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 Interview with Narrator:
Dick Hill

Other names he has used as a narrator:
Richard Hill, Dick Fredricks, Richard Fredricks.

Do you narrate audiobooks for a living? Do you have other jobs related to narrating?
Most of my living comes from narrating audiobooks for the past dozen years or so. I do a little bit of voice work on some regional radio spots and I earn a little bit of money from royalties from things I've written for the theatre. Not very much-very minor royalties.

How did you get into narrating audiobooks?

Well, I had been working in theatre as an actor and a friend of mine was doing work for Brilliance Audio. He's a Brit, and so he was not suited for a book they had coming up. He recommended that I get in touch with them and I did. I found a happy niche and I've been doing it ever since. I really love the work.

How long ago did you start?

It's been at least 10 years.

How many audiobooks have you narrated?

Over 200.

Besides Brilliance, have you worked for any other audiobook publisher? If so, have there been any differences?

Yes, I have done some work for other publishers.....I've done some for Zondervan, under the name Dick (perhaps Richard?) Fredericks, as well as recording a number of classics for a small outfit here in Michigan that blew all their capital producing a collection of nice works, then never managed a marketing plan.

Have any particular favorite books that you've narrated?

Sure. My absolute all-time favorite was Huckleberry Finn. I've always loved that book and when I got a chance to record it, I was absolutely thrilled. And after that, there's a whole slug of them.
Most recently, I did a novel called, "The Fine Dark Line," which is a coming of age novel of a young boy in Texas in the late 50's or 60's.

Have there been any books that gave you particular trouble or you just had trouble getting through?
There have been some that are real challenging. I did a book called "Waiting"; the author's name is Ha Jin and he was short listed for a Pulitzer. He won a National Book Circle Award or something like that. It was quite an interesting piece of literature. It was written, talking about an unrequited love affair in China that dealt with waiting thirty years of never getting together with the woman he loved. It wasn't based on a true story, but Ha Jin had lived in China. But that was a challenge simply because of the language. Lots of place names, character names, and phrases there and although we had help from the author with them, it was still a little tricky. You'd lay it out and then we'd go back and listen to make sure that I came half-way close to getting it right.

What are some of the challenges you face being a narrator and doing narrations?

I think focus is the one of the biggest things. When you sit all day in the studio, it's challenging to maintain your focus, which you really need. You need the concentration. I get great joy from the work, generally. The challenges are just fun challenges. I do a decent job with dialects and accents and I have a lot of fun employing those. I love interpreting text and I'm pretty good at it. I guess there are challenges, but I just think of it all as great fun, basically.

What are the different challenges you face with each different style and genre of book? And which do you have preference for?

The vast majority of the work I do is fiction. I guess I prefer that. I like being the story-teller and performer, but gosh, the nonfiction, if it is good and illuminating, it's a real pleasure to do, and a learning experience too. And the nonfiction is kind of fun in the sense of discovery because I just do it as a cold read. The fiction I don't really read all the way through-I'll read the first 20-30 pages just to get a feel for the author's voice and then after that, all I do is look for dialogue. Then I just make notes next to the dialogue so I know what voice to employ. First person is really great. I don't mind third, but first person can be very enjoyable because you get to drop into character all the time.

How do you mark the text when scanning through it before "reading" it?
Typically, I'll use a simple dash to indicate use of my own voice, then just an initial for major characters. I'll use something like OW to denote an old woman minor character.....perhaps a P if I'm doing my Joe Pesce voice, which sounds not all that much like Mr. Pesce, but is a distinct voice and character, JE for my "James Earl Jones", (again, not many would mistake me for him, but it's who I think of). Friends and acquaintances, the guy at the 7-11, gr for a gravelly voice, Fr for french accent, etc.

What's been your best range of characters in one book?

I'm really hard pressed to come up with a name for that. I get a fair number of books that are international thrillers in which I get a lot of characters and a lot of different accents, and I can't come up with the name of one to save me. The "Prodigal" series that I'm doing right now. That bounces around a bit.

What are some of the behind the scenes parts of the production that you like or dislike?
As I said, I pretty much like every part of it. This is sort of related to that. There are a lot of funny things that happen and I'm not sure how much I can tell. (laughs) I did a book a number of years back, called "The Postman" and I think Kevin Costner did a film on it, but the movie only covered part of the book. In that particular book, the state that's located between California and Washington state-that one up there? That must have been mentioned 200 times. So we're recording out in the Midwest and we really do our best to research everything carefully-anything that we're unsure of, we look up. The director was from the Midwest and the engineer was and I was. None of us ever thought to bother researching how to pronounce the name of that state. We just pretty much figured we knew how to pronounce the name of a state for goodness sake. But I didn't. I pronounced it "O-REE-GAHN", and we must have heard from I don't know how many disappointed Oregonians, saying "that is not how my state is pronounced. How could you mispronounce it?" Well, it's really simple in the sense that something you don't know, you don't know that you don't know it. Six years later, and someone will buy a copy of that book and call in and say "Do you know that he said this wrong 200 times?"

I've heard a particular story about you reading by the light of a lighter...can you tell me about this?

That was just a little bit of fun. I think it was J. C. Howe who was directing. I don't know what brought it into his mind to mess with me, but they had a dimmer switch over in the control booth. I could faintly hear them giggling through the wall, so I knew something was up. But he just slowly and slowly started taking down the lights, because I had a pretty good run going, I think, and he just wanted to mess with me. So I had a lighter in my pocket and I pulled it out and fired it up. I continued to read and he couldn't believe that I could read in the dark. That was kind of funny. The studio went black and I'm still reading away. It's a true story.

Now if that isn't, then what would be your most memorable moment in the studio?

That has to be it. I can't come up with anything goofier than that.

How long does it take you to complete a narration in a studio?
Of course that goes with the length of the book. Generally an average length book and the abridgement, I can get done in about three days. Plus or minus a little bit. When I'm on a roll and the book is really well written-the better the writing is, the better it is to read. Of course sometimes there's some clumsy phraseology but if you have a really good writer, it doesn't appear that way. The classics are so well written and also so well edited. Nowadays, it's interesting. You might pick up a book and read it for your own pleasure and not notice things. But when you're recording it, between you, the engineer and the director, you are subjecting it to great scrutiny and it's surprising how many things come through these days that editors don't catch.
Some of my author acquaintances have said that the money's not spent on the editing process. It's become more and more of a commercial process and less an interest in art. Well that's no surprise I guess. But when I'm on a roll and it's good writing, I can get 45 minutes of material taped in 50 minutes of studio time. You can really roll along sometimes.

Do you ever have bad days, where you come in and you're trying to read and you're just not hitting the mark? And if you do, what are some of your techniques to try and recover?

I've never had a bad day. (laughs) No, it happens sometimes and usually you're able to shake it. It's just a question of focus. And the folks that I work with at Brilliance are all well acquainted with each other and often, I have the pleasure of working with my wife. We sometimes co-read a book and sometimes, she'll direct me. At any rate, all the people I work with, I am familiar with, and it's a wonderful place to work in the sense that we keep it light. Everybody is good friends and enjoys each other's company-that's a saving factor if you do run into a problem.

Do you always work with a director or only some of the time?

At Brilliance, they always have a director, which I find to be terrific, because it's amazingly easy to absolutely miss a word or skip a line and of course you have no idea that you've done it. It's like balancing your check book-you can look at the error that you made 30 times and never see it till someone else points it out to you. It's very good to have a director there to do that quality control for you. Plus, the way they work it at Brilliance, the director has the ultimate responsibility for having things researched primarily. There's a lot of that, that needs to go on. I'm pretty lazy, so it works out pretty well for me.

What do you think of audiobooks as a medium?
I think they're terrific. I listen to them primarily when Susie and I are on a road trip and they're terrific for that. I think certainly for people who have difficulty reading or don't have the time, they're wonderful for commutes. For some people, I think it adds one more element of entertainment to it, if you have a reader who is imparting some personality to the text. I think we all do that when we look at the written word. But sometimes I think a good reader can enhance that experience and make it even more fun.

When you listen to audiobooks, do you have a preference for the kind you listen to?

Generally, I listen to something that Susie or I have done, or one of our other friends from Brilliance, because I've heard from them that it's a particularly good script and also because I can get them for free.

Did you wife get into audiobooks before or after you came along?

Yes, my wife, Susie Breck, started working for Brilliance after I'd found a home there. I had a chance to direct her early on doing “Where The Heart Is,” by Billie Letts, which was a wonderful book, one of Oprah's picks, a great experience for us both.

How is it co-narrating an audiobook with someone? Do you just have your own parts and read them separately or are you in the studio at the same time? Do you coordinate how certain passages should flow?

Doing a dual read is terrific. I've done some large cast projects, and found the logistics, the shuffling of actors back and forth, the stop and go, very unpleasant, but with just two, it can flow as nicely as doing a solo read. Susie, being the meticulous, industrious soul she is, will go through the book making note of which passages are from which POV, then also note which dialogue is done by male you may have Susie reading a chapter from the female POV, with me doing any male dialogue that shows up, and vice versa. We read together, but in separate studios that are linked so that we hear the other. Sometimes, if there are long passages where one of us isn't needed, they'll shut off the mike, otherwise we simply maintain mike discipline......keep our mouths shut, don't rustle paper or scratch our beards. Well, MY beard.

How has it been working with your wife as the director?
I love working with Susie.....she's a very good director, not intrusive, but not afraid to voice an opinion. She does a great job of researching our projects, and there's the not to be ignored benefit of bringing home two checks. We also enjoy staying in Grand Haven together when we work. It's a beautiful little town on Lake Michigan, and we've got a number of favorite restaurants we always enjoy visiting.

What do you think of audiobooks used as a class supplement in schools and colleges?

I think they could be a terrific asset. An artful, nuanced read can do a lot to help students understand and appreciate the author's work, to savor the musicality of fine language. I know that some of my recordings of Faulkner have been used in some college courses; I believe the Twain has been also.

How do you feel when you hear yourself on a finished product?

I don't listen to myself very often. The feeling I get when I finish a project is one of satisfaction of a job done. Sometimes, it's one of great pleasure, having to read this book and the thought of getting paid to read. It's a dream gig as far as I'm concerned.

Have you met any of the authors and received any feedback from them?

A number of authors have gotten in touch with me. They have generally said they enjoyed the work. I don't know, maybe there are ones who didn't enjoy it, but if so, Brilliance is protecting me. There are several authors that I've become friends with and maintain a correspondence and I continue to do their work and look forward to doing their work again. We've gotten in touch and enjoyed a meal or two.

Any new projects on the horizon?

Yes, I have one coming up next month. I'm doing the third part of the "Prodigal Project." I'm having a good time with those-I think they are well written and compelling stories with some interesting characters to do. I just finished-Susie directed and I read-Dave Barry's collection of columns. Those are always fun, I've done a number of his novels and several of his column collections.

Some of his narrations include:
  • The Prodigal Project: Exodus - Audiobook on CD
  • The Grace Awakening - Audiobook on CD
  • The Scarlet Letter - Audiobook on CD
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