GIVING VOICE TO THE WRITTEN WORD

 

by Suzanne Hudson  photos by George Fuller

 

Thanks to my husband’s foray into audio work, I now know there exist certain genres of blue writing that I never in a million years would have imagined. Erotica featuring mythological creatures? Check. Featuring fairy tale and even beloved Disney characters? Check and check. How about a Grendel a la Beowulf sea monster? Super-icky-gross check. Your run-of-the-mill gay romance, your average tale about haunted dolls or demented slashers can’t hold a candle to such… edgy “literature.”

Would I rather have a mouth full of root canals than actually read such words out loud? Absolutely. Was I appalled by what I heard coming from hubby’s open studio when I would go for water at two and three a. m.? You bet your sweet bippy; there was definitely blushing going on, on my part – and I am no prude by any stretch. But, “Hey,” hubby maintained, “you have to start somewhere.”

Well, I reckon so… and I resigned myself to just deal with it. Baby steps…

Said husband, Joe Formichella, has been told for years, at book readings and such, that he has a natural radio voice, that he should be doing that kind of work, that he could read a grocery list aloud and it would sound great. So, when he was “retired” early from Thomas Hospital, he began looking into how to go about this audio thing; after all, he needed an income stream to make it to social security—a five-year gap. And one of the first folks he sought out was Fairhope’s Lia Frederick.

A visual artist and former resident of Spanish Fort, Lia always had a knack for mimicry. She grew up in south Florida around accents as varied as the Jersey Shore and Cuba, could easily switch from one accent to the other, and always dreamed of someday doing cartoon voice work, which she fancied would be the ideal job. Her innate interest in books and travel has led her to a nice fit with historical fiction – books with titles like Doctor Margaret in Delhi, set in the 1800s.

Add the fact that she caught the theater bug early on, and it’s no surprise she found her way, eventually, to the recording booth, around 2014. “It’s ideal for a theater person. You get to act without the pressure of an audience.” Not that she has any qualms about an audience; she’s active in community theater, and launches into the thick German accent she is rehearsing for the part of Grandma Kurnitz in Theatre 98’s production of Neil Simon’s Lost in Yonkers. Frau Lia. She is definitely in her element.

Lia’s “booth” is a home studio her husband, Dug, framed for her within a small bedroom before padding it with mineral wool, a material ideal for creating a quiet space, and other types of insulation. It’s a manmade fiber that comes from industrial slag, rock, and certain ceramic materials, and it effectively absorbs sound waves and vibrations. When I stepped into the space, it was like being encased in cotton balls.  But at some point Lia chose to open it up a bit, “because it began to feel like being in a coffin,” she says, with a little claustrophobic shudder.

She had educated herself via YouTube, watching Bill DeWees videos, along with taking a class at the University of South Alabama on radio etiquette. She even worked with a voice coach before making a trip to a New Orleans studio for production of an official demo to submit for voice-over work. And the auditions commenced. “I’ve read for everythingfrom ‘angry cat owner,’ to a straight read of historical text for a university press, to Cynthia Wolf historical romances, to a gruesome true crime story, and more.”

But she never listed any erotica whatsoever on her resume, not to mention any having to do with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Yep, all seven. Sometimes I think my beloved husband simply enjoys saying things to shock me. That’s my theory, anyway.

Like Joe, Lia records in the wee hours, early in the morning, “before the lawn mowers and dogs come out,” she says. The bane of Joe’s existence in the pre-dawn darkness is the chirping of the damnable birds. How dare they twitter and sing so happily when he needs absolute quiet? Another peeve is the plumbing. Since the main drain runs under his recording space, whenever someone flushes at the far end of the house, it has nowhere to go but underneath him, and the microphone picks upeverything. Beyond that, he says, “It’s amazing the noises your own body makes, from your mouth to your stomach and beyond. The mic is unforgiving.”

Besides getting advice from Lia, Joe spent an afternoon at The Holler near Nashville with the late Lari White Cannon, singer, sound engineering goddess, Grammy winner, and a contributor/collaborator for his anthology The Shoe Burnin’: Stories of Southern Soul, for which Lari engineered a CD. It was Lari who convinced him that he could do it. No worries. Everything can be fixed right away. It’s called editing, you see, and it can all be done on your laptop. She loaned him a microphone, told him he could get started for under $1,000 in overhead costs, and sent him on his way.

Both Joe and Lia audition for employment on amazon at audible.com’s ACX, a web marketplace that brings together narrators and producers with authors, publishers, and agents seeking a voice. All negotiations are done online, and payment options include a flat fee or a royalty share. Royalty shares are great if you team up with a bestselling author, which Joe has been fortunate to do with the re-release of Robert H. Lieberman’s Paradise Rezoned. Lia, too, works with some authors who have healthy fan bases. Otherwise, flat fees seem to be more lucrative, with pay being set at a given amount for “work
per finished hour.” A “finished hour” is the result of between three and five hours’ worth of actual editing, “which is really labor intensive,” Joe says.

Neither of the two ever lack for work and the rewards thereof. The best compliment Lia ever received from an author? She doesn’t even have to think about it, answering right away, “You made me cry,” which she considers the most profound validation of what she does. Joe, too, has come up in the world, scoring a steady gig with Radio Archives, which is re-issuing kitschy pulp magazine novels and stories from the first half of the 20th Century, including vintage advertisements. He recently completed a mystery tale, “Dan Turner, Hollywood Detective” (favorite

line: “Somebody put a nickel in the juke box and bought me seventeen dollars’ worth of trouble.”) and is currently working on a pulpy Lone Ranger magazine from the thirties. Cover cost: ten cents.

Better the Lone Ranger and a Dick Tracy type than slutty Snow White or “fun with unicorns,” I say. Yep, ever since my husband has broken through to a more respectable class of recording materials, my early mornings are much more pleasant and blush-free these days. I kind of think he misses my discomfort, though.

Deal with it, Joe.

Suzanne Hudson is the author of the upcoming novel The Fall of the Nixon Administration. She lives on Waterhole Branch off Fish River.