Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Going Public... In Shorts: The Death of A Government Clerk by Anton Chekhov, Narrated by David Drummond

In celebration of June is Audiobook Month (JIAM 2013), the audiobook community is "giving back" with the Going Public Project by offering a serialized audio short story collection Going Public...In Shorts. One to two short stories will be released each day in June on the Going Public blog and on author and book blogs. A full compilation will be released for purchase at the end of the month with proceeds supporting the the literacy advocacy organization Reach Out and ReadToday I'm delighted to host actor and narrator David Drummond reading Anton Chekhov's Death of a Government Clerk.

David, welcome to the blog. For your Going Public... In Shorts piece you have chosen Anton Chekhov's Death of a Government Clerk. Why did you select this particular story?

I remembered a silly sketch from Neil Simon's play "The Good Doctor" (based on Chekhov short stories), and sought out the source material. The story isn't quite as silly as the play. But it was quick and sharp, and I hope I did it justice. I wanted to make clear that the drama was all in the protagonist's mind, and I also wanted to be quick enough that the audience doesn't see the ending coming from a mile away (although the title does kinda give things away).

In addition to being an audio book narrator, you are also a stage actor - can you tell us a little about your acting career, and how you came to narrate audiobooks?

Yes, I've been an actor for over 25 years, working mostly on stage, but also film and television. I have my master's degree in acting, and my bachelor's degree in English, so narrating is a blending of those studies. I'm also a playwright, and had a longtime fallback gig as a proofreader, so words matter to me.

I live in Seattle, and one of the giants of audiobook world -- the late, great Kate Fleming -- wanted to get more of the wonderful actors in town into narrating... I took Kate up on her offer, learned at her elbow, and started narrating. I also leaned heavily on an old buddy of mine from grad school -- Patrick Lawlor -- a very accomplished narrator who was immeasurably helpful in connecting me with employers. I designed and built a very poor studio. Fortunately, I got enough work to get better and better at it, and eventually built (but didn't design) a very good studio, and now make most of my living narrating audiobooks. The commute is bearable -- eight steps down to the garage -- and I'm able to be my kids' delivery system at the end of their school day, while my wife is off saving the world as an emergency room social worker.

How is it different preparing for a stage project vs. an audio project?

Stage work and narration are different for two obvious reasons: using enough voice to fill a 500-seat theatre versus the inches between you and the mic; and having other folks play all the parts versus you doing everything. Working in the theatre is very nourishing -- I get to spend hours and hours being amazed by my fellow actors, falling in love with them, becoming a team, and then inviting a whole gang of strangers eight times a week to join in on the fun. Narrating is not nourishing -- it's just me in a room for hours at a time, breathing my own exhaust, not amazing myself, repeating and repeating and repeating the same lines, cursing an author who chooses to use 20 words when three will do. Okay, it's not always terrible, but I rarely enjoy myself. To which Patrick has said, "Suck it up, dummy. At least you're not digging ditches." And bills are getting paid.

You have voiced an extensive collection of audiobooks, especially non-fiction. But I also see David Abram's literary novel Fobbit among your work, as well as a series of dragon fantasy books. That's quite an interesting range - which books are among your favorite projects, and why? Which have been your most challenging projects? Which have been the most rewarding?

I've had a lot of fun with fantasy work -- swords flashing, dragons breathing fire, dialects and accents from all over the galaxy. But I don't get much of that. I'd love to do romance and thrillers, too.

The work I'm most proud of was The U.S.A. Trilogy by John Dos Passos -- The 42nd Parallel, 1919, and The Big Money. First of all, the guy could flat-out write. Also, there were all kinds of characters to play around with. And throughout the book were snippets of popular songs and jingles that brought out both the detective and the songbird in me. This was before copyright issues stopped narrators from being allowed to sing in their books, so I tracked down all these songs (with fantastic help from the music librarians at the University of Washington), plunked many of them out on the piano, and then recorded them...I also needed to immerse myself in the history of the period (late 1800s to Depression-era America and Europe), and seek out native speakers in a bunch of languages to make sure I said everything authentically (or as close as I could come).

So yeah, The U.S.A. Trilogy was rewarding, challenging and fun. So was Follow the River -- the two leads were women, Irish and Dutch. And Fobbit was fun, too, after I gave myself permission to go crazy with some of the characterizations. In the theatre, you have a director giving you support and guidance -- not all of it good or useful, but regardless, your choices are constantly gone over, remarked on, rehearsed. In audiobooks, I have never received a single note on interpretation, and, for the first 10 books or so, I craved a director's voice supporting me (or just throwing out a random "Atta boy!" now and then). I came to realize that I'm being hired for my instincts as an actor -- and the only way I know I'm doing things (mostly) right is the next job offer. Eventually, every single employer will figure out what a talentless hack I am and stop hiring me altogether, but until that time I'm gonna keep stoking my instincts and just let it rip.

How did you get involved in the JIAM 2013 Project/Blog Hop, and what are your hopes for the project?

As for the blog hop, I don't even know what the heck it is. But if Xe says "Jump!" I say "How high?"

Wise you are! Thank you, David.

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If you enjoyed today's Going Public... In Shorts story, don't miss yesterday's story at The Reading Date 

All the stories in Going Public...In Shorts will be free online for one week. In collaboration with Blackstone Audio, all the stories will be also be made available for download via Downpour. June's schedule of stories and narrators is posted at Going Public. Engineering and Mastering are provided by Jeffrey Kafer and SpringBrook Audio. Graphic design provided by f power design and published by Blackstone Audio. Project coordination and executive production by Xe Sands.

Happy listening!


  1. Replies
    1. It really is! Such a great range of stories - so much fun. Kudos to Xe Sands for coordinating the effort.

  2. Thanks so much for participating, Jennifer and David both! Love that we can give back to listeners and support children's literacy efforts at the same time :)

    And what a great interview with David - a wonderful man, friend and mentor!

    1. Thank you Xe for coordinating such a wonderful project - so much fun, and for a terrific cause.


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