As you can imagine, when it comes to the audiobook version of a novel it’s no longer about the author’s “voice” (in the literary sense) but the narrator’s voice (in the physical sense). Naturally, I worried that I would never find the right person to portray my protagonist, Cate, but those fears were put to rest when I heard Brooke Boertzel’s audition. Not only is Brooke the PERFECT voice to bring Empty Arms to life, she’s been a true creative partner who went so far as to compose original music that can be heard throughout the audiobook.

And her experience in the industry is no joke. Brooke has worked as a professional film, theatre and voice actor for the past 25 years. She holds an MFA in Acting from the Actors Studio Drama School, and an MA in Educational Theatre from NYU. When she’s not performing, Brooke works as the Director of Education at Making Books Sing, an arts in education organization in NYC that uses theatre and music to promote literacy and social development in children. As part of her role as Director of Education, Brooke has written and directed five touring performances/musicals that have presented for over 50,000 children and families in NYC, including Alice’s Story, a nationally recognized anti-bullying applied theatre performance that was featured on the cover of Time Magazine for Kids.  

Today Brooke joins me to talk about the production of Empty Arms and life as a voice artist…

Brooke Boertzel

Brooke Boertzel

Erika Liodice: Hi Brooke. Thanks for being here today. Tell us, how did you get into voice acting?

Brooke Boertzel: I’ve been working as an actor since the age of seven when I joined a children’s theatre company on the island of Guam, where I was born and raised. The acting bug stuck with me throughout high school and college, so I decided to move to NYC to attend graduate school at The Actors Studio Drama School.  Throughout my time training in the program, I discovered I had a love of dialects and character voices. I enjoyed the challenge of conveying emotion, telling a clear and detailed story, and embodying multiple characters, with my voice as my only tool. I pursued further voice training, created a demo reel and started auditioning. My husband, an animator, has cast me as several unusual characters in some of his cartoons. You can listen to samples of those characters on my website, brookeboertzel.com.

Erika: What kinds of projects do you work on? What’s your favorite?

Brooke: In terms of voice acting, I’ve recorded radio and television commercials, corporate and medical training videos, educational software, animated cartoons, and background narration for films.  Since I’m an actor first and foremost, I enjoy scripts that allow me to portray multiple characters engaged in dramatic conversations. Finding the perfect voice for each character is challenging, but also a great deal of fun!

Erika: What are some of the challenges of voice acting versus, say, screen acting?

Brooke: As a screen or theatre actor, you have the ability to convey emotion and tell a complete story with your entire body. Facial expressions, postures, tears, smiles and mannerisms all work together to draw an audience into the characters’ emotional experiences. As a voice actor, you only have one tool. All of that expressive energy and emotion has to come through your voice so that you’re fully engaging your listener in the world of the story.

Erika: What are your favorite types of characters to portray?

Brooke: I love playing characters that don’t sound anything like me in real life. I really enjoyed recording the voices of Dr. Sullivan and Nurse Unger in Empty Arms In other projects I’ve portrayed a cartoon character named Baconkid, a raspy-voiced smoker named Eileen, and a snooty corporate executive named Eleanor, all of whom sound extremely different. Once I get an image of the character in my mind, either from a picture or my imagination, the voice seems to create itself. Experimenting with various dialects and vocal characteristics is a lot of fun.

Erika: What made you decide to audition for the audiobook version of Empty Arms?

Brooke: I wanted to dive into a creative and challenging project that would teach me more about voice acting and producing. Every time I get behind the microphone I learn something new about voice acting—whether it’s how to breathe properly, how to create interesting character voices, how to edit my audio files, etc.  I learned so much through the experience of recording Empty Arms.  It was a long journey, but it was extremely rewarding.

Erika: In addition to narrating and producing the audiobook version of Empty Arms, you also composed music for the opening and closing credits and dream sequences. What other hidden talents do you have?

Brooke: I’m a lover of the arts. My day job is working as the Director of Education at a theatre organization called Making Books Sing. I have the privilege of researching current trends and issues facing children today and finding innovative ways to explore these topics with children through theatre.

In 2009, I co-created Alice’s Story, an interactive theatre performance and workshop that actively engages children, grades 1st-5th, in exploring the sensitive issue of bullying. This program was featured on the cover of Time Magazine for Kids in October 2012, and since its creation Alice’s Story has presented in schools and community centers in all five boroughs of NYC to over 20,000 children.

In addition to focusing on social issues such as bullying, I’ve also written two musicals that educate children on how they can become more environmentally conscious citizens. All of these shows tour to schools and community centers throughout New York City.

Empty Arms: A Novel is now available in audiobook on AmazonAudible, and iTunes. Listen to a sample…

 

 

 

Empty Arms AudiobookI’ve got some really exciting news: my novel, Empty Arms, is now available in audiobook on Amazon, Audible, and iTunes!

It’s funny, as I’ve been sharing this news with friends and family, the first question they ask is: did you narrate it yourself?

To which I laugh because, um, no. Definitely not! The truth is: I cringe at the sound of my own voice, so I definitely wouldn’t put you through 8.5 hours of that torture. Besides, the art of voice acting is best left to the pros…and boy did I find a pro! (Check back tomorrow for my interview with the voice behind Empty Arms, Brooke Boertzel).

In the meantime, listen to a sample:
 

Writer Unboxed

Today I’m over at Writer Unboxed talking about the next phase of the digital publishing revolution: the subscription model. Is e-reading moving towards a Netflix/Spotify model? Will readers of tomorrow borrow titles rather than buy them? Come find out and join the discussion…The Digital Revolution: Subscribing to Change.

I’ve always thought it would be great to be an editor. In my fantasy (yes, these are the things I fantasize about), I would write a novel and then put on my editor cap and edit it. All by myself. But as any writer (or editor) will tell you, these are two very different endeavors. I know many writers who admit to being awful at self-editing and many editors who would never dream of crossing into the writing realm. That’s why I was intrigued when I was offered the opportunity to review Don McNair’s new book, Editor-Proof Your Writing: 21 Steps to the Clear Prose Publishers and Agents Crave. It made me wonder…could I straddle both worlds?

Editor-Proof Your Writing by Don McNair

The blurb on the cover promised a “workshop-in-a-book”, so I used it that way, putting its lessons to work on my current manuscript. The first thing I noticed was how quickly my word count started dropping. Most writers spend their days trying increase word count, but this shrinkage was a good thing because it meant that I was eliminating words that were, as McNair puts it, fogging up my writing (like -ing words, infinitives, prepositional phrases, throwaways, etc.). Prior to reading this book, my one steadfast rule was to avoid adverbs (a.k.a. -ly words), but that’s just one of 21 types of problematic words and phrases McNair identifies. 

When I think of “editing”, grammar rules and spelling lessons jump to mind, but there’s more to it than that. As writers, we strive to be invisible storytellers, however, from time to time we unintentionally remind the reader that we’re there, lurking in the background. Whether it be expressive dialogue tags, poetic descriptions, or well-intentioned adverbs, Editor-Proof Your Writing exposes the unknowing ways in which we barge in on our readers and distract them from the story.

This book is packed with tips to strengthen your writing and can serve as a guide through the (sometimes painful) revision process. If you’re a visual learner, like me, you’ll appreciate the Before and After writing samples that illustrate the concepts. And every chapter ends with an assignment or exercise, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to put your new skills to use. 

When it comes to writing and editing, I suppose it is possible to successfully straddle both worlds. But for now, I’m going to stay on the writing side of the divide and take comfort in the fact that, with this book in my arsenal, my editor’s job is about to get a lot harder.

For more information about Editor-Proof Your Writing, visit Don McNair’s website.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book to review but I was not financially compensated in any way. The opinions expressed are my own and are based on my observations.

Susan VanSleetA few years ago, if you would have asked me how I met Susan Van Sleet, author of the newly-released memoir, Mary & Me Beyond the Canvas: An Extraordinary Story of Adoption, Loss, and Reunion, I would have told you it was by accident. I was researching my novel, Empty Arms, and I was trying to understand how forced adoptions affected the millions of women whose lives they touched. My search led me to countless heartbreaking stories of women who turned to drugs and alcohol to ease their pain, but there was one woman who found a different path to healing. Susan Van Sleet turned to art in the years following the adoption of her daughter, who she lovingly thought of as “Mary”. As I got to know her, I learned that Susan didn’t just long for Mary; she had visions of the child. Visions she brought to life on canvas. After her reunion with Mary, whose given name is Jeanne, Susan was given photographs from her daughter’s childhood. The resemblance between the little girl on the canvas and the little girl in the photographs was remarkable. If I hadn’t known better, I would’ve thought that Susan’s paintings were created from those glossy images. But they weren’t; they came from her heart. It struck me then, how a mother’s bond with her child transcends time and place.

Mary & MeAs my friendship with Susan developed, I discovered our shared love of writing. She asked me for my advice on an unfinished collection of poems that she had written about her experience. Her words were so honest and moving that I encouraged her to finish what she had started and pursue publication. In the months that followed, I offered her advice about publishing, and she connected me with other birthmothers and adoptees whose insights helped shape my novel. Susan also agreed to an interview, in which she spoke candidly of the guilt, shame, and grief that she endured as a result of her experience. Susan, along with the women she connected me with, helped me write an authentic account of a birthmother’s experience, and in return, I’d like to think that I helped her share her beautiful work with the world.

A few years ago, if you had asked me how I met Susan Van Sleet, I would have told you it was by accident. But now I know it was fate.

For more information about Susan Van Sleet and Mary and Me Beyond the Canvas, please visit Susan’s website.