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5 Questions with Narrator Mark Deakins

Help me welcome narrator Mark Deakins to today’s Take 5 interview. My personal journey with Mark’s work started with the dystopian young adult series Maze Runner and then quickly veered off onto other paths, especially literary fiction, nonfiction, and thrillers.

I depend on Mark to honor a fiction author’s style while adding an under-layer of drama, whether that means careful pacing to pump up an action scene or a change in pitch or tone to highlight a character’s emotional reactions. He gives his nonfiction performances a conversational, natural feel, which makes history and biography more accessible, erasing any hint of classroom lecture.

Before I recommend some of my own and other listeners’ favorite audiobooks read by Mark, let me mention two new releases that are in my own current listening queue: Timothy C. Winegard’s THE MOSQUITO, a nonfiction look at the world’s most deadly insect, in which Mark is the solo performer (published this week), and Sara Jio’s ALL THE FLOWERS IN PARIS, a dual timeline story set in Paris in both modern times and during the German occupation, in which Mark is part of a multicast performance (out next week).

5 Audiobooks

A Boy in WinterRachel Seiffert’s novel A BOY IN WINTER takes place over the course of a few days in 1941 as Nazi Germany occupies a Ukrainian village. The audiobook highlights the characters’ ethical dilemmas in a nightmarish world in which personal survival and doing right by others seems impossible. Mark’s soft tones and spot-on timing together make a “superb performance”; his delivery of both inner and spoken dialogue is particularly impressive.

Avenue of SpiesIf you’re more interested in a true World War II story, listen to Alex Kershaw’s AVENUE OF SPIES, which introduces us to an American doctor and his French wife who were determined to stay in Paris, despite the Nazi occupation. This is the tale of one family’s bravery and resistance, even as they lived under the ever-watchful eyes of their German neighbors. Mark’s French and German accents add to the story’s authenticity, and his sense of drama keeps listeners “glued to the battle of wits and nerve.”

Catherine the GreatTake a step further back in time to meet one of the world’s most misunderstood monarchs in CATHERINE THE GREAT by Robert Massie. This well-balanced biography transports listeners to the heart of the eighteenth-century Russian court, providing an intimate look at the people, places, and events important to Catherine as she rose to power in a large and diverse country. Mark skillfully meets two of the challenges of this audiobook: believably voicing the many European languages and accents, and clearly distinguishing between the author’s commentary and quotations from historical documents.

South of BroadReturn to the twentieth century in Pat Conroy’s SOUTH OF BROAD, part story of America, part story of a city, and part story of a man coming to terms with his past. Set in 1969 and 1989, the audiobook explores the social complexities of Charleston, South Carolina, through the lives of a group of friends, reunited two decades after high school. Mark deftly guides listeners through the beautiful city, slowing down his delivery and painting it with a delicate southern accent to match Conroy’s evocative prose.

The RiverFor a contemporary action-adventure story, queue up Peter Heller’s THE RIVER, about a late-summer canoe trip that goes off course when two college friends cross paths with other campers as a forest fire threatens to overtake them all. Mark’s performance perfectly captures the two personalities of this audiobook. He uses a light, easygoing style when the two young men are in vacation mode but switches up his tone and pacing to create a sense of dread as the friends realize their fellow canoeists may be harboring secrets.

5 Questions

After hours of listening to Mark Deakins entertain me and educate me via his excellent work as an audiobook narrator, I thought it was high time to get to know more about him. I’m grateful Mark was willing to answer a few questions about his life as a voice performer and as a “regular” person.

AudioFile: What genre will you always say no to or yes to, and why?

Mark Deakins: I reserve the right to turn stuff down on a book-by-book basis, but that’s fairly rare. I like to read a lot of different things. As far as genres, I don’t narrate erotica but generally everything else is fair game. I see myself as kind of a “utility” narrator when it comes to audiobooks. I’m maybe not a “star” in any one genre, but I like to think I do a lot of things pretty well. I’ve read virtually every kind of book: diet, how-to, biography, history, and fiction; books for kids, adolescents, and adults; romance to war to fantasy; religion, politics, psychology, business, time management, and engineering; NFL to MLB to NCAA to tennis; and a diversity of authors from Atwood, Conroy, Doctorow, Grisham, L’Amour, and Picoult to James Dashner and Gillian Flynn.

AF: Tell us something surprising about yourself.

MD: I performed on Broadway and at the National Theatre (London) in Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s Tony Award-winning production of The Grapes of Wrath: A great author, a great novel, a great adaptation by Frank Galati, a great company. It was a pleasure to inhabit that world on stage, just as it is a pleasure to inhabit the worlds of the interesting and compelling books I have the opportunity to narrate now. Oh yeah, one more thing: I have several securities licenses, so I can trade stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and other investments on behalf of a broker/dealer.

AF: What are you doing when you’re not working?

MD: I’m around or in the ocean if at all possible. I’m a scuba diver, and I like to boogie board and body surf. I love the beach. I also play acoustic and electric guitar and mess around with the mandolin and ukulele.

AF: What’s your first reaction when someone asks you how he or she could become an audiobook narrator?

MD: An initial assessment is useful: Do you like to read? Are you a good reader? Are you self-motivated? How are you with solitude? How are you in small spaces? How’s your attention span? Attention to detail? How are you (while chasing perfection) with reading aloud in small spaces, and sitting very quietly (except for reading aloud) for hours at a time? If you’re still with me and can’t wait to fold yourself into a chair behind a mic in a 3×3 booth and read a book on plant toxins for 5 or 6 hours a day . . . you may be cut out to be an audiobook narrator. If I lost you at “solitude” or “small spaces” or “hours at a time,” perhaps that position at a major accounting firm is starting to sound better than ever.

AF: What do you never have with you or never wear (or always have or always wear) in the recording booth?

MD: I always have lip balm on the table next to me to reduce “lip smackage.” Room-temperature water is a go-to for me too. I always wear soft-fabric shirts and/or sweaters when recording. Crisp fabrics are nice and look sharp, but they make a lot of noise when you move. No corduroy. Definitely nothing covered with potato chips or sandpaper. Also, I forego my Darth Vader helmet. The breathing is simply too noisy and it gives my voice an unpleasant “mechanical” quality. Hold on: I think a reviewer once said that about me even without the Vader helmet. Damn!

Thanks so much for talking with us, Mark. I have to say, I’ve never noticed your Darth Vader imitation. I too love the beach, but I’ve never had the guts to try scuba diving.

To discover even more books performed by Mark Deakins, explore his audiography.

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