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"I have a great love of literature, music, the spoken word, as well as theater, dance, and history," Susan Ericksen says. "There's a kind of pleasure I get from bouncing around the different genres that I read." She may narrate a great variety of audiobooks, but Susan is firmly entrenched in the world of mystery and suspense, excelling at giving voice to the works of three powerhouse authors of the genre: Sara Paretsky, J.D. Robb, and Meg Gardiner. - 2010 Best Voices
Susan Ericksen is a Renaissance woman. In addition to being an Earphones-winning audiobook narrator and director--she's a writer, an amateur linguist, an actress, a mother, and a wife. In the 1980s she joined former classmate David Colacci in western Michigan, where he was artistic director for the Hope Summer Repertory Theater. Twenty miles away, a fledgling audiobook publisher called Brilliance was looking for narrators.
"That was when everything was done on tape," Susan says. "It was a laborious process. And the market wasn't anything like it is now. But we both loved it. It was a natural thing for us to do. Back then, most people thought audiobooks were just for the elderly or the visually impaired. So we didn't really know what the narrating was all about, but it was fun. It grew and grew, and we expanded to work for other companies."
Susan has recorded around two hundred audiobooks for Brilliance, BBC Audiobooks, Tantor, and Hachette. "It was a natural step. As repertory theater actors, the whole point is to be able to do Shakespeare one night, a musical the next night, and Noel Coward the next. So you have multiple personalities and multiple character voices and physicalities. These are such valuable skills for doing audiobooks."
A lifelong learner, Susan comes from a literary family. Her father, Don Ericksen, is a retired Victorian literature professor from Illinois State University. "My father is a Dickens scholar, so stories and characters are what we grew up with. People have always read aloud in our family. I grew up going on family camping trips, and that was what you did around the campfire. And now I love reading to my kids.
"I have a great love of literature, music, the spoken word, as well as theater, dance, and history. There's a kind of pleasure I get from bouncing around the different genres that I read. It's a great opportunity to read certain nonfiction things I would never venture into--to read something that wouldn't otherwise cross my path. And then, of course, that begets more knowledge."
Susan recently narrated the nonfiction book FACTORY GIRL by Leslie Chang--"and suddenly I'm picking up a book on China!" Narrating Beth Gutcheon's LEEWAY COTTAGE provided Susan with a chance to explore other languages. "Most of the book takes place amid the Danish Resistance during WWII. Danish is a very hard language to pronounce. You can't just hear it and read it phonetically. There was so much Danish and Swedish and German in that book. I ended up talking to this wonderful receptionist at the Danish consulate who happened to have an American mother, so she could tell me how a Danish person might say certain words if they still had an accent even if they spoke English well."
Last year Susan recorded INTO THE BEAUTIFUL NORTH by Luis Alberto Urrea, about a group of girls living on the Mexican border who go on a quest to the States to recruit seven men to defend their village from invading drug gangs. "I'd had high school Spanish, but I hadn't spoken Spanish in many years. There's this dialogue they speak there called Churro, which is this 'Spanglishy' amalgamation of all kinds of stuff. And it's just not on the Internet! So I had to find somebody who was from there, who could not only translate it but could speak it in such a way that I'd be able to sound like these 'coyotes' who take people across the border. It was a great experience. Plus, it got my Spanish back up and going. I deeply appreciate the fact that I have to learn new things in my job and get to be challenged and stimulated. I mean there's a certain selfish pleasure. It's an expansion of your own self."
Susan also enjoys the sound of words, another trait she attributes to her father. "Nothing is more pleasurable than when you know that an author has an ear--that they hear the words, not just write them. As a narrator, you can tell the difference. It's so smooth and lyrical and effortless. Sometimes things that people write are fine on the page, but I can't get them out of my mouth. Also, there are a lot of contemporary authors who convey the multiple senses that humans use, and they'll make references to the sounds or the smells or the tactile things in the world, and that just makes such a better book. They can put together sounds that are musical and visceral."
While Susan takes her work and her personal growth seriously, she realizes there's still time for fun and games in the world of narrating. "Engineers may be unsung heroes," she says with a grin. "But they're also the demons of the industry." During her career she's gotten to know the engineers so well that they use every opportunity to play practical jokes on her. "I can't tell you how many times I've been reading and I suddenly realize that the lights are slowly being turned down. And then it's a question of will: I will not succumb. One time I had one of those mini flashlights in my backpack and managed to get it without messing up, and was able to shine it on my script. Even though the lights went completely dark, I was able to keep going.
"Everybody responds differently when they mess up. I'm given to bursting into operatic phrases, or swearing, or I get so fuddled that all of a sudden I'll go, 'Arghargh!' And then, of course, they record it. And then when you're having a nice run, at an opportune moment they play it back, often processing it through a garbage-can effect or space-alien effect, which is terrifying."
Clearly, Susan Ericksen is a woman of many talents, not the least of which is her humor. And she's a shining example of how audiobook narration enriches all of us.-- Steven E. Steinbock, February/March 2010
David Colacci had a hand in directing audiobooks at one time, working with a young actress on her first audiobook, Susan Ericksen. Obviously a successful collaboration, as they are now married, and Susan has pages of audiobook credits for authors: Anne McCaffrey, Nadine Gordimer, Linda Howard, Marcia Muller. We celebrate Susan’s work on J.D. Robb’s In Death series with the Earphones review of SURVIVOR IN DEATH . Susan also narrated the unabridged version of LEEWAY COTTAGE , our cover title by Beth Gutcheon. She particularly enjoyed the research for the many Danish words and place names needed for the book. Changing “worlds” to a totally different type of book, Susan has just completed a peek into Hollywood with THE STARTER WIFE by Gigi Levangie Grazer.
Photo by Peter Beck
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