Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The World of Audio Books

Today Kim Hammond interviews audio book star, Barbara Rosenblat and talks about her love for audio books. 

I never have enough time to read. If there were more hours in a day I’d like to read 3-4 books a week….sigh, wouldn’t that be nice? I am cursed with a long commute each day and round trip is at least 1 ½ hours, so my compromise is my beloved audiobooks.

I think an audiobook can make a character come to life. There’s just something about hearing a character’s “voice” that can make you connect to them, and if it’s a series narrated by the same actor, all the better because that voice is consistent and familiar.

I also find that a narrator can make or break a story for me. If the narrator is good, he or she can make a so-so story much better with their ability to bring the characters to life. By the same token, if the narrator isn’t good, even a well written story can be disappointing. 

Just like having my favorite authors, I have my favorite audiobook narrators. In my humble opinion, the rockstar of female narrators is Barbara Rosenblat. When I see her name on one of my audiobooks I actually get giddy and know I am in for a treat, and I am bummed when the book is over.

Now you’re in for a treat because I had the pleasure of interviewing Barbara on a Saturday morning as she fit me into her busy, busy schedule. Truth be told, I was nervous, and I talk for a living, so that’s saying something. As soon as I heard her voice I felt like I was talking to Linda Fairstein’s Alexandra Cooper. I just finished the audiobook of Death Angel last week and Barbara’s voice was still in my head.

Kim: How long have you been narrating audiobooks?

Barbara: Since the 1980s. I lived in England for 14 years and started my career there. My agent asked me to do a 3 hour abridged Harlequin romance and I was hooked…..I loved it. But opportunity didn’t come up again until I came back to the States.

Kim: How many times do you read a book to prepare?

Barbara: Once. But I read it a lot slower than the average person in order to take it all in, the pacing and characters. I once had a fan say I have a phonographic memory, which refers to my ability to remember the voices as they come up in the book. As I begin to work, I rely on that skill and 'bookmarking' to maintain the characterizations.

Kim: How long does it take you to tape an unabridged book?

Barbara: It takes about 2 hours to record one finished hour. I start a book for Audible tomorrow and will be at their studio in midtown from 10 till 4 in the afternoon. With lunch, I should get around 3 finished hours done. Recorded Books is one of the only studios that works in 2 hour increments. My current assignment must be completed in 3 days. 

Kim: Do you have a favorite character?

Barbara: Linda Fairstein’s Detective Mike Chapmanis one of my favorites, Elizabeth Peters’ Emerson and Marla from Diane Mott Davidson’s books.

Barbara then talked to me in Mike Chapman’s voice and then switched to Emerson talking to Amelia Peabody. I was beside myself with glee. It was amazing to hear her change her voice back and forth.  I feel like I know these fictional characters because of her and I could recognize their voices immediately.

Kim:  Speaking of Elizabeth Peters, I feel that her death was such a loss to the writing community.

Barbara: I’m still not over it. I don’t often meet the authors whose book I narrate, but I met her years ago and we became great friends. I’d visit her for a weekend and we enjoyed talking about everything. 

Kim: Do you read for pleasure, and if so, what are some of your recent reads?

Barbara: Yes I do. A few books are Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, Devil in the White City by Erik Larson and Forever by Pete Hamill.

Kim: How do you get picked to narrate a book?

Barbara: Sometimes I have to audition just like an actress would for a part in a movie. Sometimes an author will ask for me.

Kim: Do you like narrating a series for an author? I know that I enjoy when a series is narrated by the same person throughout. I like each character’s voice to remain the same.

Barbara: Yes. Doing a series is like getting into a comfy pair of slippers for me.

Kim: What projects are you doing right now?

Barbara: Usually an actor is only as good as her current job and you never know where the next one is coming from. I’ve never been in this position with my life before…. being so busy. I’ve been asked to narrate the new Nevada Barr. I am filming another episode of Orange is the New Black (she plays Miss Rosa) and I am also working on a film.   I have an embarrassment of riches at this moment in my life.

Kim: You can tell just by the way you talk that you are having the time of your life and really enjoy what you do. Not everyone can say that in life.

Barbara: I am very fortunate.  I like to say that I am seducing readers one pair of ears at a time. It’s a personal one on one event to me. It’s just you and me and a bond is created.

The audiobook industry has its own awards and Barbara has won her fair share: over 40 Earphone Awards, the latest is for Death Angel, 8 Audie Awards (more than any other female in the nation) and many others. A critic once said, “Barbara is to audiobooks what Meryl Streep is to film.” Now that’s quite a compliment. As I was writing this post I took a break to tool around face book for a few minutes and I see a post from none other than Linda Fairstein who said:

"Just in! The superb Barbara Rosenblat- who has read many of the audio books in this series, just won Audiofiles “Earphones” award for her narration of Death Angel. Way to go Barbara! She is fantastic."

Barbara was very generous with her time and it was amazing to get a glimpse into such a unique world. I hope she continues to entertain and delight us for many years to come. Now I have to go to Netflix and check out Orange is the New Black
Kim Hammond


  1. What a fun interview. It's so cool to see what happens behind the scenes.

  2. Barbara Rosenblat is my absolute favorite reader of audio books. I will pick up an audio book if she's reading it, based on that alone.