Thursday, March 15, 2018

Kale Williams on THE ART OF MURDER series

The story of how Kale Williams came to narrate the Art of Murder series is kind of an interesting one. I originally contracted Chris Patton to do The Mermaid Murders, but some things came up in Chris's life and, to make a long story short, I started hunting around for a brand new voice for this (then) brand new series. I asked Facebook readers who they were listening to and one of the books mentioned was a title from Tara Lain's Pennymaker series. I believe Tara's was the only M/M title Kale had done at the time, but when I heard his voice, I was all Hey there, Jason West! ;-)

And the rest is history.

I've since used Kale for a number of projects and I really love the fact that he's as professional as he is talented.

So without further adieu, meet Kale Williams!

Tell us a little bit about your background. How did you get started in narrating audio books? How many audio books have you narrated?
I started my narration work recording textbooks for the blind & dyslexic. Most of my work at the time was as a theatre actor and I was traveling a lot for jobs. It was nice side work that I could take with me wherever I went. Leading up to my wedding about 5 years ago, I was looking for more work I could do from home, so I built a home studio and fell in love with narrating audiobooks. Since then, I’ve recorded over 100 titles, and I work not only with independent authors, but also big publishers like Penguin Random House and Audible Studios. 

How much acting is involved in narrating a story?
Most of the work I’m doing while narrating is acting work, but there’s also a good amount of directing that goes into it as well. I need a good sense of the overall arc of the story, and the shifting moods of each chapter and section, to really escort the listener along on the journey. And on top of that, I’m basically playing every character, so I need to understand each of their points of view and major character traits as well. It’s exciting as an actor to do so because I get to bring to life characters I would never ever play on stage or on camera. 

What kind of prep do you do before you start a project? How much thought goes into choosing the types of voices you use for different characters?

My first step in prepping a book is consulting with the author, if possible, to get any strong ideas they have on their story and characters, be that an overall mood or specific accents or character traits they deem important. Then I read the manuscript to get my own sense of the story and characters as a reader. Hopefully the two views coincide, if not we find a happy medium together. 

In terms of voices, it really depends on the genre as to how far I go with characterizations. Usually I try to err on the more subtle side, and focus on the predominant character traits to bring out the voice of a character. Then I layer on any extrinsic aspects that are mentioned in the text, be they accent or timbre or rate of speech. That said, these processes take place more subconsciously for me nowadays. The writers I work with often draw such vivid characters that, once I read the book, I have a solid picture in my head of each character and know how they sound to me. 
You’ve narrated a number of titles for me including standalones and the Art of Murder series. How is narrating a series different from narrating a standalone book? I guess what I’m getting at is as the author of an ongoing series, I’ve got to show character growth and a progression in the characters’ relationship in each book. Is there a similar challenge for you as the narrator?

Series narration has its own unique challenges and benefits. The benefit is, I get to know the main characters so intimately that the prep work is usually quicker for each subsequent book. That said, if it’s months or years between books, I may have forgotten my original pictures of these characters, or those mental pictures may have changed. I often narrate 2-5 books per month, so there are many more characters living in my brain after that time has passed. Plus, if a character takes a dramatic turn further on in a series, I need to marry those changes with the original character I created. This can be a big challenge if there are dramatic shifts that occur. 
One of the projects you took on for me was narrating So This is Christmas, the final installment of the Adrien English
series. How difficult was it to pick up where another highly regarded narrator left off?

This was one of the biggest narrating challenges I’ve faced so far. With five audiobooks already recorded by someone else, and a fan base very loyal to this series, it’s inevitably jarring to the listener to hear a new voice for this world. But as there have been many actors playing characters like Batman or James Bond, there will inevitably be comparisons, but each lives in his own world of interpretation. I tried to stay true to the characters as they read to me, and hoped to convey the author’s story in the clearest way possible. At the end of the day, that’s always my job. 
I think you did a terrific job, so thank you for taking that one on. ;-)  Anyway, The Art of Murder’s BAU Chief Sam Kennedy has been described as “cold, ruthless and a hard-ass.” How do you make that kind of character likable? (Personally, I think you give a very nuanced narration of Kennedy).

I love complex characters like Kennedy, or playing well-drawn antagonists and villains. I try to understand why they are the way they are. Why does Kennedy distance himself from intimate relationships? What in his past made him this way? And what is his ultimate goal with his behavior? He can be incredibly selfless in his pursuit of truth and justice. That may not always manifest itself in kindness and warmth, but I think to him the ends may justify the means. And if we see glimpses of his true self along the way, hopefully those shine brighter when we understand him on a deeper level. 
I hope the same! Readers tend to be #TeamSam or #TeamJason. Which are you? Or is a narrator allowed to take sides? :-D

HAHAHAHAHHA. Very diplomatic. Which character is most fun to narrate? Sam or Jason? Why?

I can’t really separate each of them from the story. They provide a yin and yang element for me. I get to bring out more humor and wryness with Jason, and leave it all out there, especially since we see this world through his eyes. We don’t get that inner voice with Sam, so there’s more to layer and reveal just through his dialogue. And he has his own very dry wit, though maybe not as intentionally as Jason. I love them both. 
Which character is the most difficult to narrate? Sam or Jason? Why?

Probably Sam, for the reason just stated. We are seeing him through Jason’s eyes, so we really only see the pieces of him that Jason allows himself to see (and that he allows Jason to see). POV is always an interesting aspect to keep in mind when I narrate. 

Is there a particular scene in either of the first two books you think you read especially well? Or that you particularly enjoyed reading?

One scene that stands out for me is when Jason is trapped in the mausoleum in The Monet Murders. There is so much mystery happening at that point, and the listener/reader really has no idea who could have locked him in there. The mood is so heightened and dangerous at that moment. Plus I love the description of the Tiffany windows and the mental gymnastics Jason goes through in assessing his situation and surroundings, admiring the art, and struggling with his temptation to break them to escape, but unable to conceive of a situation where he could justify doing so. The complexity of that moment remains vivid in my mind. 
You’re doing a lot of M/M Romance these days, which means you've read a LOT of sex scenes. How awkward is it to read erotic scenes aloud?

LOL yes I have! It’s not so much awkward anymore. Sometimes it makes me laugh because every author has a different set of colorful language used to describe anatomy and erotic acts, and it can be so creative and evocative that it sometimes catches me by surprise. 
Aside from getting paid in timely fashion 😉 what’s the most satisfying or rewarding part of narrating/producing an audio book?

The best moments are when I get so engrossed in narrating the book that I stop consciously thinking. I know the characters well enough that I don’t have to think about their voice or mental state, the writing just clicks, and I am able to trust both the author and myself to simply let the story flow through me. 
Does it make the process easier if you enjoy the stories you narrate or is the process fairly detached?

I’ve experienced both. Sometimes I love a book or story so much that I create this mental pressure on myself not to screw it up. I want so badly for it to be perfect. But I’m usually able to just trust and let it flow. And usually if a story is well-written, it sits more easily in my mouth and the process flows more readily. Those are the best moments. But I’m usually able to find something to love about each book I do, so I try to latch on to that or to think about what I want the listeners to fall in love with. 
What’s next for you? Where can readers/listeners find out more about you and your work?
 I’m working on a couple of projects at Audible Studios at the moment which have been fun to bring to life. I just wrapped Last Call from Felice Stevens & Christina Lee, which should be available within a couple of weeks. I’m continuing the Baytown Boys series with Maryann Jordan. And I can’t wait to start in on The Magician Murders this spring. Listeners can follow me on Twitter (@kalewilliamsvo) or Facebook (@kalewilliamsvoice) to catch the latest from me. 

Plus, I’ll be attending my first GRL this fall as a featured narrator, so I can’t wait to meet all the fans and authors down in Virginia! See you there!!


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  2. I loved this interview - especially learning about Kale's process. I've listened to a number of his titles and he brings something new to the table each time. He's that caliber of narrator who makes a great story even better.

  3. Over the last ten years audiobooks are becoming increasingly more important for me. I hear more audiobooks than I watch movies. It is like going to a theatre and watching a play. Different theatre - companies are interpreting the same play different and that makes it very interesting. I read first the story and then I listen to the audiobook. Every time I find new distinctions through the way the narrator reads a chapter.
    I like your way of reading very much and I am looking forward to hear more from you.
    Thank you Josh for this very interesting interview.

  4. Very interesting interview. I was a little trepidatious when I purchased "So This Is Christmas", but very quickly found myself lured into the story and narration. Like Sabine, audio books have become very important to me (long commute)and it's such a treat to listen to Josh's stories and your performance.

  5. I had purchased the second of the Art of Murder books right away because I couldn't wait to visit Jason and Sam again, then STILL bought the audio once it was released to enjoy Kale's performance. You two make a great team! (oh btw, #TeamSam!)

  6. Thank you so much for this "peek behind the scenes" interview, Josh and Kale! I love Josh's books and and I love your narration of them, Kale. So, yeah, it was truly interesting to read about the narration process.

    I was smiling widely when Kale described the part in The Monet Murders that he especially enjoyed reading. It's also one of my favorite scenes in the book. Pretty much for the same reasons Kale listed. :-)

    Thank you, both of you. Can't wait to get my hands on The Magician Murders audio book!

  7. I love the new book and I love the narration for the first two. Will Kale be doing the narration for Magician murders as well and when can we expect it to be available?

    Thanks again! I love this story and these characters.