Interview with Origami Yoda narrator Mark Turetsky

origami-yodaRecently, one of the narrators for the very fun book by Tom Angleberger, The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda, agreed to share some secrets about the recording of the audiobook.

Read on to see how Mark Turetsky became a narrator, and why he had to re-record some sections because his Yoda impression was “too good”!

1. How did you become an audiobook narrator?
I’m a trained actor through NYU’s drama program at Tisch School of the Arts. But I’m also something of an English lit nerd. In my senior year of college, I figured out that I had done enough English Lit classes to earn an English minor, so I guess that audiobooks was a perfect fit, even though I didn’t know it at the time.

I started working in voice overs in 2005, and got a day job that happened to be in the same building as Recorded Books’ studios in New York City, and asked Claudia Howard, the producer there, to listen to a narration I’d done for a holocaust museum up in Maine. A few months later, she invited me in to audition for an audiobook about Houdini. About six months after that, she called me up and offered me the part of Jake in Wendy Mass’ Every Soul A Star, which became my first audiobook.

2. What is your favorite part of narrating audiobooks? Least favorite?
My favorite part of narrating an audiobook is narrating an audiobook! Seriously, how cool is that? It allows me to stretch myself as an actor, since I get to portray every character in a book, and also, I take a lot of pride in having the privilege of telling these great stories.

My least favorite part is keeping my energy up over the course of a long session. It’s very easy to get exhausted when you’ve been reading aloud for 4 hours straight. But you never, ever want to give the listener less than 100%, because if you start to feel bored with the text, then the listener will feel bored, too.

3. For most audiobooks, one narrator voices all the characters. How was this one different for you, since you did not voice all the characters? What about the format made it unique?

Doing an audiobook with multiple narrators forces you to rein in some of your characterizations. If you give a character a funny voice, and then the narrator who’s playing that character doesn’t have one, then it can be pretty jarring for the listener. Also, all of the narrators are recorded separately, and you don’t always get the chance to hear the other narrators’ takes on their characters. In order to portray the different characters in this book, the most I did was to change my tone of voice. To really lean into the dialog to get across the emotions of the characters, rather than their voices.

4. How did you prepare to narrate this book? Did you speak to any of the other narrators?

Well, the first thing I always do is read through the book once just for pleasure, and write down any words that I’m not 100% sure how to pronounce. In the case of Origami Yoda, there was only “Quavondo” and “van Jahnke” on my list. Once that’s done, I re-read the book a few times. Usually, I’ll also make a list of all of the characters with speaking roles in the book, in order to prepare voices for each of them, but since I wasn’t doing any big vocal changes for Origami Yoda, I didn’t end up doing that. I heard from Jenny Selig, our director, that most of the other narrators pulled up Yoda clips on YouTube in order to get their imitations right, but I’m a big enough Star Wars fan that I didn’t have to do that myself.

Are you a Star Wars fan? Have you made an origami Yoda?
I am a Star Wars fan, absolutely. Though mostly a fan of the original trilogy. That’s got the sentimental value for me. When I went in to re-record the bits that I got wrong on the first go-round, I got back a note from one of the editors that I needed to re-record some Yoda dialog. It said something like “your Yoda imitation sounds too good. Trust me, I’m a huge Star Wars fan.” So I grudgingly muddied up my Yoda imitation, in order to stay true to the book. I did, however, get to do a good one, since I got a line of Harvey’s dialog as Yoda, and they say in the book that his imitation is much better.

I haven’t made an Origami Yoda myself, yet, but Tom Angleberger, the author, sent me one. He’s cool like that.

5. There are lots of illustrations in the print version of the book. Do you think you get those ideas through in the audiobook version even without the pictures?

That’s one thing that I don’t think will ever fully come across in the audio version. Tom’s illustrations are a lot of fun, and they really get across the idea that the book you’re reading is a case file that’s been passed around between different people. A lot of it gets across in having different voices reading the different contributors to the case file, but to my knowledge, there’s no good way to portray the illustrations. The spirit of the illustrations could come through in the prose that we’re reading, but it’s a real shame that, for instance, there’s no way to record Origami Yoda atop a trash can full of baked beans, which is one of my favorite illustrations. I did have the pleasure of recording the text of the super-cheesy school fun night flyers that show up in the book. Hopefully, the cheesiness of the flyers comes across in the cheesiness of my narration!

6. You voice Tommy, the character who puts together the Case File on Origami Yoda. Do you agree with his thoughts about origami Yoda, or do you think more like Harvey?
That’s a tough one. I’m a great admirer of people like James “The Amazing” Randi and Joe Nickell, who have over the years investigated a lot of paranormal claims and exposed a lot of sloppy critical thinking and a few outright frauds. But that’s not to say that Tommy isn’t doing the right thing by evaluating his evidence in what he perceives to be a neutral way. Where he gets tripped up in his thinking is that he desperately wants Origami Yoda to be “real,” since then it means that Sara likes him. But, despite his own personal bias, he’s dedicated himself to trying to find the truth, whether or not it confirms what he wants to be true, and he’s even invited someone who disagrees with him to form a sort of scientific peer review process.

That’s not to say that I agree with Harvey. Harvey does a good job of evaluating the evidence from a skeptical point of view, and I tend to agree with his conclusions, but he doesn’t need to be such a jerk about it! He’s hurting his own cause by belittling everyone who doesn’t agree with him, especially in his attempts to shun Dwight from his social circle. Also, his own personal biases against Dwight cloud his judgment . He seems to think that Dwight is both dumb and yet capable of coming up with some really good advice. If Origami Yoda is just a “green paper wad,” then Dwight deserves a lot more credit than Harvey gives him.

7. When you were Tommy’s age, was there a kid in your class like Dwight? What was he like?
I don’t know that there was necessarily a Dwight in my social circle back in middle school. Unless it was me. What’s the old cliché? If you can’t spot the sucker at the poker table, it’s probably you? If you can’t spot the Dwight at the middle school, it’s probably you?

8. What do you think about Dwight? Is he really dumb, or is he smarter than everyone thinks?
I think Dwight is by far the smartest kid in the book. He’s also the most socially inept, which leads the other kids to think that he’s dumb. They’re not the same thing, and that’s, I think, one of the major themes of the book. If, in fact, Origami is just a voice that Dwight puts on, then Dwight comes up with some pretty spectacular advice.

9. Which part of the book is your favorite, and which do you think reveals the most about Yoda and Dwight?
My favorite part of the book is Origami Yoda’s advice to Kellen about what to do when he splashes water on his pants. I don’t want to give away the ending to this great bit. Let’s just say Origami Yoda’s advice is a bit unconventional, but probably the best advice you can follow on such short notice. It wouldn’t be my solution to the problem, though.

I think Origami Yoda’s advice about the spelling bee reveals the most about Dwight and Origami Yoda. They give out some great advice, but if you’re mean to them, that advice might prove much too clever and subtle for your own good.

Also, I’m pretty sure I know how Dwight was able to make crackling sounds while delivering his book report.

10. So once and for all…do YOU think origami Yoda is real?
No comment.

Thanks, Mark!

Motivate! Author Interview Series: Zombiekins Author Kevin Bolger

Recently, we accepted questions for Zomebiekins author Kevin Bolger. He took time out of his very busy teaching and writing schedule (even during report card time!) to answer some questions for us about teaching, writing, and the future of Zombiekins.

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In what ways does being a teacher make your job as a writer easier?
I get to spend all day every day studying books with kids, and kids with books. I can’t imagine any better training for a wannabe children’s book writer.

How does it make it harder? Ever try to write a novel in your “spare” time?

Do you read instructions?
Usually not until it’s too late—just like Stanley.

Can you give us any hints about Zombiekins’s next adventure?
The stuffed animals that Zombiekins attacks in chapter 5 of the first book come back to life as zombie stuffies themselves at the three-year-old birthday party of Stanley’s little sister Rosalie. Zombie toddlers—’nuff said.

Do you find it harder to write a funny scene or a scary scene?
If I had to write one at gunpoint, I guess I would pick something scary. A lot of the funniest bits just come to you, but it can be pure agony to have to come up with something funny to fill the gaping holes between your glorious inspirations. Whereas suspense writing is just nuts-and-bolts. In Zombiekins, most of the suspenseful bits actually build up to a gag or punchline. But I am pleased whenever I hear about eight-year-olds who won’t read certain chapters unless someone else is in the room with them.

Do you ever make yourself laugh while writing?
No, mostly cry. Sure, I admit it, sometimes I’m amused by my own witticisms. But then there is just so much work, work, work involved in transforming them into a book.

From the books, it seems as if you’ve been to a few tag sales. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve bought?
Actually, I loathe garage sales (shopping of any kind, really). I live in a neighborhood that holds an annual garage sale which might be one of the world’s biggest—it covers a whole electoral district, and the ten-block-radius around its epicenter, my house, is as crowded as a mosh pit. I spend the whole weekend hiding under my bed.

Where did the idea for Zombiekins come from?
My stock answer is that as an elementary teacher for 15 years, naturally I always wanted to write a book where all the kids got turned into zombies.

Really, though, I noticed how kids were drawn to purportedly “scary” books, but most of those books were actually structured more like mysteries – kid hears a wolf howl outside his window, finds a paw print on his lawn, and spends most of the novel slowly uncovering the existence of a “monster” that only makes a cameo appearance at the book’s climax.

I wanted to write a book that was structured instead like a movie thriller, with an ever-present sense of danger and a lot of “scares” throughout. Only it had to be a spoof because that is what I write. I thought it would be funny if all the kids in a school turned into zombies but the teachers didn’t notice. Then the name “Zombiekins” occurred to me and I thought, cha-ching.

Have you always been a “fan” of zombies?
Nope. I am not really that big on horror movies at all. Call me a ’fraidy cat. I rented a couple zombie flicks as research for the book, but they were not my cup of tea and I don’t think I watched any of them right through. I am not really that big on research, either.

Do you test out material on your students? What do they think of having an author for a teacher?
Stupid me, I wrote Sir Fartsalot in secret and never shared it with my students until after I had a publication deal. Then I took some time away from the classroom to write Zombiekins. But now I am back teaching and we are “studying” Zombiekins in my grade 4/5 class. It is pretty cool for me to be able to spy over their shoulders as they read and prod them for reactions.

They were pretty interested to read my books and I suppose they think it is cool that I wrote them. But they still give me a hard time like they would any teacher.

Kevin, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to share with us! We hope everyone who hasn’t yet checked out Zombiekins will give it a listen and read!

Motivate! Author Interview Series: Vaunda M. Nelson and Kevin R. Free

Bad News for OutlawsNext in the Motivate! Author Interview Series, we have both an author and a narrator! You’ll have a chance to submit questions to author of Bad News for Outlaws, Vaunda M. Nelson, and award-winning narrator Kevin R. Free.

Vaunda Micheaux Nelson received the Coretta Scott King Award for her children’s book Almost to Freedom. Here she relays the extraordinary story of Bass Reeves, a lawman in the Old West who escaped slavery to become one of the most successful U.S. Marshals in history.

Two Utah classrooms will be joining you in submitting interview questions to the author and narrator, so ask away! All questions must be submitted by Sunday, November 7, 2010.

Comments are closed – thanks!

Motivate! Author Interview Series – Submit Your Questions for Kevin Bolger

Next up in the Motivate! Author Interview Series is Zombiekins author by night, teacher by day Kevin Bolger. After all, who better for the October interview than an author who specializes in fourth grade zombie attacks?

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Last month, a group of students in Utah submitted questions for Rita Williams-Garcia. This month, we’re letting YOU submit the questions! You can ask your own questions or involve your students (be sure to let us know if your question comes from students!). Submit your questions here or on our Facebook page. Submit your questions by next Friday, October 15 October 20, and we’ll pick our favorites to send to Kevin. If your question is picked, you’ll win a copy of Zombiekins for your classroom! The interview will be posted at the end of the month, just in time for Halloween.

And don’t forget – there’s still time to enter to win the wimpy kid, Greg Heffley, for your classroom!

WIN a Life-Size Wimpy Kid for Your Classroom!

wimpy-kid-cutoutWe were all super excited here at the office when Greg Heffley, of Diary of a Wimpy Kid fame, paid us a visit (see dorky photo for proof)! And as much as we’d like to keep him here as company, we thought it might be even more fun if he could pay a visit to YOUR classroom! We do like giving things away, after all.

So we’re running a contest! One grand prize winner will receive the following:
• Life-size cardboard cutout of Greg Heffley, the wimpy kid
• One copy, on CD audiobook and in print, of each of the books in the Wimpy Kid series
Other fun goodies, like bookmarks and buttons

Three runners up will each win one copy, on CD audiobook and print book, of one of the books from the Wimpy Kid series.

Here’s what you should do to win: Tell us what you’d do if you could get Greg Heffley in your classroom! Submit your ideas as a comment here. Would you arrange a school-wide read along? Have students make their own cartoons? We’ll pick our favorites to win. The last book in the series, The Ugly Truth, will be published on November 9, 2010. The contest will close on Friday, October 22, 2010 and a winner will be announced on Monday, October 25, 2010. We’ll mail Greg Heffley and your other goodies out and you should receive them in time to celebrate the launch of The Ugly Truth!

twitter-avatar-wimpykidWhile you’re here, check out some other Wimpy Kid resources!
Watch a video interview of author Jeff Kinney
“Wimp yourself” and make your own wimpy kid character
• Follow Greg Heffley and the Wimpy Kid movie on Twitter

Winner must be a K-12 librarian or teacher. Winners will be picked by Recorded Books. U.S. entrants only, please. We reserve the right to confirm eligibility and to alter contest rules. Good luck!

Motivate! Author Interview Series: Rita Williams Garcia Answers Questions from Students

We kick off the Motivate! Author Interview Series with author Rita Williams Garcia and librarian DaNae Leu and her library group at Snow Horse Elementary. DaNae’s group read One Crazy Summer. Read on to find out how the book club meeting went, how Rita answered her eager readers’ questions, and what the possibility of a sequel is. And check the end of the post for a contest announcement!

DaNae's kids

Photo courtesty of DaNae Leu

DaNae said (read the rest of her post on her blog!): I provided a perfect number of girls willing to spend a summer’s afternoon in the school library. It goes without saying that the caliber of participants was exceptional. These are girls who spend big chunks of their summer reading without mandates. I would have loved to include a few boys but as I was culling from Summer Library patrons I had to recruit from the troops that walked by. Maybe another time we can get some male involvement. It does have to be said that One Crazy Summer is a very girl friendly tale indeed.

One Crazy Summer is an emotion-packed story of three young sisters, Delphine 11, Vonetta 9, and Fern 7. They have flown from their Brooklyn home the summer of 1968 to travel to San Francisco to spend a summer with their mother, Cecile. A mother they haven’t seen since she walked out on them when Fern was a nursing infant. From their first contact with Cecile, it is clear that she has no use for her offspring. The girls, hoping for seven years of makeup mothering, were instead kept at arms length and shipped off each day for summer camp at the local Black Panther establishment.

I’d read the book some months ago and was already a big fan. Listening to the audio was a whole other level of delightful. Narrated by Sisi Aisha Johnson, the book that has been repeatedly lauded for having a strong, genuine voice was attached to an audible voice, in Johnson, which cemented the time-period, location, and cadences to perfection.

One the afternoon when I gathered with six lovely young readers appropriate refreshments were offered. Naturally we had egg rolls, alas, not provided by Mean Lady Ming. They were served with fruit punch, as Big Ma would not have approved of soda pop. Cookies were also involved but there was no literary tie in. Let’s just say that we met in Utah, and I’m pretty sure it is obligatory that any meeting of greater than 3 people must include cookies. Appropriately all were severed on a blanket on the floor. No one was allowed in the kitchen. (…read the rest of her post on her blog!)

Rita Williams GarciaAnd now, on to the answers from Rita Williams Garcia! First of all, we’re very happy that Rita loves the audio recording. She told us, “Did I tell you I fell in love with Sisi Aisha Johnson when I heard her recording of Jackie Woodson’s Feathers? I thought, if I could ever have an audio deal and Sisi. I’ve gotta tell you, it’s all overwhelming! In a good way.” We love Sisi’s recording, too!

Karli: What made you want to write this book?
I wrote One Crazy Summer to share a piece of the late 1960s with young readers. With the exception of Kekla Magoon’s A Rock and a River, very little is written about the Black Panthers for young people. The only image we have of the Black Panthers is one associated with violence and anger. I felt the children who were served by the Panthers in breakfast programs, community centers and schools, might have a different recollection. I see those children as owning a story in history. I encourage kids to be interested observers and activists in the world today. To write about and value their own experiences that will one day be history.

Riley: What gave you the idea for Cecile’s character?
The first thing I heard Cecile say to her daughters was, “Run!” Then I imagined she was hiding from the man whose printer she picked up out of the trash and that she was running from the neighborhood Black Panthers who wanted her to print leaflets for them. I didn’t use this scene that inspired Cecile’s character, but from it I learned Cecile had a printing press and that she didn’t like people bothering her or asking her for her time, services, or to be a mother. I remembered the 1960s poet, Nikki Giovanni had her own printing press so I knew I’d make Cecile a poet. As the nation struggled in the 1960s for equality, women also struggled. I knew first-hand of the struggles of being black during this time period. But to have dreams that the average woman didn’t have…to have dreams that the average black woman didn’t have…to feel bound by responsibilities and to feel powerless to shape your identity and destiny…I thought all of those frustrations might make a person crazy. My mother had artistic dreams but no outlets to express them, so a lot of my mother’s energy went into creating Cecile. But unlike Cecile, my mother did absolutely everything in the household. Her rule to my sister, brother and I was, “Make up your bed and study your lessons.” When my sister was thirteen and decided to wash dishes one night my mother said, “There’s only one woman in this house and you’re not her.”

Paige: Were the characters based on anyone you knew?
My mother was the basis for Cecile, but so many other women went into different aspects of her. Years ago, Nikki Giovanni gave a lecture at my college, and she told us how her small child often went with her to performances, and that she could hear him off stage chanting her poems. 1960s poet, Kattie Cumbo had told me a funny story about how she got her printing press. These women helped me to create the poet, Cecile.

With Delphine, I had friends who were the oldest and had tremendous responsibilities. My older sister, Rosalind was in charge of Russell and me. My two best friends did hard work and raised their younger sisters and brothers. Every moment of fun was always interrupted by responsibility.

Brinley: Who told Big Ma that Cecile lived in a hole in the wall?
Big Ma knew Cecile didn’t have much money and guessed that she lived in an abandoned building or in some place that was falling apart. We used to call those impoverished places “slums.” But I think, instead of saying that Cecile lived in a falling apart building in the slums, Big Ma used the “hole in the wall” expression. I think adults use many expressions that sound confusing to small children.

Brinley: How did you come up with the names for the characters?
Almost every name in ONE CRAZY SUMMER has a story behind it. As a kid in California, I went to school with a lot of Black and Asian biracial kids who had first names like “Hiroshima,” “Yuriko,” and last names like “Brown” and “Taylor.” The “Hirohito” in Hirohito Woods comes from the Japanese Emperor Hirohito. I imagined my character’s father would name his son after the emperor who was a clever war strategist, but not always a “just” ruler. I wanted to pay tribute to my friend, Rashamella Cumbo, who is a gifted teacher among many other talents—and found a name for Sister Mukumbu that would be close the hers. Here’s some trivia: My character’s full name is Rasheeda Mukumbu, but I only used her surname.

As for my main characters, I was typing a letter to my editor to tell her about this story I wanted to write. I made a rhythm while I typed, probably like Cecile tapping out her rhythms with her pencil. In the rhythm I heard the syllables of the names first and I quickly typed Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern. The single syllable of “Fern” seems to bring it all back to reality. Fern. I found Fern’s original name, in Mexico, of all places! My friends treated me to a trip to Mexico and I’d get up in the wee hours of the morning, go outside, sit among the trees, plant-life, ravens, and giant parrots, and I’d write. There, I dreamed of the story behind Fern’s original name and how it came out of the African naming tradition of giving the newborn a name that describes the circumstances of her birth. Fern’s original name means, “Born on a Friday.” Even Cecile’s African name, “Nzila” has a mystery behind it.

Shelbi: Will you write a sequel? I thought it would be interesting to have Cecile come to Brooklyn.
It’s hard to say goodbye to characters you’ve come to know and love, especially when their lives are incomplete. When Pa has an announcement, Uncle Darnell comes home from Vietnam, and Delphine has to go to the sixth grade dance. There’s even the mystery behind Cecile’s African name, “Nzila”—among other things! I’m still working on my current novel, but give it another year or two, and hopefully you’ll read—or listen to the sequel titled, P.S.: BE ELEVEN.

Thank you so much to DaNae, her students, and Rita Williams Garcia! To win a copy of the print book (donated by HarperCollins) and audiobook (donated by Recorded Books) One Crazy Summer, just enter a comment below. We’ll pick 5 winners via random.org on Thursday, 9/9/2010. Good luck! Stay tuned to the blog to find out how your students could be a part of the Motivate! Author Interview Series.


Since we only had 8 entrants (we think you must all still be waking up from the summer!), we’re going to give a prize to everyone who entered! I’ll be contacting you each soon to get your information. Stay tuned for the next portion of the Motivate! Author Interview Series.

Announcing the Motivate! Author Interview Series

Starting with One Crazy Summer and Jumped author Rita Williams Garcia, Recorded Books K-12 will be doing several author interviews in the coming months—and you can get involved!

The goal of the Motivate! Author Interview Series is to help connect students, teachers, librarians, authors and narrators, and we’ve got some big names lined up already! Stay tuned to the blog and sign up for the email newsletter to find out how you (and your students!) can have your questions answered by popular authors and narrators!

Our first interviewee, Rita Williams-Garcia, was sent questions by the summer library group at Utah’s Snow Horse Elementary. She’s working on the answers now and we’ll be posting the interview soon. While you’re waiting, watch an interview with Rita on One Crazy Summer and on 2009 National Book Award finalist Jumped.

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