Monday, June 13, 2011

Interview: Xe Sands, Audio Narrator

Cross-posted to the League of Reluctant Adults.

So before reading this post, who knew June is Audiobook Month? Anyone?

I probably wouldn't have if I hadn't been recently been involved in the creation of audiobooks for the first three Dreg City books (although when I say involved, that mostly means signing the contract, helping my amazing narrator with pronunciation questions, and then pimping the project here and there). The books are with Tantor Audio, and THREE DAYS TO DEAD is currently available for purchase. AS LIE THE DEAD will be available June 20, with ANOTHER KIND OF DEAD releasing August 2 (same day as the print version).

My absolute favorite part of this whole process was "meeting" Xe Sands, who is the voice behind these audiobooks. She's a fabulous lady and her enjoyment of my books has meant the world to me. And since the process of audio narration is brand new to me, I decided to pick Xe's brain and share the results (kind of sounds like I'm inviting you to a zombie buffet, doesn't it?). Xe was kind enough to do an interview with me, and the results are below. Stick around to the end, too, because there will be a giveaway!


First off, how did you get into this kind of work?

You know, so many narrators come from an acting or performing arts background, but me? Well, I didn't. Although I do have experience with public performance, what really shaped my entry into the field of narration is my daughter's love of reading - specifically, how much she enjoyed me reading aloud to her. I joke that she's my harshest critic, but it's actually true, because as she matured, so did her taste and her preference for a more nuanced and authentic performance of the stories we shared together. Now how did that shared experience and love for storytelling parlay into a career as an audiobook narrator - ah, bit more complicated, of course. Wouldn't it be nice if we could just wave a magic microphone, utter a few choice words and suddenly be imbued with the necessary training and a contract in hand? Right.

What really happened is...after reading to my daughter for nearly ten years, I began to realize that I derived an immense sense of satisfaction from performing for her, from her emotional reaction to the experience. At that point, a fire was lit inside me and once that happens...well, there isn't much to be done except move forward really! I began researching how narrators get their professional start, and at the same time, found and starting recording for, which publishes audio of work in the public domain. Such an amazing learning experience in an incredibly supportive community! After volunteering for several years, I realized that raw talent was the foundation, but that professional coaching/training was the walls of the house of my dreams (hey, did I say I was a writer? No I did not). Fortunately, I was granted a scholarship to attend a working session with the amazing Pat Fraley, then followed that up with ongoing coaching with Carrington MacDuffie, and attendance at my first Audio Publishers Association Conference (APAC) last year. I made several invaluable connections at APAC 2010, one of which led to my initial work with Tantor Audio, an ongoing relationship which eventually led me to recording the Dreg City series :)

But the short answer? I am where I am because of my daughter's love of ,and relentless appetite for ,storytelling...and her belief in me.

Was it something you always wanted to do, or that you found later on in life?

I would love to say that I was caught reading aloud to an audience of stuffed animals, using rudimentary accents and characterizations at the tender age of 5 - ha! But reall, until I realized how very much I loved doing it, and more importantly, how much she and other children enjoyed it too, I just didn't view myself that way. However once I had that epiphany, I realized that *this* was the passion I had been waiting for all these years, the one you always hope you will find. It's what I want to do until I'm physically incapable of continuing.

How do you get jobs? Are they assigned? Are they offered and you can say yes/no based on the material?
(Let's assume you mean after you are established with a publisher)

Getting the job/job assignment: In my experience, this happens in one of two ways: (a) I'm asked to audition for a particular project, based on a short sample of text; (b) I'm sent an offer to narrate a particular project sans a custom audition. I find this completely depends on the publisher. Some prefer to audition narrators for each project, send those samples on to the author/agent/client, and then base their decision on client feedback. Some prefer to do the casting internally, based on demo samples and prior experience with a particular narrator (and perhaps author/client request). I've experienced an equal mix of both approaches to casting.

Can I say no? Yes, I can and I have - although I have not yet had to turn down an actual offer. I have, however, chosen not to audition for a particular project based on concerns over the content. I'm a bit of a "method" narrator and tend to really "live with" the characters of my projects and the worlds they inhabit pretty thoroughly, so if there is material that is truly offensive to me or with which I truly cannot connect, I may turn down the project. That said, I do not reject projects based on genre preferences. I feel that being open to many genres, even those outside my personal comfort zone or interests, encourages me to grow and open myself to new experiences...and bring my discoveries of new worlds into my narration.

Can you briefly take us through your process for narrating an audio book? From receiving the manuscript to final editing?

Sure! Course I'm laughing about this because I can't imagine I've ever been able to be brief about anything - but I will try! Going to number these to keep myself honest in the length department. Let's use the recording of Three Days to Dead as our model, shall we?

1. I receive the text from the publisher and begin my pre-read (pre-reading is a MUST! No cheating!)
2. Pre-read the book, taking notes along the way - specifically for characterizations, pronunciation questions, accent questions
3. Contact the publisher (and/or author, depending) for confirmation on any pronunciation and/or characterization questions
[Intermission: time permitting, I let the book percolate a bit, come together in my head/heart/voice*]
4. Head into the studio (usually my home studio) to begin initial character studies and narrative voices. Play around with character voices and narrator tone. Meet/conference with coach to go over tone, any tricky characterizations, etc.
5. Begin recording the book in earnest (using one of two recording methods, depending on the publisher I'm working for). Proof each day's work the following morning, paying special attention to narrative flow, characterization consistency.
6. Finish initial recording and go back for final round of proofing and tweaking
7. Send files back to publisher (most publishers do not want any processing on the completed files; if they want editing/processing, this is when that happens).
8. Complete any corrections reported back to me once final proofing is completed by publisher, and send the corrected version back to the publisher.

*And as in the case of one of my other recent projects, meet with a dialect coach in order to develop a specific accent for the project.

What were three of your favorite titles to narrate?

Thank you for not asking me to name only one! That's impossible, really, as they are all so different and I almost always fall in love with them in some way.

The Sweet Relief of Missing Children, by Sarah Braunstein
Three Days to Dead, by Kelly Meding (and I'm not just saying that - there are three powerful scenes that pushed this into my top three)
Fire and Ice, by Anne Stuart (bad boys, simply can't resist them!)

Is there a book you wished you could have done, but someone else got the job?

Yes. I auditioned for a poignant memoir...first person narrative, tortuous, darkly humorous - my favorite thing! And although I was disappointed upon hearing that I wasn't selected, I was blown away by how perfectly suited the chosen narrator was for the project. That was actually a very lovely feeling in the end, and a great reminder that the perfect casting is so essential. Yes, I wanted it...but someone else was perfect for it. And I can respect that.

Is yours a competitive line of work, or are you guys pretty supportive of each other?

Such an interesting question, and one that came up at APAC just a few weeks back. You know, when I first started, I assumed it would be a very competitive business...but it just doesn't feel that way. The casting is so individualized and each of us has a unique sound and "thing" that we're perfectly suited for, that I don't feel I am in competition in the same way I assume other performing artists might feel. The community of audiobook narrators feels much smaller and more tight-knit than I expected it would, as well as feeling incredibly supportive. I have been very blessed by the generosity of time and spirit of more established narrators - offering their guidance, sharing their experience, and introducing me to various individuals in the industry. I hope to be able to do the same for others that come into the industry after me.

Do you do any other kinds of audio work, other than book recording?

I have been fortunate to have worked on several video games, the last of which had me playing a sexy, ancient vampire created by Charlaine Harris. Character was essentially a sexier, snarkier, more confident version of Evy (like that's possible!) and it was a blast. I really enjoy working on video's like performing only the emotional dialog from a novel :)

What do you do for fun when you aren't working?

Believe me when I tell you that now that I'm narrating full-time, work IS my fun. I'm completely addicted to it and find myself sneaking into the studio at every opportunity. The medium combines all of my interests - emotional performance, inhabiting other worlds and characters, reading, creative expression. But when I do manage to surface [read: am dragged kicking and screaming from the booth], I merge back into the life of my family and friends. Recording projects require my full attention and energy, so when I come up for air, free time is spent reconnecting with loved ones. And of course, no big surprise, I love to read! The only downside to my work is that I no longer have as much free time to read books outside of project to-be-read pile is seriously going to topple right over very soon...and with all the amazing bloggers I interact with on Twitter, it grows daily.

Is there anything you'd like to add? Plug? Chat about? Warn against?

I suspect this is where I'm supposed to be extraordinarily clever and "WOW" you with my witty banter, isn't it? Sigh. Well I'm afraid that between you, Joss Whedon and Neil Gaiman, all the charming witty banter the world has to offer has been just about used up and I will need to leave it up to the characters you create to be charming, snarky and witty in my stead. Me? I'm just the narrator ;)


Thank you, Xe, for taking the time to do this!

And if y'all have made it this far, I'm giving away two copies of the THREE DAYS TO DEAD audiobook! All you have to do to be entered is leave a comment. You can enter twice by leaving a comment on both blogs (here and the League). The contest is open until June 27, so there's lots of time! Winners will be announced on my blog.


Unknown said...

Thanks for the opportunity to win a Three Days to Dead audio book! This is my second entry (one here and one on the League) Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

I am so excited! That was a great interview.

Erik said...

It's almost magical how so many elements, properly mixed, can create something potent. The right voice, the right words, the right feelings can turn raw materials into gold. Fantastic stuff! Thanks for sharing the process.

Phil Giunta said...

Excellent interview! This is definitely one to treasure. Congrats on having such an amazing talent narrate your book, Kelly!

I actually recorded the audio for my first novel and it will premiere on Podiobooks on June 24 which I thought was rather apropos given the month!

Teawench said...

Great & interesting interview.

Ariadna said...

This is going to make the books even more prodigious. Excellent work for both brilliant Author and Narrator.

Anonymous said...

Even though I have your book(s) already, I enjoy having an audio copy of favorite books (like yours). I find it especially nice listening to the most recent book just before a NEW one comes out. Really helps me get back into the story & psyched up for the new one!!

Christina said...

I want this! It sounds completely awesome and I think Xe is one hell of a performer!

Nise' said...

I can't wait to experience a book read by Xe Sands!