Monday, May 6, 2013

Win a copy of the audiobook or a print edition of IS THIS TOMORROW plus Voice artist Xe Sands talks about Going Public In Shorts, an audio story collection, preparing to read an audiobook, what books she won't do, what's obsessing her

Xe Sands is a voice artist and an audiobook reader--and she's also completely sublime. She's read The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits, The Art Forget by B.A. Shapiro and Is This Tomorrow by me! Publishers Weekly and Audiofile Magazine rave about her, and so do I. The first time I heard her read a section of my novel, I felt my hands shaking. But more than that, she's a blast to talk with--thoughtful, funny, smart, warm. I'm incredibly honored to have her here. Make sure you check out her amazing website, too, And to celebrate the launch of IS THIS TOMORROW, we're having a giveaway of both the print edition and the audiobook edition. To enter, post a comment about how you remember or think about the 1950s!  The winner will be chosen on the 11th! Thank you so much, Xe! You're just the best.

Being a voice artist seems to be like one of the all-time coolest jobs on the planet. How does one become such a lucky person?

LOL! Well I certainly think it is. I mean, I get to play with dragons and lost children and bereft mothers and passionate lovers all day and whisper their stories into the ears of others. It's pretty amazing. 

As to how you get this lucky? That is a simple question with a complicated answer. First, be in love with telling stories (not in love with how you sound telling them). If you truly love it, find a coach/audiobook director who leads workshops in your area (or travel to them) and work with them on how to hone that love of storytelling into an effective relationship with listeners. Finally, when you feel ready, reach out to publishers and other narrators. And never ever stop learning about, working at and loving what you do.

When you read a book aloud, is the experience different for you than when you read it on the page? And when you read a book on the page for pleasure, do you have to shut out that part of your brain that would tell you how to read it aloud, or is that a given? In recording an audiobook, is the process start to finish, or will you take breaks or do it over the course of a week?

There is a difference between how a book feels when I read it on the page vs. aloud in the studio. When prepping a book for recording, even though I'm beginning to connect with the characters, there is a much deeper level of connection that happens once I'm actually telling their story, thinking their thoughts and voicing their words. Now when I read for pleasure, my job always initially gets in the way - a damn nuisance! Always takes a page or so of me reading it aloud in my head before I forget all about that and just allow myself to get lost in the experience of the story. 

As for the recording process, it's definitely one of many breaks over several days. For most projects, the ratio averages out to 2 hours of recording for every hour you eventually hear, so for a 300 page book that is just butter to narrate, it would take a solid 20 hours to record. I can usually record for 4-5 hours per day without losing vocal integrity, so a typical book takes me about 4-5 days to do the initial recording. 

How do you prepare for reading an audiobook? What's the whole process like? I want to say that I really was grateful for the way you incorporated me in the project and let me in on what you were doing. Do you find you become friends with the authors whose works you read?

Oh I'm so glad to hear that, Caroline! When reaching out to an author, it is always my hope to make them as comfortable as possible, and feel as included as they'd like to be. And these connections made with the authors whose work I'm privileged to record is one of the great blessings of my job. Working with you was an absolute joy and honor. 

As for my preparation process, in an ideal situation, it goes a bit like this: receive the text from the publisher, read through and mark up any questions I have for the author or publisher, let the book just sit in the back of my mind for a day or so - just digesting the characters/world/plot/arc. Usually, I'll read bits and pieces aloud as I go, to get a feel for how the characters feel, how the narrative flows, etc. Then after a healthy dose of procrastination that first day (which I experience before every artistic undertaking, narration or otherwise), it's finally time to get behind the mic and act as a conduit for the author's intent.  

Is there any book you won't or can't do--either because it doesn't speak to your strengths or the book just didn't strike you? How do you choose your projects? Do you have to love or at least like a book in order to narrate it successfully?

Oh gracious, yes, but more because there are some lines I just will not cross in terms of what I will put myself through. I joke that I'm a "method narrator," but what that means is that I really live the story as I narrate it. So there are some plot devices and particular themes I will not willingly put myself through psychologically. There have also been a (very) few instances in which I felt I could not ethically support the content I was asked to narrate, and a few occasions in which I've previewed the text and realized I just didn't have the appropriate command of whatever accents or languages were involved, or just wasn't the right match vocally, and have voiced that to the publisher. 

As for how I choose my projects...well, they often choose me. Most often, we are offered work from publishers. But there are times, such as with IS THIS TOMORROW, when we hear of a book and voice our strong desire to narrate it, and are fortunate enough to be trusted with that particular project. 

And oh what a good and difficult I have to love or at least like a book to narrate it successfully. Here's what has to be there for me: a connection, however small. There has to be that moment when the characters become real to me, where their struggles/joy/pain/angst is suddenly my struggle, my joy, my pain, etc. And I've found that, regardless of the overall story or theme or genre, there is always that moment. Always. I just have to be open to it. And once that connection happens, it's far easier to open up as a conduit for their story to flow through as the author intended. 

When you're narrating, is there ever a moment when you really, really want to change a line of text because you know it would sound better? I imagine audiobook narration is a lot like being an actor, where you're making choices all the time. Do you map all of this out ahead?

LOL! Why yes, yes there are such moments. I think this is mostly due to the difference between how phrasing flows on the page, and how it flows when spoken aloud. I find this happens significantly less with works from authors who read their text aloud as they go. Then the musicality of spoken language is full incorporated into the written text and it translates more seamlessly into audio. 

And yes, audiobook narration is an acting art, as well as a storytelling one. You are making choices in delivery, but if you're truly connected to the text, the choices are there, waiting for you to key into them - they are present in the author's intent. I don't tend to map delivery choices out ahead of time. I tend to head into the booth and just let it come out how it wants/needs to come out and then step back and listen and feel how the performance affects me as a listener. 

Whom do you listen to and admire as far as audiobook narrators? 

There are so many that I admire, who are such talented storytellers that it's hard to list just a few. But I'll throw out there that I could listen to Barbara Rosenblat, Bianca Amato, Robin Sachs or Jim Dale read me anything, anything at all. 

What's obsessing you now and why? 

Ha! What a did you know that there is always something obsessing me?

At the  moment, I'm completely obsessed with creation and coordination of an ambitious philanthropic project, Going Shorts. Last fall, I approached fellow narrators about putting together an audio story collection in celebration of June Is Audiobook Month (JIAM) 2013. Over 30 agreed to join me, and on June 1st, we will begin offering Going Shorts in serialized format, 1-2 per day. Each narrator recorded a short piece from the public domain, including the work of Chekhov, Twain, Chopin, Poe, Lovecraft, Fitzgerald, Joyce, Wilde and many others, even Lincoln’s pivotal Second Inaugural Address. As a "Thank you!" to listeners, folks can listen online for free for one week after the story releases. Stories will also be available for download purchase via Downpour, with all proceeds going to the Reach Out and Read literacy advocacy organization. And I have to say that I've been blown away buy the support of my fellow narrators, our publishing partner, Blackstone, and the blogging community in bringing this ambitious and amazing project to fruition. For more info, please visit the Spoken Freely page. 

As for other obsessions unrelated to the narration side of my life...oh yes. My teen just had a birthday and as some know, I have, over the years, backed myself into an obsessive corner with ever increasingly elaborate cakes. This year, it was Supernatural themed, featuring a '67 Chevy Impala made of cake and chocolate, a pie baked INSIDE the cake, screenshot panels, and an audio track of Chuck's Impala monologue from Swan Song

What question didn't I ask that I should have?

None that I can think of :) But if you think of any, feel free!


LB said...

The '50s:
Duck and Cover.
Hats on all the men, women.
Gloves for the women and muffs for the girls.
Poodle skirts.
Saddle shoes.

Jessica said...

Pony tails, poodle skirts, bobbie socks (sock hops), Runaround Sue, dancing, boppy music.

(and I loved hearing the inside scoop on audio books - a love of mine)

jessica [at] jamgoodman [dot] com

julie k said...

The 50s! I was born in the 50s and don't really have much memory about them.

Melissa Sarno said...

I was totally fascinated by this interview and the process behind audio books. Thanks so much for sharing it. And yaay for proceeds of Xe's project to Reach Out and Read. When I think of the 50's, my only connection to it is television: I Love Lucy, Lassie, and Leave It To Beaver.

Jayfr said...

I wasn't around in the 50s, but when I think about the 50s I picture American Graffiti, which takes place in 62, but with more crew cuts. Cars and the beginnings of rock and roll music and the culture of youth, all signs of the beginnings of the baby boom.

Caroline said...

And the winners are!
For the audiobookMelissa Sarno! Please email me at and we will send one out to you!


Caroline said...

And the winner of the print book is Jessica! I see your email and I will email you right now!


Unknown said...

So glad that you're excited about Reach Out and Read, Melissa!

Melissa & Jessica - enjoy the book...can't imagine you won't ;)