Author: Betty MacDonald
Narrator: Heather Henderson
Length: 9 hours
Publisher: Post Hypnotic Press⎮2015
Genre: Humor, Memoir
When Betty MacDonald married a marine and moved to a small chicken farm on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, she was largely unprepared for the rigors of life in the wild. With no running water, no electricity, a house in need of constant repair, and days that ran from four in the morning to nine at night, the MacDonalds had barely a moment to put their feet up and relax. And then came the children. Yet through every trial and pitfall – through chaos and catastrophe – this indomitable family somehow, mercifully, never lost its sense of humor.
A beloved literary treasure for more than half a century, Betty MacDonald’s The Egg and I is a heartwarming and uproarious account of adventure and survival on the American frontier.
Betty Bard MacDonald (1907–1958), the best-selling author of The Egg and I and the classic Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle children’s books, burst onto the literary scene shortly after the end of World War II. Readers embraced her memoir of her years as a young bride operating a chicken ranch on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, andThe Egg and I sold its first million copies in less than a year. The public was drawn to MacDonald’s vivacity, her offbeat humor, and her irreverent take on life. In 1947, the book was made into a movie starring Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert, and spawned a series of films featuring MacDonald’s Ma and Pa Kettle characters.
MacDonald followed up the success of The Egg and I with the creation of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, a magical woman who cures children of their bad habits, and with three additional memoirs: The Plague and I (chronicling her time in a tuberculosis sanitarium just outside Seattle), Anybody Can Do Anything (recounting her madcap attempts to find work during the Great Depression), and Onions in the Stew (about her life raising two teenage daughters on Vashon Island).
Author Paula Becker was granted full access to Betty MacDonald’s archives, including materials never before seen by any researcher. Looking for Betty MacDonald, the first official biography of this endearing Northwest storyteller, reveals the story behind the memoirs and the difference between the real Betty MacDonald and her literary persona.
Heather Henderson is a voice actress and audiobook narrator with a 20-year career in literary and performing arts. Her narrations include the NYT bestseller (now also a feature film) Brain on Fire; and Sharon Creech’s The Boy on the Porch, which won her an Earphones award and was named one of the Best Children’s Audiobooks for 2013 by Audiofile Magazine. She earned her Doctor of Fine Arts degree at the Yale School of Drama, and is co-curator of AudioEloquence.com, a pronunciation research site for the audiobook industry. In 2015, Heather was a finalist for a Voice Arts Award (Outstanding Narration, Audiobook Classics), for her narration of Betty MacDonald’s The Egg and I.
Interview with Heather Anne Henderson
What do you love most about narrating audiobooks?
Audiobooks are kind of the brass ring for me (for many of us) professionally. I went to drama school in my 20s (MFA and DFA in theater) and then spent 20 years working mostly as a commercial voice actress — doing radio and TV ads, explainer videos, phone messaging, all kinds of things. For most of us, that’s what it takes to break into audiobooks — not that many years in the business, necessarily, but definitely a lot of persistence and experience and training.
I started doing audiobooks about seven years ago, and I felt like I had come home. It’s the perfect marriage of my training and passions — voice acting and books. And it’s enormously challenging and stimulating. You are doing so many things at once — I can’t even list them all, but they include switching character voices; maintaining the core narrative; doing accents; monitoring your breaths and mouth noises; running your recording software and doing re-takes and edits as you go; scanning ahead to be ready for tricky pronunciations or dialogue; maintaining correct mic technique (proximity, volume, distance); making sure you don’t pop your p’s and hiss your s’s.
I love that challenge, even though it’s exhausting and far more grueling than a lot of people realize!
Do you prefer to read in print or listen to stories in audio?
I love both. I think I probably read print books more, just because I read every evening for an hour or so before bedtime. I listen to audiobooks while I’m in the car, or exercising, or gardening, so it’s more episodic. If I’m in the middle of an especially good audiobook while I’m on a walk or hike, I get even more exercise because I don’t want to stop listening!
I also choose between audio and print based on the title and which medium I think I will enjoy best. The Help was far better as an audiobook, in my opinion. That was a fabulous multi-cast audiobook. If it’s a history title, and it’s narrated by a colleague whose style I especially love (there are a lot of them!), I will usually get it as an audiobook.
How do you select a book to narrate? Do you prefer a specific genre or types of characters?
If I understand your question correctly, then I think it merits a longer answer on the process of producing an audiobook. And I’m glad you asked, because I find people are often a little unclear about how complex and lengthy this process is!
I work only for the bigger commercial audiobook publishers — Harper, Audible Studios, Blackstone, Post Hypnotic Press, and others. The way this part of the industry works is that we don’t select books to narrate. Instead, I get cast in books — in other words, a casting director or producer will ask me to do a book based on what she or he knows of my voice, character range, experience, etc. When a book job is offered to me, so long as I can fit it into my schedule, I’ll take it But I don’t have any choice as to what the title is.
Almost all the books I do are new releases, which means they are also “simultaneous releases” — that is, the audiobook is scheduled to be released on the same day as the print version, Kindle version, etc. So the audiobook production process starts at least a couple of months before release. After I accept an offer, my producer will send me a script — which is usually a .pdf of the galley or proof version. The final draft might still be in process by the author and editors, since release is still a couple of months out. I prep the script (see my answer to the question about that below), take a week or two recording it, send chapters to my producer as I finish them, and then the production team “downstream” works on it — proofer, audio editor, engineer, Q.C., and so on.
I do all genres, though I find that producers tend to cast me most often in nonfiction — anything from history to medical to inspirational or self-help — and romance, especially in the Christian romance sub-genre. The genre I enjoy doing the most is nonfiction memoir.
Okay, so that said, the Betty MacDonald series of memoirs (The Egg and I, The Plague and I, Anybody Can Do Anything, and Onions in the Stew) were a big exception. In this case, I initiated the production — which I’ve only done one other time. I loved these books, and I knew that even though they were huge bestsellers in their day (1940s-50s), they had been lost to the public eye. I really wanted to get them into audio and known and appreciated again. I searched for a producer who would take a chance on them, and I found her in the wonderful Carlyn Craig of Post Hypnotic Press Audiobooks. I was able to co-produce the books with her – – and narrate them. So this is one of the rare cases where I did get to choose my books!
Do you read a book several times before you record the audio? Or do you *gasp* just about memorize it?
Every professional narrator absolutely reads the book once or twice, very carefully, before recording it. It’s the most essential first step, as you are preparing a performance. We look for the arc of the story, the energy and style with which it’s written, the dramatic tension; we figure out how we want our voice to match the narrative voice of the book. And of course we get to know our characters, looking for every clue the author gives about personality, speech pattern, accent, attitude. We practice accents and make notes and lists of each character and what voice he or she gets. We also research the pronunciations (or review pronunciations the producer provides — there are freelance researchers who specialize in this). And then before each day’s recording session, we usually re-read the section coming up to do a final preparation.
I don’t know of any narrators who memorize the book. Maybe some of them do for shorter children’s books? I doubt it. Don’t even know how that’s possible, frankly — I can’t imagine being able to remember an entire book! Besides, even if it were possible to memorize it, you really don’t have the time with an audiobook, where the production timeline is tight. You might have a week to pre-read and prepare the script and then a couple of weeks to record it, and recording takes a long time (twice to six times the finished listening length of the book).
I think that more to the point, it would not even be a good idea to memorize a book or parts of it, because narrating is a whole different kind of acting from playing a single character in a play or film. Among other skills that go into being a good narrator is the ability to “cold read,” or read copy after only one or two dry runs. As we record, we are simultaneously looking at everything in the book (not simply character or drama) — our eyes are flicking down the page as we are recording, anticipating where to breathe, what words to emphasize, who is speaking next, how to pronounce an upcoming word. We need the printed script in front of us to perform it as a whole.
I’ve never been asked a question like this before, and it really was an intriguing one. But it’s kind of hard to explain — I hope I got it across!
Name an audioook that you just loved to listen to. What about that narration makes it special?
I don’t know if I could pick out just one or ever two, especially since I have so many talented colleagues and there are so many audiobooks out there that I’ve loved listening to. What makes a good narration is not necessarily how authentic the accents are or how strong the character voices, but simply how well an actor fits his or her voice to the energy and intention of the script.
Most narrators agree that if we recede into the background — if the listener forgets it’s us narrating and is immersed in the world of the book — then we’ve done our job right.
Is there a scene you just loved to narrate? Is there a scene that was especially difficult to narrate?
One of my favorite scenes to narrate in The Egg and I was where Betty is trying (unsuccessfully) to teach herself how to bake bread. After a series of disasters, she gives up and walks down her long mountain rode to the closest neighbor’s farm to ask the farmwife, Mrs. Kettle, for advice. Mrs. Kettle is one of my favorite characters ever. I gave her a strong rural accent, a little bit of age, and a lot of broad humor. Betty MacDonald is such a hilarious writer, and the scenes with Mrs. Kettle are some of the funniest in the books.
Another favorite scene was the opening chapter of MacDonald’s third memoir, Anybody Can Do Anything, where she leaves the wilderness farm on the Olympic Peninsula and runs to the refuge of her mother and sisters living in Seattle. (She’s running not just from the rigors of her primitive farm life, but also from a not-so-nice husband.) She describes the long journey — the bus ride down the logging road, then the ferry ride, then the train and another bus — and the writing is a beautiful dramatic build of tension as she gets closer and closer to the home she has been longing for. As they finally come into Seattle, she is astounded by the neon lights. She has been gone from urban civilization for a long time, and she has never before seen neon. Her description of seeing it for the first time, being dazzled and overwhelmed by the vivid color and brightness of all those neon signs lighting up the city in a whole new way from how she remembered it — it’s just amazing. It was really enjoyable to narrate this chapter.
The most difficult scenes for me to narrate are ones where a character has an accent that is often made into a caricature in our culture, and so I want to make the accent authentic but avoid any disrespectful or cartoonish sound. I often give the example here of the character of Kimi in Betty MacDonald’s second memoir, The Plague and I. Kimi is a native Japanese who is a ward-mate with Betty MacDonald in the tuberculosis sanitorium where both are literally fighting for their lives. MacDonald writes the dialogue in a way that makes it clear Kimi is to have a discernible Japanese accent. But especially with Asian accents and accents from India, we’re used to hearing extreme versions in cartoons and comedy — and also when people make fun of them. I really wanted to avoid this, and I spent a lot of time in the studio re-recording Kimi’s lines until I got a balance of authenticity and subtlety that I was satisfied with.
Nov. 20: From the TBR Pile (Spotlight)
Nov. 21: Printcess (Review & Giveaway)
Nov. 22: Book Journey (Review, Interview & Giveaway)
Nov. 23: The Pursuit of Bookishness (Audio Excerpt, Spotlight & Giveaway)
Nov. 24: A Page To Turn (Audio Excerpt & Spotlight)
Nov. 26: He Said Books Or Me (Review)
Nov. 27: Field of Bookish Dreams (Audio Excerpt, Spotlight & Giveaway)
Nov. 28: Que Sera Sara (Spotlight & Giveaway)
Nov. 29: Terri Luvs Books (Review)
Nov. 30: Never Anyone Else (Review & Giveaway)
Dec. 1: Dab of Darkness (Review, Interview & Giveaway)
Dec. 2: Jorie Loves A Story (Review)
Dec. 3: Ali The Dragon Slayer (Review & Giveaway)
Dec. 4: Never 2 Many 2 Read (Review & Giveaway)
Dec. 5: Jorie Loves A Story (Interview)
Dec. 6: Terri Luvs Books (Interview & Giveaway)
Dec. 7: Chapter Break (Interview)
Dec. 8: Celtic Lady’s Reviews (Spotlight)
Dec. 9: Bound 4 Escape (Review & Giveaway)
Dec. 10: Avid Book Collector (Review, Spotlight & Giveaway)