break even, to make
money, and so forth...so you can attempt to establish a livelihood that allows
you to keep acting. The name of the game is endurance, or so I've heard. And
as much as I like to read aloud, let's be honest, I'm doing this for an audience, in
the end. And that is to say, I'm doing this to share something, to communicate.
And in the case of audiobooks, I have the privilege of communicating the
author's story. And I take that privilege seriously. I am grateful for it and
humbled by it, the opportunity to share another person's truth, so to speak,
hopefully in a compelling way. I don't want to use the word "dramatic",
because to me it has the whiff of...histrionics, and that kind of acting turns me
off, it's just not my style or taste, though some people love it! What's
satisfying to me is being able to bring my style, my self, fully to the table to
contribute to the author's words. And the two become one. Really, it is that
literal of a merging. And that's an incredible feeling, that union. It's really a
generative union, and it can be life-giving.
9 - Do you ever find yourself wishing the author (naturally not me!!!) hadn’t
taken the story in a particular direction? Or is narrating a much more detached
I wouldn't say it's a totally detached process, though there is a level of
detachment, and a level of a healthy attachment, too. I mean, you've
committed to do the book, you want it to be good, you want it to be a real
compelling story, that will sure make it easier to spend the time in front of the
microphone! And of course if it's consistently compelling, it's more likely to
reach more people. At the same time, when I am committed to a book, I try to
not actively question anything the writer does. I have to believe it. Maybe that
essential belief can be equated with the "yes, and..." improvisation concept I
mentioned, that you just go with it no matter what the author does, there's
really no use dwelling over spilled milk or sour grapes or whatever the
expression is...what's the point? The text is the text, read it. It's like the
detachment of a good sommelier, I may be passionate about my product, but
with deference to the product itself and the customer. In other words, my
performance should never get in the way of telling the story, of pouring the
wine, so to speak. That's the service that is being offered, the telling of the
10 - Where can readers/listeners find out more about you and your work?
**Note** Paul also has a new Facebook page.
Go, go, go! and check back for more updates, there are more good books on