Our Spotlight Shines on Narrator Ruth Oakes.
Pete; What inspired you to get into narration?
Ruth; I was initially inspired by being such a voracious reader from the day I learned how letters become words and then stories.
The magic of entering another world then became something I was excited to share with my four children and subsequently my grandchildren, becoming a narrator was a natural evolution.
Pete; How long have you been narrating?
Ruth; If I respond unofficially, I would give age away, but as far as family, friends’ and children are concerned, I have been a narrator/storyteller for decades.
One day I was invited to perform radio plays before my career as a Dr. Ruth (clinical psychologist). But it wasn’t until a few years ago that I began this second career. People often commented about my voice. They really believed I must be a singer, they didn’t know I was tone deaf.
However, over the years, I did some acting, a call in radio show (Ask the Psychologist), made relaxation tapes with my patients, was an invited public speaker at national meetings, and had a podcast series WOMEN GOING SANE. Officially, I have narrated and edited two books on ACX, I was fortunate to have auditioned three times and accepted twice, the third book was never assigned.
Pete; Care to share some of your projects?
Ruth; Memory Mambo by Achy Obejas
Jia: A Novel of North Korea by Hyejin Kim
Both for sale on audible.com, Amazon.com and in the ITunes store
Pete; Which projects are you working at the moment?
Ruth; I am currently working on shorter projects through the holidays. When I narrate an audiobook, it becomes all consuming. So I also have the luxury of reading, which is difficult when recording.
Pete; When beginning a new project, how do you approach it?
Ruth; I first immerse myself in the book to get the context and a sense of the characters. I then list the main characters and decide how to portray and convey them. I try to record the whole chapter through before stopping so I can “be in” the story.
Pete; Does your approach change for various genres?
Ruth; Yes it does, in non-fiction, I do not have to give life to the characters, so instead, I focus on the content and main focus of the author. The two audiobooks mentioned above are fiction, my nonfiction narrations have been smaller projects. I choose topics I am interested in talking about and in learning about.
Pete; Does the author have any input during your narrations?
Ruth; They are given the opportunity to have a say, and that would certainly influence my narration. After all, I am reading what they have written. I am giving life to their creations.
Pete; What is your favorite book?
Ruth; That is a difficult question to answer, sometimes it is the most recent project. There are so many wonderful books! That is why it is a gift and joy to narrate and share the love of books. I do though seem to be drawn to stories that are fictionalized accounts of real people and real events, that is true of both books mentioned above.
The narrator of Memory Mambo is a Cuban refugee whose extended family escaped and settled in Chicago. Her candid descriptions of her relationships, the impact on her family, their support and an excruciating family event rings true as a compilation of similar real stories. The challenge narrating this book was putting myself in the shoes of this lesbian narrator whose honesty significantly enhanced the story.
In Jia: A Novel of North Korea, I learned so much about the history and tragedies of a part of the world so far removed from my experiences. Since then, I have been seeking more information about the current status of citizens of North Korea and find the author of this book was so skilled in portraying a range of tragic, accurate and still current events.
Both books presented another challenge, pronouncing foreign words, the Spanish required for Memory Mambo was easy and rewarding. I just had to recall high school and college Spanish and brush up on pronunciation. However, my background did not include Korean, I searched online for pronunciation guides, wrote to professors of Korean language, and contacted a family member with a Korean background.
I also learned about the Korean neighborhood in NYC, one of two cities where we live. I went door to door until I found a very kind shop worker willing to help with pronunciation. I returned with my computer and recorded her reading of the few dozen Korean words. Through doing this book, I met new people and found new unexpected interests.
From these experiences, I am learning that my favorite books tend to be fictionalized accounts of historical periods through the experiences of representative characters. Most recently, I enjoyed reading Ken Follett’s first two books of his trilogy starting with World War 1, what an amazing and painless way to learn and enjoy history!
Pete; What do you find most challenging about being a narrator?
Ruth; I think I already mostly answered part of this question with examples of how being challenged actually expanded and enhanced my experiences, so now I can talk about the challenges of learning new skills.
First, learning how to record, trying to record on my PC challenged all my stress management skills so I finally invested in a MacBook Pro. What a relief! Then the challenge of where to record?, I had to make decisions about this for two locations since we live in two cities, Saint Louis, MO and NYC, NY. After some trial and error (maybe much error) I settled on making my studio in my walk in closet in Saint Louis.
In NY, my studio apartment dressing room does double duty as my recording studio. the next challenge was learning to edit. This for someone whose generation started with radio, then television as the most advanced technology. I am continually learning from Apple trainers, sound engineers, and audiobook discussion groups.
Another challenge is being true to the characters and consistent in portraying them; When getting to know the characters I have to be careful to not become their therapist in my understanding and interpretation.
Pete; Do you have any final thoughts?
Ruth; I know I said that I am taking a short holiday break to catch up on some things (like cleaning) and relationships (like my husband and children) that may get or feel somewhat neglected while I am narrating and editing (which is significantly more time consuming) an audiobook. The reality is that I am missing the feeling of looking forward to being immersed in the next book. It is like missing getting to know a new friend.
Pete;Thank you Ruth for taking the time to speak with me today, all the best to you!
Ruth;You are most welcome Pete!