The Making of an Audio Book

I have loved audio books ever since I was a kid, so when I heard my first book Heart of a Shepherd would be brought out in audio I was elated. When the audio book producer from Listening Library, Dan Musselman, called me to ask if I’d read the author note for the audio book of Second Fiddle, I was over the moon, although I had no idea what to expect.

Because I did speech and debate in high school, I did know enough to print out my pages double spaced in 20 point font, so I could read without losing my place. I practiced the whole author note aloud several times and then took out a pencil and marked each place where I should take a breath. Then I went back through and underlined where the emphasis should fall in each sentence. And then, because I know I tend to mumble, I highlighted words where I needed to be attentive to articulation. A dozen more practice runs through the 5 page author note, and I felt ready.
I got in touch with Mary MacDonald Lewis here in Portland who is a very well known voice artist. If you have On Star, that is her calm and reassuring voice telling you what to do. She’s also a director, a dialect coach, and a great teacher. Taking a voice class from her before I did my first book events was one of the best investments I’ve made. Mary Mac has a recording studio in her home, so we got together and she taught me how to use a studio microphone. Mary asked me to speak standing up with my mouth only an inch or so from the screen, which felt very awkward at first. And she insisted the most important thing was to smile, because people can hear it when you’re not smiling. I was sure she was making it up, so we recorded a few sentences, smiling and not, and guess what? I could hear it!

Then we got down to the work of the reading. I read as carefully as I could, but I still needed to stop a dozen times and back up when I misspoke or made a funny mouth sound or shuffled my feet. Also, dropping the page on the floor is a lot louder than you think it is! Maybe the biggest surprise of all was that it took me more than an hour to read 5 pages out loud. I was so relieved that the entire book was someone else’s responsibility.
When I thought about writing this post I know my experience was just a tiny piece of the whole audio book experience, so I was delighted when my voice artist Bri Knickerbocker agreed to be interviewed.

Bri Knickerbocker grew up in Pittsburgh, PA speaking in silly voices and singing, creating and performing plays and writing countless books about black cats. Now she lives in LA, acts on camera, voice acts and writes novels. To learn more, visit her here for writing: and here for voice over: You can follow Bri on twitter @briannanoellek.

How did you get interested in voice acting?

I was originally attracted to voice acting because I love animation and anime; I’m a kid at heart and anytime I get to sound like a 6 year old girl I can’t help but smile and giggle.
I’ve got some anime fans in my house, and those voices do sound so young—even younger than the animation looks. How did you get started?

I booked the first voice over job I ever applied for, which was some goofy animated commercials and it took off from there. Voicing book trailers, video games and audio books– all appeal to my love for dramatic story telling, getting emotionally involved and bringing characters to life through my voice.

Did you take specific training for voice work?

I actually haven’t. As cliché as it may sound, voice acting has always felt natural to me. In that sense, I’m self-taught. But earlier this year I did start taking on camera improvisation and film classes and both of those have only helped me grow and open up emotionally to be a better, fuller voice actress.

Wonderful! I love it when I can squeeze in classes. I took a poetry slam workshop this summer that was a blast! I always come back to the page with fresh ideas when I do something a outside my comfort zone. Can you describe how you got the part for Second Fiddle?

Really funny story, I found an ad on craigslist that stated an audio book company was looking for a voice actress with a British accent. As instructed on the ad, I called the number posted and left a voicemail in a British accent. When Janet Stark (from Random House) called me, I kept up the faux accent, totally unsure if I should let her know I’m not really British. I came in to audition for the project and met Dan Musselman, immediately confessing that I’m just an all American girl from Pittsburgh, PA and he decided to have me audition in my natural voice. I didn’t book that particular project. But a few months later Dan emailed me telling me they’d like me to voice Second Fiddle. It was my first audiobook and a dream come true for me!
That’s so exciting! When Dan called me to ask if I’d read the author note he told me how delighted he was to find just the right book for a promising young voice actor. ☺
What is the process for recording an audio book?

Dan mailed me the hardcopy manuscript straight from LA (I was in Pittsburgh for the holidays at the time) and I read the novel over and over again. First, simply reading and enjoying the story. Second, I put together a journal of all the dialogue and words in foreign languages and dialects, then looked them all up online, except the French, which thankfully I remembered from high school! I flew back to LA and recorded at Random House with Tony Hudz as my director and foreign language consultant/specialist.
I was wondering if you got help with the foreign languages. Dan was kidding me about that.
“Did you really have to put in all those languages?”
“What!? They live in Europe!”
“But Estonian? Really!?”
He was kidding. But it’s true that made it a more challenging than a book in just one language. How long did it take to make the recording? Because I was a total slow poke!

It took two days to complete and one more trip to the studio for just a few pick ups.

What happens if you make a mistake?

When I made a mistake, Tony or I heard it right away. Then, I’d simply restart voicing from the last sentence.

Did you have a favorite part of the process?

My favorite part was reading your story, and emotionally involving myself in it as I voiced it, hopefully bringing it to life and doing it justice! Losing myself in the story to be Jody and travel through her suspenseful adventure was magical and exciting and so rewarding.

Gosh, thanks! You’re a writer yourself. Can you tell us something about your work-in-progress or your favorite genre to write?

I’m currently writing an edgy young adult paranormal romance about ghosts and dark ones (demons) and my most recently finished work is a contemporary young adult novel with magical realism. Writing is related to voice acting for me, because they’re both complex storytelling, with three dimensional characters that I have the power and responsibility to bring to life. I get very involved with the story and characters in both mediums; I don’t want to let any of the characters down! It’s up to me to give them their voices so other people can hear what they have to say.
Do you remember a favorite middle-grade book book you’ve read recently?

I recently read a middle-grade novel called Sea, by Heidi R. Kling and The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall—I recommend both!
Wonderful! Thanks so much for spending a little time here at the mixed up files.
Readers, do you have any questions about audio book making process? Have you read a good audio book lately? Let us know what you think in the comments.

At the end of the day I’ll have a drawing from everyone joining the conversation for an audio book of Second Fiddle and you can hear Bri’s voice work for yourself.

Winner of Dial M for Mongoose

Thank you all for your comments on Bruce Hale’s interview!  The winner of a signed paperback of DIAL M FOR MONGOOSE is…

Candie L

Congratulations, Candie!  We’ll send you an e-mail soon with details on how to receive your prize. If you have any questions, please write to msfishby (@) fromthemixedupfiles (dot) com.


Don’t forget that you still have a chance to win a full length Skype visit with Bruce Hale or seven other middle-grade authors.  You have until October 3rd to enter for a chance to give your favorite class, library, group, or club a visit with one of these amazing middle-grade authors:

Tami Lewis Brown (The Map Of Me),

Erin Moulton (Flutter),

Kathy Erskine (Mockingbird),

Tricia Springstubb (What Happened On Fox Street),

Sarah Aronson (Beyond Lucky),

Uma Krishnaswami (The Grand Plan To Fix Everything),

Jennifer Nielsen (Elliot and the Pixie Plot),


Bruce Hale  (Chet Gecko Mysteries)


Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle-grade novels and is constantly inspired by her ten and thirteen year-old daughters, adventurous sock and underwear munching puppy, and two stinky but adorable ferrets. Visit her blog to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.

Bruce Hale Interview and Giveaway

I’m thrilled to welcome Bruce Hale to the Mixed-Up Files.  Bruce has written and illustrated over twenty-five books for kids, including his Chet Gecko Mysteries and Underwhere series. 

Can you tell our readers a bit about your series and how you came up with the idea to write them?

The Chet Gecko books came from someplace deep in my subconscious, I suspect.  I’ve always had a love for hardboiled detectives, ever since I was a kid watching Humphrey Bogart movies with my dad.  That love grew as I got older and read Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and other classic noir writers.  The gecko part?  I think that came along because I was living in Hawaii, in a house that was lousy with geckos.  And the name “Chet,” I suspect, came from Chet Baker, a jazz trumpeter whose recordings I love.  But really, Chet Gecko emerged when I was doing some free writing, noodling around on an idea for a mystery book.  He showed up feisty and fully-grown — sort of a Gecko Venus on the half shell.


The Underwhere books have a more straightforward origin.  As a longtime cartoonist, I was toying with the idea of doing a book that was part-graphic novel, part-conventional fiction.  I tried and discarded several ideas, trying to establish the logic behind switching between the two forms of storytelling.  Finally it hit me: a world at the center of the Earth beneath our feet, called (what else?) “Underwhere.”  Once I had that play on words, I couldn’t resist.  The graphic novel sections take place in Underwhere, and the narrative fiction sections are in our own world.  It was only later that I realized I may have unconsciously based the concept on the Pellucidar novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs, an author I loved in 3rd-5th grades.


Your books are really funny, and whenever I’ve seen you in person, you always have the audience laughing.  When did you realize that you have a gift for humor? 

I guess I’ve always had a twisted sense of humor, but it started coming out most strongly in my acting and cartooning when I was in high school.  A gift?  I look at it that way, but I’m not sure all victims of my puns would agree.


What advice would you give to people who want to write funny stories?

Part of being funny is being willing to take risks.  There’s the risk of offending, as well as the risk of falling flat on your face.  And no risk is greater (or joke funnier) than telling the truth.  In life, that’s where a lot of my favorite humor comes from — telling truths that everyone is thinking, but no one is saying.  In writing, if you take a risk and get a little “out there,” you might come up with something funny, or you might flop.  Same thing if you tell uncomfortable truths in a funny way — sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  But unless you risk, you’ll never know.  My philosophy is, give the joke a shot; you can always revise it later.

Another thing about writing funny: it’s all about revision. Dave Barry, one of my favorite humorists, says he spends hours searching for exactly the right word, and phrasing his sentences in exactly the right way.  That’s what it takes to write humor — lots and lots of revision.


Which middle-grade novels make you laugh the most?

One of my favorite middle-grade series is MT Anderson’s Lily Dare and Jasper Dash books, like WHALES ON STILTS.  Hilarious stuff.  Recently, I read Mac Barnett’s first BRIXTON BROTHERS book and snorted frequently.  And as far as classics go, both WINNIE THE POOH and THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH still make me smile.


Do you have a fun writing exercise to share with us?

Yes, it’s called Teen Villain Questionnaire.  Chet Gecko villains invariably have goofy names and fearsome aspects, but sometimes they’ve got a hidden motivation or a weakness/soft spot that you wouldn’t expect.  Design a teen magazine-style questionnaire, and answer it as if you were a Chet Gecko villain (create your own goofy name and villainous character).  Example questions:  Name your favorite hobbies?  Your idea of a dream date?  Who’s groovier, Elvis or Edward?  Have fun with it.  You’ll find a lot of humor comes in creating strong contrasts between the questions and answers, or within the answers themselves.  (Ex: Hobbies?  Thievery, world domination, and stamp collecting.)


Thank you so much for participating in our Skype Giveaway!  What do you love about Skype visits, and what makes yours special?

Skype visits are a blast!  I love that I get to work with smaller groups in Skype visits, as I normally do large assemblies when visiting schools in person.  I like that the kids get plenty of chances to be a star, standing up in front of the group to ask me questions.  My visits are special because we tend to laugh a lot, while at the same time getting inspired and even learning something.  My sessions include storytelling with character voices, plenty of Q&A, a brief slideshow on how I went from being a reluctant reader to an author — and, best of all, a short cartooning lesson.  And you never know who will show up — sometimes my dog Riley joins the conversation mid-visit, which kids love.


Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

Just this month, I had a short story published in the new Guys Read collection, GUYS READ: THRILLER.  It’s a spooky tale of a kid who hunts for cryptids.  I’ve got two picture books in the works: POOCH IN BOOTS, and BIG BAD BABY — as well as a longer novel that will remain top-secret for now.

I have teaching guides for CHET GECKO and SNORING BEAUTY on my website.  I’m passionate about helping people become better storytellers.  If you could use some help on the road to getting published, I invite you to subscribe to my free monthly e-newsletter of writing tips.  You’ll find interviews with agents and editors, feature articles on aspects of craft, Q&A, inspirational quotes, and the occasional bad joke.


Thank you so much for taking the time to chat, Bruce!  I can’t wait to read your upcoming books and hear more about your top-secret novel.

One lucky winner will receive a signed paperback of DIAL M FOR MONGOOSE.  Leave a comment below and our random generator will choose a winner on Saturday, September 24th.  You’ll get extra entries for sharing a link on your blog, Facebook, or Twitter.

***Please mention each link in a new comment so the generator will add your extra entries.  Winners must live in the US or Canada.  Good luck!


Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle-grade novels and is constantly inspired by her ten and thirteen year-old daughters, adventurous sock and underwear munching puppy, and two stinky but adorable ferrets. Visit her blog to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.