Eric Jason Martin is not only an audiobook narrator but a director, producer, podcaster, comedian, audio master and now a first-time author. He is an innovator in his field and continuing to expand past the bounds in recording and production. With over 300 audiobooks under his belt, he has narrated everything from Kurt Vonnegut to books on the mafia. His debut novel New Arcadia: Stage One released on February 16, 2021, and takes us on a 90s nostalgia trip as the unlikely heroes try and save the real and virtual world. But that’s not where the story ends! On March 2, 2021 New Arcadia: Stage One is getting the audiobook treatment with multiple castmembers including Eric Jason Martin, John DiMaggio, Matthew Mercer, Sam Riegel, Dave Fennoy and Erika Ishii.

I recently had the chance to sit down and chat with him about New Arcadia: Stage One, how he got into audiobook narrating, work-life in quarantine and our love for 90s nostalgia.

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Julia Roth: Let’s kick this off. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Eric Jason Martin: Sure well, I had a love of the spoken words since I was a little kid. One of my first memories were these Disney records and I would have Ludwig Von Drake recordings and I learned how to parrot them back and learn these routines. So I always had a love of the spoken word and comedy. I started getting into podcasting in 2005 and quickly from there I started getting into live storytelling and comedy. Then in 2012, I had two popular podcasts, one about video games and then one called This American Wife which poked fun at the public radio format. In 2012 I started doing audiobooks and I had very early success with one of them.

I started doing them on a site called ACX which was Audible‘s creation exchange. It’s where you can just audition for stuff. Once I did, I got found by a publisher, wound up narrating a book called Detroit: An American Autopsy which wound up on best of the year lists and got awards including the Ear Phones Award. So from there, I was off to the races and very quickly I was trying to innovate in the audiobook space as audio dramas were beginning to come back. I was taking all the stuff I learned from podcasting, the energy from improv comedy, live storytelling and mashed them up in new and exciting ways.

The big projects that came to us early was an audio documentary with Tenacious D for Jack Black and Kyle Gass. We did a day in the life of their music festival. From there we did a show called Hoot Gibson Vegas Cowboy with Andy Daly, Weird Al Yankovic and Rachel Bloom. In audiobooks, we worked with Audible to create an audio movie for a 70s trucker movie that never existed. It was an audiobook novelization of a movie that was never real called Stinker Let’s Loose! and John Hamm stared in that and we did a live show in San Fransico and it was so much fun we wound up doing an 80s version called Passable in Pink with Gillian Jacobs, Adam Scott and Bob Odenkirk with an original soundtrack featuring some original 80s artists.

Then Heads Will Roll was another project we did and the first series from Broadway Video from Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show. This was a series that was created by and starring Kate McKinnon and her sister Emily Lynne about an evil queen and her raven minion in a fantasy kingdom. All of those, plus narrating consistently and a day job working at Universal Studios where I was producing live entertainment and was a casting director, were slowly working up into creating an entertainment company and eventually authoring my first book.

JR: So that took you from podcasts to narrating to directing and producing to writing. What has been your favorite project to work on and your favorite people to work with?

EJM: In general I love working with people who are nice, who are cool, who like working with other people, who play well with others and who are incredibly talented. It creates a great environment and it forces you to up your game. Whenever possible, when I am creating a project, I always think of that in mind. Who do I want to work with or if I am coming onto a project I am always evaluating if this is going to be a good time, will I enjoy doing this, are these going to be good people and will I learn from them? I’d say that has been the case on every project, but one of my particular favorites was Heads Will Roll, because the way it was organized I would leave LA and fly out to New York and we would do it in the dark weeks when Saturday Night Live wasn’t going.

Kate McKinnon was the queen and her sister Emily was the raven minion and we just had this incredible precession of stars coming in to play. There was a wonderful script but we could improvise so we created an environment where people could just play and enjoy and have a great time and we created something really cool as a result. From there I got to work with comedy legends like Carol Kane, Andrea Martin, Peter Dinklage and Meryl Streep. Getting to direct Meryl Streep was a one-of-a-kind experience. It was a very fun project and you almost never knew what was going to happen when you came in.

Eric Jason Martin at the Audie Awards.

Eric Jason Martin at the Audie Awards.

JR: That sounds so exciting and you get to experience so many different people’s styles and understand their processes. What was the inspiration for you to write your own novel and make that jump from narrating someone else’s work to writing your own?

EJM: It was something I always wanted to do, not every audiobook narrator does, but it was something I wanted early on but I was always scared to. It’s hard to sit down and create a world from scratch and it’s an intimidating proposition. In this case, I had a couple of strengths working for me. One was that we had done some development on it. A very early version and a very different version that we were trying to conceive as an Audible original. So we kind of worked out the mechanics of the world even though it took a different direction. The other was if I thought of it as an audiobook first then it became easier because I know how to do that.

I was working from my strengths from there and coming from a place of confidence. In 2020, we had a lot of free time, but I also started to think about this virtual world that I created as a place where people could go for refuge and that we weren’t getting to go to places for real but we could experience them virtually. So I thought about what that might mean and what that might do to people socially and that became a really compelling hook for me to approach the material and it led me to write it very quickly. 

JR: You can definitely see it. I’m about halfway through the book and the very first thing that hit me was that this guy is stuck in his house and can’t go anywhere or this virus is going to kill him. And it hit me, if 2020 was a novel it would be this.

EJM: For sure! We’ve all been there!

JR: You are obviously very busy aside from the Covid restrictions. What was the process of writing like for you? Did you have any daily rituals or was there a writing soundtrack that you listened to?

EJM: I’ll get nerdy here for a second. The main soundtrack that I was listening to was the soundtrack to the 1999 video game Chrono Cross. Beautiful symphonic score. I was also listening to the electronic work of Llyod Cole. Lloyd Cole was the man I approached about writing the theme for the soundtrack for the book and he did. I would write every morning and then I would narrate in the late morning and afternoons. It became a really nice routine. 

JR: So breakfast, write about a world that is ending, talk to a lot of people – well talk a lot to yourself actually. It’s a good process. I wish I would have figured my structure out sooner, but we all get there.

EJM: Of course, it just took awhile.

JR: So you had mentioned that when you were writing New Arcadia: Stage One you were coming from a place where you thought of it as an audiobook first. As you were writing, did you have any idea of who you wanted to voice these characters or who you were modeling them after?

EJM: Yes and the great joy of this project is that everybody I wrote a character for said yes! So you know exactly who I was thinking of when you look at the cast of this because they are all there. 

JR: I think I was beyond excited for the cast. I’m a huge World of Warcraft player and if there was one thing I wished they would do is take the cast and have them narrate their novels, because it would be perfect. I feel like when you are able to really hear the character in the way you would normally hear them or wish to hear them it’s so much more impactful as a story. Not to take anything away from you, but sometimes when you are listening to the same person’s voice for everyone.

EJM: It’s true. There is certainly a place for one narrator recording, I certainly do it all the time. But yeah, whenever possible if you can get or the material calls for it, get that diversity of voices in there because it is just so much more fun. 

JR: Exactly. Now did you guys start recording the audiobook before Covid happened or was this something you guys did completely during quarantine?

EJM: I was going to start writing this book in mid-March, I then got sick with a mystery viral illness which I still don’t know what it was but I have my suspicions, and it took me a couple of months to get better. I started writing this over the summer and then in the fall, we started recording it. So I was finishing this up and casting, which we did very quickly. From the time of my first email to the first performer to the time we finished it, it was a little less than three months, which is very fast. 

JR: That is a quick turnaround! Was it a similar process where everyone recorded their parts from home or did you guys try to do any type of joint recording where they could hear other people?

EJM: The way I like to work whenever possible is to get people together. That wasn’t the case here, but in lieu of that, we could perform all of these as scenes. So I would read with them and read the other parts. If you are just saying line to line in a vacuum, it can be done and there is a way to do those certain types of things, but I feel like it robs a lot of the context and you’re not necessarily responding to what came before. So if you have someone to read lines with you, something to play off of it helps a lot. So, that’s how we did it. Each person I recorded separately and I would be on the session with them and be directing but also reading with them to give them something to play with.

JR: Yeah, it is a lot different to say a statement than to be responding to a statement. There is that feeling like you are actually having a conversation.

EJM: Totally and good actors know how to do that, but when you can help them they can then focus on other things. So why not make it as easy as possible. 

New Arcadia: Stage One book art.

New Arcadia: Stage One book art.

JR: Exactly! Now it’s a book and it’s going to be an audiobook. Do you see this going any further, like a TV series or a film?

EJM: It certainly could. When I started doing this back in 2005, video games were still looked down upon quite a bit but now they are so part of the culture. I think to that there are aspects of this that make a lot of sense in terms of being a very cinematic story so you can absolutely see it appearing that way. I am certainly open to it. There is also a story to finish. This is only stage one and we have a couple of more chapters to go. This is not the last for New Arcadia, this is just the beginning.

JR: I was going to say, it is pretty open-ended that there is going to be more. Do you have an idea on how many more you would like to write or is there an open-ended kind of thing and it’s however long you decide?

EJM: It’s planned as a trilogy and I am open to other stories in this but the main story will take place over the next couple of years and will wrap up. I think there are a lot of series that keep going and going and they do have a defined ending. In this case the material itself, these games that they are based on, they have an end so I want to honor that and have a final stage and a way to finish off this story. Now that’s not to say that other things can’t happen in the world, but I want these characters to have a true arc and I want you to be satisfied with knowing that it is going to end and feel satisfied when it does.

JR: Sometimes there is the feel of things that go on forever and sometimes it gets to a point where you’re like ‘okay we can tie this up now’. So there is quite a bit of 90s nostalgia in the book, which I love as a 90s child. It has become my favorite thing, highlighting all of the 90s references. What is your favorite?

EJM: Well, that’s a great question. There is an iconic song from the 90s that many people have a misunderstanding of how it goes. In this virtual world, a version of that song appears that really leans into the misunderstanding. That’s a song that both takes me back and we play with it in some fun ways especially in the audio. 

JR: I don’t think I’ve hit that part yet but now I’m going to look for it.

EJM: Okay cool it will be in the bar.

JR: Okay I’ll look for it in the bar. I’ll remember that! (Side note. I have reached the bar, found the song and couldn’t stop laughing. I won’t spoil it for you BUT it is perfection.) This book is fantastic, I am about halfway through it, I absolutely love it. Aside from Stage two until forever, what else do you have coming up next? Do you have any other audiobooks that you are narrating or any other projects that you are working on?

EJM: Always. I’ve always got a lot going on. We are in the final stages of creating a new Audible original. It is an incredibly complex work. I don’t think I can say anything more about it but it will be coming out later this year. Let’s see what else can I say? I am narrating a few other game-lit series that we are in the middle of right now that I am enjoying very much. There is going to be more to come but I can’t say anything just yet. 

JR: I love it! Every time I ask this question I get “you know I can’t talk about this”, but you know if you let an answer slip we will just call you Tom Holland! Thank you for chatting with us and we look forward to New Arcadia: Stage One audio adaptation and everything else you have coming up!

EJM: Thank you! I very much appreciate it! This was a lot of fun to do. 

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You can catch Eric Jason Martin on Twitter (@ericjasonmartin), Instagram (@ericjasonmartin) or check out his official website here! Be sure to grab a copy of New Arcadia: Stage One and look out for more of his work coming soon!

 

This interview was originally published on 3/2/21.

 

Julia Roth
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