Anne Flosnik – in my mind she’s the queen of historical romance audio. Narrating for romance greats such as Mary Balogh, Elizabeth Hoyt, Julie Garwood, Amanda Quick, Julia London, Catherine Coulter, Elizabeth Lowell, and Jo Beverley (and that’s not all), she’s once again proving her reigning status by narrating Laura Lee Guhrke’s first books in audio, the Abandoned at the Altar trilogy. Releases are scheduled for October, November, and December of 2011 by Tantor Audio and, as a big Guhrke fan, I’ll be listening to each one.
Anne is known well throughout the audiobook industry for her performances in a multitude of genres. Although her recordings now average 75% in the romance genre, she has received numerous awards in other genres and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a few of those awards – the Library Journal Top 40 Audiobooks of 2009, Earphones Awards in 2008 and 2009, AudioFile’s Best Audiobooks of the Year 2009, American Libraries Association Special Services for Children Award 2000, and the Audie Finalist performances (Audie awards can be likened to the Oscars for audiobooks) in 2005, 2008, and 2010.
Although Anne’s romance narrations have consistently received their share of praise from listeners, my thoughts on Anne’s work can best be compared to a journey. My first listen, Elizabeth Lowell’s Untamed in 2008, made the first steps a challenge. In my early days of reading romance, I had given Untamed my highest grade but listening in audio made me wonder about my love for the hero, Dominique. He seemed uncaring and brutish. What had I been thinking when I read in print? But after listening to two more Flosnik narrated romances, I realized that all three heroes had sounded gruff and emotionless and concluded that rather than unlikeable heroes, it was the narrator’s interpretation of those heroes that affected me negatively. I became hesitant to listen to more.
Fortunately, that didn’t mean I quit listening to Flosnik narrations as I later found Mary Balogh’s First Comes Marriage to be a success – first in print and then in audio. I expected Elliott to be unfeeling and superior and that’s just how he sounded. I have relistened to First Comes Marriage twice.
However, I noticed a big change in Anne’s characterization of her heroes with her performance of Alistair in Elizabeth Hoyt’s To Beguile a Beast. A book I adored in print, I somehow had the feeling Anne would get Alistair right and did she ever! I loved Alistair in audio just as much as I had in print. Through Anne’s voice alone, the listener understands that Alistair is a quiet, caring man beneath his gruff façade – one with a keen sense of humor. To Beguile a Beast garnered an A grade from me in audio as well as print.
Wanting to hear more of the Hoyt-Flosnik partnership, I looked to To Desire a Devil (the sequel to To Beguile a Beast) and once again heard that gruff, unfeeling characterization of the hero that hadn’t worked all that well for me in Anne’s earlier works. Surprised, I looked closely at the production dates and discovered that although To Desire a Devil is 4th in Hoyt’s Legend of the Four Soldiers series, it had been produced in audio six months prior to the 3rd in the series, To Beguile a Beast. In those six months something crucial (for my audiobook ears) had changed in the world of Anne Flosnik romance narrations. She had made a commitment to change her characterizations of her heroes after reading dissatisfied comments from romance listeners. And, boy, could I hear it.
Anne received my vote for Narrator You Learned to Like in our 2011 Favorite Romance Audiobook Poll (a category she won) and that was followed by my pure enjoyment of her narration of Mary Balogh’s The Secret Mistress. Anne had made it to my auto listen list of romance narrators.
It was only then that I discovered through talking with Anne, that she wanted to share her journey of change with us. The depth of her audio experience is astounding and her love of her chosen profession is obvious as well. But her willingness to take in comments from listeners and implement change is impressive and what secures that queen’s crown for me.
Anne is sharing her thoughts with us today on her world of creating characters for our listening ears. But first, a few details about our giveaway.
Six Audiobook Giveaway to One Winner!
Our giveaway is in one word, awesome! We’re giving away six audiobooks to one winner. All six audios are narrated by Anne Flosnik and represent a number of various genres. Included are Laura Lee Guhrke’s very first audiobook, as well as the award winning Little Bee.
Wedding of the Season – Laura Lee Guhrke
Little Bee – Chris Cleave
Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
Persuasion – Jane Austen
Agnes Grey – Anne Bronte
Beautiful Assassin – Michael White
The details? Place your name in the hat by commenting on this column by 11:59 p.m. eastern time on Thursday, October 20th. Due to the cost of postage, the giveaway is open only to listeners in the U.S. and Canada. We encourage multiple comments in our discussion, but you will only be entered in the contest once. If you review for another Web site or blog, please refrain from entering. The winner will be notified by email on Friday morning and will have 24 hours to respond. Another winner will be selected on Saturday morning if the winner has not responded. Audiobooks will be mailed to the winner the week of Wedding of the Season’s release date.
Now it’s time for our interview. Let’s get to it!
Talking with Anne Flosnik
Welcome to Speaking of Audiobooks Anne. I’m so pleased to have you with us today. I know you read the column on a regular basis and understand the nature of our discussions. Thank you for contributing today.
Thank you, I am delighted to be here. This is a lovely opportunity to talk about a subject that is so very close to my heart.
Anyone who has listened to one of your European historical romance narrations knows you must be British. Can you tell us a little about your background?
I came to the States 1985. Being in America brought me to acting, by a rather circuitous route. By looking to make a career change, I became connected to the acting community. This is how I heard about the Library of Congress and their program of recording audiobooks for the Blind and Physically Challenged. I auditioned to be a Studio Narrator, and became one in 1996. This was the beginning of my audiobook recording career.
What drew you to narrating?
I was drawn to voice acting as I had a later start in acting, and wanted to begin in an area where I thought I might have the best chance of success. I took my very first acting lessons in voice acting. I had an excellent voice teacher, John Burr, who was also very supportive. When the opportunity came to audition to be a Studio Narrator for the Library of Congress, he helped me choose material and practice it for the audition that I sent in. It was successful, and my audiobook recording career began.
I was drawn to audiobooks and narration by a lifelong love of books. I cannot imagine life without reading, and love stories, words and language. Giving voice to an author’s words is a dream come true profession for me.
I see you have narrated over 650 audiobooks with 138 produced commercially. When did you begin your commercial projects and what audiobooks were among your first commercial narrations?
My first commercial recordings to the best of my recollection were short stories. The studio that I worked at for the Library of Congress books was Cutting Corporation in Bethesda Maryland, and they also recorded outside material. Sometimes there would be commercial audiobooks to audition for, and sometimes you would be selected to read short stories for compilations.
The first commercial book I can recall was the Children’s book The Wheel On the School which won an American Libraries’ Special Services to Children Award, 2000. This was followed by Historical Romances such as All Smiles by Stella Cameron, and my very first Catherine Coulter The Penwyth Curse, ( part of the Song series which I will soon be completing), and a contemporary Romance Talking to Addison by Jenny Colgan, which was laugh out loud funny, including “singing” as a punk rocker.
After so many years of reading audiobooks, I know you must have the process down. Can you give us an idea of what goes into prepping for an audiobook?
I know it may sound over simplistic, but first of all I read the book. While I’m reading it I have a Pronunciation Log sheet, on which I jot down any words, names, or places that I am unfamiliar with the pronunciation of. I also have a blank sheet of paper, on which I write all the notes the author gives me as to the characters age, character traits, vocal traits, where they are from and so forth. I’m taking note of the period in which the book is set, as this informs for me part of the tone of the book. A different approach is obviously called for with different periods, genres, geographical places etc.
I research all the pronunciations in the book, which may include foreign languages. I am so thankful for my Library of Congress training, for teaching me everything I know about this part of the process.
If the book takes place in a time or place with which I am unfamiliar, and there is time (which is always at a premium in this field!) I will try to watch films etc. to try to familiarize myself with the backdrop to what I am reading, and to illustrate a particular accent for example.
If it is a well-known book I will do my best to watch any film versions that exist for it, and listen to any audio recordings. Classics such as The Secret Garden, The Wind in the Willows, Wuthering Heights, Agnes Grey, and Mrs. Dalloway fall into this category.
This also applies to books in a series which another narrator began. I have to listen to the books in the series so that I can try to be consistent with characters and pronunciations that have already been created by the previous narrator.
I firmly believe that the quality and authenticity of the end product, begins with great attention being paid to this part of the process.
You are best known in the romance world for narrating European Historical Romances with dozens of such titles on your resume. What drives your interest in the romance genre? Do you find narrating romance more challenging than other genres?
My interest in the Romance genre involves the opportunity to tell a good story with all the tensions and interest that are part and parcel of the Romance genre.
Each genre has its challenges. In Romance trying to give authentic voice to the male characters which the author has created is a main challenge. Making them sound believable is so important; also making the hero/heroine relationship come alive and ring true. However, if the listeners are buying into the world I am otherwise creating, and sense the truth of it, they will suspend belief and go along with me.
Where did you get your inspiration for your first romance heroes?
The inspiration for all my characters is the author’s words. I try to give voice to the hero that the author has created, that I see in my mind’s eye.
As romance listeners, most would agree that the performance of the hero is all important to the success of a romance audiobook. You have talked with me about your realization that while some listeners praised your romance performances, there were others who loudly vocalized their dislike of your interpretation of the male characters. I know you read a good bit of that criticism here at Speaking of Audiobooks. Can you share with us how you dealt with this negative feedback?
Yes indeed! This is the big question.
I have had my fair share of negative, official critical reviews, but they have never addressed my heroes as being lacking, that I am aware of. Based on that feedback, I thought I was doing a good job, in that regard. However, through reading customer feedback in columns such as yours, I could see that everyone didn’t feel the same way. The main feedback being that my heroes were too gruff and cold, and the pace of my storytelling was too slow.
Of course, dealing with negative feedback is painful to say the least, but I quickly viewed it as a gift and used it to spur better performances.
“Winning” the category of “Narrator You Learned to Like” in a recent poll on your site, speaks volumes, and shows what a positive experience reading your column has been. Win, win. Listeners must have noticed a positive change due to my efforts.
When did you decide to change your characterization of your heroes? How did you go about it?
I started to try to change my heroes as soon as I saw pockets of dissatisfaction relating to my performance in this area.
I have tried to change this perception by trying to “lighten” up my male characterizations and overall approach, as far as I feel is consistent with the author’s intent.
Humor can be a big component in Romance novels, and it can warm up the heroes immensely!
Effectively portraying a hero’s sense of humor or his reaction to a humorous situation certainly can warm our hearts towards him. I hadn’t fully thought through the favorable impact of that humor in audio until you stated it. I know one of the reasons Elizabeth Hoyt’s To Beguile a Beast worked so well for me in audio was your ability to convey Alistair’s sense of humor – especially in his internal dialogue. Can you expand on your thoughts?
Humor can be very important to make characters more three dimensional, both heroes and heroines. I make a conscious effort to look for it, and play it up if it’s there. I think it’s a very useful element to help make the listening experience lighter and more of an escape and the characters seem more real.
Tantor will soon release Laura Lee Guhrke’s Abandoned at the Altar trilogy with you as the narrator. The first, Wedding of the Season, is scheduled for release next week with the second and third scheduled for release in November and December. I know there are many Guhrke fans out there who are excited to see her works finally in audio. Was there anything in particular you enjoyed about narrating the series?
In real time, so far I have narrated the first two novels of the trilogy.
I have to say I really appreciate Ms. Guhrke’s writing. I find it to be character driven, sensitive, and warm. I thoroughly enjoy books that develop characters over a series of books, and found myself caring deeply about the richly drawn characters Ms. Guhrke created and relished the opportunity to inhabit their world, and give voice to it. She captures the feel of turn of the 20th century England beautifully.
Can you give us a peek at other romances you currently have in the works?
My next Romances will be the Night Trilogy by Catherine Coulter for Brilliance Audio. These are “vintage” Catherine Coulter’s, and are great fun. I will also soon be starting work on a new to me, steamy Historical Romance series.
I know you narrate other genres as well. Can you tell us some of those other genres and books that you think were particular hits?
I think I have recorded books from almost every genre. There have been a few that I think were particular hits.
I have to mention Little Bee by Chris Cleave for Tantor Audio, was a career changer for me. It is a contemporary story of a Nigerian teenager and a British business woman, and how their two worlds collided. It has been on the NYT Best Seller Lists since its release, and when last I heard, is the number one Book Club book in America. The print edition was one of Oprah’s book club picks. This book garnered me three awards, an AudioFile Earphones Award, a Library Journal Top Audiobooks of 2009 Award in the Fiction Category, and an AudioFile Best Audiobooks Of 2009 Award, in the Fiction category.
A recent narration was The Churchills in Love and War. This book for Tantor Audio, is a lively memoir of the fascinating Churchills, and spends a good deal of time talking about the happy marriage of Winston and Clementine, amid the backdrop of war and political events. It’s an interesting and lively read. The audio performance is number 2 In the Independent Newspaper UK Top Ten Audiobooks for Fall.
Another lively memoir for Tantor Audio is Wait For Meby the current Duchess of Devonshire, who is 90 years old. She is the youngest of the talented Mitford sisters, and has lived a full and extraordinary life.
The Vanishing Act Of Esme Lennox for Blackstone Audio, is a deeply moving book that tells the story of how an innocent teenager was imprisoned in a mental asylum, until her sixties, and the story of how she got there. This won an AudioFile Earphones Award, and was an Audie Nominee.
A very recent recording was There But For The for HighBridge Audio, is a stream of consciousness novel concerning relationships, of people and of language.
Lastly I have a great love for one of my very first recordings, and a winner of an ALA Award, the children’s classic from Listening Library The Wheel On the School. It is an uplifting, heartwarming story of hope.
Anne, I want to thank you once again for joining us today and letting us see into your challenging yet rewarding world of narrating audiobooks. Any final words before we go?
I cannot thank you enough for this opportunity to speak as myself. Working alone for long periods of time can be very isolating, and that’s why this forum and its feedback are so very meaningful to me. It is very uplifting to know how much you all care, and I am so happy to have the opportunity to share how much I love and care passionately about my work. Thanks to each and every one of you for taking time to share your honest feelings.
Anne encourages listeners to visit her Web site and her Facebook page to keep up with her latest projects, as well as @AnneFlosnik at Twitter. Anne will check in with us today from time to time and answer any questions you may have. So ask away!
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Enjoy your listening!
- Lea Hensley