Local audiobook aficionados got an opportunity to hear a master narrator at work and to quiz him about his craft. Johnny Heller, award-winning narrator, actor and stand-up comic visited Bettendorf Public Library July 15th to read aloud and take questions from the audience. A resident of Manhattan, he seemed genuinely interested in learning more about Iowa in general, and the Quad Cities specifically.
Heller is an interesting combination of the highbrow (trained as a Shakespearean actor) and the low to middle brow (he delights in adolescent humor, which serves him well when narrating juvenile books). He read from several of his books (Marley and Me and Dave Barry’s Complete Guide to Guys).
He gave several insights into the process. Most fascinating was how he chooses someone (an actor or actress perhaps) to pair with a character, so he can instantly call up that persona. When asked how narrators can seamlessly and quickly move between male and female characters, he says, ideally, he’s in a zone where he doesn’t consciously have to make those decisions. He doesn’t try to do “female” voices. it’s more about their character. He softens his voice for females but doesn’t go several octaves higher.
Other tidbits, he gets paid by the hour – the finished hour of product, not what he puts into it, so as an experienced narrator, he’s more efficient and the ratio of time spent and actual output is more equal.
His favorite part of the job, though, is to foster the love of books and reading. Mixing with the crowd before and after, Heller clearly enjoys the extensive traveling involved in the job, and doing whatever he can to promote the appreciation of story, in whatever format it may be.