Bruce Coville has been working to turn young readers on to science fiction for nearly three decades, most notably with his bestselling My Teacher is an Alien series. His most recent novel, The Last Hunt, provided the long overdue conclusion to his Unicorn Chronicles quartet. He has a second life as founder and publisher of Full Cast Audio, and has produced over 100 audiobooks, directing and/or performing in most of them. The father of three grown children, he lives in Syracuse, NY, with his wife, illustrator Katherine Coville. His website is brucecoville.com and his audiobook company is at fullcastaudio.com.
Tell us about Full Cast Audio. What is it, and why did you start it?
Full Cast Audio is unique in that the majority of our productions are done with, well, a full cast. We’ve used as many as 55 performers in a single recording. We take special pride in our age appropriate casting; our actors have ranged from 8 to somewhere in their late 80’s, which makes for a rich and varied sound.
I should make it clear that what we do is not ‘‘Audio Theater.’’ We are not creating scripts, but recording complete texts, unabridged except for deleting the ‘‘he said/she said’’ dialogue tags which, in our format, would be a lot like reading the punctuation.
I began developing this form of recording back in 1995 with Tim Ditlow, who at that time was owner/publisher of Listening Library. As can happen with true collaborations, we’re each convinced it was the other’s idea! We created a joint venture called ‘‘Words Take Wing Fantasy Audio’’ and worked together for five years. Our highpoint was a full cast recording of The Golden Compass, which was narrated by Philip Pullman himself and featuring a full cast drawn from the London stage. However, around that time Tim sold Listening Library to Random House. As I anticipated, Random Audio wasn’t interested in a joint venture, so ‘‘Words Take Wing’’ came to an end. Thing was, I had gotten the bug. I loved producing and directing full cast productions – gathering a group of gifted actors around me and working with them to bring a great book to life in this format. So I decided to start a company of my own to continue the work.
All of your Full Cast Audio offerings are family friendly, with an emphasis on young-adult and all-ages fare. What led you to focus exclusively on that sort of material?
That was largely an outgrowth of my separate-but-related writing career. Since 1978 I’ve published nearly 100 books, most of them fantasy and science fiction, all but one for kids.
Given a decades-long identification with books that are family friendly, it seemed essential to do the same with my audiobook company as well. That doesn’t mean we don’t push the envelope. We’ve done some fairly edgy YA novels, most especially David Levithan’s brilliant Boy Meets Boy, the first non-tragic, utterly cheerful YA gay romance.
Melting Stones by Tamora Pierce was produced by Full Cast Audio before it was published in book form. How did that come about? Will you be doing any other original publications?
Tammy has been one of our great supporters from the beginning of the company. Actually, I sometimes refer to her as the Great Enabler, since when I told her I was thinking about starting the company she mentioned that her ‘‘Circle of Magic’’ books were available and that there was a part in them (Niklaren Goldeye) that would be perfect for me. It was irresistible…. It was Tammy’s idea to do a novel for us to record before it went to print. She had been working with us for years at that point, so she knew our core group of actors, and actually created the characters for this book with specific actors in mind. Since Tammy had done radio theater in the past I asked her if she would like to direct as well, which she did.
A fascinating side effect of this was the amount of revision that occurred during the recording process. When we work with an already published text it’s locked, save for egregious errors. We often have authors in to work with us, and I don’t think there’s one that hasn’t pleaded with me at some point to be allowed to improve the text as published! Alas for them, my heart is as a heart of stone on that matter. But in this case, since the text had not yet been committed to print, Tammy would listen to questions from the actors and rewrite on the fly. It was almost like workshopping a play.
Are there any particular Full Cast Audio productions that you’re especially proud of, and want our readers to seek out?
I’m particularly proud of our full cast recordings of some of the great Heinlein YA titles – Have Space Suit, Will Travel; The Rolling Stones; Star Beast; and Red Planet. Last night I was in the studio working on Tunnel in the Sky. I love doing these books. They’re essential texts for me, and they’re perfect for our format. One of Heinlein’s many strengths was his gift for dialogue, and large sections of these books read almost as if they were written as scripts. After a decade of this work, I’ve come to believe that the less we have to cut in a recording (and remember, the only things we ever cut are dialogue tags) the better the writer. I cut less with a Heinlein text than with any other writer we’ve recorded.
Anyone who enjoys those early Heinleins would probably also devour Kenneth Oppel’s Matt Cruse books, Airborn, Skybreaker, and Starclimber, recent novels with a steampunk feel that also have a definite Heinlein touch.
And, of course, all of our Tamora Pierce titles – we’ve recorded a dozen of them – are essential listening.
For younger listeners there’s, well, my own stuff, with books like The Monsters of Morley Manor, wherein I got to play the highly emotive, slightly depressive, lizard-headed mad scientist Gaspar Morley.
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about you or your work?
I love what I do! I’m a really lucky guy.