I somehow had the pleasure of getting to know Matt Godfrey and his work through Goodreads and through Valancourt Books. (Click to read our interview with Valancourt.) I don’t remember exactly how we met but since then, I’ve listened to many of Matt’s excellent narrations, the latest of which, Blackwater by Michael McDowell, is a true delight! Since Matt is from Alabama, he was the perfect, logical choice for this book, set near the banks of the Perdido River in Perdido, Alabama. Speaking of Alabama, please join me as I get to know Matt and learn a little bit about the business of narrating audiobooks.
HAD: Please tell us about yourself!
I was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, and I think that’s a big part of who I am. I love Southern gothic fiction, Southern bands, Southern food. I met my wife there. I went to school there. Then my wife and I moved to Los Angeles where we lived for 8 years while I was a working actor. I’ve been in a bunch of national commercials as well as movies and TV, like Netflix’s “Santa Clarita Diet” and the film adaption of a favorite book of mine, “Blue Like Jazz.” I don’t regret our LA life for a second because we adopted our daughter there, but we never truly felt at home. Now we’ve moved back to the Deep South where I’m still a working actor (which I wasn’t even sure was possible here) and where I have my own studio where I record audiobooks. I really like Edgar Wright films. I really like Flannery O’Connor and Harper Lee. If I had to go super specific on you, I’d say my favorite genre of book would be “haunted English manor house.” I live for Alabama football and my wife tolerates that pretty well. She and I love watching The Great British Bake Off and dreaming about the future when we’re going to live in England for a while. I like taking my daughter to the zoo so she can wave at the giraffes, and to Disneyland so she can wave at Mickey Mouse. She does a lot of waving. It’s a good life.
HAD: Did narration come to you out of acting? How is it that you do both and is that common? (I notice a lot of other actors doing voice narrations like Kate Mulgrew or Will Patton and it’s made me wonder.)
I got my degree in Acting and English, so narrating audiobooks is a perfect fit for me. I love to tell stories, and acting in film and theater had been my primary mode up until I discovered audiobooks, and as soon as I had done my first book I was hooked. It’s definitely acting, but you get to play all the parts – even the ones you would never be cast as in a film. It’s so much fun. Plus, I’m a pretty voracious reader anyway, so the job is a dream come true. The film industry and audiobook industries are totally separate though – different casting directors, different everybody, really. Audiobooks are an offshoot of the publishing industry, so there’s not much crossover with the film industry where I was primarily working. I think film actors doing audiobooks is fairly common – while everybody hears about the celebrity narrators, there are lots of working actors who narrate as well. George Newbern (Bryan MacKenzie from Father of the Bride) is one of my favorites. His reading of Robert McCammon’s Gone South is absolutely perfect.
HAD: Do you read the book first before accepting a job?
I do read the book (or at least skim it) before I accept a job, and I definitely read the book thoroughly before I record it. Before accepting a job sometimes I’ll search the document for words I’m not comfortable saying or for content I don’t want to be associated with, and if too many of those things come up I won’t take the job. Very early on in my career I took a job without reading the book and ended up really having to trudge through some content and ideas I didn’t want to promote – namely a sort of toxic masculinity and jingoism I find damaging. But I signed a contract and had committed to the job, so as an actor I just had to give those characters my all. But I learned a lesson.
HAD: Is it required that you LIKE the book for you to accept a narration job? Conversely, would you turn down a narration job, SOLELY because you did NOT like the book, or are there a number of factors?
I’ve been incredibly fortunate – and I’m not just saying this – to have mainly worked on books I truly enjoy. I have a really good relationship with Valancourt Books who I’ve loved since long before I became a narrator, so every book I do that’s published by them you can be sure I personally like. But no, liking a book isn’t a requirement at all. Ultimately it’s my job, and there are going to be days at your job that you just have to get through. Narrating a bad book can be tough. Someone – I think it was Scott Brick – said that narrating a bad book is like digging a hole with your face. But honestly I’m so lucky to get to do what I do, reading a bad book is really not that bad at all.
Now, I still may turn down a book because I don’t like it, but that’s not really how I decide. Ultimately of course I want to enjoy it, but there’s a lot of people in the world who have different tastes than me, and I may be narrating the book for them, not necessarily myself. I mainly make the decision based on whether or not I find the book to be a worthwhile read for someone. Is it fun? Scary? Thought provoking? Poignant? Then even if it’s not my personal cup of tea, it’s still worth putting out there.
HAD: My HAD teammates had a few questions:
HAD: Kimberly would like to know: How do you handle the POV of different characters? Is there actually any change on your part, other than the voicing?
This is going to be a disappointing answer I’m afraid, and there definitely is a change, but I’m not sure I can quantify how it happens. When the POV shifts to a new character (which may or may not be in first person), my voice definitely changes, but it’s an emotional thing. As an actor you play the emotion of the character, even though that may not mean doing some wildly different voice. As long as you’re playing the emotion, your voice changes for the character. See, that didn’t even make any sense!
HAD: Is it wrong to call it “voicing”?
I think voicing the character is the right term. I know some people have preferences on how they’re billed on the cover of the audiobook – “narrated by,” “read by,” “performed by.” I’ve never seen the word “voiced” used there, but I think it fits when you’re talking about voicing an individual character in a book.
HAD: Nikki wants to know: Do you stop and look words up or are you a language genius?
I will admit that before I started narrating audiobooks I thought I knew a lot of words. Apparently, I do not know a lot of words. I have to look up plenty. Before I start recording I will have already looked everything up I don’t know and written it out phonetically so I don’t have to stop in the middle of a session.
HAD: Let’s say you’ve read the book and you’re going to do the narration. Do you then read it again and practice the voices for each character, or how does that work? How many times have you read the book by the time the project is done?
How many times I’ve read the book by the end of the process depends on the project. At a minimum, I’ve read it two times. Once to prep, once while I’m recording. If I’m doing all my own editing and mastering (which sometimes happens), then I’ve read it 4 times once you add in those processes at the end.I use an app on my phone called Trello to organize all the prep for my books. It basically is virtual index cards. As I read, I make a card for each character and fill it with quotes from the book about that character – how they speak, their emotional state, etc. I also make cards for words to look up in the dictionary, questions for the author, etc. Then when I start recording I have all those character notes to refer to, but I don’t really practice any voices ahead of time. I usually just sit down at the mic and start reading, and see what comes out. Sometimes it isn’t right the first time, but usually my first instinct is what I use. Then once a character has spoken I’ll grab a little clip of that audio and attach it to the index card as well, so that I can look back later and refer to the voice I used, just in case the character hasn’t appeared for a while and I’ve forgotten.
HAD: What is it that really makes you want to take a job? Is it the quality of the writing, the characters, their voices, the story as a whole, or some combination of them all?
It’s kind of a know-it-when-you-see-it sort of thing. You can tell good writing in just a couple of sentences, and good writing is such a joy to read. I’m so in awe of great writers. They blow my mind and it absolutely makes me want to work with them. Characters are a big thing, too. Reading off the wall characters that I don’t see everyday is really fun. Not only is it good, surprising writing, but it gives me something really fun to work with. Although I will admit there is a type of fun in working on a bland book and having to rise to the challenge of making something interesting out of these less-than-interesting characters.
I think it comes down to whether or not I think I’m going to have fun reading the book. I do a lot of horror because that’s what I personally like to read, but it doesn’t have to be horror for me to have fun. I co-narrate a great historical romance series with the wonderful Andi Arndt, and I have a blast on those books. A good example is Michael McDowell’s BLACKWATER, which is coming out in October from Valancourt Books. This has long been one of my favorite novels. I contacted McDowell’s estate back in 2014 to turn to turn it into a film trilogy, but it didn’t work out. Now here I am, three years later, narrating the audiobook of one of my favorite novels of all time, set in my home state, filled with characters who I swear I personally know because they’re so much like my friends and family….THAT’S fun.
HAD: Speaking of fun, I had a heck of time learning more about you, Matt! I want to say thank you on behalf of HAD for taking the time to chat with us today. We join together in wishing you the best of luck in your future endeavors!
Blackwater is now available from Valancourt Books in all formats on Amazon/Audible: HERE