*What experiences led you to become a narrator?
I was working onstage in a regional theater. A colleague, a Brit, had been recording occasional classics (perhaps that should be “occasionally recording classics”. As is it seems a bit unclear, like visiting a furniture store or brothel in search of an occasional piece.) The audio publisher, Brilliance, was just moving from public domain work to newly published books. They were looking for an American voice to record some sort of WWII combat novel, and he suggested I grab something in that genre and send them a demo. I did that, on a crappy cassette recorder, recording in a closet. I got the gig, and never looked back. Much as I enjoyed conventional acting, I found this work much more appealing. One of the chief attributes in my reckoning was that I got to play all the parts. I always felt, completely unjustifiably, that’s what I should have been doing anyway. (I am ruefully and somewhat embarrassingly chuckling as I write this) Another great advantage was that the pay was better.
*How long have you been narrating?
Thirty some years? Not really sure.
*Was it hard to retire after being so successful?
Not in the least. I’d had a long career, been lucky enough to garner some awards, and made a decent living. We live a fairly modest lifestyle, so I think we’ll be okay without the income. Although there was great fun and reward in meeting the various challenges, doing the best job possible serving some great, even brilliant works, or facing the task of elevating some not so great, I was ready to move on to the different challenges of becoming an artist. In that pursuit I know I will never rise to the level of competence, or garner the awards and recognition I achieved behind the mike, that’s okay. The exhilaration I find painting, the freedom to tackle anything I want in any style I want, is fulfilling. No chance I’ll ever become complacent, little chance I’ll ever rise above the level of enthusiastic amateur, but that’s okay. And luckily I don’t need to make money at it, though there’s a special rush the few times someone wants to buy a piece. I am quite excited at the prospect of dismantling my recording booth and claiming the extra space to make my studio/office a bit larger.
*What are some things you’ll miss the most?
The people. Authors, directors and other narrators I’ve come to know, many wonderful folks at the various publishers I’ve worked for. Most of those relationships are online for the past dozen or more years because I built my own home studio where I work with my wife Susie Breck (an award winning narrator and director in her own right) and simply upload the work to the east or west coast and points in between. I’ll maintain those.
*Name some things you’ll miss the least.
The occasional clunkers. Although I jealously guarded right of refusal on works I found objectionable (the biography of Sheriff Joe Arpaio? Not a feckin’ chance boy-o) or revealed themselves as being inferior or not to my taste, some so-so or worse stuff gets through. Having worked with so many truly gifted authors and accomplished pros we are acutely aware of those who fall too short of that level. And poorly edited work. Even the best writers may sometimes have some little problematic thing, typos, a misstated fact etc. The top notch pros were happy to hear from us if we came across something, and quite willing to fix it if the determined we had something that needed fixing, and weren’t just full of shit. Proud to say that didn’t happen often. However a surprising number of works come through with not just typos, spelling errors, but terribly clumsy downright crappy groaners and plotting and pacing sins that jumped off the page. We’d sometimes wonder who the hell, if anybody, edited the work.
*Did you have any favorite characters?
Indeed. Jack Reacher certainly is a favorite, by dint of long association the great skill Lee Child has in creating this dependably interesting and satisfying anti-hero. Lee’s rhythms lend themselves to audio. Stephen White’s Dr. Alan Gregory series featured a supporting character that may have been an all time favorite in Detective Sam Purdy. I’ve done over a thousand books and found great characters to voice in many of them. I did Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct books, thirty or so, the first ensemble police procedurals, that featured a score of characters who showed up regularly, and who we really got to know and cultivate. Voicing some of the classics, Dickens, some of the Russians, gave me the opportunity to do some of the all time greats of literature. And Twain, particularly Huck and Jim. I recorded that, my favorite work in the world, three times for different publishers. I think some are still available. That work was not only great, it was and is important. Never told the publishers, but I’d have done that one for free.
Reacher takes a stroll through a small Wisconsin town and sees a class ring in a pawn shop window: West Point 2005. A tough year to graduate: Iraq, then Afghanistan. The ring is tiny, for a woman, and it has her initials engraved on the inside. Reacher wonders what unlucky circumstance made her give up something she earned over four hard years. He decides to find out. And find the woman. And return her ring. Why not?
So begins a harrowing journey that takes Reacher through the upper Midwest, from a lowlife bar on the sad side of small town to a dirt-blown crossroads in the middle of nowhere, encountering bikers, cops, crooks, muscle, and a missing persons PI who wears a suit and a tie in the Wyoming wilderness.
The deeper Reacher digs, and the more he learns, the more dangerous the terrain becomes. Turns out the ring was just a small link in a far darker chain. Powerful forces are guarding a vast criminal enterprise. Some lines should never be crossed. But then, neither should Reacher.
*What was it like working with so many great authors?
Great. Great authors tend to be great professionals and generous open minded people eager to collaborate when needed, willing to recognize that a narrator can bring something of value to the table, and to trust us at what we do. Some authors try to direct with precise suggestions about how the work should be handled. Those are usually hacks.
*What’s next for you?
Painting. Every day painting. I fall asleep thinking about it, wake up, brew coffee, and get into it. Not always putting paint on the canvas, but staring at the pieces I have going, noting fuckups, determining what to do next, lamenting the limitations of skill and understanding, marveling at the work of others so available online, speaking with artist friends and learning from them, cursing the tremor I’ve had for decades. Sometimes doing something I’m actually pleased with. It’s an all engrossing, exhilarating, marvelous pursuit. I also greatly enjoy working in the kitchen, not a gourmet cook, but a pretty decent one who delights in having good knives and cookware, a decent stove, and ready access to an incredible variety of wonderful mostly organic foods.
Dick Hill has had the pleasure of working with authors such as Michael Connelly, Lee Child, Arthur C. Clarke, Tim Tigner, Greg Iles, Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child, Randy White, Bill Walsh, Dean Koontz, W.E.B. Griffin, Nora Roberts, Andrew Peterson, Randy Wayne White, Terry Brooks, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Anne McCaffrey, Mark Twain, Bob Knight, J.A. Konrath, Rad Bradbury, Catherine Coulter, David Ignatius, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Ed Mcbain, Stephen Coonts, David Ellis, Jack Higgins, Russell Blake, Stephen White, Nelson Demille, and many more!
He has narrated everything from the Bible, history, sports, mysteries, thrillers, fantasy, comedy, religion to Plato. When I first approached Dick for an interview after his retirement I had no idea how decorated he actually was. Legendary actually. His body of work is truly amazing and will be a voice not soon forgotten.