An Interview with SUZANNE CERRETA Narrator of Bullet in the Chamber by John DeDakis
What do you think of Bullet in the Chamber as a story, Lark Chadwick as a protagonist, and John DeDakis as a writer? [Use both sides of the page and as many words as you’d like.]
One of my favorite things about Lark is her quick mind and strength. She isn’t afraid to stand her ground or run into danger. This isn’t something you see in the portrayal of female characters and it’s refreshing to have the chance to narrate a character who is both warm and strong.
I think “Bullet in the Chamber” is really relevant right now. The country is dealing with some scandalous leadership, as well as frightening circumstances regarding heroin dependency in many communities, so I find this book to be carefully crafted, funny in many places, as well as relatable to our current situation.
And John is a great author to work with! The characters, you can tell, all come from a very truthful and real place and he makes his care for each one apparent in his writing.
You make narrating a novel seem easy, but I’m sure it can be an ordeal. What are the mental and technical considerations that go into being a voice actor?
I have been recording books since I was a little girl growing up in Brooklyn, recording myself on my pink radio in the 80s. I have always loved narrating and telling stories. It’s what I love about acting.
I have always been good at coming up with voices or essences of characters through their voices, especially with accents and dialects, so for me, narrating is a very natural part of my personality. I can’t imagine not doing it!
One of the hardest things is the longevity, so you need to make sure over a long period of recording time that you don’t change anything about the character voices and you are consistent. Going back and listening to make sure you are consistent is key. It can be very time consuming.
Did recording Bullet present any special challenges?
“Bullet in the Chamber,” because it was in first person narrative, was actually quite enjoyable and easy to really dig into. I love doing first person because you feel as though you are giving a monologue and deep insight into the character.
I especially loved your vocal interpretations of Lark, First Lady Rose Gannon, Muriel Stone’s slight Wisconsin accent, and the Valley Girl Temp at Applied Electronics. How did you learn to do so many voices?
Like I said above, voices have always come very easily to me. Also accents and dialects. I teach them to other actors, actually, as my day job, and I have a Masters degree in Applied Linguistics with a concentration in pronunciation and phonology.
Understanding why and how, or the motivation behind why we sound the way we do — whether we speak English as a second language, or have grown up with different language backgrounds, or have lived in different cities or countries — is so fascinating to me and vital when developing a character voice. Finding their speech rate, their sound changes, their pitch patterns, etc. all contribute to who they really are. The voice tells us so much about a person and the subtlest changes can change a character.
How, as a woman, do you approach reading a man’s lines?
In doing a man’s voice, I am lucky to have a very wide range regarding pitch. I also have studied a lot about voice (not just speech) and know how to change my vocal folds (i.e. – thick folds, lax folds, thin, etc.) in order to create different textures and genders in the narration. I once had to do six different teenage boy voices! Holala, that was tough!
What are “vocal folds”?
Vocal folds are actually the correct term for the vocal chords. Knowing how to change their shape and quality takes some time.
How do you make your vocal folds thick, lax, or thin?
If you, for example, drop your larynx down as well as the velar or soft palate in the back of the throat and allow the tongue root to be relaxed so the tongue is a bit down as well, you will experience thicker folds. It sounds like a lower gravelly voice OR it can also sound similar to the vocal fry that girls speak with these days. Always look out for young girls — they are the change in the vocal patterns across North America!
To make folds thin you would put your larynx higher up and use less voice through them, creating an airy sound. Also when you hear a singer using that singer songwriter-y voice that we have become accustomed to hearing, that is a thinner folds sound.
Tell us more about yourself.
I am originally from Brooklyn, New York, and lived there for about 26 years. I am a true New Yorker through and through You can take the girl outta Brooklyn….
In addition to narrating audio books, I teach pronunciation, accents, and dialects to actors. I give many workshops in pronunciation.
I also do an English as a Second Language podcast called Culips and we introduce ESL learners to cultural and slang material, as well as grammar that is more advanced and used everyday like phrasal verbs in natural conversation.
That’s when two words come together to make a compound verb, such as pick up, put down, break out, etc. We use these so often in English and many learners are so confused by them. It’s usually an action coupled with a direction. We have a lot of fun with that. You can check it out on iTunes.
I also sing in a rock band called Small Foreign Faction.
All of these things keep me pretty busy!
Your voice is your livelihood. How do you take care of it?
Good question! I sing some pretty hard blues and rock, so I have to drink a ton of tea with lemon, and I make sure I do a very good vocal warm-up before practice and performances. I do a ten minute physical warm-up and a 30-45 minute vocal warm-up based in Fitzmaurice work and Estil vocal work.
How did you become a voice actor?
I think being a voice actor has always been sort of my destiny. I met an agent, happened to have a demo on me by mistake, and she called me in the next day. I booked my second audition. I booked consistently after that.
I work with innovative artists in NYC and have done many voice-overs for radio and national TV ads and campaigns. It’s just something I always loved doing and I think I really was in the right place at the right time with the right material.
Have you ever acted on stage and/or screen?
Yes. My training is very much based in theatre. I have a BFA in acting from Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama and have done plays in NYC off Broadway, as well as some TV (“Law and Order,” of course) and films as well.
What films have you been in?
The last film I did was produced by my friend’s production company called Before the Door productions and it was “The Most Violent Year” with Jessica Chastain. I also did a film that won a Sundance award called “Puccini for Beginners” with Gretchen Moll.
I have done a lot more theatre, though. In NYC theatre is king Although now, there are a good amount of TV shows being taped there. More than there was before!
What advice do you have for writers who want to create audio books?
It’s like writing a play. Once it is written and out there (make sure to have the latest edited and clean copy for your narrator, as it’s extremely annoying to have to guess and edit typos as you read) it is no longer your child. It is a walking, living thing that is being put to voice by a professional actor.
It’s important to allow the process to happen and to trust your actors. Some authors want to nitpick at the timbre of how you say one line, but that is not their call. It would be like a writer of a TV show stopping every time the actor doesn’t say the line exactly as it sounded in the writer’s head. It slows down the process and undercuts the actor’s job.
So, my advice: do your best writing. When it’s done, trust your actors. Set it free. You may get more than you expected in return!
What advice do you have for people who are thinking of becoming voice actors?
It depends on what you want to do, meaning video games, narration, commercials, dubbing, etc. They are all different animals. The best thing is to practice first! Listen to commercials (if you want to do those), and see if you can find your sound. Then make a demo and start sending it out.
For narration, read and record yourself out loud and listen. What can you change? What is effective? Then, begin submitting to different publishers, look at acx.com, and just start!
Tell us about your other projects.
I have about thirty books out now and three more coming down the pipe very soon.
I will be collaborating writing some theatre and possibly a screenplay in the next few months, so very excited about that!
Also, my website is getting an overhaul and will be showcasing online accent and dialect classes and resources.
Lastly, my Masters thesis research is in review, but we are hoping it gets published by the end of this year  in the Journal of Second Language Pronunciation.
But possibly the best project thus far: we are expecting a baby girl in the fall!
Bullet in the Chamber is now available as an audio book. Click here to order yours: http://johndedakis.com/my-books.html