Audiobook Week, Day One: Interview with audiobook narrator Xe Sands


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.

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33 Responses to Audiobook Week, Day One: Interview with audiobook narrator Xe Sands

  1. Sandy
    Twitter: youvegottaread
    says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard her narrate! But I loved this interview. I know you read to your kids, and I have done the same, and it is hard (for people like us) not to have fantasies of becoming an amazing audiobook narrator. Hee hee. All I have to say is…Davina Porter must have nerves of steel to record some of the stuff she does. Steamy!
    Sandy´s last post ..Monday Matinee: Dream House (2011)

  2. Chrisbookarama
    Twitter: Chrisbookarama
    says:

    Get questions, Carrie! They were ones I’ve wondered myself and now I know.
    Chrisbookarama´s last post ..Lazy Sunday Thoughts: DNF and a Movie

  3. Leigh Ann says:

    Great interview! I always wonder what it’s like for the narrators. I don’t think I’ve ever listened to anything she’s narrated, but I’ll have to! Anyone that can do a good “dude” is a winner in my book!
    Leigh Ann´s last post ..AUDIOBOOK WEEK ~ Day 1: Your Audiobook Year

  4. bermudaonion (Kathy)
    Twitter: bermudaonion
    says:

    I’m glad you asked her about the steamy scenes because I’ve always wondered about that myself!
    bermudaonion (Kathy)´s last post ..Mailbox Monday

  5. I love the peek into a narrator’s life, thanks Carrie and Xe!
    Jen – Devourer of Books´s last post ..Audiobook Noir Giveaway – International

  6. Susan says:

    Nice interview. Quite informative on how audiobooks are done. Thanks. I’m just getting into the audiobook The Chaperone read by Elizabeth McGovern. She seems to do a good job
    Susan´s last post ..Too Much Happiness

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Susan – I’ll have to see if I can find that one – I’ve been wanting to read that book.

  7. Sheila (Book Journey)
    Twitter: bookjourney
    says:

    What a great post! I dont think I have ever listened to any of the books Xe has narrated but I just wrote down The Bird Sisters (which is one I have been wanting to read anyway!)
    Sheila (Book Journey)´s last post ..2011-2012: Your Audiobook Year – Audiobook Week Discussion

  8. Dorothy - The Alaskan Bookie
    Twitter: akchocoholic
    says:

    It is no small secret that Xe Sands is one of my favorite narrators. I enjoyed your interview questions with her. I have actually asked her about the steamy booth scenes also. LoL I was surprised to read that she uses a mentor. She didn’t say who it was, but it makes me curious. Is a narration mentor something a lot of narrators use? From her description, it sounded like they were more than just a voice coach, but a personal coach too.

    Thanks for posting this interview and Happy AudioBook Week!

    Dorothy – The Alaskan Bookie – Squeak
    Blog ~ http://alaskanbookie.blogspot.com/
    Twitter ~ http://twitter.com/AkChocoholic
    Dorothy – The Alaskan Bookie´s last post ..Review: Conqueror #jiam

  9. Jae
    Twitter: booknymphoblog
    says:

    What an interesting interview! I’ve always wondered about the lives of audio book narrators. Seems like a really interesting job.
    Jae´s last post ..Review: The Space Between Us

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Jae – I think I would love that job! I read aloud to my kids four or five days a week. :)

  10. Arti
    Twitter: Arti_Ripples
    says:

    Thanks for the insightful interview of an insider. Great post for Audioweek. I just joined, first time. Looks really interesting. ;)
    Arti´s last post ..Listen Up: Audiobook Week 2012

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Art – It’s my favorite book blogging event of the year – I hope you enjoy it!

  11. JoAnn
    Twitter: lakesidemusing
    says:

    ‘Interview posts’ are not usually my favorite, but this one is fascinating. I’ve often wondered how readers prepare, care for their voice, what a typical day might be like, etc…. great questions! Have enjoyed talking to Xe on twitter, and hope to listen to her narration of The Bird Sisters soon. It’s been on my wish list for far too long!
    JoAnn´s last post ..Audiobook Week 2012 Kick-Off

  12. I loved this interview. Xe is such a warm, generous person. I’m so happy to have had the opportunity to room with her in NYC during BEA. Thanks so much for featuring her today. It captured her perfectly. :)
    Literate Housewife´s last post ..Audiobook Lover in the City

  13. Xe Sands
    Twitter: xesands
    says:

    Sorry to have been gone the rest of the week – so much going on for the end of JIAM!

    Dorothy asked about mentor/coach. What I mean by mentor is that I work with that person indepth on issues in the delivery (where it’s working, where it really isn’t, and most importantly WHY). Hopefully that helps clarify :)

    JoAnn- if you do listen to The Bird Sisters, I’d welcome your feedback! That was a beautiful book to narrate and Rebecca Rasmussen seems to be just the nicest person.

    Jennifer – Aw, you’re the best! It was such a pleasure to finally meet you! Carrie – don’t be jealous…just come with us next time!

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Xe – I’d love to do BEA someday, but it will probably have to wait a few years till the kids are all older and my husband gets back to work. :)

  14. Xe Sands
    Twitter: xesands
    says:

    I hear you, Carrie. It is only because I have the one and she’s hit her teens years and is more self-sufficient (especially emotionally) that I can be gone for nigh a week. Before, it was just too stressful on everyone. And the financial commitment is not to be sneezed at – can be quite the expensive proposition for folks like us, who live all the way across the country, to travel to NYC for BEA (and APAC and the Audies, in my case). It’s a conversation we have every year.

    But would love to meet you one day! Heck, since we’re in the same (relative) neck of the woods, that might actually happen :)

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Xe – I never put it together that you are in Washington State, too – though the other side of the mountains! :)

  15. Michelle says:

    I honestly do not think I have ever had the privilege of listening to Xe narrate, although I keep meaning to do so. I love that you asked how to pronounce her name. It is so cool and unique. The whole idea of audiobook narration is so intimate. I loved reading how Xe prepares for each book. Thank you for such a great, insightful interview!
    Michelle´s last post ..Review – The Orphanmaster by Jean Zimmerman

  16. Pingback: Audiobook Review: Brooklyn Bones by Triss Stein | BOOKS AND MOVIES

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