Ooh, That’s Interesting!: Interview with K.C. Kelly

If you’ve listened to the audio versions of Brute or Housekeeping, you already know how wonderful K.C. Kelly is, because he narrated them. Or maybe you’ve heard him read some other fantastic books, like Mary Calmes’ Frog, Ryan Loveless’s Ethan, Who Loved Carter, or Rowan Speedwell’s Love, Like Water. You can also hear him as Mark Twain. If you’ve listened to any of these, you know why I’m such a huge fan. So I’m really thrilled that K.C. agreed to answer my questions about his work! Please enjoy the interview, and I have a giveaway at the end.

Could you tell us a little about yourself?

An actor since my twenties (I’m now in my sixties), I’ve done more stage than anything else. I also taught acting for Long Island University, Victoria University, and the National Drama School of New Zealand: Toi Whakaari. Because I trained first in England (at the now defunct Webber-Douglas) and then moved to New York to study with Michael Howard, I’ve got a bit of trans-Atlantic “thing” going on.

How did you start doing book narration?

A very good friend who went from actor to lawyer to actor told me of his “conversion” to audiobooks. It got me thinking, why not moi? Andrew (he’s really been nice) at Dreamspinner Press listened to an audition and pointed me toward Love, Like Water. The rest is well…out there.

I’d love to learn a little more about your process for narrating. Do you begin by reading the entire book to yourself before you start narrating? How long does an average novel take you?

Reading the book is step one. That’s usually a one-day sit down and do it thing. Brute happened that way…I had to find out where Brute and Grey would go. When I’ve got the story down, then I underline (in different inks) the major character voices. While that percolates…I start to “think” voices. Read time – the actual time in front of the mic – is, for me, no more than two hours a day. Then come the edits and re-dos.

How do you choose what kind of voice a particular character will have?

A character’s history and their attitude/dialogue with others—they’re the signposts—they point in the direction to go for. Everybody I know—good and bad—gets a look in. And then there’s me, too. Obnoxious people draw on my reservoir of bile; nice folks get a friendlier version, but there’s always of bit of K.C. in there.

You’ve done a wide variety of accents and dialects. Do you use particular models for these? Are there some you especially enjoy doing—and are there some you dread?

Accents I’m familiar with come easily and “suggest” themselves. Accents I’m not good at—e.g. South African, Boston, New Orleans Patois, really mess my head. I’d love to “do” Australian, for example, but any native Ozzie would cringe.

Stuttering. You seem to end up doing a lot of it, and you do it so well. Is it something you like doing or is it a pain? How do you manage to so effectively convey the meaning and the emotion even for characters who have difficulty speaking?

They’re just people wanting to “talk.” When you understand some of the problems of the stutterer, you give them a voice. For most actors, they’re fun. It’s the Dustin Hoffmann Rain Man or Sean Penn in Sam, I Am.

What are some of the biggest challenges to doing narration work?

Separating lots of voices. When four or more people are in the same room—each needing a different way of talking—things get sticky for me. In “film speak” you seldom have a conversation where characters talk over one another (even if you would, normally)—you wait for your cue and get your line in clean. And that’s not easy, especially if there’s a party or an argument going on. It’s a bit like working with a band you haven’t played with. One or two characters, no sweat; throw in a narrative voice, still cooking. But in a “crowd” you can lose the groove and that can get messy. You’re paying attention to tone, pace, and plot—but a number of voices, playing different things require careful orchestration.

When you’re not narrating, you’re working with a theatre troupe. Can you tell us a little about that?

EnsembleImpact was created to bring New Zealand plays to New Zealand high schools. I co-founded the company and, for the first five years, was chief cook and bottle-washer. As the company caught on, I relinquished one job after another, concentrating on dramaturgy and direction.

What do you like to read for fun?

I’m big on non-fiction. Just about any war Antony Beevor touches on are favourites. Barbara Ehrenreich and Malcom Gladwell have spent a lot of time here along with David Sedaris. I enjoyed Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire, too. “Fictionally,” I loved (and wanted to be the old guy in) Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants and was fascinated by Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone.

Is New Zealand as gorgeous in person as it looks on film?

It truly is. It’s a very small country—4 ½ million—but the scenery between the mountains and both shorelines is wondrous. From north to south (think Miami to Boston) you encounter alpine mountains, fiords, volcanoes, beech forests, semi-tropical wetlands, hundreds of beaches, rushing rivers, etc. The U.S. has it all—it just takes days to get from place to place—but in NZ you can, literally, ski in the morning and drive to a beach for a swim by afternoon.

Do you have a dream project?

More movies and more Shakespeare. I’ve had the good fortune to do Lear, Shylock, and MacDuff for one theatre or another and would love to add Prospero and Claudius to the mix. (Too late for Hamlet!) Screen wise—I’m connected to a pair of film-makers Andrea Bosshard and Shane Loader from Torchlight Films. We shot Hook, Line and Sinker a couple of years ago and are just finishing The Great Maiden’s Blush early next month. In Sinker I played a truck driver; in Blush a Croatian opera singer.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?

I was very ill about eight years ago with an AVM (arteriovenous malformation) which led to a craniotomy and several years of post-surgical rehabilitation. Reading and being read to were wondrous things in my recovery. In “reading” a book, you want to be true to the author’s voice and, like a good storyteller, lead the listener through the tale. I like storytelling and I’m fortunate to work with several authors who really have good stories to tell.


How about a giveaway? All you have to do to enter is sign up for my (very occasional and guaranteed non-spammy) newsletter. Go here to sign up: http://eepurl.com/bau3S9 (or use the form on the sidebar to the right—->) . Then comment on this post, leaving the email address or name you used to sign up. One randomly chosen winner will receive:

  • The wonderful audiobook version of Brute
  • A $10 Dreamspinner gift certificate
  • An autographed set of Travis and Drew trading cards
  • The ebook version of Motel. Pool.

Contest ends Wednesday, February 11, at 5pm PST.



Ooh! That’s Interesting! Gold Rush Cemeteries

A few weeks ago, I did a blog post about the Sonora cemetery. At the time, although I’ve been to Sonora many times, I’d never visited the old cemetery. I decided to remedy that last weekend. I dragged my kids out of the fog and up into the Sierra foothills, and we ended up visiting three cemeteries: the old Sonora cemetery, the Sonora Jewish cemetery, and the Columbia cemetery (about 3 or 4 miles away).

I have lots of pics to post, but today I want to share these because they tell intriguing stories.

017 We’ll start with these two men buried in Sonora. First there’s the tale of two men making the long and difficult journey from England to California. They came well after the Gold Rush, so I wonder what brought them. Mining jobs, perhaps–even today, there are active mines in the area. And one of them died pretty young, which was common then. According to this census, he died of “miner’s consumption”. I wonder how they ended up buried together, though. They must have been friends. Business partners? Lovers? Sharing a single gravesite and tombstone seems an intimate thing to do.



044 These two men were also countrymen, this time from Italy. Their headstones don’t tell us how old they were when they died, only that they died a few months apart. They’re buried in Columbia. Their plot is a large one, and I wonder if the entire plot was bought by a collective of Italian immigrants. If anyone else is buried there, there’s no marker.


053This is the one that intrigues me the most of all. It’s just inside the entrance of the Columbia cemetery. Judging by their ages and dates of birth, I’m guessing both men came to California in search of gold–and both met tragedy. Joel died at age 30–we don’t know from what–and Jacob was murdered 4 years later. What interests me isn’t just that they’re buried next to each other. Look at the inscription on Joel’s stone: it says the stone was erected by his friend, Jacob. What kind of friendship did they have that not only involved Jacob paying for the stone, but actually putting his name on it? You don’t have to be a novelist to start imagining possibilities.

Here’s today’s final photo. There’s no mystery here–just my daughters in the Columbia jail.

I hope you’re interested in this part of the country, because I’m getting ready to submit a novel set very near Columbia and Sonora. It’s a contemporary and I am especially in love with the main characters, Jimmy and Shane. It’s called Rattlesnake. I’ll keep you updated.

I have lots more pics to post, plus more photos from the Stockton Asylum, so stay tuned on upcoming Wednesdays!

Ooh, That’s Interesting! The Stockton Asylum

If you’ve been following me for a while, you may know that my novel The Tin Box was inspired in part by a real place, the Stockton State Mental Hospital. Once the largest mental hospital in California, it’s now been converted to classroom and office space. I’ve blogged about it before.

Since I was there this evening, I thought I’d post a few new photos.

081 This was the main building. It once had towers but they were eventually destroyed. It’s on the National Historic Register.

082 The campus is actually very pretty. You can see one of the houses here. I think the director lived there.

084 My classroom still has bars on the window.

085 This interior shot in the main building gives an idea how long the hallways are.

086 And here’s a nice shot of the main building in light fog. My students all think the place is haunted, but I find it far less scary than downtown Stockton. It’s a melancholy place.

If you’re interested, I’ll try to catch more shots next week.

Ooh, That’s Interesting!: Ajvar

Things have been quiet here on the blog as I finished the first draft of my 13th novel, Rattlesnake. I also had two laptop meltdowns and a traumatic phone upgrade, all of which have sucked away far too much of my time. I’m planning a (probably quarterly) newsletter in the near future, with excerpts, free stories, updates, contests, etc. You can sign up using the form off to the right or by going here: http://eepurl.com/bau3S9.

So let’s talk about ajvar.


It’s pronounced ahy-vahr. I believe it’s native to Serbia, but it’s also very commonly eaten in Croatia, where I’ve lived. It’s made of roasted red peppers, eggplant, and spices, and is used as a relish or spread. I like it on a sandwich or on roast chicken, or just eaten beside the main course. You can get it in varying degrees of sweetness and spiciness. My small neighborhood groceries in Zagreb always had a large selection, but since my understanding of the language is rudimentary, I usually just chose a jar at random. A lot of people make their own, and I can tell you that homemade ajvar is especially delicious.

Unless you have a Balkan grocery store near you, ajvar is fairly hard to come by outside of that region. I did see some jars of Bulgarian ajvar during my last trip to CostPlus, an import store here in California. The jar in the photo is a Croatian brand.

If you’re not familiar with foods from the region, I’d describe ajvar as sort of like salsa or chutney, but not quite.Which gets me thinking about foods that are specific to a place and hard for anyone else to understand. Like peanut butter. Although it’s a sandwich staple in the US, every European I’ve spoke to finds the concept odd. (I tell them it’s sort of like Nutella minus the chocolate, but that doesn’t help much.) Ketchup is apparently mysterious in some places too. Once, when I was in Ljubljana, Slovenia, our waiter sussed out that we were Americans and proudly brought us a bottle of ketchup. We were eating pizza.

I think nearly every place has some food like this–something beloved to the locals but puzzling or unknown to everyone else. What are some of the foods like this in your region?

Ooh, That’s Interesting!: Sonora Cemetery

I’m in the middle of writing a novel set in a fictional town in California. The working title is Rattlesnake. The novel’s a contemporary, but the fictional town where it’s set is in Gold Rush territory in the Sierra foothills. Which, conveniently enough, is close to where I live.

As I was doing some research for my story, I stumbled upon a census for the old city cemetery in Sonora, California. Sonora is a town of about 5000 people. It was founded as a mining town, and you can still see the remains of mines right downtown. But the cemetery census is fascinating. You can see it yourself here: http://www.sonoraca.com/visitsonora/History/Old%20City%20Cemetery.pdf .

I’ve never actually visited the Sonora cemetery, although I love old graveyards. I’ve been to the Columbia cemetery many times, and it’s just a few miles away. Speaking of which, notice Joel A. Cumback’s headstone from Columbia: http://oldwest.theblincoes.com/ca/columb3.html (4th photo down). I’ve seen that one myself, and always wondered what the story was. His friend Jacob R. Giddis cared enough for him to buy him the stone–and to put his own name on it. Were they lovers? And then poor Jacob was murdered just a few years later and buried next to Joel.

One thing you can see from the Sonora census is that immigrants came there from lots of places. China, Mexico, Russia, Sweden, Serbia, France, England, Germany…. These people must have endured some really hard journeys to get to Sonora, and once they got there, their lives were still hard. A lot of them died in mining accidents. Some died of exposure or burns or falls or drowning. Murder and suicide were apparently common, as were drug and alcohol use. A lot of people died from TB, as well as things that rarely take lives today (at least in the US): diphtheria, typhoid, typhus, croup, infections. And a few people died rather colorfully, like the 4-year-old who, according to the record, died from eating watermelon. Or the man who was bitten by a bear and died 6 days later.

I also was fascinated by the little snippets of information about some of the people. One of them was an “actress.” In a mining town in 1870, I wonder what kind of acting she was doing. Another had fame as a dancer. A miner died in an accident, leaving his wife and children, who were still back in Wales. Another man murdered his wife and two young children. Several people hung themselves in jail cells. One 70-year-old was survived by 15 children. At least two of the people buried in Sonora were originally brought to California as slaves.

The cemetery census provides a thousand plot bunnies. Next time I go to Sonora, I plan to visit the cemetery. I can post some photos if you like. Don’t be surprised if I eventually write a historical set in the Gold Rush era.

Ooh, That’s Interesting! Forensics II

I know I posted about forensics last week. But I recently saw this article, which is fascinating. A skeleton found under a parking lot in England has been pretty much proven to be that of King Richard III, who died in 1485. Here are several things I think are cool about this:

–They could confirm his ID by matching mitochondrial DNA with that of living descendants.

–The analysis also suggested that maybe English royalty fooled around more than we thought.

–Now that we know it’s King Richard III, scientists could possibly help solve a murder mystery. King Dick’s young nephews–one of whom was actually heir to the throne–disappeared while locked up in the Tower of London. A couple hundred years later, the skeletons of two children were discovered at the Tower. Since we know where those bodies are buried, now scientists could check their DNA and compare to Uncle Dick’s.

–British parking lots are damned interesting places. See also this, and this, and this, and this. I’ve actually seen that last one in person, and I think it’s funny. Yes, I have sort of a dark sense of humor. In defense of my home state, however, I should mention that California parking lots are also occasionally interesting.

–Actually, one can find long-dead British people in a variety of surprising places. Like Jeremy Bentham, for instance.

Ooh! That’s interesting!: Forensics

I have a colleague who’s a forensic anthropologist and gave me a tour of her bone room when she was working on a case involving the victims of serial killers. It was poignant–a shoe still contained a skeletal foot. It was also really interesting. What looks to me like a random piece of bone allows her to identify the age, gender, and maybe even height of the victim.

I also have a colleague who’s a forensic entomologist–he studies the use of insects in legal cases. I once had a fascinating lunch with him and a very well-known forensic entomologist who has a very loud voice. Everyone else in the cafeteria soon moved far away from us, but I was enthralled (I have a very strong stomach). Did you know one of the best ways to estimate time of death–something very important in a homicide case–is by studying the insects living on the body? And in warm weather outdoors, blowflies can locate a corpse within minutes.

Here’s another interesting factoid. One of the earliest recorded uses of forensics was in China in the 13th century. Here’s a summary of that incident. The summary’s from a really interesting book called A Fly for the Prosecution.

There have been some amazing developments lately in forensic science. Among other things, these have led to the exoneration of at least 321 wrongly convicted people. Just a few weeks ago, a man who’d been in a California prison for almost 36 years was released.

Some of the newer stuff feels almost like magic. Like scientists at MIT who say they can reconstruct speech by looking at the vibrations of recorded images of things like potato chip bags.

How cool is that?

Ooh! That’s Interesting!: Glass dildos

During a recent trip to San Francisco, a friend and I wandered into one of Good Vibrations several Bay Area locations. I’d been to a different location before, but not this one. It’s a great store–very sex-positive and non-scrungy. The type of place in which the sweet salesclerk (who, it turns out, is a human sexuality major) can get into a lengthy and enthusiastic discussion with you about a personal training device for Kegel-exercising one’s pelvic floor muscles. (All three of us immediately concluded that it’s a Fitbit for your nether parts.)

The store has a lovely display of glass dildos and other glass toys, all of which would be suitable as art pieces. If you don’t mind explanations to mothers-in-law or young children. My friend was skeptical about whether these items would really be safe to insert in one’s body. But the sales clerk assured her that they’re very safe and completely shatterproof. She also listed a bunch of advantages of glass dildos. Among them:

  1. Easy to clean
  2. Can be used with any kind of lube
  3. Can be used for temperature play by first submersing them in cold or warm water
  4. Their firmness feels good
  5. No nasty chemicals
  6. Last forever

Neither of us bought a glass dildo (they’re pretty expensive). But wow. Interesting.

Ooh! That’s Interesting!: Yes, Deer


My family recently took a weekend trip to the Sierra foothills. While on a walk, my daughter and I saw lots of black-tailed deer, including these guys.

I looked up some facts about black-tailed deer. They’re a type of mule deer, which is kind of obvious when you see their really big ears. They live in Northern California (clearly) as well as Oregon, Washington, BC, and Alaska. They like forest edges–which is pretty much where we found these guys. Who also are fond of the nearby golf course. According to Wikipedia, they’ll eat poison oak, which is interesting.

According to this hunting article, these deer are secretive. I guess the ones I saw haven’t read the article. I mean, really. Does this look secretive to you? They were almost close enough to touch. And when we waited patiently for them to cross in front of us so we could continue up the sidewalk, they just stood there. If they manage to hide from hunters, their average lifespan is 22 years.

Deer feature in lots of mythology. My favorite is the Hindu goddess of learning, Saraswati. She sometimes takes the form of a deer, so traditionally scholars sat on deerskin mats. I bet my students wish they could learn through their asses too.

Ooh, That’s Interesting!: The Retired Emperor

I’m starting some new regular features on my blog. Most Wednesdays will be Ooh, That’s Interesting! days. I’ll post some bit of trivia or news or… something that caught my interest. Expect randomness.

Diocletian was Emperor of Rome from 245-311 C.E. He was born under very humble circumstances and worked his way up. He eventually delegated some of his authority, appointing 3 co-emperors. And when he became old and ill, he became the first Roman emperor to retire. He returned to his home in Dalmatia (on the coast of modern-day Croatia) and had a palace built.

After Diocletian died, he was buried there and the palace was abandoned. But several centuries later, some of the locals moved into the palace to defend themselves against invasion. Thirteen hundred years later, people still live in the palace, which is in the city of Split. Diocletian’s mausoleum is now a cathedral, which is ironic, considering he wasn’t fond of Christians.

I’ve spent a few days in the palace. It’s a beautiful and very vital place, full of cafes and shops and kids playing soccer on the ancient limestone sidewalks. Klapa groups sing in the peristyle. We saw a flower show in the cellars. My daughter chased lizards. You should go.