Toro is the story of a cow who wants to run like a
bull in Pamplona.
Author: Andrew Avner
Narrators: Brad Raider, George Spielvogel, Malili Dib, Yolanda Corrales, Leila Cohen, Andrew Avner
Length: 2 hours and 57 minutes
Publisher: Black Rose Writing
Released: Jun. 26, 2020
Genre: Middle Grade Fiction
ToroA story that evokes beloved films such as Babe and Ratatouille.Alicía Catalina Cortés is a fast and fiery Spanish cow who desperately wants to run with the bulls in Pamplona - but since she’s a cow, tradition forbids her to partake in the fiesta of San Fermín. Through her journey, Alicía learns that to be noble and brave, she must follow her dream and her heart, even if it means defying tradition.Toro is set in the colorful backdrop of Pamplona, Spain during the fiesta of San Fermín and the running of the bulls, famed as one of the most exhilarating, dangerous, and spectacular events around the world.
Andrew Avner graduated with honors from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film and Television. After working in Manhattan with Academy Award-winning producer David Brown, Avner relocated to Los Angeles to develop his own original material. He's currently writing and producing short films for The Walt Disney Company while penning his next novel.
1. Tell us about the process of tuning your book into an audiobook.
The process was an unconventional one that in some ways parallels the protagonist’s story of going against the grain. Prior to securing a publishing deal for Toro, I began production on the audiobook at the urging of some actor friends who also voiced characters in the piece. George Spielvogel was actually the one who persuaded me to do it. To forge ahead on the audiobook without a publishing deal was not only unorthodox, but also a testament to our belief in the project. Everyone involved donated their time and their talent to Toro, which meant I was at the mercy of their schedules. Since I needed to record everything piecemeal with virtually no production budget, I couldn’t book traditional studio time. So, over the course of several months, I assembled talent, engineered, recorded, directed, edited, and produced the full-cast audiobook on my laptop in the kitchen of my apartment in West Hollywood. I also voiced three of the main characters and two peripheral roles whenever I had free time. Everything was accomplished with a GT66 condenser microphone, a pop filter and isolation shield, a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 interface, Sony MDR-7506 headphones, Logic Pro X on a MacBook Pro, and the SPL De-Verb Plus plugin. Other than Brad Raider, who recorded all the narration in a single session with me, the rest of the voice cast stopped by my apartment at random and without much advance notice to record for twenty minutes here or an hour there. I printed and prepared individual manuscript packets for each character with their dialogue highlighted and kept a master copy in a binder for myself, so I was always ready to record any role at any moment. Once I wrapped recording and finished editing everything together with sound effects and music, Jacob Morgan—a professional sound engineer friend and colleague from Disney—oversaw post production. Fortunately, I managed to secure a publishing deal for Toro, and my publisher agreed to release my version of the audiobook.
2. Do you believe certain types of writing translate better into audiobook format?
Absolutely. Just as some types of writing translate better into film format. Both are performance arts. In fact, I conceived Toro as a CG animated film and only years later decided to write the story as a Latinx middle grade novel. There’s always been a performance element inherent to the project, which is why I believe it works so well as an audiobook.
3. Was a possible audiobook recording something you were conscious of while writing?
I definitely wasn’t conscious of an audiobook while writing the manuscript. Though I try to write books somewhat like screenplays and screenplays somewhat like books. Often, I enact dialogue aloud and hear music in my head when writing. And while I wasn’t specifically thinking about an audiobook adaptation at the time, I was certainly conscious of the performance aspect. It’s just a natural part of my writing process.
4. How did you select your narrator and voice cast?
In a way, my friend George Spielvogel selected me. He loved the book and kind of goaded me into making the audiobook. As much as he wanted to help bring the story to life, I also think he wanted to bolster his voice-over demo and add an audiobook to his repertoire. Regardless, George was the catalyst. He’s a brilliant actor who can create countless characters and voices, and Toro was the perfect vehicle for him. Needless to say, George was the first actor I cast. He voiced eleven different roles in the audiobook—from the dramatic to the comedic—a feat only a maestro like George Spielvogel could accomplish. His remarkable range reminds me of the late, great Robin Williams.
Malili Dib is also an actor friend, who happened to be my neighbor when I was considering George’s suggestion to move forward with the audiobook. She’d read an early draft of the manuscript and adored everything about Toro, especially the Latina protagonist. As soon as I ran the audiobook idea by her, Malili wanted to be a part of it, and her excitement was contagious. I thought she was perfect for the lead role of Alicía Catalina Cortés. The tone and inflection of her natural speaking voice sounded like the character to me, and I already knew she was an extraordinary actor—grounded, yet highly emotive. What’s more, Malili’s from Mexico and speaks fluent Spanish, which was ideal, considering Toro is set in Spain and peppered with Spanish words and phrases. It was like all the stars somehow began to align.
Once I decided to independently produce the audiobook, I wanted Brad Raider to play the narrator. I almost heard him reading the book while I was writing it. He’s a natural storyteller with a mellifluous voice. Not only is he a tremendously talented and classically trained actor, but he’s also a meditation instructor whose voice is both calming and rich in timbre. We’ve been friends for a long time, and we’ve worked together a good deal over the years, albeit usually in the film world. Brad’s fantastic on stage and on camera. Prior to Toro, however, our last project was an animated short film. Brad performed voice-over for the lead character, so an audiobook seemed like a logical leap. I called him and asked him if he would do it, and he said yes. Toro was his first audiobook. It was also the first one for me, as well as everyone else involved.
Soon there were only several roles left to cast, a few of which I’d already voiced while writing the book. So, I cast myself. It just kind of made sense. Then Malili introduced me to Leila Cohen and Yolanda Corrales, respectively from Brazil and Spain. They’re both wonderful performers who also grew up speaking Spanish, and they rounded out the cast perfectly.
I wouldn’t be surprised if all the talent involved continues to work in the field and goes on to win Audie Awards or makes it to the Audible Narrator Hall of Fame. I have a feeling audiobook offers will come pouring in for the voice cast of Toroonce their performances are heard. They’re really as good as it gets.
5. How closely did you work with your narrator and voice cast before and during the recording process? Did you give them any pronunciation tips or special insight into the characters?
I worked one-on-one with the narrator and the voice cast, as I engineered the recordings and directed the performances at my apartment. Since everyone recorded separately—and, in many ways, acting is reacting—I often read bits of narration or dialogue off microphone to assist the actors. As for pronunciations, I don’t recall having to help with too much. If anything, I’d consult Malili Dib for Spanish pronunciations. I did, however, provide insight into the characters and worked with the performers before our recording sessions to prepare for their roles. But the preparation time and degree varied from actor to actor and role to role.
Brad Raider, for instance, laid down the narration in essentially one sitting. We broke for dinner, then returned and finished recording. He just read the entire book aloud and nailed it in one night. The only direction I gave him prior to production was to pretend he’s reading to a child. Then, during production, my notes were minor, if any, and basically pertained to pacing—to slow down or speed up delivery at times. Occasionally, I’d recite bits of dialogue before, after, or in between dialogue tags so the timing and intonation sounded natural. In Brad’s case, no character insight was necessary. I simply wanted him to be him, and he was perfect as the omniscient narrator. There’s an old Hollywood adage that ninety percent of directing is casting. The same principle applies to audiobooks, especially when casting someone like Brad Raider.
I broke down the characters for everyone else during our sessions together before we started recording. Since I wrote the book, I had the luxury of knowing how the characters sounded to the author and directed the actors to either match what I heard in my head or convey the same essence in their performances.
Like Brad Raider, I wanted Malili Dib to sound like herself—only a somewhat younger version of herself, so I encouraged her to perform in a slightly higher register. I also wanted her portrayal of Alicía to be evocative of a Disney Princess like Jasmine from Aladdin or Belle from Beauty and the Beast. That was effortless for Malili and easily within her range, but she exceeded my expectations with every subtle nuance of emotion in her voice, balancing both the strong and sensitive sides of Alicía—the vulnerable and the invulnerable. Despite recording only one or two chapters at a time over the course of maybe a month or so, Malili’s performance never wavered. She consistently slipped right back into character as though uninterrupted. What’s also interesting is that while we usually recorded a few takes, I almost always ended up using her first take in the final edit.
Yolanda Corrales played three roles—one young, one old, and one true to her own age. As such, we focused on creating age-appropriate voices for the first two characters, and then she used her natural speaking voice for the third. In addition to being a true performance artist—accomplished in dance, theater, film, and television—Yolanda was born and raised in Spain. Her involvement lent an authenticity to Toro, and I was delighted to have her blessing on the project.
Leila Cohen voiced two roles that required a bit more preparation, particularly for the Doña Madonna character who I wanted to sound like a lynx—or, rather, what I believed a lynx would sound like if miraculously given human vocal cords. For those unfamiliar with the lynx, the bobcat is the smallest of the species. For those unfamiliar with the bobcat, Google it. They’re beautiful and fascinating feline creatures. Anyway, since the lynx has a heightened sense of hearing (the tufts on their ears even act as a sort of hearing aid), I imagined Doña Madonna would speak in a soft voice—almost a smooth and silky whisper—that would be as fluid as her movements. There’s something very alluring and seductive about wild predator cats, which I sought to capture with a lyrical and drawn-out speech pattern. I showed Leila a bunch of photos and videos of lynxes and encouraged her to mimic their body language while performing. The result was amazing, as Leila Cohen was a tour de force. For reasons unexplained, I heavily dwelt upon the animal characteristics for Doña Madonna and Jesús the Iberian pig, and I focused more on the human qualities for the rest of the anthropomorphic talking animals in the audiobook.
George Spielvogel was, of course, the preparation exception and a law unto himself. Since he voiced eleven roles—none of which were performed in his natural speaking voice—we needed to establish and differentiate each one well in advance. This process was incredibly fun. I had ideas in mind for the characters as well as backstories, inspirations, and animal research, which I shared with George. Then he would invent at least five different options or variations for each character. He’s also capable of innumerable dialects and accents. There’s a sort of dichotomy to George as an actor. He studied at both the Meisner Studio and the Strasberg Institute. So, on one hand, he’s well trained and disciplined in his craft. Yet, on the other hand, he’s a master of improvisation who’s extremely mercurial. There’s no question he’s overflowing with raw talent. Sometimes I’d rein him in a bit or nudge him in a certain direction, but mostly I just let him do his thing, marveled at his artistry, and tried not to laugh and ruin the takes.
As for my parts, I was inspired by some iconic roles in films I loved, performed by actors I greatly admired—actors who were, unfortunately, dead or far too expensive to cast in this audiobook. Rather than straight impersonations, I aimed to capture the spirit of those I wished to portray, paying homage to my luminaries while creating original characters. Directing myself was no different from directing anyone else, only it occurred silently in my mind. Essentially, I knew straight away when I nailed a take and recorded until I got what I wanted.
6. Are you an audiobook listener? What about the audiobook format appeals to you?
I’m an avid audiobook listener. Maybe it harkens back to the radio broadcasts of Orson Welles. Not that I was alive for War of the Worlds in 1938, but I’ve always had an affinity for the art form. I listen to audiobooks whenever I’m driving or dining alone at home, the latter on a portable Bluetooth speaker. As a storyteller, the audiobook format broadens my palette with an arsenal of powerful tools such as vocal performance, pacing, music, and sound effects. Music alone can move one to tears. An actor’s timing and delivery can make a line of dialogue or a joke laugh-out-loud funny. Sometimes it’s something as subtle as a pause—the use of silence—that can alter the meaning of a line and elicit a different emotional response. Audiobooks appeal to more senses than the written word, yet still allow audiences to use their imaginations. The medium also grants me more creative control as an artist, making it possible for others to hear what I heard in my head when I’d written the book. In general, I love options. And the audiobook offers a distinct option, a new and unique way to experience the book.
7. Is there a particular part of this story that you feel is more resonating in the audiobook performance than in the book format?
I can think of several. But the first that comes to mind is Chapter Seventeen, The Cowbell. The performances by Malili Dib and George Spielvogel and the narration by Brad Raider, coupled with the music and the pacing creates a truly emotional experience. Every time I hear it, I’m moved. I’ve read the book and listened to the audiobook more than anyone else in the world up to this point. I wrote every word, recorded every performance, edited every take. And for me to tear up when I hear this chapter, that’s just inexplicable. There’s something ineffable and visceral that happens in the audiobook version of this chapter that’s more powerful than the written word alone. Every element is firing on all cylinders.
8. If this title were being made into a TV series or movie, who would you cast to play the primary roles?
If I were to produce an animated feature film, I’d cast everyone from the audiobook to perform voices for the movie. If they were unavailable, in terms of the Hollywood studio system, here’s my dream cast of voice talent for the central roles:
Penélope Cruz as Alicía Catalina Cortés
Antonio Banderas as Diego Del Toro
Javier Bardem as Don Julián Hernández
Ana de Armas as Doña Madonna de Doñana
Lin-Manuel Miranda as Jesús de los Jabalíes
Martin Sheen as Don Murciélago Cortés
Salma Hayek as Condesa Maria Del Toro
Benicio Del Toro as El Miguel
Clint Eastwood as Billy Ray
Billy Bob Thornton as Montie
Woody Harrelson as Junior
Matthew McConaughey as Slim
A film could also be made as a live-action virtual production in the vein of Jon Favreau and Disney’s The Jungle Book (2016) and The Lion King (2019), whereby photorealistic talking animals appear alongside real actors. If this were to be the case, the cowboys—Billy Ray, Montie, Junior, and Slim—would all be filmed in live-action on location and greenscreen stages.
9. What do you say to those who view listening to audiobooks as “cheating” or as inferior to “real reading”?
An audiobook is an art form all its own. It’s neither cheating nor inferior to reading. It’s simply another way to experience a book. One’s not superior to the other, they’re just different. It’s absurd to even compare the two on that level. I believe they complement one another, rather than compete with one another. There’s something I love about reading a book, just as there’s something I love about listening to an audiobook or watching a film adaptation of that book. Each medium tells the same story but allows the story to be experienced in a distinct way with a distinct style, given each medium’s limitations and advantages.
There are also certain situations that call for certain types of content consumption. For example, I can’t read a book while driving a car, yet I can listen to an audiobook. At present, there’s not a Braille edition of Toro. With the audiobook edition, blind children can listen to the story. Would anyone tell a blind child that listening to an audiobook is cheating or inferior to real reading?
As an artist, my job is to entertain as many people as possible and perhaps share some insight or impart some truth. Basically, to create an enriching experience that brings a sense of wonder and joy to audiences. The audiobook paired with the book allows for broader and more inclusive storytelling. In short, I think those who dismiss audiobooks as cheating or as inferior to real reading are of limited mind.
10. What’s next for you?
Currently, I’m focused on the release and promotion of Toro, while outlining my next novel and seeking a publishing deal for my upcoming book series Vampyrates. There’s actually a preview of the audiobook for Vampyrates: The Island of De Spair on my website (https://www.andrewavner.com) featuring return performances by George Spielvogel, Malili Dib, Brad Raider, and me, along with some exciting new international voices. I’m also working on an illustrated Christmas book and a sequel to Toro, which will be set in Texas.
Brad Raider is an actor, filmmaker, and meditation teacher living in Los Angeles. In addition to Toro, he’s voiced video games, cartoons, and industrials. His award-winning feature film, Kensho at the Bedfellow, is streaming free on Amazon Prime: https://amzn.to/345rhXD.
(Don Murciélago Cortés, Jesús de los Jabalíes, Montie, Junior, Slim, Santiago, The Veedor, The Ganadero, Gallito, Zurito, The President of the Bullring)
George Spielvogel, also known as MC Whack, has been performing for audiences since childhood. While still in his early teens, he starred in a touring children’s theatre group and went on to earn degrees from both the Meisner Studio and the Strasberg Institute at New York University. Spielvogel was the creative producer on the hit staged parody Point Break Live. He continues to produce independent content and work as a voice-over actor in Los Angeles.
(Alicía Catalina Cortés)
Born in Puebla, Mexico, Malili Dib was discovered by producer Pedro Torres, who cast her in the popular television series Mujeres Asesinas. She soon went on to land a major recurring role in the Mexican version of Gossip Girl. After graduating with honors from the Stella Adler Studio of Acting in New York City, Dib relocated to Los Angeles where she currently resides. Her film credits include Melancolía, co-starring Alessandra Rosaldo and Plutarco Haza, Your Iron Lady, co-starring Victoria del Rosal and Yul Bürkle, Valentina by up-and-coming director Jorge Xolalpa Jr., and The Restoration by award-winning Peruvian director Alonso Llosa.
(Condesa Maria Del Toro, Doña Madonna de Doñana)
Leila Cohen left Brazil when she was eighteen and bounced around the globe before settling down in Los Angeles. She received a degree in Performance and Visual Arts from Brighton University and went on to train at Central School of Speech in Drama in London and Stella Adler Studio of Acting in New York City. Cohen recently completed a Film and Television Screenwriting Comprehensive at UCLA and co-founded a production company with her sister, aptly named Cohen Sisters Productions.
(Young Alicía, Waitress from the Basque country, Rosalita)
Yolanda Corrales is a Spanish actress based in Los Angeles. Her career began as a professional dancer in the Royal Conservatory of Madrid. Eventually, she traveled to Mexico to work on acclaimed television series such as Juana Inés, José José: El Príncipe de la Canción, and Luis Miguel: The Series. Corrales has also performed in theatre and film and has appeared in more than one hundred commercials around the world.
(Diego Del Toro, Don Julián Hernández, Billy Ray, Municipal Veterinarian, El Miguel)
Plugging you into the audio community since 2016.