Robin Miles: Talking Books

February 16, 2024 | 1:10:45

Today we bring you a masterclass in audiobook narration and acting with acclaimed actor, casting director, audiobook narrator and audiobook director, Robin Miles. Miles has narrated over 500 audiobooks, collecting numerous industry awards and, in 2017, was added to the Audible Narrator Hall of Fame. She’s the most recognizable voice in literary Afrofuturism, having interpreted books by Octavia E. Butler, Nalo Hopkinson, N.K. Jemisin, and Nnedi Okorafor. Miles holds a BA and an MFA from Yale. She has taught young actors and narrators at conservatories across the country and she has an amazing talent for doing accents—something we really dig deep into on this podcast. In this conversation we talk about technique, the audiobook industry, and the politics of vocal representation. How do we avoid the misrepresentation of marginalized people on the one hand and vocal typecasting on the other?

For our Patrons we have almost an hour of additional content, including our What’s Good segment where Robin unsurprisingly makes some really great book recommendations! If you want hear all the bonus content, just go to Membership starts at just three dollars a month and helps pay the expenses of producing the show.


 [Robotic music] This is phantom power. 

[Brass band playing]

Mack Hagood: Welcome to another episode of phantom power. I’m Mack Hagood. Today we’re bringing you a masterclass in audiobook narration and acting with acclaimed audiobook narrator, Robin Miles. But first, if you’re wondering about the brass band music in the background, I just got back from Carnival  in my hometown, New Orleans, Louisiana. 

And man, my heart is full, but my body is a bit depleted. As I said the other day on Facebook, the Fatter the Tuesday, the Ashier the Wednesday.  I got into New Orleans on Friday, ate some good food with the family. Saturday, it was all parades Uptown. My wife Bridget was marching in a parade. My boys Abe and Theo were taking it all in with me, catching all the throws.

Sunday was Abe’s 17th birthday. We celebrated with family and friends. And then the next day was Lundi Gras and we did a second line down Bourbon Street through the French Quarter with my wife’s marching crew, the Dames de Perlage. The Dames learned beadwork from the famed Mardi Gras Indians, and they work on these amazing beaded costumes all year long. In fact, Bridget listens to a lot of audio books–especially those narrated by Robin Miles–while she works on her beadwork every night. And so it was amazing to just see the fellowship of these women out in the street. Dancing to the sounds of the Big Fun brass band that y’all just heard just now. What a beautiful day.

And then and then on Fat Tuesday I hung out in the Marigny area. There were a lot of great DJs with small mobile sound systems on different corners. And we were just dancing in the streets all day.  And then it was Ash Wednesday. The next day, after all the day-long drinking and fried food and King cake, I ate vegan all day. How’s that for repentance? And I went and bought some Louisiana music and history books at Blue Cypress Books uptown. And I even went to church. Although I didn’t get any ashes because I haven’t been to confession in about 40 years.  Like I said, my body’s depleted, but man, my soul is full. It was just so beautiful. So real. The only time I touched my phone was to, you know, take a picture or meet up with somebody. And man, do it. If you haven’t been there, go.

Okay, let’s talk about today’s guest. I am so excited. Robin Miles is an American actor, casting director, audio book narrator, and audiobook director. She has narrated over 500  audio books. She’s won every award you can think of in this space. In 2017, she was added to the Audible narrator hall of fame.

She holds a BA and an MFA from Yale. She’s taught young actors and narrators at conservatories across the country, and she has an amazing talent for doing accents, which is something we really dig deep into in this podcast. It was a dream interview for me because Robin is my favorite audiobook narrator, and I really enjoyed getting into the weeds of her work.

We talk about  how she creates a parasocial relationship with her listener. We really dive into scene analysis and acting and also in narration, like how does she mark up a script or mark up a book to make decisions about characterization and vocalization?  We talk about the International Phonetic Alphabet. And how that’s such a crucial tool for her accent work. We dig into some of her work narrating Afrofuturist fiction. So, we talk about her work doing N.K. Jemisin’s books and Nalo Hopkinson’s books, and then we really get into a fascinating talk about the politics of representation in voice.

Who should be able to represent whom vocally? What are the ethics around that? And she has, as you might not be surprised to learn as a woman of color who’s been narrating audio books forever and acting forever. She has a lot of really  profound ideas about this topic. So I just learned so much from her. 

We talked for two hours. There was way more content than I could put in one episode. So for our patrons, I have almost an hour of additional content. We talked about unionization, how she approaches nonfiction as a narrator. What kind of microphone does she use? We talk about Octavia E. Butler, like just, there’s so much more, including our What’s Good segment where unsurprisingly, Robin makes some really great book recommendations. I mean, she has read a few books! So, if you want to hear all of that bonus content, just go to Membership starts at just three bucks a month and you’re helping me pay for the expenses of making this show. 

All right, without further ado, here she is, Robin Miles:

Mack Hagood: Robin Miles, thank you so much for being on the show.

Robin Miles: It is my pleasure. Thanks for reaching out to me.

Mack Hagood: I have to say it’s a little bit uncanny for me to hear you speaking directly to me through my headphones because you’ve been a voice in my headphones for so many years and there’s this term in media studies, that I think is actually gotten wide exposure now, but a parasocial relationship.

Like, I feel like I have this relationship with you because you’re my favorite audiobook narrator. Do you think about that kind of relationship often? Does that affect how you do your job at all?

Robin Miles: You know what? I would have to say that it’s the cornerstone of my relationship to what I do and my audience because I actually taught this lesson yesterday, when I was in the classroom to my audiobook class. The very first thing that you have to do as a narrator is establish a relationship with your listener. And they’re not physically, corporeally there, so you have to project it. And I always tell my students, you’re not talking to a group of people. This is not an address, a public address. Your listener is one person. And, so as they’re practicing and getting used to talking to one person, I say, “You can use the person sitting next to you.”

If you’re in a booth, you can use an engineer, if you’re lucky enough to have one, on the other side. Or if you’ve got really good acting chops, you can project that person across from you. But the scenario in my head is, I’m telling this story to you, across the top of a table in an Irish pub, and it has to be an Irish pub.

Mack Hagood: Oh, really?

Robin Miles: Because it’s the most collegial place in the world.

Culturally, it’s just like an after work place to let down your hair, to reconnect with the community after you’ve done your job all day, and there are people all around you doing the same with another person. And so, you have to create a bubble of intimacy around you in that table.

The way you would in a bar when there are other conversations going on. You want to be heard by that person, so you can’t be all whispery. But at the same time, you don’t want everybody in the bar to know your business.

I have a friend who is my bestie from fifth grade. She’s brilliant. Her name is Beth Mannion. She’s a published writer and also writes under a pseudonym. And, I was hosting a talk with her and another author that both specialize in Irish studies. And she got her degree in Ireland at the Beckett Center.

But to be the host of her talk, I felt it was necessary to read her book. So, I knew what it was about. It’s just my friend. I’m really happy to do it, but I learned a lot actually. She talked about pubs and the cultural significance of them in Ireland before we even had pubs here.

And so, that same, quintessential feeling of sitting down with someone you know after work and sharing life. In Hawaii, they might call it “talking story” just telling your story. So that’s where it starts for me. And if you don’t have that intimacy and that connection to that audience, which is an audience of one, you miss something.

Mack Hagood: It’s a different form of address. It’s a more intimate form of address when you’re addressing one person rather than an imagined group.

Robin Miles: Yes, and even when I’m teaching just straight acting in the classroom, if I have an actor doing one exercise I have them do is from St. Joan of the Stockyards and she’s standing there talking to a group of people trying to motivate them to like, you know, march and protest. Even though it’s a group of people and one person addressing them, I have them always make eye contact with one person, then move to another, then move to another, so it’s always a one on one, it’s just there are many ones.

Mack Hagood: And for our listeners, so you are not only an audiobook narrator and an actor, but you also teach acting. Can you tell us just a little bit about that since you mentioned it?

Robin Miles: Sure, right now I’m a professor at Pace University, which is in New York. I’ve also taught at UCSD and SUNY Purchase and, you know, those are really good conservatories. I count myself extremely lucky to have been part of the faculty of all of them. But right now I teach my freshman script analysis, which is helping them learn to see the invisible connections.

I say this all the time. That theater and entertainment, what we do as actors and play makers, people who make entertainment, is that we make the invisible visible. Make the invisible forces between human beings that you can’t see or touch or smell, but you can absolutely emotionally feel them.

They’re invisible. And we basically examine them and then inhabit them so that they can be seen. That’s what we do. And so script analysis is seeing where those things exist in a way on the page, seeing what the structure of exposition, then rising, you know, conflict is rising, and then climax, and then falling action. 

So being able to see them. If you can’t see them, how do you enact them? I do that with my freshmen, and then I get them back as sophomores and teach them acting technique on scene study. And we go backward in time, starting with really contemporary playwrights. Oktar and Annie Baker, very contemporary playwrights.

And then we go back like a couple decades and we take like the 1980s through the aughts and stuff that would have been like coming out when I was younger titles that would have been on Broadway or current at the time. And then the last round is, the old dead guys round, I call it. Because we go back to Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller and Adrian Kennedy. 

Mack Hagood: You were talking about script analysis, and, you know, I know one form of an actor’s preparation is to sort of read a script in advance, mark up the script, thinking about the goals or the backstory of their character, maybe marking out the individual beats of a scene, these inflection points where the tone changes or the characters tactics shift, or you need to pause for a joke to land, something like that. 

Robin Miles: Right. 

Mack Hagood: How does an audiobook narrator prepare? Is it the same process or is this a different job?

Robin Miles: It is. It’s a different job. Although, I don’t ever forget about my actor sensibilities. And, a lot of that script marking in the dialogue is going to be very similar. Scenes. Because they’re scenes. However, for an audiobook narrator. Wow, I mark the tone. I mark who’s talking in the scene coming up so as I change a chapter or a section changes.

I mark who’s in it so I can make that sort of mental adjustment to where I am and what’s about to happen. Complicated text, British authors, or just more erudite writing with longer sentence structure might really require that I mark on long thoughts where I’m going to breathe. 

Mack Hagood: Hmm. 

Robin Miles: I want to be like a jazz musician. I want to be in the pocket. My dad was a jazz musician. 

Mack Hagood: Oh, really? Wow. 

Robin Miles: I want to be in the pocket. Which means I want to be in flow and living in the moment. So I want to bring down the number of errors I make because every time I make an error it’s a slight interruption to being in it. Cause I gotta come out, and I gotta drop the cursor, and then restart the session.

And I try to stay in it as much as possible, I just keep breathing, hanging in that moment I was in, just keep breathing, stay there. But it is an interruption. So when I’m prepping my piece, if there, like I said, I’ll mark breaths, things that are just so long I need to figure out where I’m gonna breathe.

If there’s an antithesis, a comparison, between two things in a sentence and they’re far away from each other, I’ll underline the first one and I’ll mark an “A” over the top of it on an iPad. I got my little stylus. And, then I’ll draw a line under element “B”, the other part of the antithesis, so that I know that that comparison is there and I’m about to compare two things.

Mack Hagood: So that you can put a certain kind of emphasis on the front end of that sentence and then a different kind on the back end?

Robin Miles: Yes. Yeah, because we are humans who speak English and the ear is accustomed to the music of English. And so, if I know the music of English, then I’ve got to find a way to deliver on the music of English. And if I miss something, you know, I go, “Oh, that was a comparison. I need to go back” Because I didn’t set up those two things to be compared.

Mack Hagood: You also have to switch between characters. So it sounded like part of your marking up was making sure you see who’s speaking when. So that you don’t get halfway into a sentence and then realize it’s a different character. Cause I hear that. I hear some audio book narrators do that. I can hear like, “Oh, they just realized they were supposed to be a person.” 

Robin Miles: And that’s when you should stop yourself and re-record. That’s what you do. But, I always mark in the left column at the sentence head, at the margin, who’s speaking. And I have a system for marking that. So that when I mark, I use the least effort doing the marking, but that it’s clear what I’m doing.

And you know how you get to the end of a line and you get to the tag phrase of the tag line that says, “She whispered,” while continuing to search for her mittens on the shelf, right? And you know, you read it and you’re, blah, blah, blah, “She whispered,” Damn. And then you gotta…

Mack Hagood: You got to go back and whisper it.

Robin Miles: So, you know, I’ll use a little IPA symbol (International Phonetic Alphabet) symbol for “wha” the “wh.”

And it’s really whispered, right? We don’t really invest in that whole puff of air much anymore, but I’ll just use that little W with a circle drawn around it. And that means the character’s whispering, so I know that that’s what’s going on.

Mack Hagood: Okay. I’m so glad you brought up IPA because I know you studied at Yale.

I studied acting, as an undergrad at Tulane for a little while with, Yale MFA named Ron Gorel. Who had students like Willem Dafoe. There were a couple of other Yale faculty who were at Tulane at that time. And-

Robin Miles: Wow, nice!

Mack Hagood: I remember these guys throwing down some real rigor and like, and one part of the training that I remember was there was the International Phonetic Alphabet, IPA. Could you maybe talk about what that is, and how an actor or an audiobook narrator might deploy that in their work?

Robin Miles: Sure, let me start with, what is it? The International Phonetic Alphabet is a system of symbols that essentially have a one to one correlation to the sounds of language. So you’ve got a symbol for every single phoneme, meaning, like, single unit of sound. So, every consonant, like, k, p, t, vvv, all have a symbol.

And all the vowel sounds, the open sounds without consonant breaks, like A, E, I, O, U,  all have a symbol. And when you get to compound sounds like, pay, my, boy, diphthongs and triphthongs, higher power, you break them down into units. So, boy is bo-y. 

Mack Hagood: Mm. 

Robin Miles: Bo-y. It’s two things, actually. And so, it’s a very exact way of rendering the sounds in a language.

So we have a whole bunch of symbols that we use in English, but there’s a whole bunch of ones that we don’t use because those aren’t our sounds. Like the rolled R in Spanish, and the rolled R in French. One’s rolled in the front, one’s rolled in the back. They’re different symbols. 

Mack Hagood: Mm 

Robin Miles: There’s a different symbol for the IH, IH, like the, the word IH, I in German.

And there’s another one for the CH in Hanukkah. So again, you can be very exact about indicating how to say a word. And you can even transcribe a whole sentence in IPA. A whole speech in IPA. That’s one of the exercises that we do. Why is it helpful? Because wow, when you’re doing things particularly in an accent, this is where it becomes really, really useful.

If there’s a sound in that language that doesn’t exist in ours, we’re not going to get it right unless we familiarize ourselves with that. One of the things that I’m always arguing about is people use the schwa, the upside down little.  The  sound, it’s also known as the sound of hesitation, like , , right?

They stick that in for so many other words, sounds in English, and it’s not really that sound. And so when I hear people oftentimes, using that as the placeholder for other sounds. It just doesn’t work. And, I’ll tell you, the specificity level I like to get to, class, the way people speak, class, region, dialect, the way people speak in different places, like you’ll hear people in New York say, my mother, my father, my mother, that’s a straight up schwa.

But there are a lot of people who say, my mother, , . Is it ah, , ? Those are different sounds. And they really do, they can be culturally specific, and they can also be class specific. And it’s the same in German. I used to sing opera at one point, and I took a master class at Juilliard. I just went and, you know, paid money to go sit and hear this brilliant person.

And he talked about the sound, the ends of words in Germany do the same thing as they do here. Like father, mother, father, mother, father, mother. Same thing. And it’s an expression, it can be of class or culture, or, you know, somebody code switching within their own culture might go from one to another depending on the situation they’re in.

You hear the shift and you know what they’re doing.

Mack Hagood: So having that ability to sort of score that kind of thing, first of all, just having an awareness that these differentials exist and having a code for them allows you to really suss out the complexity in something.

It’s like it’s like having a wider palette of colors, vocal colors, and phonetic colors

Robin Miles: I love that analogy. Colors. I want max colors so that I can be true to what the author wrote and who the characters are that they created. And I’m really strong about that, strongly opinionated about that. I didn’t write the book. I can’t take credit for that and it’s not my job to then change that book and make it quote unquote mine.

That is not what I’m there for. I am in service to that author. I’m in service to the words, which means get your ego out of the way. And it’s funny because it is, it’s physiological when you approach it that way. Like, at the end of the day, if I’ve been narrating for whatever, four, six hours. I have given over my body, my breathing pattern, my feelings to this story and to these characters in service to that author.

And it’s like when I get out, it’s very funny. You’d think, right, that after talking for six hours, all you’d want to do is shut up and sit in a corner and watch TV and have somebody else do the acting

Mack Hagood:  Uh-huh. 

Robin Miles: That makes sense. First thing I wanna do is talk and hear me and my opinions and my voice again, so I can kind of reclaim them again.

Because I’ve let them occupy my space for the last six hours.

Mack Hagood: I mean, I love this idea of physically embodying a text and kind of being possessed by a text and being the tool of, like, physically, like, that’s a fascinating thing to think about.

Robin Miles: You know what? I honestly think it’s in a way. It’s easier to do that if you’re able to accomplish the moving of the ego aside. 

Mack Hagood: Mm-hm. 

Robin Miles: It’s not easy. But if you’re able to accomplish that, let the music play through you 

Mack Hagood: Mm-hm. 

Robin Miles: And you know what’s interesting is that the body doesn’t lie. And I’m an ex-dancer.

I started out in this business as a dancer. Which is very far away from sitting in a tiny little booth with the door closed where you can’t move. It’s far from where I started. But, the body doesn’t lie. And so, if I feel something in my gut, like that’s not right. That was just not right. And I’ll do it again.

And I may not even be able to tell you why. I just know. The feeling was, that was wrong, or, mm, that was too big, it’s over the top, my body is like going, mm, mm, nope, nope, nope, 

Mack Hagood: Mm hmm. 

Robin Miles: And I just have to listen to it. And you know, Uta Hagen, the famous Uta Hagen, who trained so many actors in her day, just before she retired, I was in her class as a very young actor in New York, first coming here. 

Mack Hagood: Mm hmm. 

Robin Miles: And she used to say.

“When you’re in a scene,” and like the classic Chekhov scene, “Masha, she cries,” is in parentheses. I always used to panic when I saw that, because I’m not a crier. Fake crying is not in my toolbox. But she used to say, when that happens, the text tells you that you don’t go in and then try to cry and pop out the tears.

She said what most people do in our culture, and this is just culturally who we are, we tend to try and manage or suppress the tears. And as soon as you do that, what’s so wacky, is your body feels you clamping down, trying to hold, you know, speak, you know, without all over the place. And your body goes, wow, I’m doing all those things I do when I cry.

I must be crying, and the tears come out. They just go. 

Mack Hagood: It’s fighting the tears that brings them.

Robin Miles: Yeah, but your body knows that scenario. You’ve been in it many times. And then it just produces the tears. It’s like the most organic thing I’ve ever heard of, and now I’ve incorporated it into my teaching as well.

Mack Hagood: I mean, it’s so amazing to hear about your technique because I, I think about like, I don’t know, like a Robin Miles tour de force, I think, would be your performance of Nalo Hopkinson’s, Midnight Robber, 

Robin Miles: Oh, I love that book. I’m so glad. 

Mack Hagood: Oh my gosh, your performance is so amazing. Like, for those who don’t know, it’s this Afrofuturist novel.

It’s a little hard to describe, but it’s basically about a young girl who gets exiled on another planet in another dimension. 

Robin Miles: Dimension, yeah. 

Mack Hagood: And, and she gradually takes on the identity of this figure from Caribbean folklore, the Midnight Robber, who dresses in black, speaks in poetry, steals from the rich and gives to the poor. But the dialogue and the narration are all written in this kind of Caribbean vernacular.

And we had this audio scholar on the show recently, audiobook scholar Matthew Rubery, and he talked about how we often culturally privileged the printed book as the site of real reading. 

Right. But, he pointed out that often the readers, you know, what he called the brain voice, it’s not as good as a performance by a great narrator.

And to me, this is Midnight Robber is the ultimate example, because I read Hopkinson’s book in print and I’m not like, totally ignorant of like the Black Atlantic or Caribbean culture, but my head voice just didn’t have the cultural or linguistic experience to open up the text the way your performance did.

And it’s not just like the pronunciation of words. It’s the cadences, it’s the subtextual stuff that’s going on.

That you need a certain knowledge to be able to put forward. And I mean, also this is a book that’s about Black oral traditions, right? It’s like, it’s about oral storytelling.

There’s like storytellers in the book and there’s this kind of verbal jousting, Tan Tan the Robber Queen, the main character. I mean, she’s basically like a battle rapper, right? 

Robin Miles: Mm-hm. 

Mack Hagood: It makes sense on so many levels for this to be an audiobook.  I don’t even know what my question is here.

I’m just raving about your performance, but like how did you approach that? 

Robin Miles: Well, firstly, you start with your author. And Nalo is visionary and brilliant. So you have to start with that. You can’t do something fantastic with writing unless the writing gives you the opportunity. It’s like agents, actress agents, managers. When they get a script that’s Oscar-worthy, they usually know it because there’s a journey embedded in the script that allows you to give an Oscar-worthy performance.

See what I mean? So, I’m always looking out for something that I can really do something with, and I love working with authors like Nalo. As I was reading it and prepping it, it’s funny because I did this many years ago, but I remember this. Reading it through the first time and realizing she spelled words in different ways.

And I was like, “These are people from different Caribbean Islands.” Like, Haiti is French influenced. And some of the words and phrases, I was like, this one’s Haitian. And then another one, I realized, oh, this one’s from a Spanish speaking Caribbean country. And this one’s from an English speaking Caribbean country.

And so I noticed that running through, and I finished the book, prepped it, and I went, I gotta go back, and do it again, and mark for that before I started.

Mack Hagood: And is this knowledge that you had from your studies of phonetics or?

Robin Miles: I studied Spanish in high school through college. I was a, I wasn’t a Spanish minor, but I was required to have literature fluency in a foreign language.  I went to Yale undergrad before I went to the drama school, and I wanted to be a theater studies major, but they had decided, oh, you’re not coming to Yale and just park yourself in acting classes and getting through. 

No, no, no. So they devised these units. You had to decide what you were interested in. And for me, I loved classics so I had one unit in that and I liked politics. I had another one with political theater and then politics of an era.

But you had to have foreign language fluency and be able to read dramatic texts in that foreign language. Spanish was mine. And then I also decided to take on a third language, which was French, so I studied that while I was there, so that allows me to wrap my lips and my tongue around the sounds and the words and the phrases and like how they connect in other languages.

But wow, I’m not even sure if I’m answering your question. I think I’m far away from it.  

Mack Hagood: No, no. So there’s the linguistic piece. There’s also the, the cultural piece. 

Robin Miles: Cultural piece. My family is from, my nuclear family is Jamaican, but I also have cousins who’s like, their dad’s from Antigua. And, you know, so we’re, we’re kind of a multiracial, multicultural , and on my mom’s side, Caribbean based family. So I grew up with my great aunties and they all had accents.

I grew up with my grandparents and, you know, sometimes you grow up with a generation that comes from somewhere and they have an accent and you’re a kid and you don’t actually realize it. I didn’t realize it till way later that I’d been living in a house with two people who had strong accents.

But they had literate accents because they were both English professors. 

Mack Hagood: Oh, wow. 

Robin Miles: My grandfather was a professor of Shakespeare and Victorian poetry. Those were his two subjects.

Mack Hagood: That’s your grandfather? Is this the Jamaican side of the family.

Robin Miles: This is the Jamaican side. 

Mack Hagood: This might be a stereotype, but I’ve had friends tell me that Jamaican parents are very demanding about academic excellence and stuff. It’s kind of slotting into that stereotype.

Robin Miles: Mm-hmm. Oh, we have a couple of stereotypes that always make me chuckle. The other one is like, Jamaican folks are always employed because we’ll take two, three, four jobs. And friends of mine used to laugh. Because when I was at Yale in school, I had no money. I was on financial aid, and I had to, I worked in a sweet shop, I worked in the office running like a little theater. I was a Yale bartender, so I was being shopped out to different places to bartend, and a couple of my friends would be like, “How many jobs you got?”

“You got, what, you got three jobs? What’s the matter with you? You lazy?”

You know, that’s, that’s the stereotype and of course the joke. But that’s what I had to do to make it through school. Exhausted myself, but somehow made it through.

Mack Hagood: Oh, well, this is, I mean, so this is incredible. I mean, you were, you were bringing a lot to the table in terms of interpreting this particular text.

Robin Miles: Yeah, it was a really good fit. And fit is, I do think, a lot of it as well. I’m really lucky I fit this industry really well. And the only reason why I found myself here is because I got out of Yale drama school. I was booking work. I was going out doing a thing, you know, a regional theater, coming back.

I was doing, like short spots on, on soap operas before that whole thing folded. I was doing the thing you do. And then I got a Broadway show, you know, like that’s what actors do. But I always had community service. My parents always had a community service thing that they did.

Mack Hagood: Mm hmm. 

Robin Miles: And so it felt weird to me to be in New York City. And I’m really privileged.

Right? I got to grow up in the suburbs in a house. I got to go to college. And not just any college. I got to go to Yale. And then back there again. Now, truth be told, I got debts up the wazoo still. Cause, you know, I didn’t have any money, so I had to take on full loans. But, I really have lived an amazing, in my opinion, just amazingly privileged life.

And I’m incredibly grateful for it every single moment of my life. I wanted community service. And one day I was coming out of a hair salon and across the street was the lighthouse for the blind building.

And I saw that and I went, ding! I could maybe read for the blind. That could be my new community service. So I called, and they said, Well, you know, mostly what we do is, you know, we read their mail to them and stuff like that. But probably what you should do is call the American Foundation for the Blind. And I did. 

Mack Hagood: Yep. 

Robin Miles: They liked my voice on the phone. They said, “Come on in and audition.” I came in and auditioned. I’d never done this before. I’d never listened to an audiobook. And I was rejected by the client, which was the National Library Service, NLS, down in Washington, at the time. They really wanted you not to interpret anything.

They just wanted you to read with incredibly crisp, clear diction, that part I had. But they didn’t want not too much acting. And, truth be told, there are a lot of people who are visually impaired or blind or, Unable to maybe, due to Parkinson’s, hold a book steady, you know, who might be clients at a library.

And they have these readers that allow them to listen, at increased speeds, sped up. So, speed reading with the eyes, speed reading with the ears. And so, all that acting, they felt, kind of got in the way. It was when I made it into the commercial world that the acting chops really became valuable. And I got an earphone. My first earphone award came from, I think it was my second book, for recorded books. and my colleague and friend, Suzanne Torin, who is an amazing narrator, was the person who said, I think these people need to hear you. And she made a call and made it possible. 

Mack Hagood: So, she was your entryway into, into the, the industry?

Robin Miles: Yes. She was the phone call maker and the advocate for me. and as our lives have gone on, she’s directed me on books. I’ve directed her on books. We have this wonderful, we should just own a publishing company together because we do all that stuff. She’s also remarkable. And then she speaks French fluently and she speaks Polish fluently.

I mean, she’s just, yeah, jaw-dropping.  

Mack Hagood: So since you brought it up, maybe we can eventually go back to talking about technique a little bit more. But could we talk about the roles in audiobook production, like you mentioned a director, so some people might be surprised to hear that there is a director in audiobook production.

So what are the different roles? What’s the process of recording an audiobook from start to finish?

Robin Miles: Wow, this is lifting up the hood of a car and going, let me show you how the engine works.

Mack Hagood: Yes, I want to know. 

Robin Miles: So in terms of process, a book arrives from a publisher. Sometimes it’s still in manuscript state and there may be a final edit. And the narrator is chosen, either approached, you know, the production team will have an idea of who they want to voice it, or they might put it out there for different agents or different producers to do the casting.

But, they’ll listen to the samples, if that’s the way they’re going and there are multiple people, they’ll choose one, make the offer.

Mack Hagood: Just to clarify when you say the production team like are these people from the print publisher?

Robin Miles: Well, that depends. See, the way audiobooks get made, you might have someplace like Hachette or Harper or Simon and Schuster that are big, well known print publishers. And within that big house, there is an audiobook division. And so, what used to happen back in the day when I was young, it used to be that a book would do a bit of business.

And, get good reviews, and they’ll say, okay, let’s now make it into an audiobook. Flash forward to the present. It’s now, a book is coming up through the pipeline to be released. We want to release it in all formats simultaneously. So you’ll be working on the audiobook while they’re still, you know, finalizing the release of the hardcover or, you know, or whatever.

The print version, the ebook version, all of that. And so that team is typically the team at the audiobook division that I’ll be dealing with. Depending on your level of experience, and also the sort of the values of the publishing company. They’ll either assign a director, director-engineer pair to work on the book.

I’ll come in and I’ll have a director who I’ve probably talked to once or twice about, pronunciations and character voices and size of things. I’ll go in like with Nora Jemison’s book. I love that team.

Mack Hagood: Are you talking about, The City We Became 

Robin Miles: The City We Became and the second book that’s, actually up for an Audi this year is, The City We Became, the second one. Oh my goodness, 

Mack Hagood: Oh, right. Yeah, the other one is similar. 

Robin Miles: Yeah, now I’m forgetting which one is which. I have to go back and take a look because I forget which one’s which. Elise Green and Michelle Figueroa and I are a team.

So I go in, and everybody’s got their ear listening to it. And everybody has their knowledge pockets. So, Michelle will bring in something that she knows from her neighborhood or her culture or her background. And Elise will bring in something that she knows. And she’s a really good director. Like, I get actual directions from Elise.

I love that, and I welcome it. There are a lot of, now, audiobook narrators who don’t really want to be directed. But if I can give that, “You be my outside ears job” to somebody else, I feel I can kind of just stay in the pocket, come out of it less. Redo Things. That series also, those two books, also have a lot of post production on them.

It’s a, not only a performance, it’s been, there’s sound effects, it’s like audiobooks at another level. And it’s on steroids, cause it really is huge, huge, wonderful characters, performances. A wonderful villain who allows me to use every sound of my voice, you know, because she’s literally otherworldly.

Mack Hagood: Yeah. 

Robin Miles: And, and even though they’re big and otherworldly, you still have to ground it. And, remember making the invisible visible. What, what, what’s driving her? 

what is she, what is she feeling? What is she experiencing? What does she want? Who is she talking to and what is she trying to get what she wants?

You still have to ground it and all that stuff. Even if you make the colors, you dial up from pastel, which you might use in a more everyday novel. A mainstream novel, you have your colors are more in the pastel range, or the majority of them will be. And then with The City We Became, you’re just gonna dial that into Technicolor.

Mack Hagood: I haven’t gotten to that one. I did listen to N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy, which you did and it’s kind of interesting because you know if we were compared to say Midnight Robber 

Robin Miles: Mm-hm. 

Mack Hagood: You kind of had this world of accents, but all within the Caribbean and then but with something like Broken Earth it’s like this whole planet And you’ve got… 

Robin Miles: Everywhere! 

Mack Hagood: Yeah. You’ve got people of different races, different cultures, you know, in some, you know, I guess in a lot of books, because you do a lot of science fiction, speculative fiction, you’ve got people of different planets, different species, people who aren’t people, people who are other, you know, alien species.

How do you, how do you approach voicing such a diverse cast of characters as a narrator?

Robin Miles: I am so glad that you asked that, because to me that is so much fun. It really allows me to be as creative as I can be. When I have a fantasy world or a sci-fi world, you know, planets that don’t exist, I have two ways of going about it, particularly with fantasy. If I have a group of people, you know, oftentimes those books have a map, like a fantasy book will have a map of this fantasy landscape.

And so you’ll see the terrain and you’ll see these people live off the coast on this big island or these people live up in the mountains. I’ll choose one or two accents that would be considered, you know, easily identifiable. And I’ll either assign it to that, that group regionally. Or, if it’s fantasy and I don’t want to pull too much from one accent, I’ll do what I call a mashup.

So, I’ll take for instance, I’ll take the sounds of German, and then what I will do is I will add the rhythm pattern of Nigeria. Because this is a race of people who are dominant in their area, culturally dominant, or militarily dominant. And so I’ll take two cultures that might have those characteristics or have operated that way in our world.

And I’ll just go mash. 

Mack Hagood: You really are playing jazz 

Robin Miles: I love it. I totally love that. So I’ve done that with a couple of things where I’ll just take, like, that was one of my ones that I remember is taking German sounds and then mashing it up with the rhythm of Nigerian speech. But the other thing is, I had friends at the drama school who were from Norway.

There’s a pipeline of Norwegian theater artists, and Scandinavian really, it’s not just Norway, who had come to Yale Drama School, which we’re sup posed to call now the David Geffen School of Drama 

Mack Hagood: Right? Yeah. 

Robin Miles: Now got a new name. and so I was around them a lot. And, then when I was in New York City, in the Uta Hagen class, I had two friends, one Swedish, one Norwegian who were in class with me.

One of which I’m still friends with. I still keep in touch with Christian. And, So I got to be around a lot of people who were from Norway, and Swedish. And so, I started to be able to really hear their speech and sometimes, like I’ll tinge it with a little bit more German, you know, or just so that it’s not so strictly one thing in a fantasy, in a fantasy novel.

Or sometimes it’s like, oh, she’s just so straight up, this thing or the other. I always feel like, also, I want to add sounds from different cultures that generally don’t get represented. 

Because people just don’t think about it.

Mack Hagood: Oh, wow. 

Robin Miles: Yeah, I’ll try and add it. There’s a Hawaiian character. I just need flavors. Just need flavors. But just so that I’m creating that ideal Star Trek world. You know, when Star Trek hit, it was like they had this spaceship with people from all these different countries that are often at war or totally marginalized. 

Mack Hagood: Yeah. 

Robin Miles: And they’re all working together to do something greater than themselves, which is, that’s what theater does.

The whole is greater than the parts. And other parts are varied. 

Mack Hagood: Yeah, 

Robin Miles: So, that’s my little, my way of sort of bringing, casting the world so that it reflects the world that we see now in the world that we 

Mack Hagood: I mean, you’re talking about the politics of representation in voice there. Right.

Robin Miles: Absolutely.

Mack Hagood: And I mean I guess I can see two different, like a certain tension there, right?

Robin Miles: Hmm.

Mack Hagood: Especially early history is really rife with minstrelsy and the sort of the misrepresentation of black voices. Even as recently as 2020, there was this case where the hip-hop scholar, Regina Bradley, there was a white voice actor who read an essay of hers. I don’t know if you heard about this, but I honestly don’t know what this guy thought he was doing, but it was like a really bizarre and really offensive dialect. It just sounded outrageous. 

Robin Miles: Mm. 

Mack Hagood: Those things are really clearly way beyond the boundaries of ethical representation. Right? But on the other hand, I could see another kind of danger. Which is to say, we sort of vote vocal segregation like people are only allowed to voice people who are exactly like them. 

And which could lead to typecasting, right? So I guess I’m wondering what you think about that? Have you ever felt like you’re being typecast as a woman of color? Like I’m just curious about that.

Robin Miles: This is, wow. You have basically…that’s the story of my life. I remember being a young actor, and I was a musical theater actor, so I was a singer, when Les Mis was coming here and casting, and they would not see me. A young actor of color to play a street urchin child of a prostitute, and there’s no father in sight.

So, frankly, either one of those roles could have been anybody, really. They absolutely would not allow me to audition. Now, poetic justice. What is this, 30 years later? I saw the final production before it closed about, I don’t know, maybe 8 years ago. And there was a black actress playing that role. But I couldn’t get anywhere near it. And I’m a vocal person. 

Mack Hagood: Yeah.  

Robin Miles: I am. I remember going into an audition once. Now, I had an agent. So I’m not talking about, like, nobody, unrepresented actor that people don’t know whether, you know, you don’t have anybody to vouch for you. I literally was in Three of Us studios, big studio where they audition. And I was auditioning for one thing and I saw, ooh, Craig Lucas play.

And I like Craig Lucas’ writing. So I went across to the people running that audition and I said, I’d really like to audition for this blah blah blah role because I know the play. I said, I’m, I’m at, J. Michael Bloom. Philip Carlson’s my agent. And we’re talking about a powerful agent. This is the agent who tapped Paul Giamatti and I at the same time at the end of our year. He took the two of us. That’s it.

Mack Hagood: Giamatti being another Yale grad. 

Robin Miles: Yeah, we were in the same class. With Lance Reddick, actually, the three of us. God rest his soul. He passed away recently. So sad. So I said, I can call my agent and have them submit me. Like, I just told you that I have a very powerful agent, you know, a well known agent. She looked at me with terror in her eyes, like I was from the NAACP race police and she was going to get, you know, written up.

This was 30 years ago. They were not open. This is a person in this play, like, who has a husband, but there’s no family. There’s no children. It’s not like it’s now going to mean we have to cast all these people to be racially in line. It was easy. It was easy. We do this all the time because now we’re in Shonda-land.

We’re in Shonda Rhimes land. And everybody wants a piece of that success that Shonda has. And so, including people of color and lots of cultures is part of what she does. And other people are doing it now, but 30 years ago? No. How does that relate to audiobooks? I tell my students all the time, be careful what you ask for.

You might get it. If you want to segregate an industry and then only be able to play what your DNA test says you are? Really? Is that really what you want? Think about that. So, but there is something, and, and it’s because we’re a culture. That is so horrible at balance. 

Mack Hagood: Yeah. 

Robin Miles: American culture has to be all the way over here, or all the way to the other extreme.

And we keep going, we keep literally throwing our weight all the way, missing the mark. Is that called Hamartia in Greek? Missing the mark? And then all the way over to the other side, completely missing the whole middle ground that’s balance. We are a culture, and I use this metaphor, it’s like, we have this basket of shoes, and the shoes are the stories of all the cultures that are in our culture.

We’re a multicultural place, right? We’ve got all these different people from different places. But we also have a lot of groups that get marginalized, whose stories aren’t wanted and weren’t told for many years. And I mean women. I mean the queer community. I mean the Native American community, the Hispanic community, the Black community.

The disabled community. There’s, there’s so many people that have been othered and pushed to the fringes and it’s like, we don’t want your voices. And they’re also told they can’t be American. That’s a big question. Like, who can be American? Who can play the role of just an American that’s just been written?

It’s beginning to change now, but we’re also looking like we’re going to slide back. So there’s this bucket, right, this basket of shoes, and white actors and white culture are taking out the shoes that belong to all these other cultures and not even letting people who are of those cultures wear their own shoes, which is where you get yellow face and black face and brown face.

Or erasure, taking a role that is maybe based on somebody who was, who was black or Hispanic, and then just rewriting it and making them white. 

Mack Hagood: Yeah. 

Robin Miles: And the danger of that is that you have a lot of white supremacists in this country who will tell you how black people and Hispanic people have never contributed anything to this country.

Mack Hagood: hmm, 

Robin Miles: Because their contributions aren’t included in the history books. And you know, when entertainment takes their story and makes it into something else, half the time they’re completely erased off the planet, so you don’t even know that, you know, they came up with this invention or that invention, or were prominent in this, that, or the other.

And so you’ve got a whole bunch of people who really believe it because they don’t even know. 

Mack Hagood: Right. 

Robin Miles: It’s just not in the history books. So my position is We are in a healing beat. I’m trying to find this middle ground, right? I’m trying to enter this middle ground. But the first thing that has to happen is you have to give those people their shoes back.

You have to give all those groups their own shoes, their own stories back to write, to generate from a place of authenticity. And then you have to allow those actors that know that experience to portray them. And once That’s been reclaimed, and we’ve been allowed to be who we are, and also be American. We will have the grace, I do strongly believe, to put the shoes in the basket and say, Other people can pick from them when I’m allowed to pick from the basket, too.

Mack Hagood: Yeah. 

Robin Miles: Do you see what I mean? But we keep going back and forth between these two poles. And the truth is, we have to figure out a way to achieve middle ground. We do. We have to. Or else we’re just going to keep experiencing this over and over again. And, and, you know, I belong to a university, and it’s like any other place that wants to have, more inclusion and understanding between groups that are very different.

You know, I’d go to a DEI meeting, and then I would start to hear or experience the ire that, , that, white people as opposed to non white people have about this process of bringing other people in. And we had some, some experiences where agents right now realize they don’t have people of color in their roster.

Like a whole lot of people of color and, and the queer community as well. And so they’re trying to, fill in those gaps. And so There’s this fear that, oh my God, agents want people of color. They don’t want white people anymore. And I raised my hand and I just went, I just stood up and I said, Wait ten minutes.

Mack Hagood: Right. 

Robin Miles: I’ve been on this planet long enough to know if you wait ten minutes, the pendul is going to swing back at you. It always does because we can’t seem to get in balance. We just, and then it’ll go back and then we’re not wanted anymore. When I was out there, I had agents who were interested and say, but we have, we have one black actress, or we have two that are, you know, like, we have a dark skinned person and a light skinned actress.

We, they couldn’t afford to have any more 

Mack Hagood: Yeah. 

Robin Miles: because there wasn’t enough to employ all the people in their own house. So they literally have their own two actresses competing against each other for a job.

And with no other job behind 

Mack Hagood: wanting enough jobs. 

Robin Miles: Right. So that’s what I, I grew up with and came out of. , and, and yeah, it’s changed so much so that I’m like, okay, I’m ready for my closeup Mr.

DeMille. All right. And you know, I’m going to go, I’m, you know, decided I’m going to go back , seek an agent and, and actually let them do my negotiations. Cause I’ve been doing it as a business person on my own for a long time.

So, the politics of it, I know that was the 

Mack Hagood: Yeah. 

Robin Miles: question. 

Mack Hagood: Yeah, no. 

Robin Miles: We have to, we have to first let marginalized people have their shoes back. Let them write their stories, perform their stories. , before we expect them to be generous enough to put their shoes back in the basket they’ve never been able to draw from and that their stories have been taken to.

Mack Hagood: Right. 

Robin Miles: Let them have them, you know, and, and I don’t feel the same way, equally because I don’t think it’s an equal situation when it comes to marginalized people and people of color, ethnic minorities especially, , but I, I really do include all marginalized people and I didn’t mention, , Jews as a group, but they have gone through this too.

And now it’s happening again with the politics in the world. So, if you’re from a minority group, and like African Americans are about 12 percent of the population, Asians are less than that, Native Americans are less than that. if you’re from a marginalized group, you are surrounded by the dominant culture.

It’s everywhere, and you better know how it works if you want to survive. If you want to get and hold a job, if you want to make it through school, if you want, need, you have to negotiate uncomfortable situations in which you are always the minority. You may not have an ally or an advocate. You have to learn how, how do they work?

What’s important to them? How do 


Mack Hagood: What do they sound like? 

Robin Miles: What do they sound like? How do I fold into it so that I don’t stick out? You have to learn all of that. Or you just grew up in it and you don’t know any other way. That happens a 

Mack Hagood: So , If I’m 

Robin Miles: my playing, my, like, I get hired a lot to play Irish Americans and Jewish Americans.

Mack Hagood:  h. 

Robin Miles: A lot. Just did, , a couple summers ago, Kea Cawthron, the playwright, wrote a book, her first or second novel, I think, as a playwright, The Moon and the Mars, about a little girl whose dad is black and her mom’s Irish, and both parents die, I think, of smallpox or a disease. So it’s her grannies who raise her, and it’s New York, I think it’s during the Civil War, or is it after?

After. Draft rights. Eh, yeah, yeah, draft rights. So she’s running between those two neighborhoods, being cared for by those two women. And so depending on the family she’s with, they’re either Irish or they’re African American. lots of actual stories that, , just did Dennis Lane’s Small Mercies, which is again the tension between the black community and the Irish community in Boston.

and there’s a couple of other ones too, about black people who have had to, , who have been passing. And they’ve had to disappear within a community. So, typically, you’re going to find people who have, who have that pressure to blend in, to disappear. Of course they’re going to be able to play characters in the dominant 

Mack Hagood:  h. 

Robin Miles: We’re inundated with it. We’re saturated by it, like the dominant culture is. We’ve watched Cheers, right? We’ve watched The Sopranos. , the latest one being The Bear, you know, about, the Italian family in Philadelphia with the restaurant. We’ve, we’ve been adjacent to that, not to mention, we, we raise your children and we clean your houses.

We are adjacent to your culture or part of it constantly. So it’s much easier for a black actor or a Hispanic actor or an Asian actor to play a character outside of their race, if it’s a dominant culture. Then it would be for a white actor who might not have access to any of those things to play a black character or an Asian character.

I mean, it’s just the numbers and the reality of our survival.

Mack Hagood: And then the reality of available roles it wouldn’t really make a lot of sense to give a job to that white actor anyway

Robin Miles: So,

Mack Hagood: , there is you know

Robin Miles: That’s more of the politics. 

Mack Hagood: Just one little maybe, additional wrinkle to that is that there can be a difference between having an ear for a culture and, and, and having a pretty accurate knowledge of what that culture sounds like, or that what that group sounds like, but actually having the skill, the tools to reproduce that, right?

Like, like, I can hear some pretty amazing jazz solos in my head. I can imagine them actually, but my execution as a musician is maybe not that great. And, and one thing that I’ve, that I’ve, just to give you an

for example, nothing takes me out of a book faster. than a male narrator who can’t do women’s voices or a female narrator who can’t do men’s voices.

And we, we get on with, with the men, we, they quite often will do this kind of breathy, high pitched thing to signify a woman, or women will do this sort of low, dorky, Barney

Rubble sounding thing to signify men. And like, what I love about your men is that Often you don’t even alter pitch and, and, and there’s just a kind of swag you embody. 

Robin Miles: That’s it! You know it! You heard 

Mack Hagood: like you’re in touch with the masculinity of the character instead of doing some kind of vocal drag show. Does, I don’t know, does that resonate for you? Like how? Hmm. 

Robin Miles: I’ve ever heard that put better, to be very honest. It’s, it’s not. It’s not being male. It’s using the different aspects of masculinity. That’s what it is. And like, I start with a couple of different soups based on that. Like, my beef broth is like toxic masculinity. The kind of guy who can’t show any emotion.

The kind of guy that’s like, you know, just cut off. Yeah. Doesn’t let anything in, doesn’t let anything out. Very protective. 

Mack Hagood: hmm. 

Robin Miles: And I think it helps, I have played a man on stage a couple times. I was playing Jenny in ThreePenny Opera. But she doesn’t come to like the third act.

And so, the first two acts, you know, they want to save money on hiring actors. I was one of Mackie’s gang. So I went quickly, got my dad’s fedora, that I keep stuff like that, I have my grandfather’s sweater, I got my dad’s fedora, and I actually wore it on stage. And I put all my hair up underneath it, and I drew on a little mustache, the way my dad used to wear his mustache.

And my sister and my mom came to the show, they had no idea that that gang member was me. 

Mack Hagood: Whoa. Yeah. 

Robin Miles: And then, but it’s, you know, and I put a sock in my pants, honestly, because think about that. Like, male sexuality is externalized. Female sexuality is internalized. So it’s hidden. It’s got this little mysterious quality to it.

If I’m all a flutter and hot to trot for you, , you’re not going to see it because I have a bulge in my pants. It’s, I’m not going to be given 

Mack Hagood: Yeah. 

Robin Miles: Whereas if I’m a guy? I would, I might be. And secondly, if somebody wants to really hurt me and cripple me, all they have to do is kick me in the balls and I’m going down.

And I’m literally one leg length away from everybody around me who could do that. The first time I thought about that, I went, shoot, I want to keep my distance too. 

Mack Hagood: Yeah. 

Robin Miles: You know, a certain distance between people. So thinking about the physical reality of maleness and also thinking about Masculinity, the qualities of masculinity.

We all have them to a certain extent, and they blend with femininity to whatever, whatever blend you need. , that’s what I think about. and then I might make a little, you know, vocal change. A couple of guys that I know when they talk , their vowels are always really long. Like all this air is going through their vowels, and so, like, one of my guys will have, like, a vowel thing that they do when they talk.

Ah, it’s just, they hang in their vowels. So that, to me, was also something I was like, oh, mark that, I could use that. You know, I know a few

people who are like that.

Mack Hagood: That’s so interesting. Is that, , is that a vocal expression or is it a physiological thing? ’cause they are bigger. I don’t know about the larynx, or…

Robin Miles: I don’t know, honestly. I heard it, and when I tried to embody it, it made certain, I got feelings that were different from my feminine feelings, and I was like, okay, check, mark that off.

Mack Hagood: And that’s right. And, and it’s working for the listener because it’s working for you. It’s feeling right in your body and, somehow that comes across to me as the listener.

Robin Miles: Yeah. It’s interesting too because I mentioned tears and crying before. I have this videotape of my Uncle Charlie being interviewed. , and it’s like a home tape. It was somebody who wanted to interview a Tuskegee Airman about You know, about being in the Corps and then coming back stateside. And in the course of this interview that I watched, my Uncle Charlie was talking about coming back and then being denied pilot’s jobs.

These guys were fighter pilots, and they couldn’t get a job with any airline.

Because they were black. I mean, solely. And, and also the experience he had, very specifically, he was talking about. Hurts and slights that he endured. , that was one. And then he talked about during the war, , coming back stateside, there were German officer POWs that were held in detention on American soil, , as well as in other places.

But you had these detained German officers that were permitted to use the officers club for recreation, and the black officers were not. And in time of war, if you disobey a direct order, that is, I mean, that’s treason 

Mack Hagood: Right. 

Robin Miles: to disobey a direct order. And so what they would do is the officers, the lieutenants, the captains, etc.

My uncle was a lieutenant colonel. Would go to the door of the officers club two by two. They’d go one night and they would be told they could not enter and they had to go away. And then those two guys couldn’t come back again. They couldn’t. And then they sent another two. But as he was recounting that, the pain of literally risking your life for your country, and being a patriot and a military officer and being denied like that, he began to tear up and cry.

And so, and this is a big, barrel chested , masculine man. And so I was able to see how qualities and experiences filter through that. I try to keep my eye open for dualities, because that’s what really makes humans interesting, is the thing that you are crossed with a thing that people don’t expect, or something that contradicts it in some wonderful or wacky or ironic or sad way.

Mack Hagood: You seem to be, like, radically in touch with the world around you, and with what other people are doing. What’s coming across is like that’s central to your craft.

Robin Miles: It is, what do you, what does an empath do with all that empathy? , I feel like I landed in just the right place. and again, this was like, this was plan B. This wasn’t even plan B, this was like plan C. It was my community service that then turned into something greater. And I do think, you know, I’ve played slaves on everyone, everywhere.

I’ve played slaves in every, like, state, of, of the Union. I’ve played slaves on different planets. and it’s, you know, after a while I was sort of like I had to, to tell my publishers. I had to turn down a couple things. I was like, because filtering that experience is very difficult. So I can only take on a nber of them a year.

Honestly. But it’s the same way that that experience, I feel like I can enter without a lot of effort. Because it’s, now I know it so well, and I’ve read a lot of material and seen a lot. But I also feel that sometimes the marginalization and that feeling of being on the edge and being not fully accepted, has a lot of similarities from marginalized group to marginalized group.

And so I do think, I tell my students, my actors, if you’re going to climb into an experience that you’re not fully familiar with, you have to find a window of some sort of familiarity that you can identify with and then enlarge it. And crawl into it and allow more of the experiences to bleed out from the common one that you 

Mack Hagood: Hmm. 

Robin Miles: If you don’t have a common one, you might want to rethink maybe doing it.

Mack Hagood: Well, it’s been such a pleasure to talk to you. I’ve enjoyed this so much. Thanks for doing this.

Robin Miles: Likewise. It was my pleasure to be here. I always figure I don’t try and push anybody who hates audiobooks to listen to audiobooks. Although I will tell them you hate them for the wrong reason, you need a really good narrator. You had the wrong first experience!

But the fact that I can meet people who love audiobooks and who really appreciate my work, that is, that tells me that I haven’t used my time and all that effort that I put in, in vain. It is. It’s helpful. It’s useful. It’s enjoyable. So thank you. You, you validate all that I do and it’s really, it’s really important to know you’re not like talking into the void.

Mack Hagood: Yeah. Well, my pleasure.

[Brass band slowly fades in]

And that’s it for this episode of Phantom Power. Huge thanks to Robin Miles for being on the show today’s show was edited by Nisso Sacha. Our web person and transcript creator is Katelyn Phan. Music today was by Big Fun Brass Band, who I just recorded on my iPhone while I was dancing in the streets of New Orleans.

Learn more about the show at We’d love it. If you’d rate and review us on Apple podcasts or your podcast platform of choice, and we’ll see you in a couple of weeks.