Interview with voice actress Elizabeth Klett

  • date
  • May 31, 2015

Readers, I’m delighted to introduce you to Elizabeth Klett, the prolific and exceptionally talented voice actress who narrated the audiobook of With This Curse. Elizabeth has been recording audiobooks professionally since 2011 and has also contributed to more than 400 audio projects for LibriVox, a wonderful source of free audiobooks. Today she talks with me about bringing books to life and about what it was like recording With This Curse.

Amanda: With a B.A. in theater, you clearly have a strong background in performing. How did you make the leap from stage performing to audio only, and was it difficult to make the adjustment?

Elizabeth: I actually stopped performing on stage when my husband and I moved to Houston in 2002. I was finishing up my doctoral dissertation and looking for an academic job and felt the need to focus my energies toward those rather daunting tasks. So it was wonderful to find audiobook narration when I started volunteering for LibriVox in 2007, since it helped to scratch the performance itch. I actually find it easier, in some ways, than performing on stage, since I don’t have to worry about what I look like, or what my body is doing while I’m narrating (as long as I keep still!). I’m free to do what I think I’ve always done best: relate to characters, and communicate emotion through my voice.

Amanda: You’ve graciously given a lot of your time to the recording of free audiobooks at LibriVox. What led you to do that? Had you always intended to go pro?

Elizabeth: I found LibriVox through knitting podcasts: specifically, Brenda Dayne’s Cast On, and Heather Ordover’s CraftLit. Both did some volunteer work for LibriVox and would sometimes feature LibriVox recordings on their podcasts. Once I started exploring the site, I was hooked: I started listening to and recording audiobooks regularly. I was on the administrative team from 2009 to 2014, and can’t say enough good things about the amazing community they have over there. I hadn’t considered going pro until Hugh McGuire, LibriVox’s founder, asked me to join his new company Iambik Audio, which produces professional recordings. I did six titles for them and then transitioned to working for ACX, Bee Audio, and other companies.

Amanda: What has surprised you most about being an audiobook narrator or been most challenging?

Elizabeth: Although I love audiobook narration, it can be quite isolating; it’s just you, the mic, and the book, for the most part, on a daily basis. The thing I miss the most about doing theatre is the human interaction: the being in the moment onstage with other people that’s so magical about live theatre. That’s the reason I will probably never quit volunteering for LibriVox, since it partly replicates the collaborative feeling of theatre, particularly the dramatic projects that we do, which are edited together from many different people’s recordings. I also really enjoy interacting with the authors, in particular, for professional narration projects, and getting their input on bringing the characters and plots to life. Other than that, audiobook narration is a continual surprise and delight, as I take on new projects, meet new writers, and get to read their books. I can get quite emotional about books, and have a hard time controlling my emotions if the material is moving or funny enough. I also love working on projects that I know my mom will love listening to; I partly did my LibriVox recording of Jane Eyre as a tribute to her, since she loves that book so much. I’ve already sent her a copy of With This Curse, as I know she’ll love it!

Amanda: I sure hope she does! It is so exciting for me to hear the characters in With This Curse come to life through your performance. I know that audio readers will love hearing Clara, Atticus, Genevieve, and all the supporting characters come alive in your reading. Was there anything about this project that particularly appealed to you? Anything that was tricky or challenging?

Elizabeth: I was very keen to narrate With This Curse, because it’s totally my kind of book! I love narrating novels in a British accent (although it takes more time and effort than using my natural American accent), and I particularly love historical fiction. The fact that With This Curse is a Victorian Gothic novel, with shades of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, just makes it all the more appealing. I really like Clara as a leading character and loved voicing her: she’s strong, resourceful, and plucky, but hasn’t lost her vulnerability or her compassion, despite all she’s been through. Plus she’s a seamstress and loves clothes, and I’ve been sewing my own clothes since I was thirteen; so there you go: a perfect fit!

Amanda: I love how your performance brings out all those qualities in Clara. Another wonderful thing about your narrating With This Curse is your extensive experience with 19th-century English literature, since Curse is set in 1873 England and has a similar flavor and rhythm to its Victorian gothic forebears. You have both an M.A. and a Ph.D. in English literature, and your audiobook version of Jane Eyre has been a phenomenal success, with nearly one million downloads (wow!), making it one of the most-downloaded solo projects at LibriVox. Can you comment on your background in that area of literature and how you drew on it in your performance?

Elizabeth: The current download count for Jane Eyre is 976,000, which still blows my mind! It’s definitely the one that people write to me about the most and tell me that they enjoyed, although my recording of Pride and Prejudice is a pretty close second at nearly 880,000 downloads. My doctoral work—and my current teaching—is mostly in the area of Shakespeare and Renaissance literature, but I’ve always loved 19th-century novels, particularly by women, such as Austen, the Brontës, George Eliot, and Elizabeth Gaskell. I teach women’s literature quite a lot, so I get to read and teach many of the wonderful books from that era, and others. Since I’m so familiar with the writing of that time period, I understand not only the ways in which the authors tended to write but also many of the customs and ideologies of the Romantic and Victorian periods. At this point, having narrated many of the books for LibriVox, it feels completely natural for me to work on a book like With This Curse, particularly as you get the period detail and prose style so perfectly.

Amanda: That’s so kind of you to say! Looking ahead, what are your dreams and ambitions as far as your future career in audiobook narration and performing in general?

Elizabeth: Since audiobook narration is my part-time job, I can’t devote myself to it as much as I’d like, and I don’t think I could handle any more work than I currently take on in a year. As a professor, I’m not only teaching in the fall and spring, but I’m also writing academic essays and books in the summer and vacation periods. It’s a full and happy schedule, for the most part! I would love, though, to eventually narrate a book by a favorite author, either one whose work is not really available in audio (such as Angela Carter, one of my absolute top 20th-century British novelists) or one who is currently writing (such as Margaret Atwood, Kate Atkinson, or Sarah Waters).

Amanda: I hope you’ll get the opportunity to do so! In the meantime, it’s fortunate for audiobook lovers that there are so many wonderful audio performances of yours available. I’m thrilled that With This Curse is one of them.

Readers, would you like a free download of the With This Curse audiobook? I have a limited number to give away. Sign up for my newsletter for a chance to win one!


© 2015 Amanda DeWees

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