Ears on the Odyssey

Interview: Caitlin Garing

Caitlin Garing is an award-winning audiobook producer for HarperAudio and has gifted us with thoughtful and impeccably crafted audiobooks for children and young adults. Caitlin’s impressive resume includes this year’s Odyssey honoree, Clap When You Land, the 2018 Odyssey winner, The Hate U Give, and honorees The Poet X and Nimona

Ears on the Odyssey contributor Colleen Seisser recently interviewed Caitlin Garing and learned more about her background and the process that she undertakes when producing audiobooks. Many thanks to HarperAudio for putting us in touch with Caitlin and for providing review copies of some of her notable books from this past year. We really enjoyed learning about what goes on behind the scenes, and we hope that you will, too!

CS: How did you get started in audiobooks or what’s your background for becoming an audiobook producer? 

CG: I started working on audiobooks when I was still in college. I had a background in radio so when I interned at The Missouri Review and helped them produce an audio version of their literary magazine. In the process I realized that audiobooks were a potential career. Which was great news, because I was quickly realizing I did not enjoy reading from a slush pile! 

CS: How do you choose which titles would make successful audiobooks?

CG: These days we produce nearly all of our books in audio. The only ones we’re more selective about are the highly illustrated or designed books that don’t translate easily into audio. 

CS: Can you describe the process of selecting a narrator to match your book? What is a casting process like?

CG: Casting is probably my favorite part of the process. It begins with reading the book, so you get a feel of the narrative voice and the needs of the project, like accent skills. After that I begin to search for the narrator that best matches the voice in my head. Sometimes that’s easy, other times it means diving into similar titles, examining casting rosters, and falling down rabbit holes. But that euphoria of putting together a great casting list to send to an author is one of the best feelings.  

CS: What is your relationship with the narrator through the production?

CG: It varies based on the project. For a straightforward audiobook with an experienced narrator, my primary point of contact is when I review and approve the first chapter of audio. But if it’s a complex book or a new narrator, like Punching the Air, I’ll often direct them. I love having the chance to work with narrators when I can. 

CS: What’s the difference between working with a single narrator versus a full cast?

CG: A full cast is a complex endeavor. Unlike with single narrators or even multicast books, you have narrators voicing characters that are directly interacting with each other in the final recording but typically recorded separately. So, when you’re directing you have to not only make sure the individual narrator’s performance sounds good on its own, but also will mesh well with the performance of every other narrator. They’re not self-contained within a chapter like you see with a multicast, but often alternating on a line by line basis. Within a full cast novel, it’s a little less daunting because the narrative holds the bulk of the text, but when you’re adapting a graphic novel, the majority of the script is dialogue.  

CS: What can you tell us about the recording process? Is it usually the same for each title? What is different for you when you work as a director versus as an executive producer?

CG: The recording process at its core is straight forward, the narrator receives the script and preps it. After that they’ll record either in an outside studio or a home studio. 

When I’m simply the executive producer my role is much more in line with being the project manager whose task it is to assemble the best team for the audiobook. When I get to direct I get to work directly with the narrator and take a more active role in shaping the final sound of the audiobook. 

CS: What goes into adapting a title for audiobook production? 

CG: For most titles no adaption is needed. We only need to adapt a script if it’s highly illustrated like with Invisible Emmie. In cases like those we lightly adapted the information given in the illustrations into narrative and/or dialogue, so that listeners get to enjoy the story in full. 

CS: What is your most favorite and least favorite thing about adapting graphic novels to the audiobook format? Can you talk about writing original scenes for Nimona?

CG: I’ve been really lucky to work with authors who are also the artists for their books, but that means there’s typically no transcript or text version of the graphic novel. So, every project starts with transcribing the graphic novel into a text document. However, that also leads into my favorite part which is figuring out how to best take advantage of the audiobook format to tell the story. Seeing where sound effects can convey the information gleaned from the art or where maybe it’d be best to insert new lines. And of course, getting to work collaboratively with such wonderful creators like Jerry Craft. 

Writing original scenes for the Nimona audiobook was a lot of fun. We only did it in instances where that was the best way to convey the same effect reading the graphic novel had, and we knew that sound effects alone couldn’t do the trick. For instance, when the Director is battling the monster near the end, we decided to have her on the coms with a minion so that there was a reason for her to describe her actions. 

For me personally I really enjoy the opportunity to write in another person’s style. If I do my job right, anything I insert is invisible because it should blend with the voice and style of the rest of the book.

CS: How does diversity, equity, and inclusion show up in your work as an audiobook producer?

CG: Diversity should not be limited to characters and authors, but also represented in the narration. As a producer it’s our job to make sure that we’re casting to match the main character’s voice and identities to the best of our abilities. And where our roster falls short, we’re working to broaden and deepen it. But I think it’s also important that we don’t limit our casting of BIPOC narrators to only BIPOC books. 

CS: As an audiobook producer, can you speak to the art of storytelling and how important it is or has been to our culture?

CG: Story is powerful. The format you use to tell a story may help shape it, but at its core story is what allows us to find ourselves, explore new concepts, and learn new perspectives. That’s one of the many reasons why it’s important that we ensure that publishing is diverse and inclusive.

I know stories were my refuge this past year, and I wasn’t alone in that. Stories can offer escape and hope in the midst of a dark year. Stories can offer a moment of laughter or understanding when you’re surrounded by grief, showing you a way out. And what’s wonderful is stories are never stagnant. When someone really connects to a story, it takes root and grows.  

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