Partners in Crime pt 1

Charlaine Harris & Johanna Parker: an audiobook author/narrator pair extraordinaire. It’s no mystery why audiobook series have such passionate followers – the Sookie Stackhouse audios are a prime example of the connection between the reader’s voice and the continuing characters. I had the pleasure of interviewing Ms. Parker about her voicing of the supernatural Southern Vampire mysteries, a perfect tie-in to Booklist’s Mystery Month.

Thanks for visiting Audiobooker, Johanna! You and Charlaine are one of the most popular pairings on the audiobook shelf. Have you ever spoken or emailed with the other half of your duo? 

Yes. I spoke to Charlaine first in 2005, when I was about to narrate my first of her books – Dead as a Doornail for Recorded Books – which was the fifth of the Sookie Stackhouse series. I needed to confirm that I was about to use the correct pronunciation the name Sookie and her hometown, Bon Temps. I subsequently met Charlaine at a librarians’ convention in Chicago, where Charlaine spoke to the attendees about her work – the creative process, her writing style, etc. – and I read selected passages from several of her novels. Charlaine touched the crowd by relating that her mother had recently developed macular degeneration, and could no longer read her daughter’s work. The audiobooks, Charlaine, said, provided a happy solution to this dilemma, allowing her to “read” them by listening.

Charlaine and I immediately clicked, and have had a close working relationship ever since. I have now narrated all of the Sookie series to date. We’ve met a number of times since, at various promotional events around the country; and we often communicate by email, not only regarding the Sookie series, but regarding our other shared interests as well.

One particularly moving event took place immediately following a public reading in Iowa City, IA. As the reading was ending, a gay couple approached us, and told us that together Charlaine and I were responsible for saving their marriage. We were incredulous until the couple explained. It seemed that one of the men was a voracious reader who was fanatical about the Sookie series. He couldn’t share his literary obsession with his partner, however, because his partner didn’t like to read books! This put a severe strain on their relationship, and, they contended, nearly led to the breakup of their marriage. Their salvation came when the reader managed to persuade the non-reader to listen to the audiobook versions. Suddenly they were both Sookie fans. Marriage saved.

Has your crafting of character or plot action changed due to your author / narrator connection?

Absolutely. My relationship with Charlaine has provided me with a deeper, more intimate understanding of Sookie’s character and world, and as a result, has enhanced my performance.

How do you retain the mood & vocal characterizations of a series over time?

I record a sample of my rendition of each character’ voice on my iPhone. That way, when I return to any character, even a minor character, even years later, I’m able to recreate him or her with precise continuity. Though Charlaine has been known to surprise me with a minor character coming back years later and stumping me. I get all the cd’s and go track by track trying to find that voice! Most listeners may not notice but it niggles me not to get it right.

What are your thoughts on the continuity of retaining the same narrator throughout a series? 

Not only does it make sense – same character, same voice – but many of the fans demand it.

Does a long-term role as the voice of a series help or hinder your acting career?

It’s a double-edged sword. It helps by giving me greater exposure and accolades.  This was particularly the case after the HBO series True Blood, based on the series,  premiered. On the other hand, it hinders by typecasting me in certain people’s eyes. Or ears. I’ve auditioned for a videogame or two while recording  a Sookie book and had the producer ask if I can drop the “twang.” I’ve gotten better over the years with the transition.

Final thoughts?

The opportunity to meet Charlaine and to become the voice of her Sookie Stackhouse series has been, and continues to be, a joy and an honor for me. I look forward to working with and for Charlaine in the coming years. It’s as if our paths were meant to have crossed.

Thanks so much sharing your thoughts with us, Johanna!

Stay tuned for more interviews with perfect partners in crime for Mystery Month – next Thursday I’ll feature both author Louise Penny & narrator Ralph Cosham who will discuss the Three Pines audiobooks, followed on May 24th by author Lee Child & narrator Dick Hill, who pair up to bring Jack Reacher to life.

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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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