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April 15, 2017 BOOKLIST
Find more Voice of Choice
Performing isn’t a recently discovered talent. Heyborne admits he was always “fascinated by sound. I’ve loved music (performing, studying, and listening) and voices since I was a child.” He amused friends and family with accents and character voices and, as a teenager, actually convinced a friend’s girlfriend that he was Welsh. After earning a degree in economics at the University of Utah, he moved his family to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. In his first year there, he was cast in a play directed by Orson Scott Card, and his career was launched. It didn’t hurt that the sound director on that first production was Dan Musselman, executive producer at Books on Tape, who suggested Heyborne try narrating audiobooks. That was just over 10 years ago, and in those years, he has narrated more than 300 titles.
As does every narrator, Heyborne has his own way of preparing to perform an audiobook. He does a cursory reading of the material in order to sort out characters and tone. Fans won’t be surprised to hear that he focuses on characterizations, both tonally and vocally. He takes extensive notes on characters and keeps track of individual voices so he can replicate them again later in the story. Although he seldom has the opportunity to sing in the titles he narrates, he credits his musical background with helping him find the musicality in good narration. “When you connect to the author’s tempo and cadence, you’ll find that it’s easier to get out of the way and let the author’s voice come through.”
And that’s exactly what he does. Although he reads a wide range of titles, youth and adult, comic and dark, he believes that understanding comedy has made him a better dramatic actor. Or, as he puts it, “I love finding the light in darker material.” He frequently records in his home studio and loves the convenience, although he admits he always learns from good directors in publishers’ studios.
Regardless of preparation and recording facilities, what Heyborne does in the books he reads is create magic. His skill at voicing accents and dialects, perhaps enhanced by his musical knowledge and ear, comes up frequently in reviews. Writing about his reading of Hollow City, by Ransom Riggs (the second of the Peculiar Children series), Booklist reviewer Alison O’Reilly Poage comments, “His knack for authentic-sounding accents comes in handy for voicing a variety of English, Scottish, Indian, and Russian characters.” Narrating Cosmic, by Frank Cottrell, he convincingly sounds like a 12-year-old lad from Liverpool in the first-person narration and “brings youthful energy to the bouncy story,” according to Booklist reviewer Brian Wilson. It’s no wonder that Heyborne is partial to narrating books for children and young adults. He connects with listeners through his youthful voice and his innate understanding of how stories resonate with kids.
However, character portrayal for Heyborne is more than accents and a voice; it’s also about the sense of the character that he brings to his narration and that’s what sets him apart as an exceptional reader. In her review of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, Kaite Mediatore Stover writes that Heyborne “brings a youthful and earnest quality to Nick. . . . As the story progresses, Heyborne’s voice becomes a little higher pitched to match Nick’s whiny tones and slowly building desperation.” Heyborne also skillfully alters his voice to contrast the ages of the main characters, as in Skink—No Surrender, by Carl Hiaasen. In her starred review of the book, Lolly Gepson writes that he “gives the one-man crusader Skink a low, gravelly voice” that reflects his age, while young hero Richard “speaks with a more youthful and appealing innocence.” Heyborne’s voices consistently match the personalities of the characters. Amanda Blau writes in her review of Mouseheart, by Lisa Fiedler, that “rebel Firren has an earnest fire, and Hopper’s hot-blooded sister, Pinky, has an overzealous, aggressive quality. Hopper is befriended by Zucker, a rat prince with a charismatic, wise-guy voice.”
Just as Heyborne reads for all age groups, he narrates a broad range of titles that demand widely varying tones, and he creates emotionally resonant moods in all. Narrating more comedic novels, he often keeps stories grounded by reading in as realistic a manner as possible. In Kraus’ Odyssey-winning Rotters, for example, reviewer Mary Burkey observes that he “compels complete immersion in the novel’s literate language, giving us no choice but to absorb every word as gruesome details build.”
Narration is all about the voice—accents, characterization, tone. But the best narrators bring something extra to the table—bits of songs, sound effects, fillips that make all the difference. In her starred review of Scowler, Sue Ellen Beauregard writes, “Heyborne is a master at expressing emotions and reflecting textual clues. If a character whispers, screams, shouts, pleads, or whines, for example, Heyborne subtly adjusts volume and cadence.” Heyborne growls, yells, and whispers his way through Scowler, even re-creating the doll Scowler’s unintelligible conversations and murderous father Marvin’s “tuneless and belligerent” hum.
In her review of One Is a Feast for Mouse: A Thanksgiving Tale, by Judy Cox, Ashley Young summarizes his consummate skill. He begins at a near whisper with a mouse creeping past a snoozing family to partake of the holiday leftovers “As the action rises, along with the pile of food on Mouse’s plate, Heyborne conveys Mouse’s excitement at the feast to come, the tension of balancing all of that food, and the drama of it all crashing down.” His masterful narrations immerse us in characters, story, and tone. He creates pictures for our ears.
Luckily for librarians and listeners, Heyborne loves his job. “I get to read books, work with the most talented group of actors and producers in the entertainment industry, and hang out with librarians. It doesn’t get any better than that.” Librarians and fans everywhere are grateful for the skill and commitment to the craft of audiobook narrating of this year’s Voice of Choice, Kirby Heyborne.
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