Odyssey Interview: Kelly Gildea

Daniel KrausRotters, narrated by Kirby Heyborne, won the 2012 Excellence in Audiobook Production Award, co-sponsored by the American Library Association’s ALSC & YALSA divisions and Booklist. The Odyssey Award is the top recognition for youth & young adult audiobooks, and the winner and honor titles are the standard of excellence for production and narration. I spoke with Kelly Gildea, whose production of Rotters marked the second year in a row that Listening Library has won the Odyssey. The interview appears in the March 15 issue of Booklist, but I’m also featuring her remarks here on Audiobooker. Thanks so much, Kelly, for sharing your thoughts with me!

The Odyssey Award for Excellence in Audiobook Production recognizes the gold standard in audiobooks for youth audiences. After listening to more than 500 submitted audios, the 2012 Odyssey Award committee, chaired by Lizette Hannegan, selected Rotters (written by Daniel Kraus, narrated by Kirby Heyborne, and produced by Listening Library, an imprint of Random House Audio) as this year’s winner. Following the announcement, I spoke with Kelly Gildea, executive producer of Rotters, a “tour-de-force combination of reader and writer, resulting in horrific realism,” according to the Booklist audio review.

BKL:  You not only produced the 2012 Odyssey winner but also the Odyssey Honor title Okay for NowHow did this double play come about?

Gildea: It happened soon after I relocated from Random House’s Los Angeles studios, where I had been directing and producing adult titles, to New York. The producers meet with the editorial team to learn what’s recently been acquired for the Listening Library youth imprint and to express interest in titles—it’s like a sports draft. Two young adult titles caught my interest: Rotters,by Daniel Kraus, and Okay for Now, by Gary Schmidt. I read them back to back, and both titles just knocked me out. They were fantastic—two of the best things I’ve read since I began producing audiobooks in general. I thought, “What have I been missing all these years?” I was thrilled to start producing two of the best books that are out there.

BKL:  YA romance novels such as Twilight have made a huge crossover shift to an adult audience. I see Rottershas a newly designed cover and marketing director Cheryl Herman plans to cross-promote Rotters to adults. Do you see a market for crossover in YA audiobooks?

Gildea:  Rotters is a good opportunity for exactly what you’re talking about. I didn’t categorize it as a teen title when I was reading it; I just enjoyed the story immensely. What I think is interesting about Rotters is that the main character, Joey Crouch, is really flawed. He doesn’t always make great decisions, and sometimes we judge him for it, but we still root for him and love him.

BKL:  Part of Rotters crossover appeal might be the intense, disturbing content. As a producer new to YA, do you have any thoughts about the impact of strong content in audio format?

Gildea: That is an interesting question. I really thought about what age levels are appropriate for Rotters. It’s dark, intense, and unrelenting. Joey’s character makes some very difficult choices and does some really questionable things. And some of the people he associates with are truly gruesome. So what do you do about text that will be read aloud? Our policy is that the text is unabridged, so I imagine that, as an actor, you weigh in your mind how to deliver those lines. I’m sure that Kirby Heyborne thought long and hard about how to make this character sympathetic. He successfully struck a fine balance, and the title is perfect for both older teens and adults.

BKL:  Casting the narrator is so critical. What was the process with Rotters?

Gildea: I take great care, especially with first-person young adult titles, because we are hiring adults to convey teen emotions. Because Joey’s character is just so raw, I had to find a real talent who would let the text unfold and not dominate the production. I had worked with Kirby Heyborne previously. He is a brilliant actor, and he’s not a guy in love with his voice. He lets the text talk to you and guides you through it with his incredible talent. I knew he had the vocal range to create unique characters, but I had no idea how special each one would sound. I am blown away by his exquisite performance.

BKL:  What is the role of the producer after the recording wraps up? 

Gildea: After editing, the recording goes through quality control, and I receive notes about inconsistencies in the audio and text. The producer is the one to decide. For example, if something in a sentence is misread, we have to decide if this is something we have to fix or leave as is. How close did we get to perfection? Do we need to call back the actor to make suggested fixes? In adult titles, if the mistake is minor and doesn’t change the meaning, we may let it go. But with Listening Library youth and young adult titles, we aim to be word perfect. When recording, we’re very careful to try and make corrections as we go, but it’s hard to catch everything. That’s where careful postproduction makes the difference.

BKL:  Any reflections on the impact of the Odyssey Award? 

Gildea: At Listening Library, we could not be more thrilled that our work is evaluated and appreciated. I definitely think Odyssey has affected the way we approach titles, from beginning through postproduction. And there’s certainly a sales impact; we believe that winning the 2011 Odyssey for The True Meaning of Smekday tripled that title’s sales. The awareness from ALA and the attention that Odyssey has shone on our productions are hard to ignore—the bar has been raised knowing that people appreciate our work and evaluate our standards.

BKL:  It’s traditional to ask ALA’s youth award winners about “the call.” Did you expect to hear that Rotters had won the Odyssey when you answered the phone?

Gildea: I just did not expect it. When I think about what title wins the Academy Award, it’s almost never the title I think should win. I keep going back to the incredible writing in Rotters. It’s just remarkable that a young adult title this dark, with a character so complex and so raw, was recognized. I was surprised and overjoyed. This title deserves every piece of recognition. It’s all about Daniel Kraus’ writing and Kirby Heyborne’s reading. Kudos to Heyborne for letting Kraus’ story translate to audio.

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About the Author:

Mary Burkey is an independent library consultant in Columbus (OH). An enthusiastic audiophile, she has served on all four of ALA's audiobook award committees as well as the Audies. In addition to writing the "Voices in My Head" column for Booklist, she is the author of Audiobooks for Youth: A Practical Guide to Sound Literature (ALA, 2013). Follow her on Twitter at @mburkey.

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