Narrator, voice actor, storyteller, whatever you prefer to call them, there is a certain magic that a human voice brings to telling a story and making you want to hear more. That’s how I know I got the right voice for a story. If I can listen to them tell me my own story and I long to hear more, then I’ve definitely chosen correctly.
Today it is my pleasure to interview Maxwell Zener. He’s the voice for the Monster Squad’s second saga and if I play my cards right, he’ll be voicing the Hunter trilogy as well.
Let’s light this candle!
So let’s start simple. Tell us a little about yourself. Are you married? Do you have any children?
I’m an actor and live in New York City with my wife and my daughter, who as I write this is 10 years old.
Enjoy those younger years. Believe me, it won’t be long before she’ll be 16 going on 30 and only approaches ‘dad’ with a hand out. At least…that’s my experience. Anyway…what do you do for relaxation?
Dungeons and Dragons. My daughter got into it through an afterschool club, and this re-awakened my enthusiasm. I hadn’t played since college, but I am so happy to be back into it. Storytelling, getting into a character’s head, imagination, it’s all stuff I love.
That or a glass of whiskey. But D&D is healthier.
I’m more of a scotch guy. Or…apple pie moonshine. But you’re right. D&D probably is healthier. So, are there any recent works (books) that you admire?
Does a dramatic podcast count? I was just turned on to “Welcome to Night Vale,” which is like an H.P. Lovecraft novel told by way of Garrison Keillor. As for books, I’ll admit that most of my reading is manuscripts that I’m preparing to record – outside of that, I recently read On Killing by Dave Grossman, a nonfiction work about the psychological cost of killing, and how that has impacted soldiers throughout history. It made a lot of behavior make sense to me, and I’m always interested in that – in how people behave and why they do what they do.
Along those lines, I admire any author who not only crafts a compelling plot but who understands their characters so well that they come to life as separate individuals as you read. There’s an indie YA author I discovered (through narrating one of his novels) who is really great at that – Greg Wilkey.
I’m always looking for good YA authors. I’ll check Greg out. Thanks for the tip.
So, who is your favorite author(s) (and is there a reason why)?
Man, that’s hard to choose. I don’t really have one standout favorite – I like authors who are able to get readers inside the experience of a character, to see the world from his or her eyes. Especially if that character is broken or flawed.
Agreed. I have a long list of favorite authors. I couldn’t choose just one if I had to.
So tell us, why do you do what you do?
I love inhabiting characters, and telling their stories. So often we can feel all alone – but through hearing other people’s experiences brought to life we can hear echoes of our own souls in theirs. We can realize that we aren’t alone, and we can see more clearly the humanity in those around us too.
Ooh. That’s deeper than I expected. But you make it sound simple. I might have to steal that. 😉
So what is a typical working day like for you?
I’ll get my daughter on the school bus, drink waaaaay more coffee than is healthy while doing a crossword, and then either get behind the mic or get to work learning a script or screenplay.
Yes! COFFEE!! Sorry. That slipped.
When and where do you work?
I have a small studio space in my home; I do my recording there. I love it – I climb in, close the door, and the rest of the world just goes away. I’m all alone with the author and the characters. Best way to spend a day.
Nice and peaceful. What kind of research do you do for your work?
Depends on the project, but I often do a lot of researching pronunciations. I’m currently narrating a survey of monsters across many different cultures, so I’ve been diving deep into sites that catalog Native American languages.
I can only imagine how tough it might be to learn the proper way to pronounce words like that. Especially words in any foreign language. So, now I’m curious, how do you conceive your voice ideas?
Sometimes the author just tells you – if someone is said to have a gravelly voice, well I’d better not voice them like a fop from an Oscar Wilde play. But most important to me is the character’s psychology, rhythm, and attitudes. Once I figure those out, the voice usually takes care if itself.
What are the major themes that you prefer? How long on average does it take you to narrate a book?
I especially love stories about broken people trying to do good in a complicated world.
As for time, it’ll depend on the book. A story with just two or three characters I can really get a great flow going, but when I have to keep forty-five characters straight there is a lot more pausing to consult my notes.
Yeah…that sounds familiar. I think at one time I had nearly 60 characters in the Monster Squad series. In my own defense, I wanted to kill off a good portion of them but my missus threatens my life any time I mention it.
What do you think listeners search for in an audio book?
I know what I look for in an audiobook – I want to get carried away into the world of the story.
That makes sense. So, what is your favorite part of a book?
I’m a sucker for the reversals – for those moments when all of a sudden we realize that things have not been what they seem, or when characters reach a turning point in their lives.
Oh yeah. Reversals or plot twists make or break a good story. They’re a lot harder to pull off than I would have thought.
What is the hardest part of narrating for you?
Sitting down and talking for three, four, five hours at a time, five or six or seven days a week is hard work, vocally and physically. I have to make sure to keep my body limber so I don’t get sore, and to keep my voice healthy. To every vocal coach I’ve ever had: thank you!!
What is the best thing about being a narrator?
The selfish answer is “living inside all these stories” – that gives me a thrill. But the part I love best is when a listener connects to the story or to the character, and feels it resonate with their own life.
Agreed. I get little notes from people telling me how they love a story or specific part of a story. But it’s the people who write and tell me how they can identify with a character that seems to touch me the most. Knowing that people were able to connect on a personal level…it’s beyond words.
What are you working on at the moment? What’s it about?
Specters, the eighth installment of the Monster Hunter series, of course!!
I’m also working on a non-fiction book – a survey of monsters across cultures, noting the vast similarities between them and what this means about the human psyche. It’s called Monsters, naturally.
Sounds like they could go hand in hand. I know there have been times I wish I had a ‘monster’ reference guide to follow. I think it would have made my job a lot easier.
So, tell us, where can we buy or see your work?
You can either go to Audible or you can go to maxwellzener.com
Excellent! Everybody reading this, go and check out his sites.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Your own approval is the one that matters most.
Wow. Best advice EVER.
So, what advice would you give to aspiring voice actors?
Study, study, study.
Last question, what do you consider your best accomplishment?
My next one.
Nice answer. Always striving to better yourself. Well said, sir!
Okay folks, that ends the interview. Thanks for dropping by and getting to know a little about Max. Remember, keep your eyes open for more exciting audio adventures coming your way from Maxwell Zener. A true talent if ever I heard one.