4 disco balls
Beneath a Scarlet Sky, by Mark T. Sullivan, was inspired by the real life story of WWII hero, Pino Lella. This book was 10 years in the making for author, Mark T. Sullivan, whom met Pino by chance and knew he wanted to tell his story. It is a work of fiction, but has been rumored to be about 90% true.
First things first, this audiobook is a commitment. It is 17 hours long! About 25% way through I upped the speed to 1.25x and it cut a few hours off, phew. I am terribly bad at paying attention to audiobooks, but I do find I am most engaged in listening and not being distracted by everything around me (look a squirrel!) when I am taking a long drive. During a long weekend I went to visit friends in CT (about a 2 hour drive) so it was a perfect time to dive into Pino’s story.
Pino is an Italian who at the age of 18 is forced to enlist to fight with the Germans on his home turf. Just the previous winter he was helping Jews escape to Switzerland, so you can imagine the pain Pino is fighting internally to be working for the enemy.
I am not one to give too much detailed information in my reviews, as I want the reader/listener to experience much of the granular details on their own. What I will say is that like any story about war, it is depressing. There is only so much one person can experience and it was wild to hear that much of this story was true for Pino. His love for Anna Marta will make you weep. He is witness to such destruction and devastation at a young age and still finds the strength to keep going. After listening to this audiobook all I wanted to do was find Pino and hug him (if you know anything about me, this is huge. I hate hugs, so for me to want to actually give one away…well that’s major).
If you are taking a long drive, or can pay attention better than me, Beneath a Scarlet Sky is a solid historical fiction audiobook choice. You must commit your time, but it’s one worth experiencing. The writing is beautiful, great character development. There is also an epilogue that provides a snapshot of where many of these characters wound up in real life.
The narrator, Will Damron, did an amazing job at tackling the various accents and character emotions. It was not an easy feat, but he made it sound easy.
Also, super cool to note: it is soon to be a major motion picture, staring Tom Holland as Pino.
As I was listening to Will Damron narrate Beneath a Scarlet Sky, I had the idea to reach out to him with a few questions. First, the audiobook being 17 hours long I wanted to know how much endurance and effort that actually takes to record! Get to know Will and his answers below:
1) Beneath a Scarlet Sky, Unabridged Version was 17 hours long. How long did it actually take to record?
Looking back at my calendar, about 6 days. Normal recording speeds for me are 2 – 3 finished hours per day, and that can equate to 4 – 6 actual hours in the booth. Once you’ve been speaking for 6 hours straight, your voice and brain are pretty much shot, so I rarely go longer than that per day.
2) Which character in Beneath a Scarlet Sky was your favorite to voice? Which character was the hardest?
I always enjoy voices that are least like my own, so Cardinal Schuster was one of my favorites. He was also a very complex character (and real figure), so there was a lot I could play around with in him.
The hardest by far was Mussolini. I watched several videos from the period of his fascist rallies, and his style of speaking was so specific – and very Italian. So I had to imagine what be would be like speaking English for the purposes of the book, in a private setting, not in front of a crowd, and slowing losing his grip on reality. That was a terrific challenge, but a challenge nonetheless.
3) Speaking of the harder voices, which are generally the most difficult voices? (i.e. accents, speaking as a woman, etc.) What character, in any of your audiobooks, was the hardest to voice? Do you find that with some of the harder ones you break out laughing mid-sentence? (I just have this thought of SNL skits and the live actors dying laughing at themselves)
Absolutely I break out laughing in the booth! I’m not often cast in “humor-genre” books, but I get a lot of snarky characters and naturally there are moments where you just can’t help yourself. The most difficult voices to capture are those like Mussolini, above – people who really existed, so you want to give a flavor of their natural cadence for the listener, without doing an imitation. That kind of thing just takes a lot of time to prepare, and then of course you’re switching out of the voice for lines like “… he said, crossing the room.” Accents can really make the job easier, because automatically I have the beginning of a vocal identity for the character, and I can use that as a springboard for the reading.
4) Do you have a favorite audiobook and/or character you have voiced? Do you have a favorite audiobook that was narrated by someone else? Do tell, we love recommendations.
Oh, so many favorites. The first audiobook I was a part of where I realized “Wait, this is something special…” was Adele Griffin’s ‘The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone.’ I think there were almost 30 narrators on the project, and my parts amounted to less than a half hour, but the character I played (the protagonist’s lover) was so beautifully drawn, I had a very hard time letting the project go. Some of my other favorites recently: ‘Fever’ by Deon Meyer, ‘The Girl in Green’ by Derek B. Miller, ‘Syncing Forward’ by W. Lawrence, and especially Bill Schweigart’s Fatal Folklore series (starting with ‘The Beast of Barcroft’).
As for other audiobooks, I tend to follow narrators more than authors for my listening. One of my favorites is Scott Brick, who incidentally lives 5 minutes from me in LA! I’ll listen to anything he’s narrated. I’m also a terrific fan of George Guidall, Katherine Kellgren, and Julia Whelan. Julia, actually, was one of my college mates who got me involved in the business.
5) Have you ever been recognized by your voice where someone is like “hey, you were the voice of my audiobook?” or some variation of that statement?
Haha nope not yet. The most I’ve gotten is, “Wow, you have a wonderful voice!” That was more or less the pickup line my fiancee used on me. So that turned out well :-).
6) What is something you can share with us about the recording process that the general public doesn’t know?
The thing that most amazes people when I talk about this work is just the amount of time and energy it takes. Most people seem to think we just sit in a chair and, you know, read a book, then go home. That’s like saying Meryl Streep just, you know, shows up in a fancy outfit and says some stuff in front of a camera, then her day is done.
It takes a lot of time to prepare to narrate a book, a team of people to produce that audiobook, and then the production itself is a full acting performance. There’s a very subtle technique involved in reading for hours and hours and hours in a small room with a mic, and it took me years to begin to understand it. I’m still learning about it. It’s a wonderful, immersive process, and we have a very warm community of people who do it for a living, but if you’re not careful you won’t see the sun for weeks :-).
Thank you, Will for taking the time to let us in on your narrating process as well as update us on your career happenings! We wish you much success and will certainly check out your other audiobooks.
Will Damron studied theater at Middlebury College, and upon moving to LA to pursue acting, discovered some of his college mates had found success narrating books. With their help, he got started in the business reading thrillers, YA fiction, and romance. Five years down the road, he has now narrated well over 200 audiobooks across all genres. His best-selling works include Beneath a Scarlet Sky (a #1 Bestseller on Audible), American Kingpin (Audible’s Best True Crime Audiobook of 2017), Seveneves, Salt to the Sea (Audie Award-Winner for best YA Audiobook 2017), and Fates and Furies. Last year he published his own debut novel, The Tercentennial Baron, a fantasy-adventure for younger readers set in Scotland, which received glowing reviews on AudiobookReviewer.com and in AudioFile Magazine. The sequel is in the works now!
Follow Will on Social Media: www.willdamron.com/