Behind the Scenes with Cris Dukehart

August 25th, 2015

If you read my blog regularly, you know just how excited I am about the recent release of THE MOTHER-DAUGHTER BOOK CLUB in audio!

Mother-Daughter-final-600x600

In celebration of this thrilling new chapter for the MDBC, I thought it would be fun to get to know the amazingly talented voice actors who narrate each of the characters: Emma, Jess, Cassidy, Megan, and Becca. Over the next few months, as each book in the series is released, we’ll be going “Behind the Scenes” to meet each of the cast members.

Last month, I spoke with Amy Rubinate, the voice of Emma Hawthorne. Amy is also the force behind Ideal Audiobooks, the company that acquired the series and is dedicated to bringing “books with heart” to listeners. I’m honored to be included in Ideal’s list! (Click here to learn more about Amy.)

This month, we’re going “Behind the Scenes” with Cris Dukehart, the voice of Jess Delaney.

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Isn’t she a beauty? Such a great smile — do I detect a hint of mischief? You just know that if she lived next door, you’d be best friends.

So Cris, how on earth did you get into audio work? I’d love to hear about your career path.

I’ve been reading and listening to stories since I can remember. Growing up, my best friend’s mom was a professional storyteller and the director of The Cloisters Children’s Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. We would listen every day to folk tales and snippets of stories, the words painting pictures and making movies in our heads. The museum was located in part of a huge castle, and because my friend’s mom was the director, my best friend and I had TOTAL access to the WHOLE DARN CASTLE! Endless stories and endless adventures!

When I got my first audiobook as a Christmas gift in the 4th grade (Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass on cassette tape, with each chapter’s tapes a different pastel color … blue, pink, purple, green), I discovered the fabulousness that is audiobooks. I would listen for hours on end and I was HOOKED.

I still listen to audiobooks when I drive or work outside.

I didn’t start out narrating, though. I went to school for Forensic Science and Medicine because THAT, I thought, was a REAL, GROWN-UP job. And it WAS. But what I found was that science, particularly forensic science, is just made of stories…

When I was offered a chance to study with some really great actors and narrators in Los Angeles and New York, I jumped in with both feet and was on my way!

What kind of preparation would you recommend for someone who wants to be an audio narrator/voice actor?

LISTEN LISTEN LISTEN!  In order to tell really well, I think that the first thing you have to do is listen. Listen first to what you want to do … whether it’s cartoons or videogames, commercial work or audiobook narration.

Listen to the people who do it BEST.

And then … listen some MORE.

Listen to the way people talk — to how their voice changes when they are busy or sad or really, really angry. Listen to the different accents of people from different parts of the country and world; to how boys sound different from girls; to what happens to a voice as it ages. Once you’ve listened a bit (or a ton), see if you can make YOUR voice do that. Don’t be afraid to play with your voice and even be silly with it.

What’s your process in preparing to record/read a book aloud?

Reading a book out loud is almost like a marathon. You have to prepare before you ever set foot in the recording booth. You have to prepare YOURSELF, taking care not to yell a bunch (that’s so hard on your vocal chords), drinking lots of water, and getting your body ready to be VERY STILL for a long time. For me, that means running or doing yoga and stretching in the morning.

Then you have to prepare the STORY. I read the whole book and make notes about characters and the plot, and any hints the author might give as to how a character sounds. Sometimes, it’s super obvious, like “she lisped” or “he bellowed in his deep, deep baritone.”

But sometimes it’s about getting to know the characters, like if a character is shy or nervous, they might speak quietly, or sort of hesitantly.

If I have questions, I will sometimes talk with the author before I start, too. After all, they know all these characters the best.

What does a typical day look like for you? (if there is such a thing!)

I try to have some sort of routine — up at 6:30, exercise and breakfast, getting everyone off to school and work, dressing in my “soft clothing.” Clothes can be extremely noisy in the booth and our microphones pick up EVERY EVERY EVERYTHING … even the soda bubbles POP POP POP that stay between your gums and teeth for hours after you drink soda!

But there’s always some something that comes up … a pooch that won’t stop playing and is making NOISE NOISE NOISE … a neighbor mowing their lawn (even though my booth is sound-treated, that low hum manages to get in EVERY TIME) … my stomach rumbling long before lunch….

And then sometimes, I get in the booth and start on a story and before I know it, hours and pages have passed! Those are the BEST days.

What are the best parts of the job? Worst parts?

Oh gosh, I don’t think I can pick a best part. Maybe getting so into a story that I forget that I’m telling it and it plays almost like a movie in my head instead.

The worst is … well, if you ask my daughter what I do for a living, she will tell you that I “hang around talking to myself in a padded room all day.” LOL!

And that is very true.

It can get a little crazy all by yourself in a small space for long periods of time, barely moving at all. Legs cramp up and your tush gets sore. And if I read for too long, my VOICE hurts. That stinks.

Any funny anecdotes to share from your recording experiences?

Often, I will be moving along in a book and come to a line that trips me up, or that I misread. For instance, yesterday while narrating I read the sentence, “He moved about the yard, happily watering his plants.” But what I NARRATED, what came out of my MOUTH was, “He moved about the yard, happily watering his pants.” I paused for a second, then hooted with laughter. It took me at least five minutes to get past that line because every time I tried to narrate it, I would imagine him watering his pants and then I would laugh all over again.

Turning to THE MOTHER-DAUGHTER BOOK CLUB, did you find any connections between yourself and the character that you narrated?

I play the role of Jess Delaney and boy do I EVER connect with her! I love when a character in a book draws me so deep and true inside their world that I find my own world outside of the book sort of mimicking theirs. That happened an absolute TON with Jess.

Jess and I share a lot of similarities I think. We both adore reading and science. Jess is a stalwart and devoted friend, and I like to think of myself as that way, too. And we are both, I think, of the soft-hearted variety — but also ready to fiercely defend those we love. It wasn’t difficult at all for me to find Jess’s “voice.”

I found myself stopping, too, in my everyday busyness and noticing things that Jess might notice … the palest peach color of my roses … the smell of the lavender and mint and lemon balm plants that grow along my fence line … how the fields outside of my house seem to make a puffy patchwork quilt.

I love hearing that, Cris! Nothing could make me happier. OK, last question — any fun facts about yourself that you might like to share with my readers?

Fun facts about me … hmm. I live in a little post-it note cottage (the previous owners painted the cottage post-it note yellow) with my 14-year-old daughter and our hairy white monster pooch.

Cris Dukehart_monster Pooch

I like to run and bike and swim — I’m a triathlete (that’s me below, holding my bike up in front of Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.):

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Oh, and I have a positively EMBARRASSING number of pairs of Converse shoes — and I like to surf, though I’m not super good at it yet….

Thanks so much for visiting with us, Cris! I’m absolutely delighted and honored that you agreed to play the role of Jess in THE MOTHER-DAUGHTER BOOK CLUB audiobooks — your wonderful narration brought her to life for me in ways I couldn’t even have imagined. My readers and I can’t wait to hear what else you have in store for us in the future! 

For more information on Cris and her stellar work, click here to visit her website. And stay tuned for next month’s audio release of MUCH ADO ABOUT ANNE, when we go “Behind the Scenes” with Kate Rudd, who plays Cassidy. Oh, and there’s another audio giveaway in store, too!

 

 

A little MDBC inspiration

April 9th, 2014

“Where do you get your ideas?” is a question frequently asked of writers. Our #1 question, in fact. My answer, as you know if you’ve read the FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page of this website (click here to visit it): absolutely everywhere!

Sometimes it’s fun to trace where one specific idea came from, however, and that’s what I want to do today.

Those of you familiar with my Mother-Daughter Book Club series will recall that in PIES & PREJUDICE, Jess Delaney and her mother take a cake decorating class together. Much to her surprise, Jess discovers that she actually enjoys the class (she goes along initially just to humor her mother), and that she has a knack for decorating cakes, including making frosting flowers.  This comes in handy when Jess and her friends start a baking business, and then in a later book, when Jess and her mother make a wedding cake for someone special (I’m not saying whom, just in case you haven’t read the entire series yet!).

So, where did I get this idea?

Would you believe my own life?

Heather and her culinary masterpiece

Heather Vogel with her culinary masterpiece

This is me at age 12, standing proudly in front of my crowning achievement as a cake decorator. My mother and I had taken a class together earlier that year (and yes, we had fun, just like Jess and her mom did!), so when my beautiful Aunt Judy got married to my handsome Uncle Howard, guess who was asked to do the honors?

Yep. Me.

My mother helped, too, of course. But as far as I was concerned, this was my baby!

HVF wedding cake closeup
And isn’t it a beautiful baby?  Three layers of my grandmother’s delicious pound cake topped with white buttercream frosting and adorned with frosting roses in two shades of pink, clustered on the top and trailing down the sides. A crowning achievement, if I say so myself!

My interest in cake decorating evaporated shortly after this photo was taken, but nothing ever goes to waste for a writer. Part of our writing process is mining memories for material. And this was one particularly sweet memory I was happy to find a spot for in one of my books.

 

A Jess Delaney moment

February 15th, 2012

Look what I saw yesterday while walking the dogs!

It’s a great blue heron.  They’re very majestic birds — and very LARGE birds.  Like nearly the size of Bonnie and Billie, our two Shetland sheepdogs.  Well, OK, maybe not that big.  But BIG for a bird.  We have a lot of them around here.  This guy was standing really close, though, and even more exciting, I got to watch him eat a frog!  (eew, I know)

He was standing on the bank of a creek with this, uh, thing dangling out of his mouth.  At first I  couldn’t tell what it was, and then about the time that I did, he swooped up into the air, showing off his huge wingspan, and landed on a branch at the top of a nearby tree.  Where he enjoyed his lunch…

Anyone else have a Jess Delaney nature moment they’d like to share?

 

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