Welcome to day one of Audiobook Week! This is my favorite book blog event of the year, since I can’t live without my audiobooks.
I have a fantastic post to kick the week off. A few weeks ago, when I first saw the announcement that Audiobook Week was coming up, I contacted Xe Sands, an audiobook narrator who I have had the privilege to get to know via Twitter, and asked for an interview. Turns out with June being Audiobook Month, she has a lot going on this month! Fortunately, she graciously found time to answer my questions so I could introduce all of my readers to her work. Please help me welcome Xe to Books and Movies.
First, I have to ask. Is “Xe” a nickname or are they your initials? If Xe is your first name, how is it pronounced?
Xe: Ask away! Nope, not a nickname but a family name – my great-grandmother’s. And there is another Xe in my family – my cousin (a great indie musician, btw). It’s pronounced as if you were spelling it out: EX-ee.
Can you tell us a little bit about how you got started with audiobook narration?
Xe: LOL! A “little bit”…you must know of my infamous verbosity? I’ll try to keep this brief.
At the heart of it was all the years I spent reading to my daughter. She believed in me, believed I brought something special to the experience. And I realized I loved it, I loved translating the author’s intent as a storyteller. But when it came to creating a career out of this love, well…that’s where the story gets not so brief – but I’ll try! After volunteering with Librivox.org for several years, a bit of serendipity led me to one of Pat Fraley’s excellent audiobook sessions. That led to further training with Carrington MacDuffie, attendance at my first APAC, and connections with local narrators. Coupled with lots of research and pounding of the cyber-pavement, I eventually landed my first project and book by book, I’ve begun to build my career.
When you have a new book to narrate, what do you do to prepare?
Xe: First, I read the book in its entirety. Next, I contact either the publisher or author (depends on protocol) with any questions on pronunciations and such, and once I hear back I usually head straight into the studio and start playing with the narration – the pace and tone of delivery, accents, characterizations. For some projects, I do some preliminary work with a mentor to be sure I’m really striking the right tone/pacing/characterizations for the project. And then it’s off to the races!
What is a typical recording day like for you? How many hours do you read at a time?
Xe: I start my morning with proofing part of the previous day’s work. When I’m heavily booked, I record as many hours as I can without damaging my voice, which on a heavy day would be about 6 hours. After that point, the vocal quality can get a bit iffy. Better to stop than to deliver a subpar performance and/or damage my vocal cords.
How do you care for your voice?
Xe: Great question! There are certain things I’m known for – sure, poignant first-person narrative, but also…DUDES, LOL! And while this is great for those “deeply voiced” bad boys in many of the romance novels I narrate, voicing them can be really hard on the cords. So I stay as hydrated as possible, drink quite a bit of Throat Coat tea, and rest my voice for several days after really pushing it.
What are some of your favorite books that you’ve narrated?
Xe: My current crushes right now would be: The Bird Sisters, Silence of Trees, Saving Angelfish, and Catch of the Day. You can hear the song, can’t you? “One of these things is not like the other…” But Catch of the Day (which just released last week) is a hilarious and sweet romance novel that absolutely made my week to narrate. The others are favorites because I adore “messy” (read: painful, poignant, piercing) stories…but that one really made me laugh. And sometimes I really need that, especially after something particularly difficult.
There is something that I’ve always wondered when listening to audiobooks – especially after listening to the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. Does it make you uncomfortable to read love scenes? I think it would make me squirm!
Xe: LOL! Oh girl, I wish I had a video of my first time in the booth reading some seriously steamy scenes! Ahem. Yes, it can be a bit, um, “squirmy.” But I will say that it can also be fun. As a wonderful mentor told me at the beginning of my career: sex is a beautiful, natural part of life, and some folks want to listen to you read about it, so get over it?
Once I adjusted my perspective a bit, it became easier to relax into the performance. Of course, it also helps that it’s just me in my booth!
When you’re not reading for work, what genres do you read?
Xe: If it’s messy, painful and poignant – in other words, if it’s general or literary fiction that you can tell will make you cry when you’re still across the room from the book, it’s the book for me. The Book Thief, The Time Traveler’s Wife, How to Buy a Love of Reading, Real Life & Liars, The Bird Sisters, The Fault in Our Stars, The Silence of Trees…hah…contented sigh.
What else do you do in your free time?
Xe: Well, I used to spend quite a bit of creative energy as a visual artist. I still do in various ways, but much of my creative energy goes into narration these days. But I do love creative, hands-on projects, especially if they are gifts for someone else?
Thank you so much, Xe, for answering my questions – especially during such a busy month!
For a complete list of books narrated by Xe and audio samples of her work, please visit her web site.