Author: Paul L. Arvidson
Narrator: Benjamin Fife
Length: 9 hours 2 minutes
Series: The Dark Trilogy, Book 1
Publisher: Mr. PL Arvidson
Released: Sep. 14, 2020
Genre: Science Fiction
In the strange labyrinth of pipes on the planet called Dark, things are falling apart. Dun doesn’t want to be a hero, he just wants to find an answer to the terrifying dreams he’s been having. But the answers, the real answers, are going to take him places he’s never imagined and tear him from the only home he’s ever known.With a half-finished map from his missing father, an old friend, a new friend, and the mysterious Myrch to guide him, he journeys through parts of his world he’s never imagined. Are his dreams real foretellings? Who can he trust to be who they say there are? What are the strange forces that seem to be literally pulling their world apart?As he travels through a world that is much bigger than he thought it was, what he won’t know will kill him. And everyone he knows.
Paul Arvidson is a forty-something ex lighting designer, now SFF author who lives in rural Somerset, UK. He spends his non-author time bringing up his children, fighting against being sucked in to his wife’s chicken breeding business and preventing Morris the Dashund contributing to his typing. His SFF works form ‘The Dark Trilogy’. Dark is the first book in the trilogy and came out in 2017. The sequel Darker came out in 2018 and the series will be completed by a final book in 2019. There will not be a prize for guessing its title.
Benjamin Fife has always had a passion for learning. With a mind that remembers all sorts of numbers and useless trivia, he regularly wins local radio shows and enjoys confusing people with sci-fi quotes. Fife grew up in Southeast Idaho. He attended college at Idaho State University, where he met his future wife in their music theory class. They have been married nearly 20 years and now have six children and a whole menagerie of animals. When their oldest daughter was three or four years old they started reading aloud from novels every night at bedtime, and have continued the tradition ever since. The family loves exploring various worlds and topics through Fife’s wonderful reading skills, which get better every year. They all have his Christmas Carol voices memorized (and the older kids are known to quote along with portions), since he has read it to them every December. Benjamin enjoys all kinds of sci-fi and fantasy – both books and shows, is an extreme eclectic music lover, and prefers his chocolate to be of the 90% cocoa variety. Above all, he loves to be with his family. He loves recording audio books, and is delighted to tell people, “I’ve finally found what I want to be when I grow up!”
Q&A with Narrator Benjamin Fife
When did you know you wanted to be an audiobook narrator?
Going way back to 8th grade (‘92?) – in my speech class we were required to do a read aloud from a book for the class. I chose the novelization of The Empire Strikes back & did the iconic scene where Darth Vader reveals (SPOILER ALERT) he is Luke’s father. I did it complete with a jar for the Vader echo. Still love that scene. Fast forward a few years & when I met my wife, we started reading aloud to each other. I started thinking about doing it then (early 2000’s), but life was busy happening. We had our first kid in 2003 & from about the time she was 5 or 6 years old, we’ve taken turns picking what we wanted to read as a family every night. We’ve read silly, serious, Fiction, non fiction. I found it somewhat maddening when I read Jane Eyre to the kids – The oldest couldn’t have been more than 11 or 12 – and the two oldest girls were able to guess the plot points before they happened. Right down to (Spoiler alert) “I Bet his wife will jump off the Roof.” Though we do sometimes take turns, I’ve probably read 4/5ths of the books at least. I didn’t really know how to get into doing audiobook narration, but I knew it was something I wanted to do.
How did you wind up narrating audiobooks? Was it always your goal or was it something you stumbled into by chance?
Almost 3 years ago, I got home from work one day & my wife said, “Hey, you should check out this ACX thing.” That night I set up my account. The next day I attended an uncle’s funeral. When one of my cousin’s I hadn’t seen for probably a decade asked me what I’ve been doing, after the normal update of job, kids etc, on a whim I said “And I narrate Audiobooks.” My first official audition was for one of his books (Prior to the conversation, I didn’t know he was an author). For the record – My audition was abysmal & he thankfully went with a different narrator – however, earlier this year I narrated Walls of Glass for him (J.W. Elliot) My audition for that one he said was head and shoulders above anything else he got. I quit the dayjob in April (which was part of the plan before all the covid junk started happening) and haven’t looked back.
Did you find it difficult to “break into” audiobook narration? What skill/tool helped you the most when getting started?
Short answer – No, not really. I would say the best tool & skill that has helped me to move forward continually & exponentially, is passion though. I LOVE narrating. I LOVE storytelling & bringing books to life. My wife told me I should put on here years & years of practice as well. The biggest thing that helps me now that its my fulltime job – Planning & sticking to it. Focus on what I’m doing & look forward to future projects.
A lot of narrators seem to have a background in theatre. Is that something you think is essential to a successful narration career?
I took Drama for 3 years in High School & I’ve always had a dramatic flare. I’ve never been cast for more than a bit part though, but it’s also not something I’ve ever tried to actively pursue. For years, I kind of felt like I really wasted those 6 semesters worth of time in Drama, but in the last 6 months especially, I’ve come to see that many of my “instincts” were trained then – now over 20 years ago. Including studying dialects and so much more. The acting ability of a narrator is essential however, and now that I am narrating, I’m using a lot of the skills I developed in Kay Jenkins’ Drama class more than 20 years ago. I’ve also always enjoyed improv games that I initially learned in that class. There are 2 main schools of thought I’ve found in audiobook narration – That of the “Strait read” or that of the “Characterized Read.” I’ve listened to both & by far I prefer the latter, but my imagination can fill in the blanks on a strait read as well.
What type of training have you undergone?
Aside from my 3 years in drama studying dialects & the 12 guideposts, I sang in choirs in college at Idaho State University & University of Idaho – both under some brilliant conductors – Scott Anderson (ISU), Rager Moore (U of I), and Dan Buckvich (U of I). Scott & Rager’s rehearsals were more of a group vocal lesson. Dan’s was in a VERY large jazz choir & he was amazing at getting hundreds of people to enunciate incredibly clearly. Years later, my wife & I ran a music store and I had a number of private lessons with Paul Harms, who had been principle tenor of the LA opera theatre for many years. Paul was a very nuts & bolts vocal instructor. I’d also have to say my continual reading to my kids from all kinds of genres is an ongoing training ground.
How do you manage to avoid burn-out? What do you do to maintain your enthusiasm for narrating?
I haven’t gotten incredibly burned out on anything yet. If I do find myself getting burned out on something, I’ll take a break from it. I also find a good way to keep my skills up & enthusiasm up is to keep auditioning for new titles. The downside of that (sort of) is that if I get selected for all of them, I’ll be booked for a decade or so. But I also don’t audition for something unless it interests me at least a little. Since I’ve transitioned to being a fulltime narrator, I’ve improved my editing skills & sometimes I might get a little dragging on a title, but really – I still absolutely adore what I do.
Are you an audiobook listener? What about the audiobook format appeals to you?
ABSOLUTELY! When my wife & I were in college, we delivered newspapers ridiculously early & would frequently check out books on tape from the library. I’ve gone up & down with listening, much more UP of late. My day job for years was a 40 minute commute, so it’s perfect for listening. Now that I’ve canned the dayjob, I’ve traded the commute for an hour walk every day because I still want my listening time. I’ve listened primarily to classics on Librivox up until recently (in the last 2 years I’ve listened to or read the complete works of Charles Dickens). I now am trying to listen to an audiobook a week from a newer narrator/author. I try to review everything I read & listen to, so I listen to at least some of it at 1x speed. If it’s non-fiction, I’ll pump the speed up to about 1.9 & if it’s fiction I listen at about 1.3. At present though – I’m WAY behind in actually reviewing what I’ve listened to… But I’m right on schedule for my narration gigs!
What are your favorite and least favorite parts of narrating an audiobook?
I LOVE storytelling. I love it when I’m in the recording booth and I’m so into the performance that I’m just… emoting. When I get goosebumps when I’m narrating, its a pretty good indicator that I’m doing it right (and also that the author did their job well. I also LOVE voicing Dragons. On the flip side…I hate waiting. (Inigo, Princess Bride). Waiting to find out if I get picked for the book, waiting for my schedule to free up so I can get to the one I REALLY want to narrate, waiting for the author to get me back any changes, waiting for ACX to approve it & make it live, waiting to see if anybody likes it.
I pretty well love everything else though. But I’m not incredibly fond of when an author is Uber picky in the editing process. I did one (no disclosure here as to what it was/ who wrote it, etc) that if I read “Said [character]” instead of “[Character] said,” they wanted me to fix it. In that book the author gave me basically one correction a minute, some of which were due to their writing errors. Not gonna lie, I got burned out on that title. That being said, I think my accuracy has improved from the experience.
What would you say are your strongest narration abilities?
I’m a really good storyteller. I love doing it & creating characters with the author. One thing I like to do with authors is kind of assemble who they would cast as such and such a character. With Dark, Paul had me listen to Phil Hartmans performance from an animated show – I don’t remember which one – for the characterization on Padg in particular. I’m also pretty darn versatile when it comes to styles and accents. The other day I was chatting online with a publisher from New Zealand. He had listened to samples of most of my books & asked me where I was originally from. He was sure it would have been Ireland, or UK, or at least Eastern Canada. Nope. Born & Raised in Idaho. (I did spend a couple years IN eastern Canada, but aside from that… Just Idaho.) I love doing character voices & I think I’m pretty good at it. There’s a character in Dark, and several other books, where I was essentially told… Saruman… Do Christopher Lee’s Saruman. I don’t pretend that I hold a candle to him, but I love voicing over the top characters. Dragons in particular.
Is there a particular genre you feel unsuited for? Have you ever declined a project because you didn’t think you were right for it?
Horror. Erotica. Just zero interest in either. I try to keep my narration to PG-13 or less. But I’ve read about any other genre to my wife & kids & I’ve already narrated a good many different genres. I love it all. I’ve certainly opened audition scripts & decided, “Nope. Not for me.” I have recorded a couple of books under another name for various reasons.
What about this title compelled you to audition as narrator?
I actually approached Paul about it. I read an interview he gave to some online reviewer, it sounded cool, so I emailed him & said, How about an audiobook? Reading some of the reviews & hearing it described as Hobbits in space certainly piqued my interest. He opened it up for auditions & I was a little worried I wouldn’t get it, but, ultimately I got it. I wanted another good SciFi series from another author (C.D. Tavenor is my other SciFi author I’ve worked closely with on Chronicles of Theren).
How closely do you prefer to work with authors?
As Closely as they’ll let me. Though nobody wants to be micromanaged. But I like to be able to pick their brain. And Its THEIR book first & foremost. If they’re not happy with my performance, I want to know why & be able to fix it. I’m very excited for Dark & some of the other projects I’m involved in now because of just how involved the authors are with me.
Who are your “accent inspirations”?
For Dark – Kind of going with Space Hobbits, I did a little bit of Elijah Wood for Dun. Some of my other general inspirations – Bruce Boxleightner, The Star Trek Universe – Avery Brooks, George Takei, Marc Alaimo. It’s something that I’ve never been a “fast reader” because I’m reading aloud in my head even when I’m just reading to myself. I assign an actor to be the voice of various characters in my head (Marc Alaimo has always been my Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn since the 90’s).
How did you decide how each character should sound in this title?
Paul gave me a bit of an “ideal cast” and I started from there. Getting Padg right took a few takes. Was originally going for a Merry & Pippin kind of thing, but then made him more sarcastic after reviewing a Phil Hartman performance Paul recommended (He died way to soon)
What types of things are harmful to your voice?
Guillotines. Sulphuric acid. Goa’uld Symbiotes. Sword Swallowing. Head colds. Allergies. Sometimes Teenagers (or my paternal knee jerk reactions to them – my own teenagers that is).
Has anyone ever recognized you from your voice?
Not yet. If anything, quite the opposite. I have had several friends & family members hear one of my narrations & say “That’s YOU?” I was on a zoom meeting with fans of the Jane Austen’s Dragons series & some of them were chatting & saying “He sounds completely different in person!” To be fair, I don’t normally speak with a British Accent, so right off the bat, I’d sound different from my performance there.
Have there been any characters that you really connected with?
In this series, Dun, Padg & Myrch. In Jane Austen’s Dragons, Lizzy, Darcy, Walker, April, even Longbourn, Kellynch & Laconia. In the upcoming King’s Warrior, I LOVED narrating Brant (he’s got some pretty heavy emotional baggage). I definitely try to get in the head of any of the characters I’m voicing though. I really liked Rabbi Wheaton, Frank & Phil from Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. Herman Rolfe in Earthbound, Theren in First of Their Kind, Raith from Flight of the 500, Yawri & Tisbero from Call to Purpose.
If you had the power to time travel, would you use it? If yes, when and where would you go?
Absolutely. First, I’d want to go to the future when interstellar travel is possible & they’ve worked out all the relativity issues. But I’d love to just be one of the Doctor’s companions for a season. Just get me out of there before I’m killed or have my memory wiped. (As an aside – I wasn’t sure I was going to like the new Doctor. We finally watched her first season. BEST WRITTEN SEASON OF DR. WHO EVER, which is saying something because I loved David Tennant & Matt Smith. But Jodi Whitaker owned it from day one, every bit as much as they did. The writing in 2nd season gets a little bit on the beating a dead horse as far as in your face about how screwed up 21st century earth is. Peter Capaldi was mainly just grumpy & arrogant. More like Doc’s 1-3. Though I adore 2&3 also).
How does audiobook narration differ from other types of voiceover work you’ve done?
I haven’t actually done other voiceover work yet, though I’d be willing. I have been told by some that narrating audiobooks is the Marathon of the voice acting industry, and I can’t say that I’d argue. I guess when it comes to voice acting, I love marathons. Just don’t ask me to run an actual marathon (You know the first guy who did collapsed dead at the end, right?)
Do you read reviews for your audiobooks?
Daily. I love seeing what people think. I check and see on all my titles if there are more new reviews.
If so, which ones stand out to you most, positive or negative?
Both! One of my favorite comments on Jane Austen’s Dragons: “I’m beginning to think Benjamin Fife is part dragon.” I love to hear that my performance of something brought the book to life. I’ve also had people point out that my pronunciations weren’t right (for Lonbourn for example – Sorry purists – I’ll try to do better, but its set for this series). I had a review on a non-fiction book that I did that the listener said they were distracted by my unique voice. Honestly took it as a compliment since the first book in the series was narrated by the author who was exceedingly dull in his read. (He needed a real narrator). When a review is particularly excellent, OR particularly abysmal, I try to reach out to the reviewer to say thanks & I appreciate their feedback.
What type of the review comments do you find most constructive?
As little recapping of the plot as possible, but specific commentary on the narration style, what they liked, didn’t like, etc. What I don’t like is when they leave a 3 or lower star rating or review & they don’t mention why at all. Or things that are hard to quantify, like “he sounded like he had rocks in his mouth.” I reached out to that one for clarification actually.
Who is your “dream author” that you would like to record for?
Timothy Zahn. I was introduced to him via Star Wars in the 90’s, and I love all of his Non Star wars stuff. He’s got a pretty big list of books with no audio. I’m planning on approaching him/his agent later this year. 🙂 I’d also love to do anything Patricia Wrede or Shannon Hale.
Also Charles Dickens – I’ve already recorded A Christmas Carol. It’s on soundcloud for free here: https://soundcloud.com/user-29643215/sets/a-christmas-carol-by-charles-dickens-narrated-by-benjamin-fife
If you could narrate one book from your youth what would it be and why?
That’s kind of a tough one. All of them? The Chronicles of Narnia at least. Maybe The Westing Game? Or The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper? The Great Brain? Wait you said one. I don’t do well with one.
What do you say to those who view listening to audiobooks as “cheating” or as inferior to “real reading”?
Grow up. Ok, I wouldn’t really say that, but folks who say this if you ask me have some pretty serious superiority complex issues. Decades ago there were studies showing that kids who were read to daily by their parents were smarter, healthier etc., why would it be any different for adults who are read to? I meet plenty of people who can’t get into audiobooks because they have a hard time paying attention to them, and I get that. It actually takes some concentration. Just like “traditional” reading. But people who do listen to audiobooks listen for any number of reasons. I recently met a librarian who is no longer physically capable of reading due to her eyesight & audiobooks have been a miracle to her.
What bits of advice would you give to aspiring audiobook narrators?
Read copiously. Listen to other narrators. Get your own style. Read what you love. Read to your kids. Don’t be afraid of the microphone. Start with what you can afford/do & go from there. There’s no “1 way” to do anything. There are probably MILLIONS of people who consider themselves authors. There’s a whole lot of material to work with. Rather than viewing other narrators as competition, view them as compatriots.
What’s next for you?
OOh… Lets see… I just finished up 3 books for Brad Swift – A childrens to Middle grade series: The Zak Bates Eco-Adventures. That’s forthcoming along with the first of a fantasy series by Jenelle Leanne Schmidt – King’s Warrior. Those & book 5 of Jane Austen’s Dragons are currently caught in the QC bottleneck at Audible. I’m currently editing my recording of Book 6 of Jane Austen’s Dragons for Maria Grace, Recording a Kids book Tony & The Haunted Goldmine for Steve R Romano with my daughter Rosy, Just starting Finding Home by Jessica Sims (doing a bunch of southern Black voices from the 1920’s – interesting challenge & very moving book), Memoir of the Minotaur by Tom Shachtman (narrating under a different name due to some of the… Greek content…), Darker – The next one in this series – Should be starting on it by the end of the month), then the remaining 3 books of Jenelle’s fantasy series… And whatever else gets in line. 🙂 I love being so booked.
Bonus question: Any funny anecdotes from inside the recording studio?
In the middle of narrating Longbourn – as Lizzie is fleeing Hertfordshire – I was rather into the narration at about 9:30 pm. My studio is a converted prebuilt shed outside our home (If anyone can guess why I call it Rex Iter studio, let me know & I’ll send you a free code to ALL of my books that I still have codes for). It has one little window right off of where I stand to record. So, emotionally fraught chapter, dark & quiet outside. My studio is not quite soundproof, so I’ll hear the occasional thing happening outside. I heard a couple of little bumps or something. So my subconcious brain is going, “If it affects the audio, I can do a retake, but I’m doing really well with this part and will just push on through.” Then I hear the bump-tapping again & look up. Ms. Awesome with Gowron Eyes watching me in the window.
Normally, I scream like a girl when startled. What got recorded is a cry of utter terror, followed by her coming in & laughter. Enjoy. This just sums up our relationship. https://soundcloud.com/user-29643215/lonbourn-blooper-reel
In narrating Dark, I tried a few different things to get some of the sound effects, including my own teeth, trumpet, rocks & more. You’ll have to listen & see what you think.
Plugging you into the audio community since 2016.