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Find more Odyssey Interview
What does it take to strike Odyssey gold twice? Teamwork and talent combine to create Scowler, Listening Library’s winner of the 2014 Odyssey Award for Excellence in Audiobook Production, jointly administered by ALA’s Association for Library Service to Children and the Young Adult Library Services Association, and sponsored by Booklist magazine. I spoke to the accomplished group responsible for two gold medals: Daniel Kraus, author of both Scowler and 2012 Odyssey winner Rotters, Listening Library’s Executive Acquisitions Editor Rebecca Waugh, plus narrator Kirby Heyborne and producer/director Kelly Gildea, the duo who translated both of Kraus’ works into hauntingly horrific soundscapes.
Waugh on the decision to record Scowler: “We don’t acquire a lot of horror, but when this manuscript landed on my desk I knew we needed to consider it. We had just published Rotters, but this novel goes even deeper and darker in its portrayal of family abuse. Due to the graphic nature, I decided to ask our marketing and production teams to give it a read, and the powerful discussion that Scowler inspired was a clear sign we wanted to publish it. I think this novel fills a gap between middle-grade and adult horror and speaks to a very YA concern. One of its great strengths is how the story grapples with the idea of destiny and questioning how much of our parents are inside us—for better and for worse.”
Gildea highlights the studio team’s roles:
“Once I read Scowler, I knew immediately that Kirby should narrate, and confirmed that with Daniel. All told, there were eight key people involved in the production. Julie Wilson, production coordinator, brought us the recordable manuscript. Jodi Dorries, preproduction manager, made sure Kirby got that manuscript—his script—and scheduled the recording. In our L.A. studio, engineering manager Ok Hee Kolwitz set Kirby up in the booth, and then I directed the audio, where it was just the two of us for three days of recording. Once we wrapped, Mike Murray, postproduction manager, coordinated that whole process—the script and audio files were sent to audio editor Jamie Cerniglia and the quality-control person, Rick Bradley, who made any necessary fixes.”
Kraus reflects on the interplay of author and audio:
“Considering the job they did with Rotters, I didn’t feel the need to insert myself into the process. The most overt challenge was what to do with the sounds Scowler makes. They look like gibberish on the page. They’re not, between you and me, but they look that way. So I told Kelly that I imagined Scowler as sounding like insects—you can hear that in Kirby’s reading. Most of the communication between Kirby and me consists of me saying things like ‘Don’t screw up my book.’ He takes my threats very well.”
Heyborne shares how he found Scowler’s challenging voice:
“When I read a book and learn about the characters, I imagine their voices in my head and then try them out when I’m alone. But it isn’t until I’m in the booth that the character actually comes to life. You’re in the moment of the story; you change your body position to that of the character; and the voice comes out. I love taking risks and being challenged; if I’m excited about the character, then I know the listener will be, too. With both Scowler and Rotters, the characters seemed to be begging me to go all the way. When I saw the dialogue of the Scowler character, I knew Daniel didn’t just slam his arm across the keyboard and randomly throw letters together—there was a method and a purpose to each word and sound. Kelly showed me a photo of what Scowler looked like, and I thought, ‘This little creature would sound like teeth clattering and spittle,’ and thought to make the sounds with my mouth instead of my voice. I made a note in my script: ‘Whisper—no vocal vibrations.’ When I voiced him for the first time in the booth, he felt real and alive and terrifying. I loved the gift that Daniel had given me in this character. I paused to see Kelly’s reaction on the other side of the glass. I felt like Dr. Frankenstein, ‘It’s alive! Alive!’ I said, ‘So, is that too much?’ (subtext: ‘Please say you love it’). Kelly (in her usual calm and even-keeled manner): ‘No. Sounds fine.’”
Gildea on the audiobook’s impact:
“Before we recorded, Daniel sent me that photo, which inspired his book—quite possibly the most terrifying thing I’ve ever seen. The freaking brilliant sounds that Kirby created for Scowler, along with that visual, kept us on our toes. I’m not sure readers of the book experience that terror in such a visceral way. This is a horror story, and it demands a certain tone and pace, often a deadly crawl. Having worked on Daniel’s previous title, Rotters, I grasped the sense that he’s not afraid to take you to the edge and kick you off. He doesn’t make apologies for the darkness he shows you. But he also gives you a tiny glimmer of redemption at the end. I think I was emotionally prepared to be kicked in the heart a million times by Scowler. But guess what? I was still surprised by how hard I was kicked. Kraus is a brilliant, beautiful writer, and Kirby Heyborne just nailed it. I’m honored to be a part of this.”
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