Actors Interview: Todd Haberkorn, Amy McFadden, Cristina Panfilio & Nick Podehl of the Feral Series

By Cynthia Leitich Smith

Thank you for narrating the audio editions of the Feral series (Brilliance)(print and e-editions from Candlewick/Walker)! 

Could you tell us a bit about your background? How did you come to doing voice work for audio books?

Todd Haberkorn: I’m glad I made the cut and was able to work on this series!

Well, I started on stage at the age of 10 and worked professionally in that medium as well as in school for years. I transitioned into films and voice over during college where I majored in theatre. After working primarily in voice over in Texas for a handful of years, I transitioned to LA where I continue to do voice over as well as on camera work.

When I’m not behind the mic or on camera, I produce my own content for online audiences. Over the years, I’ve had the immense honor of working with some fantastic artists in a variety of entertainment settings that not only gave me wonderful friendships, but also taught me a great deal about my own craft.

I’ve always been of a mindset that diversifying in one’s profession is one of the keys to longevity in their industry. So, I put an audio book demo together and sought out various contacts I knew in the business and luckily, they didn’t cringe when they heard my demo and threw me in their studios!


Amy McFadden: I was a full-time teacher and part-time actress for a bunch of years, so I’ve always been a storyteller. I love hearing, reading and telling stories. There’s some basic emotional and psychological need that gets met when we’re involved in any narrative. I’m an addict.

When I decided to “retire” from teaching to act full-time, I decided that narration was the area I most wanted to work.

Some veteran narrators I knew from other acting jobs put in a good word for me at Brilliance, I auditioned, and (yay!) they hired me to narrate.

Cristina Panfilio: I got really lucky… I had been looking for work that allows me to still be an artist when I’m not acting and I happen to have a friend who has been a narrator for years and years. He got me hooked-up with Brilliance a few years ago, and I absolutely love it.

Nick Podehl: I graduated from Grand Valley State University with a Communications Major and Theatre Minor. I have been in stage productions since high school, but my love of acting out stories goes all the way back to epic LEGO tales with my brother as little kids.

My mom and grandparents are avid audio book listeners (since the time of tapes!) and they encouraged me to try. So I put together a demo and sent it in, and it’s been almost six years of amazing characters and awesome stories.

What do you love about it?

Todd Haberkorn: I love being able to add to the recipe of the literary journey crafted by the author. Obviously, their words are paramount, but I get a little, tiny bit of the landscape where I can come in and bring a different life to the text. I enjoy all the different worlds I get to explore with the novels I’ve worked on.


Amy McFadden: I love that I get to tell people stories who may not have time to read them. I hope that people can enjoy, escape, engage-whatever they want from a book.

Cristina Panfilio: I love that I still get to be an actor when I’m in the booth, but in a way that is extraordinarily different from being on the stage. I love the challenges and rewards of putting together a story in that way.

Nick Podehl: Aside from the fact that I get to read books for a living?

I love being able to tell a great story. Being able to give life and voice to so many different characters. I see pieces of myself in so many of the characters I get to portray. I just think that is so cool.

What are the challenges?

Todd Haberkorn: The concentration required to sustain such a long recording day. Most days, you try to get through 125 pages, which is a lot of content. Add to that that I stand when I narrate, plus, you’ve got so many voices in your head that you have to keep track of even on one page!

Sometimes, I have to do the narrator voice, two different females, three different males, and they all have accents all on one page! So it’s tough to keep it all fluid and natural so what I’m doing goes with what the author has written.

Amy McFadden: I can’t imagine writing a book-creating characters and interactions, threading theme and philosophy throughout–and then handing it to a stranger to interpret before it goes to an audience. I always research the authors first to try to “know” about them and think how they would read it. I always hope to capture how the author “hears” it.

Cristina Panfilio: The turnover can be pretty fast, so sometimes the prep requires long days of reading. And when I’m working on more than one book at a time, it can be a little overwhelming.

Also, when I’m working on a book that is part of a series that has already been recorded, I often have to try to match an existing interpretation of the characters; if I already have something in my head, it can be a big challenge to make that adjustment.

Nick Podehl: When I spend eight hours a day, five days a week reading, often the last thing I want to do when I get home is read more. So my personal reading has definitely suffered. Which is rough because there are so many great books out there that I really want to read!

Are there any special considerations in narrating for the YA audience?

Todd Haberkorn: I take every story as its own unique challenge, but I try to bring the same level of effort and imagination to the mic when I do it. Hopefully I’m successful in that. But each book, whether its a YA book or a romance novel for adults will dictate how I approach it – I just try to bring the same tool box.

Amy McFadden: Well…I always try really hard not to let any characters sound like they’re “sending an important message” to young adults. Teenagers are smart and savvy–they don’t need lectures. They need to get lost in stories, to watch characters struggle, succeed, or fail–and to make their own judgements. Plus, it’s such an insane time of life that sometimes YAs just need to be entertained.

I think that Feral Nights does all of that-and it’s funny in a sort of dry, very real way. Which sounds crazy given that one of the main characters is a wereopossom. Also, when we were discussing the characters and story, Nick (Podehl) and I kept referring to the Dillos as were-madillos. Which made us laugh. I think this was the book where Nick brought a light saber into the studio, too.

Apparently, Cynthia and her humor awakened our “inner children,” which didn’t get much of a break during this book. Fun!

Cristina Panfilio: Whenever I do theater for young audiences, I’m reminded how honest they are. If I’m lying, they’ll catch me…and they won’t try to hide it.

I think it’s the same for audiobooks. I try to be honest in my work always, but I think that younger audiences, perhaps, hold us the most accountable.

Nick Podehl: In my experience, YA books tend to have really fun characters. The challenge is finding a balance between making the character voices fun and interesting, but avoiding being too ridiculous.

YA fans love their books, and I want to make sure that I am doing their characters justice.

How did you connect with your character in the Feral series?

Todd Haberkorn: With this series, it appealed to me because I love the supernatural world to begin with. So what’s great about this series is that it takes a story we’re familiar with – or at least a genre we’re familiar with – in terms of an adventure and romance ride and takes it for a twist with the supernatural element.

So you get a bit of the familiar to make an audience comfortable and add some special spices of uniqueness to bring a different experience to the table. And anytime I get to be a hero with special gifts – c’mon…that’s a thrill.

In a werecats series, a Possum gets his due.

Amy McFadden: Oh, I pretty much adored Aimee from her first chapter. She’s slightly awkward (being a non-shifter and non-super-girlie-girl) but always all-in when it comes to Clyde. It’s tricky to find girls written like she is–she’s confused at many points throughout the book, but never turns into a gloppy mush brain about boys or when things get dangerous.

Thank you to Cynthia for writing her that way!

Cristina Panfilio: Werecat or not…I think Kayla is a good kid who’s trying to find her way in a really complicated world; love and school and friends, of course, but also really big stuff, like intolerance and faith and trust. I think that’s easy for anyone to relate to.

Nick Podehl: Feral Nights was such a unique take in a very prolific genre. I mean, how often do you find a wheelchair-bound werepossum!? That is awesome!

I loved the bravery and growth that Clyde showed throughout this story. He goes from dorky and seemingly weak to strong and more sure of himself without losing who he is inside.

I was kind of a late bloomer in life, not really sure of who I was until I got older and learned a few of life’s lessons. I also really appreciate his sarcasm and wit. Clyde made me laugh… a lot!

Todd, you’re from Arlington and received your B.F.A. from Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Did you recognize any of the Texas settings or cultural references in the books?

Todd Haberkorn: Totally! I spent a lot of years in Texas, and anytime I get to call upon that knowledge for a project – it’s groovy time.

I go back to Texas monthly to work with a few voice over and on camera clients I have, and this series just adds to the Texas goodness I get to experience all the time!

For all, how is it different, doing audio books versus other voice/acting work?

Todd Haberkorn: Audio books definitely take the most amount of focus and concentration. That’s not to say working on a video game or cartoon doesn’t take focus – but those sessions are typically much shorter and we don’t have to switch between five plus voices on the fly.

The focus is more bite-sized in those sessions. With audio books, you have to maintain the journey for hundreds of pages and make sure all the pieces fit!


Amy McFadden: The voice work I’ve done has all been for commercials, so the intent is to sell something. You have to be persuasive, but still sound like a real, sincere human being. It’s fun, too, but I think it’s really hard.

Narrating has definite challenges, but the goal is to engage a reader (listener) in a story, not to convince them to do or buy something.

Cristina Panfilio: In theater, the work is so immediate and fleeting. Each performance of the same play is different. We often have four weeks to run a show and learn from our audiences, and once a show closes…it’s gone.

With audiobooks, we have a bunch of chances in a short period of time to get it “right”. And once we’re all done with our work, we have this tangible thing to show for it. It’s permanent.

Nick Podehl: In most cases, with film or stage acting, I usually only got to play one character. With audio books, I get to play up to 200 different characters depending on the book. That is a lot to keep track of but it is so much fun!

Also, unlike stage acting, if I make a mistake while reading… oops!

Back up. Let’s take that again.

Hooray for editing! Audio book engineers are awesome.

What other “new releases” or upcoming performances should your fans know about?

Todd Haberkorn: Well, book wise, I’ve very excited about the recent release of the classic, Heroes, Gods, and Monsters of the Greek Myths from Graymalkin Media that I got to work on.

What a fantastic story about the myths we all think we know by heart…but this book refreshes your memory and makes history super fun.

Also, I have an upcoming live in concert DVD (“Live in Atlanta” where I play with the band, Eyeshine) as well as a studio album (“Can You Hear Me Now?” My first studio album) coming out! So if folks are into a bit of rock and know me from my voice over work – I hope they’ll like what’s coming!

Narrated by Cristina
Narrated by Nick

Amy McFadden: There are lots of books popping out! Hmmm…like I said,
I’m addicted to stories, but two that are jumping up and down in my
brain right now are The Immortal Circus (series) by A.R. Kahler, and a
pretty cool translation from Finland called As Red As Blood by Salla Simukka. Caveat: They’re not for super young readers.

Cristina Panfilio: I recently recorded This Star Won’t Go Out, which is a collection of journal entries and other writings from this really amazing girl, Esther Earl, who passed away from cancer a few years ago.

It’s a beautiful, quirky story with a lot of joy and love and humor.

Nick Podehl: Some titles to watch for coming soon Fat Boy vs. the Cheerleaders by Geoff Herbach and The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel. Great YA books!

What do you do when you’re not acting?

Todd Haberkorn: Work on the next project or make the next project…primarily raised by the immigrant side of my family, I got my mom’s strong work ethic to live up to. So, I’ve gotta try to reach her level! But I also stay busy cause I feel so grateful for what I’ve been lucky enough to achieve and have big goals that I want to see come to life!

Narrated by Nick

Amy McFadden: Well, I work lots of crazy hours so…ummm…sleep. And read. And, you know, there are little forays into cleaning and laundry and bill-paying, and exercising…but really I just love to sleep and read.

Cristina Panfilio: Outside of work, I savor my home in Chicago with my very wonderful husband. We both travel a lot for work, so being at home can be kind of a treat. I spend a lot of time enjoying great food and music, running, visiting family and friends, and being outside.

Nick Podehl: I spend time hanging out with friends from church, playing tug with my crazy puppy Kana, or watching the crazy puppy chase Dreams the cat. But most often I am cooking with, watching movies with, and overall enjoying life with my beautiful wife Erin.

Cynsational Notes

Feral Curse is available as of today from Walker Australia and New Zealand! Note: the series is also published by Candlewick Press in North America and Walker Books in the U.K.

Todd Haberkorn works professionally in Los Angeles as an actor, director, producer, and writer. In the voice-over world, you can catch Todd’s voice in triple A video games such as World of Warcraft, Super Street Fighter IV, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, and more. As well as animated properties such as Ever After High, Sgt. Frog, Fairy Tail, Soul Eater, and many others. As far as on camera is concerned, when he isn’t working on films, industrials, and television projects for other companies, Todd does work with his company Out of the Office Productions. This is one aspect of a long history of on camera work in narrative film, commercials, and shorts. When he isn’t fighting digital monsters in video games or trying to save the day on film, Todd travels the U.S. and internationally, making appearances at pop-culture conventions as a guest to meet fans and sign autographs. He is represented by The Horne Agency, William Morris Endeavor, and Idiom Modeling.

Amy McFadden has narrated close to 100 titles in many different genres. She is an Earphones award winner, and a finalist for a 2014 Audie Award in Literary Fiction. She has been acting all over Michigan on stage for the last 20 years and in commercials and film for the last 10. Amy is a founding member of Dog Story Theater in Grand Rapids, Michigan; where she currently lives, acts and laughs a lot.

Narrated by Cristina

Cristina Panfilio has narrated numerous titles with Brilliance Audio in young adult fiction, comedy, romance and suspense, and received an Amazing Audiobook nomination for The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind by Meg Medina. As an actor, she makes her home in Chicago and works regionally with theaters such as Chicago Shakespeare, The Goodman, Northlight, American Players, Milwaukee Rep, Indiana Rep, and more.

Nick Podehl has been named a “Best Voice” by AudioFile magazine in 2010 and 2011. He has narrated many young adult, fantasy, and romance titles, several of which have won awards, and has appeared in a number of theatrical productions and independent films. Nick lives in Michigan with his cat Dreams, dog Kana, and beautiful wife Erin.

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