Archive for May 11, 2020

The Craft of Recording Audiobooks: A Conversation with Voice Actor Christopher Gebauer

Exciting news, folks: thanks to Recorded Books, there are now 14 Jigsaw Jones titles available in audiobook format. Cheap! The voice actor, Christopher Gebauer, did a terrific job, full of wit and nuance and a sure sense of character. So I looked him up on ye olde interwebs to send along a complimentary note. We emailed back and forth, and I eventually asked Christopher if he’d be willing to do an interview. He waffled until I told him, “Seriously, you don’t have to wear pants.” That seemed to win him over.

Hey, Christopher. How you holding up? Is it safe to assume you are in sweatpants with a big bowl of Fiddle Faddle nearby? And not the dapper guy I see in this photograph?

Ha! Yes. More than safe. I have grown to love that I can wear pajama pants at all times and have made it my quarantine business attire. Except when I walk the dog or get groceries. That requires real pants. I get “dressed” just for the necessities now.

Okay, so you are in your PJs. That’s a relief. Where are you now?

I currently live in Astoria, a neighborhood in Queens, NYC.

Not far from Flushing and the New York Mets! Pretty sure Mr. Met has a place in Astoria.

I may have seen him around. Yes, I’m holed up there, but at my girlfriend’s apartment rather than my own. Staying inside and doing the social distancing. Which is odd. As an almost lifelong New Yorker, an empty street slightly terrifies me.

Yeah, it’s got to be strange. My oldest, Nick (26), is in Manhattan, so I’m acutely aware of the experience down there.


You came to my attention when I saw that 14 Jigsaw Jones titles had been produced by Recorded Books — and you were the voice actor who read them all. That’s a lot of Jigsaw Jones. Did it make you a little crazy? I haven’t even read that many!

Hahaha. No. I never got tired of these stories. I grew up listening to books on audio cassette tapes, and my favorite stories were the ones that had personality. Sometimes that was as simple as a narrator having that intangible weight or gravitas to their voice (we had a collection of ghost stories and Poe poems read by Vincent Price that I adored), but often it meant having fun characters, each with their own voices and rhythms. And Jigsaw’s world has that in spades. I may have taken a few liberties with some of the characters, but finding their voices was pretty straightforward coming from what I read. It made the whole process an absolute blast. Plus, I got a nostalgic blast of my Elementary school years spent with Encyclopedia Brown and the Hardy Boys.

Many of us enjoy audiobooks, but the process is something of a mystery. How does it work? You get a call? They send you the books? How do you prepare for the recording sessions? I guess there are about eight related questions I could ask. Maybe you could just talk us through it?

It all depends on the source. Many self-publishing authors post their titles on an audition platform like and vet a slew of candidates (and there are some new audition sites coming online from major publishing houses now as well), some producers from different publishers or audio production teams will email me out of the blue with an audition opportunity, or sometimes producers just ask if I’m available and willing. Direct offers only come from people I have done a great deal of work for but that was kind of how I was approached on Jigsaw: I do a large amount of YA and kids literature for Recorded Books and they felt like I would be a great fit for the gumshoe genre stylings of Jigsaw Jones (hopefully they were right!).

How do you prepare?

After getting a gig, I read through the book(s), taking notes on words or names I need to check pronunciation on, as well as marking when new characters are introduced in the story. If someone sticks around for a while or returns in another book, I want to remember what they sound like so I track who pops up where and how people describe them and how they sound.


After that is settled, I usually record in a studio somewhere in NYC, but I have lately been recording books from my girlfriend’s audio studio (a soundproofed closet) to great effect.

Seriously, you did a fantastic job. And I’ll admit to approaching these things with a feeling of dread. It’s strange to hear someone else read the voice in my head. I guess in your position, you have to try to divine an author’s intentions, while still owning it for yourself? I guess that’s true for all acting in general.

That’s so kind of you: truly. I am honestly often slightly terrified that an author will DESPISE what I do with their words. Especially with children’s and YA literature, I just remember what I loved at that age and I just hope my choices translate into something people don’t hate. So far my instincts have done me well in that regard, but it is a leap of faith. I would be remiss in not pointing out that so many of your characters had such a clear rhythm in how they were written that it really just came down to would you find my voice annoying.


But thankfully I didn’t feel like scrying bones: most of the voices felt like an easy choice.

Scrying bones, oooh, I like that. You must have voiced more than a dozen characters, easily. Two dozen? How do you keep it all straight?

I just try to keep track! Once I realized so many characters would keep showing up throughout the series I noted every time a character would speak in each book. I then recorded samples of each voice on my phone so if I needed to remember what they sounded like I could reference those soundbites quickly.

Readers are fussy about how books are read on tape. It’s a huge responsibility. I’ve tried to listen to some and nearly drove off the road. If it’s too fast, I’m done. Are there common mistakes you try to avoid? Give us a pro tip or two!

Pro tip? Ho boy. Pace is everything: while you do need to say everything clearly, you can’t go too slow or too fast. For me that came from being comfortable with public speaking. As a kid I went to an episcopal church and often did readings. To make sure I didn’t read too quickly, I would rest for a beat of silence at every comma, and three at every period (meaning I would count to that number in my head). Between that and memorizing and reciting poems and plays I built a bit of a public speaking/narrator cadence. And that age-old adage is key: practice makes perfect. if you are interested in narrating, find ways to read aloud (even if it is to yourself). Everyone can record themselves with a phone now, so read a chapter or two aloud, listen back and see what you think. Copy your favorite narrators: think about what kind of cadence and flow they have and try it out. None of this was probably useful but it’s what I did!

What’s next for you? More voice work? Film, television, stage? How does a young actor survive during these times? You can’t even wait tables!

You are very right! I was unfortunately laid off a from a restaurant the week before this Covid crazy hit (didn’t extend the 15 year lease and they told us 24 hours before closing down) so these are odd times indeed. Thankfully I can record from home and have been able to audition for a bunch of Voice Over and audiobook
work. In terms of film I have a tiny part that will probably get cut from an upcoming and still unannounced film and otherwise I’ll be finding work wherever it comes. I have been doing live drinking game play readings with a company called Drunk Texts which we have been doing with The PIT improv here in NYC. So yeah…staying afloat and sane while the world is in limbo.

Drunk Texts! Yikes! Now we’re hitting too close to home. Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. Mostly, I want to thank you again for doing such an incredible job reading my books. You are clearly a talented actor. I’ll be off on the sidelines, quietly rooting for you. I wish you good health and a great career.

Truly, thank you. Your books were an absolute joy to read and it is so kind of you to ask me to do this. I’m lucky I get to perform at all and working on something good makes a world of difference. Thank you for Jigsaw and good luck and health to you and yours sir! Stay Sane!

Too late, my friend!


Born and raised in Manhattan, Christopher Gebauer was fascinated with acting from a young age. Whether it was a performance in one of his favorite movies, the nuance of a narrator for an audiobook, a character’s voice in a video game or animated show, Chris wanted to be a part of that world. Chris graduated from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts in 2012, where he studied at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting and the Stonestreet Studios for Film, TV, and Voice-Over. Since graduating, Chris has been working in stage and film, including a couple of Off-Broadway shows, and has recently found a tremendous amount of joy narrating audiobooks.



A Tribute to Jigsaw Puzzles (We Go Way Back)


Preliminary sketch by R.W. Alley for THE CASE OF THE HAT BURGLAR, a Jigsaw Jones mystery.

My name is James Preller and I have a problem.

It goes something like this:

My wife Lisa yawns, says, “I’m going up to bed.”

I stand by the large dining room table. It’s almost 10:30. There’s a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle spread out before me, halfway done. The edges, the easy parts, in place. There’s still about 500 loose pieces that all look, at a glance, the same. That’s the thing about puzzles: glancing won’t get it done. You’ve got to scrutinize. 

Lisa goes up, I remain. Just be a minute, I say. Time passes. At around 2:30, bleary and blurry and buzzing, I drag myself away.

Something happens when we break out the puzzles. I get a little obsessive. Okay, a lot obsessive.

Help me.

Quick flashback: I am a shy kid in an afternoon kindergarten class with Miss Croke in Wantagh, Long Island. She seems nice. Tall with glasses. The other kids strike me as boisterous and messy and problematic, especially one girl named Kathy who keeps threatening to hug me.

The way I cope is to stick to myself and do jigsaw puzzles. One after another after another. I have clear memories of this. Miss Croke coming along, sweetly asking if I’d like to, you know, do anything else besides puzzles? No, I’m good, I assured her. I was not unhappy, just quiet and reserved and, okay, a little freaked out.

(Like most shy kids, once I’m back home I won’t shut up — even after it’s forcefully suggested.)

Later, in 1997, I started writing a mystery series for young readers. At first, I didn’t have the name of the main character. I used Otis as a placeholder. Then Theodore. I decided he loves puzzles. That made sense to me, a detective would enjoy assembling the clues, piecing them together to create a full picture of the truth.

My editor, Helen Perelman, pulled a line from that first book, The Case of Hermie the Missing Hamster, tweaked it, and used it as a tagline: “Jigsaw puzzles are like mysteries — you’ve got to look at all the pieces to solve the case.”


So here I am, along with everybody else in May, 2020, hunkering down to COVID-19, quiet and reserved and still a little freaked. Once again busting out the jigsaw puzzles. In fact, I recently texted my friend, Corina, wondering if she was interested in a puzzle swap. Corina’s also an enthusiast, though I don’t sense it’s an affliction with her. She likes the Ravensburger puzzles whereas I have a preference for difficult nature scenes. We left a few boxes on our front stoops and made the masked exchange.

Looking back on all that, I suppose it wasn’t an accident I named him Jigsaw. 

There are 14 Jigsaw Jones titles currently available from Macmillan. (You should buy them all.) And in each one, there’s a moment when Jigsaw withdraws to spend time alone, deep in thought, working on a new jigsaw puzzle, thinking about the case.

Oh, almost forgot: I read aloud the entire book, The Case of Hermie the Missing Hamster, on my Youtube channel. It’s a series of five videos. Feel free to share them with young readers, that’s why I made them.



My Pecha Kucha: Baseball’s Red Thread

I gave a Pecha Kucha presentation a couple of years back at our local Opalka Gallery on the Sage Campus in Albany. The other day I came across the text for it, which comes close to what I actually said that evening (my talk was pretty closely memorized, no notes). I thought I’d share it here, because it brings together two things I love, baseball and my mother, and I happen to be missing both of them these days. The images here are the ones I used for the original talk.


I grabbed this off the web:

Pecha Kucha is a presentation form of 20 images for 20 seconds. The slides change automatically and the speaker must synchronise their speech with the images. It’s sometimes also called a 20×20 presentation. So the entire presentation always lasts for exactly 6 minutes and 40 seconds.

It started in Tokyo in 2003, designed by architects, Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham. It was soon adopted by fans of alternative presentation styles. Similar to the short-length focus of an elevator pitch, Pecha Kucha relies upon concision and brevity. By applying a limit on the number of slides, the presenter is forced to streamline their content. It also forces the speaker to prepare and practice, as there is no option to go back or skip ahead. Pecha Kucha is also a very visual presentation style. It is based on single powerful images. Striking visuals enhance any presentation. They captivate the audience in a more immediate way than written words.



On the outside there are two cowhide coverings stitched together with waxed red thread. There are exactly 108 stitches in the sewing process of a major league ball. I feel like that red thread has been woven through the fabric of my life.


If you’re a kid, sooner or later you’ve got to unravel one of these things. Inside there’s a rubber-covered cork core and four types of yarn. It’s the yarn I like best, because a yarn is also a long story. My yarn, today, is about baseball. But that’s not entirely true.


My mother was the big baseball fan in our house. A huge Mets fan. The games were always on when I was growing up. She’d listen on the radio or watch on TV, snapping the games off in despair when the Mets were losing. And they were often losing.



Speaking of yarn: There were always balls of it my house. Everywhere you turned. My mother did most of her best work while watching the Mets on television. We still wrap ourselves in her blankets. This remains the world’s second best use of yarn.



My mother married in 1948. Seventy-two years ago. Around that time, she threw away her collection of Brooklyn Dodger baseball cards. My father had no interest in baseball. It was time, she thought, to put aside childish things.



It was my mother who taught me how to play catch. I was her little southpaw, the youngest of seven. And I’d ask her, “Am I graceful, Mom? Am I graceful?” And she would always answer, “Oh yes, very graceful.”



Some nights she’d let me stay up to watch the end of the games. My tired head on her lap, her hand in my hair, a cigarette in the other. She liked “little” Buddy Harrelson the best. Mom always seemed to have a crush on little shortstops.


Around this time I invented my own baseball games. I’d write out the lineups for two opposing teams and play imaginary games. I’d roll the dice. A 2 was a HR, a 3 a triple, 4 was a ground out, and so on. Then I’d play again, and again.



I filled notebooks doing this. Today I’m a professional writer. And I often think that it began back then. There I was, pen in hand, filling pages, fueled by my love of the game.



In the morning I reached for the newspaper. I loved the boxed scores. Each boxed score reveals a story. I eventually moved beyond the numbers to the articles. Those were the first writers I loved. The game had turned me into a reader.



The first time I saw a color television set was in my grandparents’ home on 100th Avenue in Queens Village. My grandfather was sitting in a leather chair, smoking a cigar, watching baseball. I stood transfixed. The grass was impossibly green.



I grew up. Along the way, I lost my friend, Craig Walker, to cancer. This photo was taken on the day we watched Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. The ball rolled through Buckner’s legs and we stood and we cheered and we hugged, ecstatic.



Quick Craig story: My mother was pleased and surprised to see Craig, more than two decades ago, at my second wedding. “Craig! I didn’t know you’d be here.”

“Oh yes,” he said. “I come to ALL of Jimmy’s weddings.”

Funny guy.



In 2009, I published my first baseball book. Writing it, then finally placing that book on the shelf with my collection of baseball books, I felt like I’d come home. Baseball, of course, is a game about coming home. I dedicated it to my pal, Craig.



You strike the ball and you journey out like the hero Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey. First base, second base, third base . . . and finally to return home again.

Safe. Triumphant.

Into your mother’s arms.



I began playing hardball again in my late 30s. This is my son, Gavin, who’s now in college. These days I play in two extremely old man’s baseball league, ages 45-up and 55-up. Don’t laugh, for in our hearts we are young.



Look at these guys. My teammates. We take the field, smack our gloves, and look to the sky from where the high fly falls, drifting back and back, saying, “I’ve got it, I’ve got it, I’ve got it.”

And most of the time, but not always, we make the catch.



Today my mother is 94 years old. Still a Mets fan. But these past seasons something changed. For the first time, she’s lost track of the Mets. She can’t remember the players, or summon the old passion she once had for the game. It’s all become a great blur in her mind.



And to me –- my mother losing the Mets — feels like the end of something important. A symbol, a metaphor. A red thread, cut.



And so hanging by a thread, we return home -– to baseball, to my mother, my sense of well-being. It’s gotten so I can’t think of one without the other. It’s all interconnected. And I now understand that my love for baseball is really just an expression of my love for the other.

Thank you.