Audio book publishing has exploded in the last several years. More than half of all Americans over the age of 12 say they have listened to an audiobook and there are nearly 50 thousand audio books to choose from.
Every one of those audio books is read out loud and recorded, sometimes by the author, but often times by a professional actor like Yellow Springs resident Teri Clark Linden. She has been narrating audiobooks for the past 10 years. She’s done about 200 of them in that time.
"When I started, it was going on site for producers and being directed by them in a studio with an engineer running the equipment. And there are many narrators now that have no idea what that experience is. They do everything from a home studio. It used to just be 'narrated by.' It would be just like you’re reading a story like you would to your children and now it’s more performance-based," says Clark Linden.
She thinks she has improved over the years and she really doesn’t like to hear her old work.
"I just sound so stilted," she says listening back to her 2013 narration of “The Witches of Wenshar” by Barbara Hambly. "It just doesn’t sound smooth. I really wish I could go back and record some of that stuff again because I think I’ve...I continue to try to get better."
Lately Linden’s been happy with her work.
"I feel more comfortable. I feel more settled. I trust. A lot of it’s confidence. I trust myself, what I’m doing, more."
She’s paid attention to the way people talk since she was a kid. And she’s absorbed it.
"I remember when we lived in Michigan, we would come down to Vandalia to see my grandparents," says Clark Linden. "We had these neighbors next door. They would see me and say 'Oh, Teri, you’ve groooown! Let’s go to the Stop-and-Go and get us a Coke and an Icee.' Like we’re in the South, or something."
She’s fascinated by pronunciation, rhythm, and pitch. She uses these qualities to create voices for her characters.
"I have a lot of standard library of voices anyway. California upspeak, talk with a question mark at the end. Or New York, you’ve got that real kind of forward in the face, that way of talking. You’ve got the Southern, the little Virginia gentile Southern comin’ out. Or the hard R, if it’s a more rural South."
But when I ask her about her own voice, she isn’t sure which one I mean.
"My voice, like I’m speaking to you now, is more professional sounding because we’re on radio. I think, if I can do it, just my everyday voice is probably more like this. It’s probably more registered, it’s more up, it’s not placed in my chest as much. And then because we’ve been back in Ohio, I’ll have that Ohio kind of a . . . the O’s come out a little more."
She works at home now, no more traveling to work with producers and engineers. And she’s experienced enough to direct herself. Her home recording studio is tiny, only 6 by 8 feet. She calls it her personal time machine.
"Yeah, it’s tight in here, isn’t it?," she says, showing me into her studio. There's not enough room for both of us to sit while Teri begins a little excerpt from “The Sisters Hemingway” by Annie England Noblin.
And then the magic happens. She begins to narrate and I’m with her in the middle of a book.
Teri Clark Linden loves performing, whether it's on local stages or in the recording booth in her home office in Yellow Springs. And everything she’s learned over the years she brings to the microphone.
"I do think, number one, with any performance medium, and certainly with audiobooks, you have to have a talent for it," she says. "But that’s not necessarily enough. There’s a training to it. I think it comes from doing, and getting feedback. And having the experiences of doing it and getting that feedback."
You can meet Teri Clark Linden in person and learn more about narrating audiobooks. She’ll be speaking at the Dayton Metro Library - Huber Heights Branch on November 7.
This story was created at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.