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A Conversation With Stefan Rudnicki
Executive Producer -- Fantastic Audio
An interview with Scott Danielson
February 2002

Stefan Rudnicki
Stefan Rudnicki has directed over 150 stage productions in New York, Los Angeles, regional theatre & abroad, and produced around triple that number. He has directed 2 feature films, produced hundreds of audiobooks, and is author of 11 published books including Wilde, The Novel and Sun Tzu's The Art of War. He has played over 75 stage roles and appeared in 15 films, among them Awakenings, Last Exit To Brooklyn, Rejuvenator, and Higher Education. His awards include the 1999 Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album for Children for The Children's Shakespeare, 11 Audie Awards from the APA, The Fringe First Award at the Edinburgh International Festival. At The Knightsbridge Theatre in Los Angeles, he adapted & co-directed (with Gabrielle de Cuir) The Nightingale & The Rose.

Fantastic Audio Website

The Nine Billion Names of God and Other Stories
The Voice from the Edge: Midnight in the Sunken Cathedral
The Elephants of Posnan and Other Stories
Ender's Game
The Birthday of the World

A good audio, according to Stefan Rudnicki, "is the kind of listening experience that keeps you driving around the block instead of parking in your garage." Stefan is the executive producer for Audio Literature and publisher/producer of the aptly named Fantastic Audio line of science fiction and fantasy audiobooks. His goal? To make Fantastic Audio THE SF/Fantasy audio publisher. In my opinion, he needs a new goal. He's already reached this one.

Fantastic Audio is a new imprint of Audio Literature, a 15 year-old audiobook publisher. The imprint's first titles, several Arthur C. Clarke short story collections from Tor's Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke, were released last year. From that excellent foundation, Fantastic Audio has been producing fantastic audio after fantastic audio. Check out their March 2002 releases alone; Best Fantasy: 2001, edited by Robert Silverberg and Karen Haber, Best Science Fiction: 2001, also edited by Silverberg and Haber, Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game, The Birthday of the World and Other Stories by Ursula K. Le Guin and Demons by John Shirley. And that's just March.

Their release of The Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett and narrated by Christopher Cazenove and Karesa McElheny is one of three finalists for the 2002 Audie award in the category "Achievement and Innovation in Production."

Stefan Rudnicki has been involved (as both an actor and director) in live theater and feature film. He was executive producer of the Beyond 2000 series of science fiction radio shows on NPR. He appeared as talent in several of the episodes, including an appearance as the Ticktockman in Harlan Ellison's Repent, Harlequin, Said the Ticktockman. He is also author or editor of 11 published books. Currently, he is Fantastic Audio's executive producer. The interview was conducted by e-mail.

Stefan, you wear many hats. You've been involved with live theater and feature films as well as with audiobooks and audio drama. What attracts you to audio production over these other forms? And what attracts you to science fiction?

I fell into audio production (I would say by accident, except I don't believe in accidents) in 1994, began as a freelance abridger for Dove Audio. They very soon hired me full time as production coordinator, and by early 1995 I was a producer and a VP as well. When Dove changed hands in 1997, I became executive producer, then publisher of NewStar Media's audio division, still called Dove Audio. Shortly before NewStar collapsed, I left to pursue an independent route, and began to use my company name (Skyboat Road Company) to work with a number of clients, including Time Warner Audio, Harper Audio, and Books On Tape, and of course Audio Literature and Fantastic Audio. Audio production has been the first regular activity (one film every seven years is hardly regular) that has allowed me to combine all the things I love to do into one task.

As for science fiction, I've been reading it since I've been reading. To justify, besides sheer love of the genre, I have found that science fiction, and to a degree high-end fantasy and horror as well, tap into issues (spiritual, political, emotional and psychological) in a way mainstream fiction does not. These genres also tend to be more cutting edge in form and structure, not from some ill-considered attempt at literary experiment, but in order to achieve communication of the issues in question. Think of all the wonderful literary lights who have gone into SF/Fantasy territory when their content demanded it: Kurt Vonnegut, John Fowles, Mark Twain, etc.

Reading Ray Bradbury, when I was nine or so, started me going. In the last couple of years at Dove/NewStar, I began to concentrate my efforts on acquiring certain key authors in the SF/Fantasy and mystery genres. Now, through Fantastic, I can finally let my love of the genre fly. Authors like Harlan Ellison, Orson Scott Card, Arthur C. Clarke and Ursula K. Le Guin changed my life years ago. Now I am working with them, collaborating with them on audio projects... and it is an absolute joy.

You say collaborating... how so? What is your role as executive producer?
Collaborating means something a little different in each case, although all of these writers have recorded material for their respective audios... so there is at least that much in common.

With Ursula, it's spending an hour or two on the phone with her going over pronunciations of the world-specific words in her stories.

With Scott Card, it's choosing material for original audio collections... always with his input. The newest collection, which I just finished recording today, includes performances not only by Scott but also by his son, Geoffrey and his daughter, Emily. Both are first-rate readers, combining youthful voices and attitudes with an intelligence and education very rare indeed among the young.

With Harlan, the relationship goes back nearly seven years, and we've done dozens of books and stories together, not only his own material, but Ben Bova's (City of Darkness was winner of an Audie Award for Best Narration, Male), Jules Verne's, John Shirley's, Arthur C. Clarke's, Ursula's, and even a story of Card's he recorded yesterday. His two audio collections, Midnight in the Sunken Cathedral and the soon to be available again I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream comprised stories I selected with his approval and support.

What does an executive producer do? Facilitates. That recording of "Repent, Harlequin..." almost did not happen. There were deal-breaking contract issues with Robin Williams' people less than twenty minutes before the start of the recording session, and everybody else was ready to walk away. I'm pleased to say that, with Harlan's help, I was able to make it work.

In audiobooks, the abridged vs. unabridged debate is a fierce one. I recently listened to your production of Cryptonomicon, read by Scott Brick, in which you took a different approach. You produced in "unabridged excerpts" rather than abridge the book for audio. What made you approach this one that way?
I simply felt that any true abridgment of the text of Cryptonomicon would not do justice to the writing, which is so richly evocative and detailed. The "unabridged excerpts" solution is one I've used a couple of times since, and I feel that for long works of significant literary style and merit, you cannot do better.

I really enjoy the short fiction you've been producing. Do you particularly enjoy this length?
I love doing the short fiction anthologies. I've been working for years now with Marty Greenberg, the chief anthologist (anthologer?) in the business, who has provided me with wonderful material tailored to audio. He was also responsible for the idea of doing out new BEST OFs... with an audio bias and months ahead of the print competition.

Anthologies can be listened to in short segments or all at once, and they provide a variety of tone that is otherwise very difficult to in the audio genre. Dove Audio pioneered multi-reader collections, a fashion now catching on among other audio publishers. It's a joy to be able to cast just the right person for a story, often someone who might never get to record a whole book, but whose voice and personality and background are ideally suited for the story at hand. In addition to the new collections, which include Card, Ellison, the Best Ofs, and Ursula K. Le Guin's new book, The Birthday of the World, we are planning several other anthologies for the next year.

An experience I just had today with the Best Fantasy collection is a good example of what I'm talking about. There is a story in it called "Ave de Paso" by Catherine Asaro, a richly textured and highly evocative tale based in Aztec mythology. I recorded this story today with a young woman of Mexican heritage who understood the material in both heart and mind in an uncanny way. The performance will add greatly to the level at which a reader/listener can engage with the piece.

I see that Ender's Game is read by "multiple celebrity readers". What have you done here?
I'm doing with it what we've already done with Card's Shadow of the Hegemon, Ursula Le Guin's The Other Wind, Ben Bova's The Precipice, John Shirley's forthcoming Demons, and, perhaps most notably, Terry Pratchett's The Thief of Time. The POVs shift, and as they shift, we change narrators. These are not dramatizations, like our about to be released unabridged version of James Branch Cabell's Jurgen. Rather, they are attempts to match the author's narrative texture by moving with him, eye for eye. In the case of Ender, Card even provides us with dialogue segments at the top of each chapter. These will be special fun. Scott Card himself has already recorded one of the roles. See if you can recognize his voice when you hear it. It's all in that variety of tone I mentioned earlier.

There's plenty to look forward to from Fantastic Audio. Stay tuned!

Copyright © 2002 Scott Danielson

Scott discovered the world of SF audio years ago, when he spent hours a day in his car. His commute has since shortened considerably, but his love for audio remains. By trade, he's an electrical engineer. Aside from reading and writing science fiction, his hobbies include community theater, where he can often be found behind the soundboard or (much less often) on the stage.

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