New York-based actor and audio narrator Thérèse Plummer is the voice behind more than 350 audiobooks, including all of Robyn Carr’s Virgin River, Thunder Point and Sullivan’s Crossing series, plus her standalone novels like Sunrise at Half Moon Bay. Plummer won the 2019 Audie Award for her work in the multicast audio production of Sadie by Courtney Summers and was a recent finalist in the Audies’ 2020 Best Fiction and Audiobook of the Year (multicast) categories.
How does an audiobook powerhouse like Plummer do it? Here, she shares a look into the audiobook industry and describes how narrating a new book is like meeting a new friend.
What’s a day in the studio like for you?
I get to the studio to start my session at 10 a.m. I will yuck it up with the engineers and whoever else is around, and then get into my studio for a full day of performing. I love the pomodoro technique lately, as it is fantastic for productivity and keeps my energy levels at a sustainable level. It’s a time management system that encourages people to work with the time they have, rather than against it. Using this method, you break your workday into 25-minute chunks separated by five-minute breaks. These intervals are referred to as pomodoros. After about four pomodoros, you take a longer break of about 15 to 20 minutes.
Tell me a bit about transforming books into audiobooks. How do you prepare, and what do you most enjoy about the preparation? From one project to the next, how much do you change your approach to each audiobook?
I love this question! Each book is a new friend I have just met, and in order to get to know her, I need to really listen. The book tells me everything I need to know, because the author has taken the time to create this world and the characters whose journeys I am lucky to go on and bring to life. Every story has its own personality and vibe. If I have questions regarding pronunciations, I will submit a word list to my producers and also will collaborate with the authors if I am able to ask specific questions about how they “hear” certain characters. After I read the entire book and highlight “directions” I see (e.g. he whispered, she muttered, he said in a flat voice, she roared), I will have made a new friend, so when I go into the studio to give the book a voice, it is now a dialogue with my new friend.
“Storytelling is the oldest form of entertainment and connection, and to have a voice perform a story to you is such an intimate and beautiful experience.”
What do you believe are your greatest strengths as a narrator of books? What is the most rewarding or coolest thing you get to bring to this experience through your reading?
I believe my greatest strength as a storyteller is the ability to immerse my whole self into all of the characters and trust myself to then translate that vocally. I lose myself in the story and the characters, and I think you have to do that to bring the authors world alive vocally. It is so fun to play characters like lycans, vampires, gargoyles, etc., or little kids talking to their parents, and to hear my voice become what’s in my head. I am one of eight kids in my family, and I have 15 nephews and nieces to date, so I have lots of inspiration.
Tell us about your narration of Robyn Carr’s work. How you approach romance as a narrator? (Especially kissing/love scenes!)
I was asked to audition to narrate Virgin River in 2009 at Recorded Books in NYC. They chose my voice, and none of us knew the journey we would all go on! The romance books are the same as any other story, as it is a friend I have yet to meet. The thing I love about these stories though is that each book has so many mini stories going on that it feels like a soap opera or television show while I narrate.
The love scenes are intimate, personal, passionate and sometimes funny, so as the voice of the man and the woman and the narrator, I have my work cut out for me. There is a way to soften my voice by getting closer to the microphone so I am not too soft and bring the scene to life. I have cracked myself up when the groan I emit as the man comes out more like a croak, and my engineer and I will have a good chuckle before going back and getting it right. Again, I am bringing a story alive to your ears, so the more natural and realistic I can get it, the better for you. That is my goal.
I am blessed to call Robyn a friend, and she is one of the funniest, most real, badass queens I know. I was able to narrate all of her Virgin River, Thunder Point and Sullivan’s Crossing series, as well as her standalone novels. I adore these stories and characters. I was able to audition and landed a role on season one of “Virgin River” for Netflix. To walk on set and be in Jack’s bar after bringing it to life for so many years through audio was surreal and amazing. I think they did an amazing job with the series! The best part of Robyn’s books is that she writes about people all of us know. Everyone can relate and escape into a really good story for a while. It’s healthy escapism.
Robyn Carr (left) and Thérèse Plummer
What do audiobooks offer that a book can’t? And considering how much audiobooks are booming, why do you think we’re being drawn to this medium more and more?
When I was 12 years old, I remember reading a book called Tully by Paullina Simons and being absolutely mesmerized. I couldn’t focus in school as I kept thinking about Tully and the next chapter I would get to after school. I was fully invested in this story and these characters. It was so real for me. That’s what a good story does. If I were to guess, I think when a listener finds a voice that works for them, it is the ultimate escape and experience. I have had listeners tell me they won’t leave their car until the chapter ends. Storytelling is the oldest form of entertainment and connection, and to have a voice perform a story to you is such an intimate and beautiful experience.
What’s one thing people might not expect about your role as narrator?
It is exhausting! The pomodoro technique helps me with energy, but at the end of a six- or eight-hour day, I usually come home and crash. I am used to playing one character on stage and film, but in the studio, it is a one-woman show and sometimes up to 40 characters a book. I have so much respect for my community of storytellers!
How do you take care of your voice?
Sleep is my number one voice-care. The others are vocal/diaphragm warmups before my session. Stretching my tongue, jaw, throat and face. Also lots of water, espresso (not sure that’s a good one, but is my vice) and tea. I love soups. And Airborne at the beginning and end of a session.
Tell us a bit about being a woman in the audiobook industry. Do you face any particular challenges? How have things changed over time?
The biggest change has been our union (SAG-AFTRA) negotiating contracts with publishers on our behalf to solidify our rates in the last 10 years or so. I think the biggest challenge as a woman is speaking up for a higher rate as time goes on. If I were a man, it would be less intimidating, but the good news is that my community of storytellers is filled with like-minded, strong, beautiful, talented and fierce queens who band together in support and encouragement of each other. We know our worth and ask for what we want and need. The worst thing that can happen is they say no, but it is worth the discomfort. As freelance artists, it is really scary, because if we ask and they say no, we don’t want to lose work or be seen as greedy or annoying to work with, so a lot of us stay quiet. The few times I advocated for myself and asked, it was greeted with approval, but my God, it was terrifying. I try to channel my inner vampire or werewolf strength at times. LOL.
Who in your life has had the biggest impact on your work as a narrator?
My father. He was a professional actor in his younger days, and when I was growing up, he was always singing and bringing characters in his head to life. We never knew who would be serving us our French toast. Was it a French man or an Italian man? Accents and characters galore. It was a one-man show and incredibly entertaining. He performed a one-man show of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and every year I sat in the audience and was mesmerized how he brought every character in that story to life! I was in awe. When he retired, my brother and I took over the tradition and perform A Christmas Carol at Grey Towers in Milford, Pennsylvania, the first weekend in December every year. What a gift.