As a writer I’m preoccupied by “voice” — the diction, syntax, and emotional registers of my characters. I hear them before I know who they are and what stories they want to tell me. Immediately upon hearing the audio recording of The Conditions of Love, I became smitten with the voice of Tara Ochs, who so effortlessly modulated her reading to give different expression to each character. And she did this for sixteen hours!
Then last month something magical happened. As the credits rolled at the end of the movie Selma, the name Tara Ochs popped out from the screen. I had been watching “the voice of TCOL” play Viola Liuzzo, the white Civil Rights activist who was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan!
Thus began a correspondence with Tara that has evolved into many exchanges which I’d like to share with you. I’ve often wondered how an actor goes about embodying a character and developing a “voice.” Finally, I had someone I could ask. And you’ll get to meet her because she videotaped two of her answers.
How did it happen that you became the voice of the audiobook for The Conditions of Love?
For The Conditions of Love, I auditioned with a five-minute sample from the book. I don’t know what happens after that — who chose my sample — but I’m REALLY glad they did.
How does preparing to read an audiobook different from preparing for an acting role?
They are completely different. For me an audiobook is more like singing. I’m choosing the voices for each character as if I were matching a tone. But the tone is something I pull from my personal observations about what a voice communicates about a personality. To prep a book, I use the text to inspire me and I combine that with voices I’m familiar with in my life, and hopefully they are strong enough choices that I can keep them consistent throughout!
Did you find anything especially tricky about reading The Conditions of Love?
It’s always challenging when a character ages, because you want them always to sound real and honest, but also to incorporate that changing register while keeping it believably the same person.
I really love how you gave Eunice, my narrator, a strong, sassy and resilient voice. How did you decide how she’d sound?