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Hearing Gulf: A Conversation With Allyson Johnson

Thursday, October 29th, 2015 | Posted by Julie Czerneda

This Gulf of Time and Stars-smallI’m delighted to have the chance to introduce you to the voice of the audible.com audiobook edition of This Gulf of Time and Stars, as well as the Trade Pact trilogy. Hi Allyson!

Allyson: Hi Julie! It is truly a pleasure to be having a conversation with you about the Trade Pact world. Ordinarily, the only person I’m able to speak with about a book is the engineer who’s recording me. So this is a real treat!

For me too. I didn’t expect to be involved with the audiobook process at all, let alone meet the actor! You and I have had a few phone calls to discuss vocabulary over the four books. Anyone who clicks on the sample of the latest will know at once what a wonderful job you’ve done, Allyson. I know you prepared well in advance. You told me you listened to your own recordings of A Thousand Words For Stranger, Ties of Power, and To Trade the Stars before you tackled Gulf. What did that help you accomplish?

Thanks so much for your kind words. To be honest, although I tuned into a few choice sections of the other two titles, I only had time to listen to Trade all the way through, prior to recording Gulf. But I always take copious notes about character descriptions, vocal characteristics, accent choices, pronunciations, etc. whenever I prep a book. So I was able to refer back to the index cards I’d previously created for the trilogy and create a spreadsheet that would allow for quick and easy reference in the booth. It had, however, been three years since I’d last entered Trade Pact space, as it were, and there’s nothing like hearing long passages of dialogue to refresh my mind. Listening also reminded me of plot points I hadn’t thought about in a long time, which allowed me to pick up where the story left off once I actually began narrating Gulf. I try to be mindful of the fact that listeners sometimes elect to hear books in a series back-to-back. So I need to make the transitions between those stories as seamless as possible.

What about on your end? Do you ever go back and reread your own writing if there’s been a significant time lapse between books? Or are the relevant plot points cemented in your psyche after writing and rewriting different drafts?

I wish. The reality is like cramming for final exams. You write one, wipe your brain, then switch to the next subject. Books are similar. The basic story cements, as you said, complete with its emotions, but I couldn’t pass a test on the details once I’ve moved on to the next. To write a sequel, I not only reread what came before, I study it, going over my notes on what I didn’t include as much as what I did.

Including the words I made up. I have, by rough count, created over 1000 of my own as part of this series of books. Most of those words, I hasten to add, I didn’t try to say out loud first. You’ve had to say them all. Sorry!? How did you prepare for that? And feel free to point out the worst offenders.

Allyson Johnson-small
Allyson Johnson at work

Hahahahahaha!!! Whenever I’m narrating sci-fi or fantasy titles, I know that there are going to be some… let’s just say “challenging” pronunciations. It’s not necessarily the words themselves that are difficult; it’s the fact that they aren’t already part of my oral vernacular. I frequently verbalize them over and over until my tongue develops the same sort of muscle memory that it has with English words. In this series, there were one or two that repeatedly elicited… uh… colorful commentary that my engineer was kind enough to edit out. J Drapsk was one. And Tle (di Parth) was another. That T-L combination simply did not come naturally to me, particularly toward the end of a long recording session.

How do you come up with so many made up words, by the way? There’s obviously an art to doing it well. Yours are clearly connected to one another, while at the same time sounding unique. Care to share your secret?

It would take another post — wait, there IS another post! I spill all my secrets (good and bad) on word-making tomorrow on Jim C. Hines’ blog here (link will be live on Friday). Suffice to say here it’s more art than science and quite a bit comes from what I read myself.

Speaking of reading, what about you, Allyson? Any titles to recommend? I should ask if you read or prefer to listen, shouldn’t I?

Julie Czerneda-small
Julie Czerneda
Roger Czerneda Photography

Those are such good questions, Julie. Ever since childhood, I’ve loved to read. One of my great sorrows in becoming an audiobook narrator is that I rarely find time to read for pleasure anymore. When I’m not reading aloud, I’m usually spending hours prepping a title. Afterward, if I try to pick up a book before bed for instance, my eyes and brain have trouble focusing on the words. I did recently begin reading Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. To Kill a Mockingbird is my favorite book, so I’m excited to be delving into Ms. Lee’s prose again! Fortunately, in this case my inability to take in more than one chapter at a time before becoming bleary will prolong my enjoyment of the story.

I’m a fan of well-written fiction in almost any genre, but the science fiction title I’ve bookmarked to read next is Octavia Butler’s Kindred. I feel as if my knowledge of the classification is incomplete having not yet exposed myself to Ms. Butler’s works. As for audiobooks, I do occasionally listen to them, most often when I’m cooking. The titles I choose to read on my own tend to be different from those where I prefer to hear someone else paint the picture for me, which is more like going to the movies.

Interesting comparison. Curling up in a sunny chair with a print book, hardcover if I can get one, is what I love best, although I end up reading a great deal on screen. Maybe that’s why. So relaxing! Rare in our business. Now, out with it. What was the greatest challenge, other than saying my weirder words, for you in performing Gulf?

Hmmm… I guess it was wrapping my head around the anthropology of the various people and species you created. In this book you really explain, in detail, how the different “intelligences” came to be who, what and where they are. The concepts are intricate. They are as complex and well developed as they would be if someone were to present a version of human evolution. And since they provide the backbone of who all of the characters are, I had to find some way of internalizing what are, in essence, traits that are in those characters’ DNA. We don’t tend to consciously analyze what makes us human, as we go about our days; we simply are human. Somehow, I needed to reach that level of inherent understanding with your characters.

A Play of Shadows Julie Czerneda-smallYou amaze me. That’s far beyond what I’d envisioned as “the person reading my stuff aloud” yet in hindsight it shouldn’t be. We both bring our personal understanding to what we create, after all. No wonder your audiobooks capture the story. Thank you again for that! Is there anything you’d like to ask me?

I always wonder whether writers, particularly those who are writing a series, know where the story is going ahead of time. How much did you map out the plot lines for Trade Pact and Gulf in advance, as opposed to beginning each journey with some ideas, then seeing where the characters took you as things developed?

For myself, I know where it’s going — if not how it gets there. That’s the fun, after all. I’ll be talking about the Clan Chronicles series specifically in my upcoming post for SFSignal Nov 3rd, but to generalize? I’ve only one series, the Webshifters, where I intend to happily continue Esen’s adventures as long as I write. That’s how she rolls. Everything else I’ve done has an end, because I like endings. I want to give myself and readers the satisfaction of finishing a story. I want them to feel what happened was inevitable and right, their time with me well spent, despite (or because) of any heart pounding, gasps, or tears. I also want to engage their imaginations. In a real sense, it’s always up to the reader what, if anything, happens next.

That’s what I love most about science fiction and fantasy.

Thanks again for being part of this, Allyson, and to Black Gate for being our hosts.

Listen to a sample from This Gulf of Time and Stars, narrated by Allyson Johnson (courtesy audible.com) here.

Cover for This Gulf of Time and Stars by Matt Stawicki.


Since 1997, Canadian author/editor Julie E. Czerneda has shared her love and curiosity about living things through her science fiction, writing about shapechanging semi-immortals, terraformed worlds, salmon researchers, and the perils of power. Her fourteenth novel from DAW Books was her debut fantasy, A Turn of Light, winner of the 2014 Aurora Award for Best English Novel, and now Book One of her Night`s Edge series. Her most recent publications: a special omnibus edition of her acclaimed near-future SF Species Imperative, as well as Book Two of Night`s Edge, A Play of Shadow, a finalist for this year’s Aurora.

A Turn of Light-smallJulie’s presently back in science fiction, writing the finale to her Clan Chronicles series. Book #1 of Reunification, This Gulf of Time and Stars, will be released by DAW November 2015. For more about her work, visit www.czerneda.com or visit her on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.

Allyson Johnson began her entertainment career in her hometown of Chicago as an Emmy Award winning child news anchor. With almost 200 audiobooks under her belt, she has garnered AudioFile Earphones Awards for both fiction and nonfiction titles, as well as multiple Audie Award nominations. A graduate of Brown University, Allyson is a working voice actress, singer, and narrator in the New York City metropolitan area.

Visit her web site at allysonsvoice.com or find her on facebook and twitter as allysonsvoice.

About the Series: The Clan Chronicles is set in a far future with interstellar travel where the Trade Pact encourages peaceful commerce among a multitude of alien and Human worlds. The alien Clan, humanoid in appearance, have been living in secrecy and wealth on Human worlds, relying on their innate ability to move through the M’hir and bypass normal space. The Clan bred to increase that power, only to learn its terrible price: females who can’t help but kill prospective mates. Sira di Sarc is the first female of her kind facing that reality. With the help of a Human starship captain, Jason Morgan, Sira must find a morally acceptable solution before it’s too late. But with the Clan exposed, her time is running out.

The Stratification trilogy follows Sira’s ancestor, Aryl Sarc, and shows how their power first came to be as well as how the Clan came to live in the Trade Pact. The Trade Pact trilogy is the story of Sira and Morgan, and the trouble facing the Clan. Reunification will conclude the series and answer, at last, #whoaretheclan.

7 Comments »

  1. Interesting read! I do confess that there are often times I make no attempt to come up with a pronunciation for some words, I see them and recognize them “put a face to them” if they are a person, but I do not verbalize them. It would just interrupt the flow of the story as I read.

    Comment by Jueles - October 29, 2015 6:11 pm

  2. As you can see, Jueles, I do that too ::Laughs:: I will say that I love reading aloud, who knew?, and it’s made me more careful of what I’ll potentially put in my mouth and try to utter without spitting on the audience. Mainly, though, I do that after the writing. I haven’t changed a word yet, but I confess to reading past the awkward ones in something of a mutter.

    Comment by Julie Czerneda - October 30, 2015 8:54 am

  3. I love behind-the-scenes stuff in general, and this was more interesting that most. It didn’t occur to me the amount of work involved in preparing for an audio version of a book.
    Great stuff.

    Comment by Violette Malan - October 30, 2015 8:57 am

  4. It blew me away too, Violette. Glad you enjoyed!

    Comment by Julie Czerneda - October 30, 2015 9:09 am

  5. […] * If you missed my recent interview with Allyson Johnson, voice actor for the Trade Pact and Gulf, check out her take on my made-up words […]

    Pingback by Julie Czerneda: I Think I’ll Call It Bob - October 30, 2015 9:31 am

  6. Great post! I love audio books, so I’m always thrilled when I can get one of your books in that format Julie.

    Comment by graphicschyk - October 30, 2015 11:46 am

  7. Thanks, graphicschyk! Delighted to hear. Do you have A TURN OF LIGHT? If so, what did you think? I was hoping for better reviews on that–it was a great deal of work, as you might imagine, being 3 times the length of my other stuff.

    Comment by Julie Czerneda - October 30, 2015 3:06 pm


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