Q & A with Deborah Ledford

The CRESCENDO Audiobook: Bringing Words to Life –

a Conversation with Author Deborah J Ledford and Narrator Christina Cox

 

Here is a Q&A from fans who have enjoyed the audiobook version of CRESCENDO by award-winning suspense thriller author Deborah J Ledford, and a conversation with the author and narrator, TV and film actress Christina Cox:

 

FAN QUESTION: Why did you decide to make CRESCENDO an audiobook?

DEBORAH J LEDFORD: Before I became a novelist I was a screenwriter and heavily involved in film and theatre production. I’ve missed those days and was pretty sure the closest thing to making a film of my latest thriller would be to produce the audiobook version.

FQ: CRESCENDO is the third book of your series. Why did you decide to record that title first?

DJL: Although the series features the same law enforcement characters, each book works as a standalone. The reader won’t be lost starting with book three. Also, I wanted the project to be a true collaboration with my narrator, TV and film actress Christina Cox. I was pleased that she felt a strong connection with Inola Walela, who takes the lead in this book.

FQ: How does your audiobook differ from other audiobook productions?

DJL: Many authors have no say in who will be narrating their books. Although Second Wind Publishing currently holds publishing rights for the print and e-book version of CRESCENDO, I retained rights to the audiobook version which cleared the path to produce the recording through my production/publishing company. We recorded at Costa Mesa Recording Studios in Southern California where 100+ audiobooks have been made. As the producer of the project, and more importantly the single person who has lived with these characters and subject matter for many years, I knew I could work with Christina and make this an exceptional debut audiobook.

Christina and I met prior to recording and went over elements she might stumble over during the read and then I tweaked minor elementsprimarily to clarify the characters’ inner thoughts that don’t always translate to the spoken word without text.

During the recording sessions, engineer Nick Fainbarg and I were in the sound booth while Christina was beyond the glass at the microphone. I followed the script, making editing notes for post-production, watching for dropped words, and occasionally stopping Christina to clarify my intent as the writer. Once Christina finished her recording sessions I assisted Nick while he edited the files. As president of IOF Productions Ltd, I contacted major distributors who jumped on board the moment they knew we would be presenting a professional, high-quality project that rivaled the big-time publishers’ audiobooks.

FQ: How did you choose your narrator?

DJL: I’ve worked with a lot of talent over the years, but no one as professional and dedicated as the performer I had the honor of casting. I first spotted Christina Cox in one of the highest rated episodes of DEXTER (“Dex Takes a Holiday”). I was impressed by her flawless performance of Zoey Kruger, a cop who killed her family and soon becomes Dexter’s next prey. My first thought, however, was “Wow, what a great voice!” Christina’s smoky alto is precisely how I envisioned Inola Walela’s tonal quality when I created the character. Then, early last summer, when the audiobook pre-production was rocketing forward, I caught her in a rerun of the NCIS episode “Freedom” and she became my one and only choice to be the voice of the Steven Hawk/Inola Walela series. For me, the narration is every bit important than the words that appear in print and I knew Ms. Cox was the only performer with the acting chops and vocal ability to convey the characters and locations that have lived in my head for so many years.

 

FQ: Christina, did you read the print version first or just a chapter or two in advance prior to recording the audiobook?

CHRISTINA COX: I read all three books of the series, all in one sitting over a weekend by the pool and got a terrible sunburn. I couldn’t put them down.

FQ: What is it like to prepare for multiple characters rather than only one?

CC: You prioritize the width and breadth of the backstory for the characters that will have the most “air time.” But you still need to have a very clear idea of all the ancillary characters or you can’t shift back and forth between their voices if you don’t see them in your mind.

 

FQ: I felt the sections where Inola was struggling with her feelings over her attraction to Debold were particularly poignant. Were those scenes difficult to perform?

CC: That was tough for me because as the narrator, obviously I knew how bad a guy he was and I didn’t want to see a character that I really admired and adored be attracted to a deadly jerk, so I had to silence the voice in me that kept saying “Don’t do it!” and remember to go from her point of view where she doesn’t know who Debold is and what he’s capable of. Inola’s demons are potentially leading her down a path of unfaithfulness to Hawk, and because of her own damage, she’s self-consciously sabotaging her relationship with him. It was difficult for me to experience her do that.

 

FQ: Did any of the characters change for you when it came time to record the audiobook?

CC: Absolutely. Deputy Stiles didn’t come out the way I planned him at all. He became a lot more fun in the recording studio than how I worked on him in the early stages. He was looser in the studio than he was in the practice room.

Christina Cox-CRESCENDO Audiobook Narrator FQ: How did you feel when you heard the recording, did you see the plot and characters in CRESCENDO in a different way?

DJL: After listening to Christina’s rendition (at least a dozen times now from the initial editing phase through the finished version), I see the book in a completely different light. The added dimension of her characterizations bring the entire novel to lifeevery bit a movie for the mind. It’s also been very helpful listening to the recording off and on as I write book 4 of the series, where Inola will again take the lead.

 

FQ: Did you visualize the characters and locations as you were recording?

CC: Yes, but I also had to imagine those people and places prior to recording because you can’t make it up on the fly or you’re going to be in the weeds very quickly.

 

Here’s a question everyone wants to know: Who was your favorite character to perform?

CC: Inola. I connected with her the most emotionally. Her skin and her struggles were the easiest for me to slip into.

 

DJL: The roles you play for TV and film are extremely active, including swordplay, hand-to-hand combat, weaponry of any kind. You sat in the recording chair for twenty hours over four days. Was it a challenge to convey the characters without implementing movement?

CC: Absolutely. Because the way a person moves, their posture, the way they walk, their rhythm is integral to how their life experiences have shaped them as human beings. When you remove that you’re relying on the most vivid imagining you can have of the characters, because obviously running around in the studio is not the most mic-friendly activity to do.

 

DJL: You are one of the most technically proficient actors on screen when it comes to handling handguns and taking on the persona of law enforcers (DEXTER, NCIS, 24, NIKKI & NORA to name a few). Did knowing what is expected to realistically present these professionals in the past help you get into the mindset of the city police and sheriff department characters in CRESCENDO?

CC: Yes, and I think something a lot of people don’t understand is that vehicle stops are one of the most dangerous parts of a patrol officer’s job because you never know who’s behind the wheel. The officer already has a reason for pulling them over and they don’t know what else might be happening inside that car, who the driver is, where they’re coming from, where they’re running to. A weapon could be pulled on you as you approach the window. They’re fraught with so many possibilities for life-threatening situations.

 

I’ve been very fortunate to have hands-on, one-on-one training with the DEA, FBI, Miami SWAT, RCMP and the Canadian Army (yes, we have one) to name a few, and what continues to fascinate me is how divergent each of their skill sets are because of the environments they work in, and the different situations they’re called on to handle.

 

My research experience really helps me visualize what these law enforcers would be doing. My acting performance depends on the characters’ expertise, position, rank and the skill level they havebecause all uniform cops are not ninja’s and you have to remember that sometimes you’re not playing a ninja. You may be playing someone who’s never shot anyone, who’s never even had to draw their gun. They’re a very different cat than the DEA agents who have had to bust down a thousand doors to houses full of pit bulls and meth heads and crack addicts and AK-toting gangbangers.

 

DJL: Knowing I wanted you to be the storyteller, did you envision how you would present any of the characters while you initially read the print version of CRESCENDO?

CC: Yes. Initially I saw this as if I was casting them for a movie, what actor would I cast in the part, and then how would I make myself sound like that person I’m seeing in my mind.

 

Because I knew I would be doing the voicing I did try and imagine, what world would the character’s voice and cadence and mannerism live in. I also watched a few movies set in North Carolina and listened to other audiobooks by authors from the region. Because I had a few months for the project to marinate before we went into the studio, they became their own people by the time it came to record the voices.

 

DJL:CRESCENDO features a lot of characterstwenty-seven speaking roles and four varying point of view narrator presentations, and for one particular scene there are twelve characters with dialogue. You flowed effortlessly from one character to the next. Tell us a little about your preparation for taking on the different voices and personalities.

CC: It was like getting on a rollercoaster full of cats and trying to keep all the cats in the rollercoaster as you went up and down and around the turns of the curves.

 

There were times when I wished there was a magic button on the mixing board that could just make them all sound different. The scene you mention was really challenging, because most of those characters were men, so you’re trying not to do “fake” male voices, but that scene was primarily dudes. Finding enough tonal and voicing qualities to delineate one character from another who may only say one line of dialogue at a time was extremely challenging.

 

DJL: The difficulty of performing multiple characters within a scene isn’t something I even took into consideration while writing the book. I am convinced that only you could have pulled this off. I’m keeping this in mind as I write book four and promise not to implement too many characters in one scene for you to perform, ever again.

 

DJL: Christina, what did you find most challenging about the project?

CC: I wanted to make sure I didn’t insult anyone from the region, and to honor the Eastern Band Cherokee dialect. In Canada, our First Nations’ dialects are very distinct and different between the tribes, and what surprised me during my research was that I didn’t hear much native cadence in Eastern Band Cherokee voices. I spoke with some of my friends who are First Nations members in Canada, thinking I know this accent, then realized this was not the case at all.

 

Getting actual reference material was challenging because the Eastern Band Cherokees aren’t recognized as widely as the Oklahoma Cherokee Band, who speak with more of a typical Native American cadence. I wanted to honor a true representation of what Inola’s grandmother, Elisi, would sound like, so it was a great weight on my shoulders. I hope the performance worked.

 

DJL: It absolutely did. Your characterization of Elisi is one of my favorite performances. It is unfortunate that there was so little audible reference material available for me to provide you with. I found only one YouTube video that featured Eastern Band Cherokee women speaking. Your vocal cadence, rhythm and timing was spot-on and truly brought Elisi to life.

 

CC: Deborah, after living with these characters for so long, what was it like hearing them interpreted by someone else?

DJL: Actually, quite surreal. We were so busy during the recording process that I didn’t let much in other than our task at hand. But I do remember leaning over to the sound engineer several times to whisper “How is she doing this?” because I was quite amazed by your process.

 

I feature varying POV narrators in the book and wasn’t sure how that would translate to the spoken word, but there was no need to worry because many of these passages are now my all time favoritesespecially your narrator portrayal of the villain, Preston Durand. You made him a character we love to hate, which is crucial in a psychological suspense thriller.

 

Your performances of all of my characters were beyond respectful, however the most rewarding aspect was seeing you literally turn into Inola Walela before my very eyes. She is a deeply flawed character and I protect her with my very core. I am forever grateful for how you portrayed her with such care.

 

DJL: This was your first audiobook projectwhich continues to amaze me because you took to the format right away. What prompted you to want to move into this type of performing?

CC: I’ve always wanted to perform radio plays and voice-over work, which I started doing in Toronto before I left for LA. The only thing that stopped me was that my work papers were for one particular studio, for a specific project, so it didn’t allow me to work for anyone but that certain studio. It took a few years to get my full working papers, but by then I had moved on acting in TV and films and I just let the vocal performing go for many years.

 

Voicing CRESCENDO was serendipitous because I always wanted to get back into this type performance. And the project was fortuitous because it kind of fell into my lap, and especially welcome because I was pregnant while we were recording and there wasn’t a lot of need for running around with guns in the studio. This type of work is definitely very friendly to life with a new baby. And it’s challenging in an amazing way because you get to play characters you would never be cast as…for instance, men!

 

DJL:How do you envision your future in audiobooks or similar projects?

CC: I’ve always enjoyed the audiobook medium, and as someone who takes many trips up to Vancouver, which is a 22 hour drive, let me tell you, this is what keeps me from driving off the road. I’m really looking forward to all of the possibilities the voice world holds, including virtual video games, which I’m dying to do because then I would actually get to combine my love of movement with the voice work.

 

Presented and Published by IOF Productions Ltd, the CRESCENDO audiobook is now available worldwide from Audible, iTunes, Audiobook.com, Downpour.com and CDs at Amazon.

 

Deborah J Ledford is the author of the Steven Hawk & Inola Walela suspense thriller series, including CRESCENDO and STACCATO. The series’ second novel, SNARE, is The Hillerman Sky Award Finalist and New MexicoArizona Book Award Finalist. She is a three-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize and her award-winning short stories appear in numerous print publications, as well as literary and mystery anthologies. Deborah is the President of IOF Productions Ltd, and a member of the Audio Producers Association, ITW, MWA, Sisters in Crime, and past-president of the SinC Desert Sleuths Chapter.

A native of the Toronto area, Christina Cox is an actress best known for her leading roles on several series including, DEFYING GRAVITY for ABC and BLOOD TIES for Lifetime, as well as guest starring as Officer Zoey Kruger on DEXTER. She is also known for the feature films ELYSIUM, THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK and BETTER THAN CHOCOLATE. As Co-Executive Producer and star, Christina recently helped to resurrect NIKKI & NORA “the most watched never aired pilot in history” as a web series. A self-confessed design junkie and devoted yoga practitioner, Christina currently resides in Los Angeles.