Hey guys – It’s Joel Leslie again!
So I have a special treat for you today. I’m soooo excited to welcome NR Walker to my little bloggy-blog. I’ve had the incredible privilege to voice 8 of her books in audio (Red Dirt Heart 1,2 and 3 / Cronin’s Key 1,2 and 3, Switched and Weight of it All… with more on the way. She is one of the rock stars of the m/m genre. Seriously – if you’ve ever been to GRL you know NR Walker is kind of Elvis. I hardly ever get to actually spend any time with her because she’s being mobbed by gazillions of people who love her books as much as I do. And readers come first. Cuz they keep us both employed!!!
So if you don’t know NR’s work (whaaaa???), she’s an Aussie. It’s been a collaboration that has meant the world to me and, as her first narrator, I thought it might be fun for readers and authors alike to hear a little bit about our journey together, our process and our relationship.
And, it turns out we are both hella chatty… so grab a cup of tea, bust out the marmite, and here we go…
JOEL: You had never ventured into audio before we began working together. Was it something that you had been thinking about for a while? Were you an audiobook listener yourself? Did you have any kind of sense of what you liked or didn’t like from a narrator?
NR: It wasn’t something I was able to do. Being an Aussie I wasn’t able to self-publish. ACX (the audio division of Amazon) doesn’t allow anyone outside of the US or UK to use their services. It wasn’t until I asked the very lovely RJ Scott if I could possibly use her publishing house as a platform and she graciously said yes! I knew I wanted to do Red Dirt Heart first and I also knew that finding the right Aussie accent for Charlie wasn’t going to be easy. I’d listened to some that weren’t good, or even close to being right. I hadn’t listened to many audio books prior to that so the whole thing was a huuuuuge learning curve for me. I think each narrator brings something to the table, but it’s finding the right one for your characters that is key. I’ve now become an avid audio book listener. It saves my eyes screen-time and gives my hands a rest too. After staring at screens and typing all day long, audio books are a wonderful way to enjoy books without actually reading 🙂
JOEL: I hadn’t thought about it being a welcome respite from screen-staring. That’s a great reason for authors to get addicted to audio! It’s the same for narrators lol – we stare at screens allll day.
So, I have a very specific process that I use when I’m working with authors (especially new ones). What was it like for you when I asked you about the way characters sound? I recall it was initially a bit of a struggle.
NR: I never write any character with any thought about how they sound. They just speak to me and I write it down. LOL All my characters are visual to me – I know every line of their faces, how they walk, but I’ve never had to explain how they sound before. Well, apart from the usual ‘gravelly’ or ‘deep timbre’ etc. so to think of them aurally without the visual was like using a different side of my brain. LOL
JOEL: LOL about the gravelly, deep-timbre. Major thanks for normally having only one of those per book! When everyone speaks down in the basement, it can be a real challenge. I love hearing about the relationship an author has with their characters… Some are truly visual. I think Jordan Castillo Price ‘hears’ her guys. It really varies. So – back to the questions I ask about character when we begin a collaboration – did any of those really stump you, or anything you that you remember thinking was particularly odd.
NR: At first I found your request for ‘if they were an animal, what would they be’ a bit odd at first, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Saying a character is like a cranky stallion gives so much more detail across the board than just saying “tall, bad tempered” etc. Or saying a character was like snake or a rabbit appealed to my visual side but gave them a personality as well. It was a fun way to think of my characters!
JOEL: You’ve said to me several times “I was NEVER thinking of this being an audiobook when I wrote _____” (usually a scene with 18 characters speaking in 18 different accents lol). Now that we’ve done 8 books together… has hearing your work in audio effected the way you write? Do you ever think about how a scene would translate into narration?
NR: YES, because I will NEVER write the line “I shook my head” EVER AGAIN!! hahahaha And I would cut about 90% of dialogue tags.
JOEL: LOL. Some author’s go through and massively trim the dialogue out of the audio manuscript. It’s always compliment when they seem superfluous, though… it means I’m making the delineation of character clear enough that you don’t have to!
Which is your favorite book that we’ve done so far? Why?
NR: Oh maaaaaan, I’d have to say Cronin’s Key, all three of them. I just loved them. Though I think each book has awesome things about them in their own way — Charlie in Red Dirt Heart will always be special, but there was something about Alec and Cronin that just shone in your interpretation. And Henry from the Weight of It All, of course.
JOEL: It’s hard for me to pick a favorite, too. I think the Red Dirt Hearts are very special because those characters are just one-in-a-million. They just seem to be fully formed, breathing, real people. They are the characters that made me fall in love with your writing and discover what a truly special voice you have as an author. The Cronin series was amazing because it was like practically MADE for me… I loved that the four main characters all had different accents and were in constant conversation. Weight of It All is probably the book I tell people the most they HAVE to read. And, it felt there was so much of you in Henry… that was lovely to give voice.
Ok – so flip side…obviously – considering the number pages we’ve covered together, it’s impossible for you to be thrilled with the way every single sentence comes out of my mouth. What was the most surprising or unexpected thing you remember from one of the books in audio.
NR – When I first heard Charlie speak, I panicked. LOL I think being my very first audio book I had no clue what to expect, but by Chapter Two, I’d settled right in and you’d become Charlie. 🙂
JOEL: And, truth be told, Charlie had to evolve some. We worked so hard to get an honest authentic outback sound for Book One, but we learned (the hard way) that Americans really associate that nasal, forward, bright sound with two voices… Crocodile Dundee and Steve Irwin. Americans think of those two guys as being very over the top characters… almost caricatures of Australians. (Meanwhile British readers gave us rave reviews for book 1 because they are more familiar with the dialect). But in America, their idea of Australian is Hugh Jackman or Nicole Kidman…which to your ear sounds practically British. So, some people really didn’t like the way Charlie sounded in Book 1, and we talked and I said, “How many of your readers are Australian?”, and it turned out that most of them are American. So, for book 2, we made a real adjustment to Charlie. We stayed true to his character but softened the sounds. And Americans loved it. It was all really ironic, because the whole time I was recording book one I was way more stressed about the Texan accent!
So, which was the book you were most nervous about hearing in audio form and why?
NR: Red Dirt Heart 1. It was my first audio book ever and Charlie is so incredibly dear to me. I’m very protective of him. I felt like my first-born was leaving for his first date or something LOL
JOEL: Have you discovered anything about your writing when you listen to it being performed?
NR: Yes, I use way too many dialogue tags! LOL Which is fine (and kind of required in writing) but in audio it comes across as repetitive. My editor will probably send me hate-messages in my next book saying, “I have no clue who the hell is talking here!!” but in audio, when you say it with a different voice/accent, the tag isn’t really required.
JOEL: I know Jordan Castillo Price does an audio-only manuscript. If you don’t deviate 3% from the e-version (which is a HUGE amount) it doesn’t even effect whispersync.
So, I’ve said this to you a million times… our collaboration has been an incredible gift to me and had a huge impact on my career. Why does it work for you? It’s not like you’re always getting the ‘same voice’ from me… because sometimes the characters are Outback, or Sydney educated or American or Scottish or Japanese. And stylistically they range from being laugh out loud rom-com in Weight of It All, to Epic paranormal to Heart-wrenching. What about our collaboration makes it a good fit?
NR: Our collaboration has been a huge gift to me as well! I’m not sure what makes it magical. I’d have to say it’s your performances and interpretation, because I wrote some of those books years and years ago without any consideration for audio, so I don’t think there’s much on my part that makes the audio production a hit. LOL My characters vary so much from book to book, so there’s no formula from me, but it’s your portrayal that brings them to life in audio 🙂
JOEL: The hardest book to do had to be Cronin III because by that point there were SOOOO many great recurring characters in play (literally at one point we had Italian, Russian, French, Japanese, Norwegian, British, Scottish, American, and South American characters in the same scene. But, I’ll be you would be surprised to learn that Switched was probably the one I found the most challenging.
NR: Wow!! I had no idea! I would have thought CKIII was more challenging for sure! Though you haven’t done Red Dirt Heart 4 yet… 😉 What was it about Sam and Iz in Switched you found so challenging? Apart from having to do the Aussie accent lol
JOEL: Switched felt almost like a play to me… it was almost a chamber piece. The characters weren’t big, bold wild personalities and there weren’t any accents for me to use as a ‘crutch’ to delineate. Everyone was Aussie, and it was almost like doing a tv drama. All the characters had to feel real and honest and grounded.
I’ve always wanted to ask you this. Several of your leading men make people swoon with their ‘crinkle eyed smiles’. You’re the only author I’ve ever seen use that phrase… is there a reason you’re a fan of sexy crinkle eyes? lol.
NR: LOL!! I think it has to do with me being a visual writer. If someone smiles genuinely, you can see it in their eyes. I guess other authors might say “he had smiling eyes” but truthfully the eyes can’t actually smile. The eyes crinkle at the corners when the lips smile, dammit! hahaha
JOEL: Your lead characters often have very particular, unique speech patterns. Charlie has a run-on sentence then where he loves to hyphenate, Alec thinks in a rapid-fire avalanche of questions that explode out of him. It’s a real gift to a narrator because it gives a character their own rhythm and music. How do you find those vocal quirks?
NR: Seriously, it’s just how they speak in my head. Each character is so different, just like meeting two different people in real life; they’re going to have different flow, different inflections. I know Charlie’s run-on sentences annoyed some people, but it’s honestly how he spoke to me. And even when I revisited Charlie in the Imago crossover, he was straight back to run-on sentences, and that slow, poetic wishful-thinkin’ kinda way he has. LOL And to be honest, I didn’t realize Alec was so snarky until I listened to Cronin’s Key LOL People probably think it’s weird that my characters speak to me, but they do. Sure, some speak louder or stronger than others, and I think that shows in the book. Like Charlie. He was so distinct, in the same way Eiji was speaking Japanese-accented English. If you could imagine having a movie playing in your head and a certain character comes onscreen, how they walk and talk, that’s what it’s like for me. They never slip out of character, so as soon as they start to speak, I hear them exactly as you would onscreen.
Okay, so some questions for you!
JOEL: Quid pro quo, Clarice?
NR: How did you practice the Australian accent? It’s not an easy one to master without sounding like a caricature. At GRL, a few people told me when they met you, they had no idea you weren’t actually Australian. LOL What research did you do to make it so authentic?
JOEL: OMG yay! Well, it was one of the accents that when I was doing my MFA I really wanted to study carefully. I worked with my dialect mentor, a brilliant woman named Deborah Ross Sullivan on it in detail. And, this may sound silly, but Priscilla Queen of the Dessert and Strictly Ballroom both had a HUGE impact on me in my 20s… I was obsessed with them. And those wonderful characters have such musicality and are so quotable. I had a friend who lived in Australia for years and he would be brutal when I was trying to get it right. He taught me the particular way that Aussie’s say, “Oh yeah?” and that kind of because a touchstone for whenever I need to gear shift into it.
It’s one thing to be able to do a dialect for a play or something where you have a finite number of lines as an actor you can practice over and over. But a 1st POV audiobook in dialect can be a real trial by fire. I’m so lucky that I’ve collaborated with so many Australian writers now (you, Renae Kaye, Toni Griffin, Lisa Henry) – it’s a huge, huge privilege. I think I’ve probably done about a dozen full-on Australian narrations now and the recording process is a lot less terrifying that it was a year and a half ago!
NR: I loved your interpretation of Eiji in the Cronin’s Key series! Was he the first Japanese character you’ve done?
JOEL: OMG I love him! Definitely one of my favorite characters ever. When I first began to work on it I was really nervous. On the page, he seemed to me to have such zest and sense of play. He was kind of an epic Shakespearean clown character. And I was worried that he was supposed to sound more ‘heroic’. But you assured me that he was fun. So, I imagined him as what would happen if the Asian kid from Goonies grew up to be a sexy vampire. With characters with an ethnic accent some narrators get skittish and afraid of committing to the sounds. But for me – if you respect the character – if you are taking them seriously and really commit – then you can go for it. And if you think about the fact that Eiji spent hundreds of years in conversation primarily with a Scottish vampire and a Norwegian girlfriend, it didn’t make any sense to me that his accent would have become strongly softened and Americanized. I adored Eiji, so I’m thrilled my affection for him comes through. He was the first Japanese character I’ve had sustain as a leading player through a series… and that was really cool.
NR: On the subject of accents, name all the ones you’ve had to portray. Not just in my books, but ever.
JOEL: A whole lot. Honestly, American accents stress me out more than any other! I’m very grateful I’ve found a career where this ridiculous skill proves useful on a daily basis.
NR: I’m sure people are dying to know… What have we got coming up, and when?
JOEL: Well… Red Dirt Heart 4, and the four Spencer Cohen books next year (including Imago). Basically, as long as you’ll put up with me, I’ll never get tired of your words!
NR: And I *have* to know… Your voicemail message? Do you sound like Joel, or is an author’s character telling folks to leave a message after the beep? LOL
JOEL: LOL – It’s my boring old normal voice – that I hate – I sound like gay Kermit the Frog on my voice mail!
Yikes! We talk a lot! Well, I hope we answered some of your questions about audio and maybe, for authors who are nervous about journeying into audiobooks, we’ve inspired you with NR’s story!
And if you wanna know more about lil ol’ me, visit me at:
And, I can’t close out the month without sharing a picture of my GRL costume party outfit… The theme was Wild West. And what’s m/m romance without a little Woody?
Ok, ear-friends, thanks for listening.
Let me know what your ideas for what I should share next month and I’ll choose a winner from the comments and give away a copy of one NR’s audiobooks!