Partners in Crime pt 2

Author Lee Child & narrator Dick Hill talk about the Jack Reacher series – such a perfect partnership that their audiobook producer calls them “Team Reacher.” I spoke with the two for my “Voices in My Head” Mystery Month column in Booklist, but couldn’t fit their entire conversation into the  page space. The conversation was so great, I wanted to share the complete interview for rabid fans of Childs’ high-octane thrillers:

Thanks for visiting, gentlemen. How often do you stay in touch with the other half of your duo?

Dick – We’ve met to do a signing once, and there’s generally some e-mail contact throughout the year, sometimes to set up a special piece done for a charitable cause, most often from my end upon completion of recording, sending congratulations on yet another great Reacher adventure.  They really are projects I look forward to each year, when “Team Reacher” as Kelly Gildea at Random House dubs us, gets to dive into another one.

Lee – We email each other when he gets the new script, like this: he says he likes the new book, I say thanks, he asks pronunciation questions and other detail issues, then I get back from promoting the new release and I tell him how many people have told me they love his interpretation.

Dick- The signing we did together in New York was early on in the series, but the Reacher books had already amassed a terrific body of fans, all eagerly queuing up to see Lee, and all wondering who the hell this guy next to him was, who was signing the Reacher CDs.  To this day I get more mail regarding this series than the next two or three most popular I do.

Do you stay in close contact?

Dick-I guess it’s not been necessary.  Lee is such a fine writer, I feel everything I need to know is there on the page.  On a few occasions over the years I’ve run something by Lee, perhaps the pronunciation of a name.  Sometimes Lee may use the name of a great fan or friend, and I’d hate like hell to get one of those wrong.

Has your relationship changed over time?

Dick- I think only in that my respect and appreciation for his work and the opportunity I get to be a small part of it continues to deepen.

Lee, have you listened to your series’ audiobooks in their entirety?

Lee – In their entirety?  No, but then, I don’t re-read the written books either.  I’m always focused on the next thing, or the next deadline.  I always sample the new audio quite extensively, though, just for the fun of it.

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

Lee – Oddly, it encourages me not to change.  Putting black marks on white paper and hoping to suggest pace and rhythm and stress and accent is a weird undertaking, but Dick picks up on exactly what I intend to be there, so I’m encouraged to believe it’s working, and that I can continue without having to worry whether readers are getting it.

What are your feelings about your audience identifying strongly with the narrator as the voice of your books?

Lee – Well, first of all, that happens to an amazing extent.  I know many audiobook-only listeners who think of Dick Hill as the definitive “Voice of Reacher”.  He is Reacher for them.  And I’m delighted about that, because Dick does it exactly right.

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

Lee – A strongly character-based series is all about branding, in an objective sense, and about comfort and familiarity and reliability, in a subjective sense, so I think it’s essential to have the same narrator each time out – as long as the narrator is right for the part.  In Dick’s case, put it this way: I switched audiobook publishers at one point, but I insisted the new team used Dick as before.  That was a dealbreaker for me.

What are the benefits and drawbacks to a narrator & audiobook director reinterpreting your work in the audio medium?

Lee – If it’s done well, which it is currently, there are no drawbacks.  The benefits are, as I said, a kind of feedback confirmation that the prose is working, from an expert team intimately involved on a long-term basis.

Dick, has your crafting of character or plot action changed due to your author / narrator connection?

Dick – Our connection is mainly through his written word.  I love Lee’s writing, and it just seems to speak to me directly from the page.

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

Dick – I have a file for all ongoing series, continuing characters, with notes as to the voices I’ve used.  It’s always possible, but not generally necessary, to go back and listen.  Reacher is no reach for me vocally… basically my voice, with the sort of line reads I’d give in my daily life if I were confronted with some thug and wanted to scare the hell out of him.  Luckily for me that hasn’t occurred, because the dick hill body would belie the Hill/Reacher voice.  I’ve met with fans of the series, and there’s sometimes a readily discernible disappointment in their eyes when they see I’m half a foot shorter and merely medium build.

Lee – Let me add that fans at readings are sometimes disappointed my voice isn’t Dick’s – they look at me like a fraud.

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

Dick – I think it’s a terrific idea, so long as I’m the narrator in question.

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

Dick – Other than doing an occasional staged reading for a friend, or sometimes to help some local charity, my acting is all done in the booth, with my wife and partner Susie Breck directing and engineering.  My reputation in audio is burnished considerably by my connection with Lee and his work.

Thanks, Team Reacher! It’s been such an honor to have you visit Audiobooker. We’ll be eager to hear the seventeenth title in the series, A Wanted Man, set for a September release from Books on Tape.

Catch Partners in Crime pt 1, my interview with Johanna Parker, narrator of Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series here.



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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