Sunday, June 16, 2013

Going Public Project - Kaleo Griffith & Twain's Celebrated Frog

I'm terribly excited to be a part of an audio story-sharing project in celebration of all the loveliest things: audiobooks, writing, free stuff, literacy. Here's the basics:

June is Audiobook month (JIAM 2013). The audiobook community is giving back by teaming with the Going Public Project by offering a serialized audio story collection. All proceeds will go to Reach Out and Read literacy advocacy organization. Throughout June, 1-2 stories will be released each day on the Going Public blog and on author/book blogs. The story will be free (online only – no downloads) for one week. In collaboration with Blackstone Audio, all the stories will be available for download via Downpour. The full compilation will be ready June 30th.
The full schedule of the story release dates and narrators are at Going Public. Engineering and Mastering are provided by Jeffrey Kafer and SpringBrook Audio. Graphic design provided by f power design and published by Blackstone Audio. Project coordination and executive production by Xe Sands.

Yesterday was Hilary Huber reading Guy du Maupassant at AudioGals and tomorrow is Adam Verner reading Jack London at Anita Loves Books but today (Happy Father's Day!), I'm delighted to present Kaleo Griffith's reading of Mark Twain's The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.

Listen to (and buy if you like) the Jumping Frogs! (And check out Kaleo's post over at Going Public.)

Kaleo was gracious enough to answer a few questions for me, which will give you a taste of his talents and enthusiasm for narration. I'm sure you'll enjoy getting to know him as much as I did: 

The big thing everyone always asks, I’m sure: how did you get into audiobook narration? Share a bit about your background and journey with us.
Sure. Well, first off, thank you for hosting me today! It's a pleasure to be with you! 

So I got into narration sort of accidentally. A couple of years ago I was at a commercial voice over audition in Los Angeles and Audie Winner Rosalyn Landor heard me in the halls. I didn't know who she was at the time.  Well, she walked up to me and said, "Do you do audiobooks?" I said, "No." And she said, "Well, you should!"  She proceeded to sit me down, find out more about me - then told me exactly who to call, what to do, and I was off. And that was my introduction. Thanks Roz! She's a dear friend now. My first book was Arrows of the Night at Random House - written by five time Emmy Award winner & producer of 60 Minutes: Richard Bonin. No pressure. Ha! Actually, I'm still very proud of that first book. It's an incredible piece of history.  Well, I'm very grateful to Rosalyn, Bob and Debra Deyan, and Random House who started me on this most auspicious journey! As far as my background - I've always been an actor. I've been doing that since I was about 13. I took an acting class, found the theatre and was hooked. Growing up in Hawaii with a large extended family can be fantastic and sometimes maddening as a kid. I could disappear on the stage, put my attention on all of those other folks in the page. It was exhilarating! Eventually I found my way to The American Academy of Dramatic Arts in California, then Franklin Pierce University in N.H., London to study classics through Roger Williams Drama Program, then on to Rutgers where I earned my Masters. Yes, a lot of training! - I have my parents to thank for that one. Without them, none of it would be possible. Or, perhaps, it would be different and I still would have found my way! - But, they knew that I was serious and I wanted to know EVERYTHING! haha! Of course, in the beginning I did know everything. Now, I know nothing. (laughing)
I know the feeling - I used to know everything, too! 

Your actor’s training and stage and screen work give you, I’m sure, a lot of your skill with dramatic and emotionally complex narration. What new skills or demands on you has your work with audiobooks brought to the fore? 

Well, yes, there are innumerable skills that  transfer: simple things like being real,  not a "caricature" of a character but a real human being; responding in the moment, as if it's the first time - things like that. That being said recording audiobooks is not for everyone. It is very demanding and intricate. The simple act of  recording a book for 6 or 7 straight hours - sometimes longer - is in itself a major difference and can be very taxing. And I can't remember the last film I did where I played 30 characters. And that's on the low end. Many of you know Jim Dale, an incredible pro with over 100 characters in the incredible Harry Potter Series. So,  dealing with many different personalities & people speaking right after another can be a challenge for any narrator-all the while maintaining an even narrator tone - it can sometimes be a whirlwind! These are skills I wasn't originally trained for but became friends with very quickly! Not the least of which - you are alone. There may be a director in another room, maybe not. It can be lonely. So I decide who I want to read to that day, dramatize it accordingly, and go for it. Sometimes the genre of the book will tell me who I need to tell this story to. But there's always a need.  

What do you read on your own time? What else do you do for fun? (See how I just assume you read for fun? Because reading is fun!)
Well, right now I'm reading about cloth diapers vs disposable diapers. Yup, my wife is giving birth in three months to our first and poop seems fairly interesting at the moment. I go one way, then the other. I'm stumped. We're looking for the light-bulb moment. If any of you have grand ideas, we're happy to hear it! As far as other reading goes, I like a lot of diversity. However, I'm a kid in a candy store with a great adventure novel. When I have free time my wife and love to explore - go see new music, some art, a new show, or get outside. 
Congratulations on your baby! (We used cloth for about 4 months with our first boy, then switched to disposable. It was long enough to justify our investment in the diaper covers and all. For the second, the diaper service only lasted about 2 months before he outgrew our stash of diaper covers and we gave up. But it was nice to have in those early days of constant diaper usage.

I have always been a big fan of Twain’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” My high schooler recently wrote an essay about it going into the Easterner-Westerner juxtaposition, allegory, targeted use of humor, and so forth. Personally, I just think it’s hilarious. What led you to choose the Twain story for your Going Public… In Shorts! selection?
So great to hear that!  It's great isn't it? Well, it's simple. In my mind (and many others) Twain is simply the greatest American writer that's ever lived! And who wouldn't wanna hear a story about a "celebrated jumping frog" for God's sake?! I mean come on! I would pay to see that!  I read this story and thought-"Now this will be fun!" I just felt like I knew who these guys were. I understood the place, the time, I could see the bar, everything. It's quirky, fun, and I felt like I could hit those rhythms. This story has everything. It's Twain at his best. And lots of fun! 

Are you the kind of narrator who creates flowcharts on the characters before starting a project? What do you do to prepare for a new book?
I don't know if it's a flowchart per se but I do write down all of the characters on a spreadsheet with notes and directions. I will typically read the entire book, then go back and make notes. The most important thing is my first impression. I write that down. I'll ask myself, "What is the author's intent?" "The tone of the book?"  I'll try to answer that one as best as possible. This influences every part of the story including my reading of the 'narrator.' Sometimes I'll contact the author. So far that has been very helpful. Then I'll write down all of the characters and any pronunciations I may need help with. I'll study these people and find out why they're in this story, what makes them tick, what they want. Ultimately, (as the character) it's important to react fresh, in the moment, as if for the first time. And perhaps, surprise myself with my reaction. After all, in life, that's how we do it. We have no clue most of the time what we're going to say next - or how we say it.  Then I'll do any and all necessary research on pronunciations, places, things and anything else that may be technical. Ultimately, I liken the process to peeling back layers of a beautiful peach. It may seem a bit fuzzy to start, but as you move onward you are rewarded with a striking, intricate core.    
You certainly do it well! I was impressed with your immediacy and freshness in this story. (Y'all, if you haven't listened yet, get on it - seriously, such fun.)

Do you have any favorites among the works you’ve narrated? Has anything been particularly meaningful or fun for you?
I find joy in every title that I do because I find a way to make it personal to me. My first book as I mentioned earlier is a favorite of mine - simply because it's the first and it happens to be an incredible story of how this country got into the Iraq War. I'm also pretty excited about the EARPHONE awards I've received with Vampires In The Lemon Grove by Pulitzer Prize Nominee Karen Russell, and Extreme Exposure by Best Selling author Pamela Clare. And speaking of Pamela Clare, the relationship that I've built with her has been particularly special. 
I saw that your reading of her Extreme Exposure was chosen as Best Romance Audiobook of 2012 over at Audiogals! Superb.  

You’ve accumulated, I think, some very avid fans of your narration, in addition to professional awards and recognition. Is the audiobook community what you expected when you started recording? 
No, it's not what I expected. It's much better! I wasn't expecting anything bad. I just had no expectations because I didn't know the industry. i.e. other narrators, producers, fans, etc. All I can say is I've met some of the nicest people I've ever met in the last year and a half. And the fans - wow! They are some of the  smartest, most savvy, avid, and passionate in the entertainment community. In a world where apathy is a going trend who doesn't love that? I'm very grateful to them. Without them, none of this would be possible. 
Oh, we're just the best. :) And we do love our narrators to distraction. I'm glad you're one of them now.

Tell me about your recent and/or upcoming releases. What’s on the audio horizon?
I just finished work on Clockwork Fairy Tales: A Collection of Steampunk Fairy Tales. It's a wild and raucous fantasy ride for young adults & adults alike. Currently, I'm in the middle of working on the terrific  Gamble Brothers Series by J Lynn - just finishing up the second of the series with that. I'm also starting work on Pamela Clare's Rita nominated historical: The MacKinnon's Rangers TrilogyIt's a lush historical romance which takes place in 1750s New York during the French and Indian War. All very exciting! 

Happy Father’s Day! Any plans for celebrating?
Thank you! You too! Yes, I'm going to celebrate with my father-in-law. Maybe go for some oysters!   Thanks so much for having me here. It was a real pleasure to do this with you. The last thing I'd like to say is Happy Father's Day to all of you Dad's out there! I hope listeners enjoy this story. I hope it brightens your day! I'm really proud to be a part of this "Reach Out & Read" program. All the best.

Thank you, Kaleo - it has been quite wonderful to have you here, and to listen to your engaging narration of "Jumping Frog." I'm really looking forward to getting my ears on more of your projects!

A little more about Kaleo:
Kaleo Griffith is a classically trained, multiple award-winning actor and voice artist living in Los Angeles. He has been called "Powerful, with the presence of a young Timothy Dalton" by The Hollywood Reporter. Griffith graduated cum laude from Franklin Pierce University with a B.A. in Theatre,  an M.F.A. in Acting from Rutgers University, and is a graduate of The American Academy of Dramatic Arts. He has also lived and trained classically in the UK through Roger Williams University.  Film & TV credits include: Oliver Stone's Talk Radio; Law & Order, Law & Order SVU, Diagnosis X, a "Host" on HGTV, and several soaps. Griffith has performed in over 50 professional theatrical productions across the country-- such as Pasadena Playhouse and South Coast Repertory Theatre-- working with veterans like Richard Chamberlain, Jessica Walter & Lois Nettleton. His voice work encompasses many commercial campaigns and audiobooks. Griffith recently won two AudioFile Earphones Awards for his narration work on Pamela Clare's Extreme Exposure and Karen Russell's (Pulitzer Prize finalist) Vampires In The Lemon Grove. Griffith is currently shooting the feature/western Six Gun Savior-with Eric Roberts and enjoying narrating  many wonderful audiobooks. You can reach him at


  1. Mel, did you get to meet him in person? :-)

    1. That woulda been nice, lol. No, just email chat. He's super nice & isn't his voice wonderful?

  2. What a lovely interview, with a lovely man! And his reading of this piece is just fabulous.

    Thanks to you both for participating!

    1. It was SO great to hear his interpretation, wasn't it? The voices! Just divine.

      Xe, you have been amazing to work with throughout this whole project, and I can't tell you how grateful I am to have been included.

    2. Aw, thanks, Melanie! As have you :) I've been blown away by the support of the blogging community for audiobooks and this project. Thanks so much for being part of it!

  3. Great interview Melanie, I always enjoy learning more about audiobook narrators. The work entailed to produce quality narration never ceases to amaze me.

    Having grown up in Angels Camp - attending Mark Twain Elementary School - in Calaveras county I can tell you the annual Jumping Frog Jubilee is still going strong.:D

    1. Oh, man! That's sooooo cool! I'm so glad you stopped by and told me that. I wonder if anyone ever tries to cheat with quail shot these days? :)