Jack Gantos: voice talent

A few weeks ago we received an email at the office from a Macmillan Audio publicist on behalf of children’s author, Magazine contributor, and all-around friend-of-The-Horn-Book Jack Gantos. Sir Jack (honorific mine) would be in Boston at Soundscape Studio recording the audio for his upcoming book From Norvelt to Nowhere (Farrar, Sept. 2013), sequel to his Newbery and Scott O’Dell award-winning Dead End in Norvelt (Farrar, 2011). Would a Horn Book representative like to come to the studio to chat with Jack about his process? Yes, please! I Katnissed my way into being the one to go, my recording-engineer husband in tow to ask the tough techie questions.

Jack Gantos reading From Norvelt to Nowhere.

When we arrived, Jack was in the booth, reading. His character, Jack Gantos, and Miss Volker are in Washington, DC, at the Lincoln Memorial. Jack, per usual, is being schooled by Miss Volker — this time about Lincoln, Marion Anderson, Eleanor Roosevelt, the DAR, and racism’s tangled web. Then Jack lets slip that Miss Volker is packing heat (and you know what they say about a gun; you don’t show one in the first act…). When I’d left Jack and Miss Volker, having read the four-chapter preview that Martha kindly brought back from ALA, they were on their way to Hyde Park to pay their last respects to Mrs. Roosevelt. How did they get here? And what would happen next?

Jack (the author) took a break to chat with me about the book, his writing process, historical fiction, sequels, Joey Pigza, high-spirited boys, and whatever else we could think of, while the very patient studio founder and engineer Michael Moss and Macmillan Audio producer Robert Van Kolken talked to my husband about microphone placement, soundproofing, child-sleep techniques, and the like. Here are some highlights.

On sequels: Jack knew about halfway through the first Norvelt that he had a second book to write. Not wanting to marginalize (or stigmatize) the first book, he kept book two under his hat. Dead End in Norvelt “got some buzz,” and he was off. On the horizon: one more Joey Pigza book; he's not quite done with Jack Henry yet either (but almost).

On intertextuality: Look for echoes of — and direct references to — Moby-Dick, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Tom Brown’s Schooldays, and more in From Norvelt to Nowhere. Also amaze your friends with historical fun facts galore (and not-so-fun facts; Lincoln wasn't always such a great friend to the Native Americans, for example). Oh, and if you think you're certain about what happened to all those dead old ladies, you might want to think again.

Microphone at Soundscape Studio. Photo: Jack Gantos.

On audiobooks: The author performs his own audiobooks, which isn’t something every, or even very many, people do. It’s kind of a long story, dating back to the 1998 National Book Awards. Joey Pigza was up against Holes, and destined for runner-up status. The night before the awards announcement, each finalist reads aloud a brief selection of his or her work. “I’m making the most of this,” vowed Jack, and proceeded to read the hell out of chapter 1 (“Can I get back to you on that?”), much to the chagrin of the dour poet on deck to perform. Tim Ditlow, then at the helm of Listening Library, approached him to read the Joey audio. “But I can’t stand the sound of my own voice!” protested Gantos. “You don’t have to listen to it,” said Ditlow.

Audio engineer Mike and producer Bob were generous in their praise of Gantos, having also worked with him on other projects. The consensus: This guy knows what he’s doing. He doesn’t need a ton of direction, and there’s no drama-queen behavior (nary a fancy lozenge, pretentious scarf, or designer water was in sight). Jack would be camped out at the studio for two days, in and out, minus time spent with pushy, chatty Horn Book editors, then on to the next literary adventure.

But before we go... here's a sneak peek at Papa Norvelt performing From Norvelt to Nowhere. You're welcome!

This post is part of Audiobook Week on Out of the Box. For more, click on the audiobooks tag.

Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons University and a BA from Oberlin College.

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Also and just by the way.... did anyone happen to catch "Jeopardy" this weekend? It was during kids' week, and Jack was one of the answers! or one of the questions! however that goes on "Jeopardy".... What showed up on the screen was one of the "Jack" titles, and when none of the kids rang in, Alex Trebek himself said, "Who is Jack Gantos?" How cool is that! Jack has really hit the big time now. And lest we worry too much that the kids didn't know the answer/question, well, they also thought that Winnie-the-Pooh was written by E. B. White.

Posted : Aug 05, 2013 06:19

Mary Burkey

Jack Gantos - as good as an audiobook narrators as he is an author. And that is saying a lot! Cannot wait to return to Norvelt.

Posted : Aug 02, 2013 07:17



Posted : Aug 02, 2013 07:17

Jack Gantos

Elissa is now the nicest person I've ever met. In order to improve my reading I actually have to endure listening to my prior recordings. It's painful to me and I'm entirely grateful to listeners who are so generous with their comments. Thank you. Jack

Posted : Aug 02, 2013 06:39


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