Audiobook review # 1 - With summer's Songs by Janice cole Hopkins
How far would you go to protect your loved ones?
This is exactly what single-mom Tara Kildare has to ask herself when her parents in law try to claim full custody of her little boy, Ricky. Should she marry Sean, the handsome cruiseship officer she just met in order to strengthen her court case? But how can she take this leap of faith when she is still struggling with the trauma of her abusive ex-husband?
1. With Summer’s Songs was my first ever solo audiobook project and is a sweet romance novel written by Janice Cole Hopkins.
2. I went on a sailing trip in the Caribbean around the time of the recording which also happened to be the setting for half the story. Did I hear "commitment"? Well, more lucky coincidence really ;)
3. We decided to mix in some music at the beginning of each chapter and for point of view changes to honor the musical thread of the story - each chapter is named after a famous song.
This project took me a LOOONNNNGGGG time to complete. I probably spent 11-13 hours of work for each finished hour of audio. I was reading several books on voice acting at that time and the biggest takeaway was how the positioning of your body influences your voice and can help reinforce different emotions. For Sean, the eternal optimist, I would always keep an open body posture which gave him a brighter, warmer tone. For Tara, the sensitive young widow, I would adopt a closed posture. There were a lot of other female / male characters and I had fun finding different voices for each of them, including the sleezy Lucien.
Another takeaway is the crucial role of the author throughout the production process. I have to say that Janice was the most supportive and dedicated author I've ever worked with and I am very proud of the final result. With Summer's Songs is perfect for lazy day at the beach... or if you're dreaming of one 😉
About the author
Janice Cole Hopkins grew up in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. She learned to love stories before she could read, started reading at age five, wrote her own stories in third grade, and had published poetry by eight grade. As a teacher, she mainly wrote for magazines, because they didn’t take as much time, but she always wanted to write a historical novel. After she retired from teaching and became her mother’s caregiver, she wrote her first novel, and she’s still writing. To date, she’s published ten inspirational novels with more on the way. She also loves to travel and has gone to all fifty states, on fourteen cruises, and to forty other countries. All her profits go to a scholarship fund for missionary children.
Give your eyes a rest!
Here is the link to download the audiobook on Audible. Remember, your first book is free!
Would love to know your thoughts about it 😊
So here we are, a fresh New Year full of promise and soon to be forgotten resolutions is upon us! I hope you all spent some great holidays with your friends and loved ones.
2017 was definitely fun but challenging as I embarked on this voice acting journey. Luckily I met some wonderful mentors and friends that helped me kick things off!
Some 2017 stats :
+ 40 auditions.
+ 30 audiobooks (23 already available on Audible).
+ 100 hours of finished recording.
I have also recorded TV ads, IVR systems, eLearning modules, one fantastic video game trailer and taken part in a swashbuckling TV pilot read! Check out all the videos and voice samples in my portfolio.
Here are the key takeaways that I am focusing on for 2018:
Reading a book or ad goes beyond enunciation techniques and vocal warmups. It’s about making clear and strong character voice choices.
For example in the With Myth Wildfire series by Alexandria Clarke, I had to find unique voices for over 10 different female characters. The easiest way to do this – just like in an improv scene – is to “cheat”, i.e. base your characters on people you know. For example, Adrienne was a delightful mix of twisted and femme fatale and always brought to mind Charlize Theron in "Snow White and the Huntsman". On the other hand her daughter Nora had a pure yet sparkling quality which I associate with Kirsten Dunst in a role like "Marie-Antoinette".
One of the biggest challenges for any audiobook reader is consistency – both of audio levels and character voices – especially on long projects.
On the technical side, the most useful tool in my belt is my setup which has graduated to include some sweet new headphones that make every single little mistake pop out crystal clear as well as a piano bench which help keep my posture straight and level during long recording sessions. On the acting side, commiting to character voices can be tricky when the character’s appearances are few and widespread throughout a story – like the nasty inspector in the French adaptation of Once Gone by Blake Pierce. Once again, associating the character with a person you know is my most useful tip to keep track of things.
Rhythm and pacing are key to an enjoyable listen. I took this very literally in my first audiobook project – With Summers Songs by Janice Cole Hopkins – where I added music to keep with the story’s musical thread.
Even when stories are not as musically inclined, I've always noticed that the rhythm of the voice makes a huge difference in my attention and retention of a story. For example, marking a clear tone change at the beginning of a paragraph helps to better follow the structure of a story. The same goes for properly “closing” your sentences (finishing in a downward tone for sentences other than questions). Chapter ends are also interesting depending on whether you want to give a cliff-hanger feeling or if there is a sense of finality in the text.
Probably the most important thing to producing a good audiobook is to care about the content, no matter whether you are reading a book summary, some puppy dog training techniques... or playing a runaway alien on a mission to save humanity.
To quote my improv teachers: “believe It and they will see it”
Finally some audiobook recommendations from other narrators which I really enjoyed (and learned from):
Would love to hear from you ! Have you listened to any of my audiobooks or come across my voice on a voice messaging system? Remember, the first book on Audible is free :)
I tend to go for jobs that give me more than just a paycheck at the end of the month. During my marketing years in Paris for SHIGETA I learned the benefits of aromatherapy and massages with the masseuse goddess herself, Chico Shigeta. But since I started voice acting and especially long-form narrations, I've discovered a whole new realm of practices essential to this career and with the lucky side-effect of benefiting my overall health. Below are the top 5 most helpful practices I'm taking away from this career so far.
If there was only 1 mantra for voice actors I believe it would be hydration. It's amazing the amount of water you go through during recording sessions! The one in my profile pic - recording the role of Yvette for an exciting video-game set during the French Revolution - was a 1.5 liter / hour ratio. Besides the fact that your body and cells just needs regular water replenishment (especially in a hot and airless recording box...), proper hydration is essential to keeping those vocal cords supple and reducing annoying mouth noises.
Exit the salty and spicy, hello light and digestible. This doesn't mean you should starve yourself - stomachs can get very vocal as well - but just that you should pay more attention to how some types of food impact your performance. I do my recordings in the morning and my go to breakfast is a bowl of fruits with nuts. Dairy is known to be a big no no... but I'm French so can't totally get rid of that one.
3. Dental hygiene
No I did not start brushing my teeth when I started into voice acting. What I did do is start brushing more often during the day. I've found this to be the most effective tool against mouth noises (them again!).
4. Daily workout
Sirens, keys, tongue twisters ("red leather, yellow leather")... you name it. These are all part my morning vocal workout to get the best enunciation and sound. I also stretch for about 10 minutes just to get the blood flowing and keep a good posture. No matter how good you are, hunched shoulders are going to make your character sound defeated (I actually use this for some teenager roles in an ongoing project). I've learned I sound most energetic when my head is nice and straight with a slight upward tilt.
Actually breathing is kind of a controversial subject in the audiobook world. Should you hear your breaths? Should you erase them? After much trial and error as well as many hours spent listening to veteran narrators, I have decided to embrace them. One, I am not a robot and it just sounds more natural to hear some breathing. Two, if you are trying to avoid them, you either have to stop breathing - again, I am not a robot - or erase the breaths out of your recordings which is incredibly tedious and time-consuming. Now, with each book I work on, I am increasing my breathing capacity and refining my pace and flow... while also toning my abs! Love this job )
So what do you think? Would the "Voice over Detox" make it to the NY Times bestselling list?
I recently went on a free City Guide Walk called: "San Francisco, Paris of the Pacific". The walk was conducted by the delightful Gilles - also a private tour guide in French, check out his website here.
Well, you can imagine my state of mind! Here was finally the missing link between my hometown and adoptive city. Here was proof that my coming to San Francisco made sense in the grand scheme of things (imagine dramatic music here... probably by Howard Shore).
The walk focused on the period running from 1849 to 1853. During this time, 3 waves of French people undertook the grueling 6-month journey to San Francisco and achieved the popularity that coined the term "Paris of the Pacific".
So to what extent does that influence still hold true today? Can San Francisco still be considered the "Paris of the Pacific"?
Let's first consider the population and language.
At the highest point in the 1852-53, there were 8,000 French people living in SF, compared to around 30,000 today while the overall population has been multiplied by 20 over the same period. However, even though the population did not grow proportionally, it is uncanny how I tend to hear French speakers everywhere I go in SF and French institutions, groups and libraries abound in the city*. In the 1850', the French people were called "Kesskeediz" (Whats-he-sayin') because of their patent unwillingness to learn English. Well, that statement certainly does seem to hold true today! Although, now I wonder if this is not intentionnaly done to capitalize on the appeal of the French accent...
Second, let's look at the business side,
I was surprised to learn that far from the rugged adventurers I had imagined, the initial French settlers were actually bourgeois Parisians, disillusioned Republicans, Bonapartists, journalists, aristocrats... who were the only ones to be able to affoard the steep boat fee of 1000 Francs (roughly $3000 today but probably 10-20 times that in actual purchasing power). When these elegant "Messieurs" set foot in San Francisco (fashionably late of course... 18 months after gold was first discovered) they decided that they would rather set up shop in the city itself and recreate a home away from home. Apparently, if you walked around Commercial Street in 1853, with its wine shops, bakers, butchers, dressmakers, laundries, theaters and gambling houses it was easy to imagine yourself on it's Paris namesake. Now, I must say that even though there are some streets and shopfronts that openly lay claim to their roots - cafe Plouf and cafe Bastille in Belden place for example or the innumerable bakeries like Thorough bread and Pastry, Tartine, Boudin - the majority of French businesses are much less visible today, having removed themselves to that elevated and ethereal place known as "the cloud".
Finally, my review would not be complete without a look at the San Francisco mentality,
Probably the most lasting influence of French people in SF is the "art de vivre" that you find here, the love of culture, good food and drink. A French bon vivant called Louis Alfred Pioche was apparently so appalled at the culinary situation of SF in the 1850' that he brought back chefs from Paris to shape up the local hotel and restaurants scene. Nowadays, I find it telling that SF is rated number 1 for alcohol and book consumption in a study by the Bureau of Labor statistics (as seen on sfgate.com). I am constantly amazed at the daily cultural offering here (see a list of museums with Free entry dates here). One could also argue that the city's love of demonstrations bears a great resemblance to the French spirit of protest. The only area where French influence seems to have (somewhat) abated is in fashion as the inhabitants of SF have surrendered to the more practical constraints of winds, hills and yoga mats.
All in all I think that San Francisco can still be called the Paris of the Pacific. Actually France of the Pacific would probably do more justice to the diversity of the population today but I will pay hommage to my Paris snobbery here and just assume that "Paris, c'est la France"!
Further information and resources about the French in SF:
- I highly recommend taking Gilles entertaining tour to learn more about the colorful French characters of Gold rush SF. See next available dates.
- French consulate website
- Alliance Francaise de San Francisco
- An interesting report about the presence of the French in the tech industry.
- Books that I am reading on the subject:
Now it's your turn!
Have you noticed other traces of the French influence in SF I have missed out? Or similar traces in other foreign countries? Let me know in the comment field below!
I relocated to San Francisco 6 months ago after 30 years in the land of cheese and baguettes.
My head was full of dreams of fulfilment and success and I very much liked to think of myself as a pioneer 2.0 (twice the chance to get to the end of my first year alive :).
However, much like the early gold-hunters, I quickly realized that my utopia was not going to throw itself upon me.
So I decided to throw myself on it :)
The first thing I knew I wanted to do in SF was reconnect with my love of theatre.
Much to my dismay, finding a theatre company was not as easy as it had been in Paris. Most classes I found involved a considerable time and money commitment which I was not yet ready to make.
In walks LEELA into the picture!
LEELA, whose name come from the Sanskrit for divine play and love, is an improvisational theatre company based on "truthful, artistic play". They had me at play :)
Because really, when was the last time you had fun with the abandon of a 4 year old? Or allowed yourself to dance like nobody was watching?
We live in a society where risk-taking and failure is discouraged although it is the very essence of life and progress. LEELA offers the chance to get out of your head and create in an incredibly supportive environment.
So after attending a couple drop-ins led by the lovely Marilet and Steven, I decided to sign up for the Level 1 class with the wonderful Diana.
So far, the 3 gifts that stand out most from this class are :
- allowing me to meet an incredible group of people and friends.
- a new outlook on my personal and work behaviour.
- helping me to trust my instincts and figure out the common thread running through my life... which is my love for telling stories and the origin of this blog!
I look forward to sharing more insights with you as I progress.
In the meantime check out LEELA's classes and shows!