Learning from the Voice Behind the Words

A Conversation with Talking Book Narrator Erin Jones

By Jessica Minneci

Everyone loves stories, especially thestories that are read to them. Here at APH, blind and visually impairedvisitors are in awe when they go down to the studio and meet their favoritetalking book narrators.

A long-time listener myself, I wasgiven an insider’s tour of APH’s talking book studio where I met my favoritereader, Erin Jones. Erin has read many young adult novels including The HungerGames by Suzanne Collins, the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth,and the Bartimaeus trilogy by Jonathan Stroud. Known for her deep, resonantvoice, Erin dedicates her time in the studio to capturing the essence of thecharacters. Meanwhile, Erin paces herself as she reads, pausing to let thedetails of the setting and the events in the book sink in. For these reasons, Iadmire her work and was elated to learn the secrets behind her craft.An open book with a pencil, research sheets, and a dictionary
After a few minutes of beingtongue-tied and posing for a picture with her, I got down to asking Erinquestions about her job as a reader. Interestingly, this career isn’t muchdifferent from her past job as an actor. The director of the studio receivesnew books every two weeks and casts all of the narrators for each book. Areader for 17 years, Erin enjoys books in the young adult and science fictiongenres. When asked which titles stood out to her she mentioned The LostIsland of Tamarind by Nadia Aguiar and State of Wonder by AnnPatchett. Each book has a set deadline and reading schedule, meaning that Erincould be in the studio as much as two two-hour sessions a day or only onetwo-hour session a week. Before she comes in to record the first session of abook, she reads ahead, digesting at least half the book’s contents. As shereads, she takes notes about the characters. Composing these notes, Erin says,is essential because as the narrator, a person must be one step ahead of thelistener by being familiar with the events of the text and what the characters’motivations are. This way, Erin can better portray the characters’ thoughts,feelings, and hidden agendas.

Additionally, Erin explained that mostreaders who have a background in acting focus on the dialogue of the text andless on the detail. Unfortunately, this process of reading is not ideal.Concentrating on getting the voices of the characters correct can strain thethroat as the pitch and volume of the voice changes with each new character.This is especially true if the narrator is a woman and has to use her voice forfive different male characters. Instead, Erin utilizes careful pacing tocommunicate the intentions of the character as well as the details and eventsof the story.

Erin, Jess, and guide dog JoyceAs Erin continues cracking open booksand reading, she does admit that being a narrator has its ups and downs. Forexample, no one enjoys a book if it is not written well. Unlike the averagereader, Erin cannot skim through parts she finds boring or quit after a fewchapters. Rather, she must pump herself up to read and hope that the next bookis more engaging. On the flip side, when the prose is excellent, the experienceof recording and listening to the story is entertaining on both ends, for thereader and listener.

Regardless of the time of day or thebook she is narrating; Erin is open to meeting her listeners. She likes to knowthat she’s not speaking into a void, that there are people out there who listenand enjoy her reading. After all, Erin does her job for us, the visuallyimpaired bibliophiles. As such, she loves our dedication to listening andwelcomes those who reach out to her.

Leaving Erin to get a glass of waterand get back to recording, I realize now how lucky I am to have had access toso many free talking books, all recorded by narrators like Erin Jones. Further,being granted the opportunity to interview someone I grew up listening to iseven more surreal. Putting my headphones on for another story with her voice, Icannot thank Erin Jones enough for what she does for listeners like me.

Jess Minneci is a senior at Seton Hill University and an intern at APH. She is a three-time National Braille Challenge participant and has previously volunteered with ACB. She is a poet and aspiring novelist who enjoys filming youtube videos about young adult novels and spending time with her guide dog Joyce.

Stan Greenwood
A humble human, who is always found working on something or drinking coffee. A perfect introvert who talks barely anything but shares a lot through his blog posts at FredForum.

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