Monday, June 11, 2012

Talking with Xe Sands, Voice Artist

Please welcome the ever gracious Xe Sands! I am always happy to see her and I don’t know about anyone else, but I have more questions. I always do. I am a curious sort and I haven’t put her off yet.

I’d also like to say that this month is June Is Audiobook Month (#JIAM on Twitter). So what better way than to speak with a Voice Artist?  

How many books do you narrate year?
The practical answer is that it varies, but has been averaging about 25 per year. Wow! That, to me is a lot. Felt like a lot to me when I was recording them, too :)

The real answer is: never as many as I'd like! I can understand that as well! 

I know you use a voice coach, do you have more than one? I am curious, because of the varied accents you have to produce. I am fortunate to work with two very talented people in different capacities. One is my go-to person for delivery and direction. Her input is invaluable in terms of knowing if I'm "hitting it" in terms of delivering the author's intent in a way that is engaging to the listener. See, I never would’ve thought that there are two very types of voice coaches. I find that very interesting. 
The other is my dialect and diction coach, who is hilarious and very effective (well, aseffective as I allow her to be). It can be a bit tricky to maintain clear enunciation without losing the conversational feel many listeners prefer. That's what I'm currently obsessing over. This is another fascinating aspect—I like to listen but I have never really broken down “how” it is done. I think that dialect coaching is a very particular skill – teaching someone how to form words very differently, being able to pick up new accents, break them down, and transmit the pieces to a determined actor. And my mentor on delivery is also an avid listener, so she really does understand where I'm hitting it and where I'm not, from a listener's perspective. I feel so fortunate to have found these two folks, let me tell youI bet they are. People with skill sets like that are priceless.  

How long does it take you to get an accent down?
Usually a day or so, but sometimes longer, depending on how difficult it is for me towrap my tongue around it, so to speak - LOL. But this requires full immersion. Some may have heard one of the little accent creation clips I've posted as I've gone through this process. For those who haven't, I usually start in the morning with my dialect coach, then proceed to speak with that accent for at least the remainder of that day, sometimes more, depending on how fluid I get over the course of the day and how close I am to recording. And yeah, I really do keep the accent going the entire day, come hell or high water (or familyargument). This alternately amuses and irritates my beleaguered family. I love those clips…It’s fascinating to hear the change and it sounds so authentic. (Do you have a link or two to share? Am I beastly to ask or what? I think they are great)
You're not beastly at all :) Here are links to those that I've done. Of them, I'd say Southern is the weakest, but you can choose what you like.


Irish:  **You know this is my favorite!**

And do you visit your voice coach weekly or as needed?
My directional/delivery mentor assists on an as-needed basis, as does the dialect coach - all depends upon the needs of the project and my level of comfort with the material going in. Ah, now that is good. To have resources available as needed.

What is the difference for you in narration between fiction and non-fiction? Is it harder or easier? Do you have a preference?Ooo, good question! This one's an easy one for me - although the answer is split :) Fiction is hands-down my favorite, both in terms of personal taste and professional projects. Now if you include memoirs with nonfiction, that line does get a bit blurred...first-person narration is my favorite to narrate and with memoirs being first-person...yeah, that line gets a bit fuzzy. Very cool—and I didn’t know that you preferred first person. That is interesting to me-because we all have preference. I like reading first person myself but it is blasted hard to write. 
Really?! I'd always heard that first person was the easiest to write – LOL! I would guess that we've all got our preferences and places where our strengths lie. Some have told me that I excel in delivering dialog - so if that is true…as first–person narration is essentially one extended dialog with the listener/reader, it might explain my preference for it :) You are so right! But I do have a story I am working on that is first I'll let you know how I feel about it as I write.

However,nonfiction is generally easier to narrate (with the exception of the pronunciation research often required) in that nonfiction generally does not require character voice development. I will say though that when narrating nonfiction, it is easier to fall into a less engaged delivery depending on the content, so I am mindful of that. Speaking of pronunciation, that can be sticky. I confess, I am one of those that mis-pronounce words all the time. I like listening and hearing the correct way of saying something. 
Oh I mispronounce them too (but not in the finished audiobook, of course – we have proofers listening for that)! It amazes me how many words many of us have wandered around mispronouncing our whole lives. There is always at least one surprise in each book I do – always an education! I agree with that!

When you read for pleasure, what is your preferred genre?
Literary andgeneral fiction. Didn't even blink at that question -ha! If it's messy, painful, poignant and beautifully written - in other words, if it reaches in and squeezes your heart, then it's the book for me! Recently finished The Fault in Our Stars and I was fairly devastated. Which for me, defines the perfectread :) Ahh! I have some books for you then. I have a great appreciation for those books, but I adore a happy ever after. I am finding I am gravitating toward more of the emotionally rich book that don’t always end that way.
Sigh. Yes, I have to admit that I like it "messy," as one friend and I have deemed such emotionally wrenching stories.  

You have some very interesting past times—one of them is cake decorating (I am going to ask for a picture or two of that!). Tell us about it—how did it start? And are you still having fun.
Oh - haha! Because what starts on Facebook certainly doesn't stay there ;) No it doesn’t especially if its yummy…just sayin’

Well, it's not so much that I engage in cake decorating as a's more that my daughter has come to expect "the bestest cake EVAH" every year. So a couple of weeks before her birthday each year, the planning begins. This insanity all started with THE CASTLE CAKE, which while largely inedible (only the "lawns" were actual cake). You see, my daugher had started at a private school for kindergarten that year, and being on the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum compared to the other families, I got this crazy notion that my daughter's party had to be AMAZING, and that would require a cake that would make those other moms insane with surprise and, I sheepishly admit, envy (terribly petty - I know - I've since grown as a person - I have!). So we threw an amazing party. And I made an insane cake. And then, of course, we had to do this EVERY year. The hilarious part is that I was in part responding to thepressure of keeping up with those I couldn't possibly keep up with...and they felt pressured to now keep up with ME and my daughter's insane parties! We all realized this years later...such is the price of pride and being a parentalidiot. But there are some awesome memories there I bet! And you know, you started doing these very cool cakes…!

So am I still having fun with it? Well yes and no. Yes, because it's art (from my perspective) and it gives me a chance to do something artistic outside the booth...and to do something my daughter will (hopefully) really like -something that makes her feel special. "No," because the pressure to come up with an original idea and surprise her with it can be stressful. But I just eventually let go, and the idea comes on its own. Hopefully (oh pleaselord, let those inspirations keep happening...). I bet they will. You have amazing skill. There was that Hunger Games Cake. Looked awesome. It’s something you do for her. That is a gift in itself. I like how the artist in you sneaks out when you least expect it.
You know, that's a great way to put it. I don't really have a choice in where/when "she" comes out to play (the inner artist, that is), but she does frequently surface in such projects. Most recently, I created an e-reader holder for a dear friend and she had a field day with that project :) Funny how our muse shows up and has a good time--especially when we are doing something completely different.  That is neat and I may ask more about that e-reader holder sometime. (Can you tell I'm one of those reader/ writers, finds the small things and latches on to them.)

Finally, If given a choice Strawberries or Blackberries?
Blackberries...if freshly picked and super sweet :) Love to pick them with my daughter, despite the blood price they exact. As we say, "You have to pay to play." True for most aspects of life ,I find (and no, I don't mean it THAT way!). My daughter prefers Blackberries—I like them too. But I must confess—Raspberries are my absolute favorite. And there is always a blood price…(you know that is another thing that is going into my story you inspire the most interesting things)
Yay! I'm glad that I managed to spark something. Such moments make me a bit giddy :) Good! It's interesting how a phrase or words can truly catapault one into creating a story.  

Thanks so much for stopping by and I hope you come again soon! I always enjoy these chats. 

You're so very welcome – and the pleasure and honor is mine! Thanks for having me, Mary. Always a delight!

And one lucky person will win the Audio Book "Catch of the Day" by Kristan Higgins, narrated by Xe Sandes. **Unfortunately--it is open only to those within the Continental U.S.** After taking all the names, putting them on paper--scrambling them and letting my D2 reach in and grab a slip --the winner turns out to be Katherine Bone.  Congratulations! ;)

You can find Xe here:

You can find Awesome audio books here:


Elizabeth Aldred said...

I am a huge fan of audiobooks. This is fascinating! Thanks so much, Xe and Mary.

M.V.Freeman said...

I have too--I find that audiobooks are like movies--they can really give voice and color to a story that already captivates me. ;)

Thanks for stopping by Chris!

Livia Quinn said...

I absolutely love XE's work. The last time you had her here I discovered her beautiful narration of "Love Story" on Soundcloud. I save her interviews as they are just packed with good stuff. One of these days - this year - I want to do a couple narrations of my own books at least.

Continued success, Xe. I'd love to win this book. I listen much much more than I read.

Larissa Reinhart said...

Very interesting. I don't listen to audio books, but this was very fascinating to me. I'll give it a try on my next long trip. Great post!

Unknown said...

This was an awesome interview! I learned lots of new stuff (which I love to do) and as a fellow cake decorator on the side, I just want to say that cake is awesome! (I also mispronounce stuff all the time, which is more of an issue now that I'm doing a vlog, but I can spell just about anything, so I think that makes up for it ;-) )

-Ana Hart from XOXO and All That Jazz

Angela N. Blount (RedPeril) said...

Truly fascinating!

Thank you for the peek into a profession I'd never given much thought to, but really should have, given it's relevancy and enduring value to the literary world.

How did you get into doing this in the first place, Xe? Do you work through a talent agent?

~Angela Blount

Kellie Kamryn said...

What a great interview! So nice to meet you. Recently, I recorded two of my own stories for my publisher for audio book. Now I've got a few contracts to read more because one of the authors liked what I did and wanted me to read a couple of her stories.
I find it frustrating when I make a mistake and have to start over. Sometimes I speak too fast, and have to really slooowww doooowwwnn.. LOL It's a real challenge, but I like it and hope to do more.
I don't have any voice coaches yet, but what a great idea. So far - no accents for me. Kudos to you for doing that! What a great challenge :)

M.V.Freeman said...

Hi Livia--so glad you love her work too!

And I agree, I've found myself listening more than reading lately--because of things I Have to do.

M.V.Freeman said...

Hi Larissa,
Thanks for stopping by. I highly recommend it--that's what happened to me. I started listening to a story and realized I couldn't stop its as addicting as reading. ;) And you can clean house, do those tasks you can stop and read while you listen.

M.V.Freeman said...

Thanks for coming by Ana,
I am terrible with mispronoucing-it is hard.

And you're doing a vlog--now that is cool! ;) How are you liking it?

M.V.Freeman said...

Hi Angela,

Xe will be by later--because I totally forgot to ask that question--a very good one! ;)

M.V.Freeman said...

I think its neat that you are stepping out into another aspect of writing/reading. I find that fascinating. :)

Lexi said...

I love audiobooks, too! As a writer, it's the only way I can squeeze in reading time during the day. I listen to them on the way to and from work. And, as an amateur actress, I can appreciate the talent and time it takes to take on all those rolls!

M.V.Freeman said...

Hi Lexi,
what are some of your favorite stories? :) (I'm always on the look out!)

Unknown said...

@Chris - love to hear that folks love audiobooks! They can be such a perfect marriage of voice and text.

@Livia - aw, thank you! Sounds like you've found my little side project (that I adore!) - Going Public. One of my favorite parts of the week is recording those.

@Larissa - oh long trips are an excellent time to give audiobooks a try! I'd recommend looking for some that are more dynamic reads (not quiet and intimate) for a car ride. If you've got children riding with you, faves from our previous school commutes were "Granny Nothing" and the "Hank the Cowdog" series - loved them both! If just for adults - "The Snowman," by Jo Nesbo was exceptionally well read by Robin Sachs, and his deep, resonant voice carries well in the car :)

@Ana - I'm glad you learned something new :) When I'm blathering on about myself or my process, I often wonder who might ever get anything out of it :) And thanks so much for the kind words about the cake. My daughter was reading the interview this morning and said, "It really was the best cake ever. I don't think you can top that one." aHA! A challenge is born!

Unknown said...

@RedPeril - great questions! But no, not an agent. I spent more than a decade reading to my daughter, and over that time, realized how much I loved it - like REALLY loved WANT TO MAKE A CAREER out of it loved it. So I started volunteering for (great org, btw - please go check them out!), got some training along the way with the wonderful Pat Fraley and Carrington MacDuffie, and then just sort of launched myself at the industry with all the energy I could muster a couple years back :)

Unknown said...

@Kelli - how wonderful! An author's appreciation for how we carry their work is such a gift, isn't it? And the accents - oy! It really all started because of a particular book series that featured quite a few...otherwise, I would likely have avoided them like the plague - LOL!

@Lexi - bet you can! But it's what makes it so much fun...getting to be so many people each day :)

Unknown said...

Hmm...I can see Mary's response to some comments that don't appear. So if you've asked a question or made a comment and I haven't responded, please feel free to repost/ask again :)

M.V.Freeman said...

You are awesome Xe--
Technology is insane...:)
--what's life without a few glitches.


Katherine Bone said...

Xe and Mary, thanks for such a great interview and perspective into audio. Love the fact that you can change your voice and catch the flavor of a different culture. What an addition that is to bringing a book to life.

I loved reading to my kids when they were growing up. One of them loved it so much, he didn't want to read on his own. LOL!

Listening to audio books on my way to and from work would be ideal for me. Note to self: must do this!

Xe: What would you say has been the biggest hurtle to overcome in the audio business? And, do you get to pick the books you read for or do you just accept what comes your way? Thanks!

Unknown said...

@Katherine - thanks so much for taking an interest!

I'd say my biggest hurdles to date (because there are certainly more than one!) have been learning to get out of my own way, and the way of the author's intent. A perfect delivery is one in which the listener is unaware of me - they are just experiencing the story. If I'm too in love with what I'm doing and how it might affect the listener, I've lost my focus as a conduit for the author's intent. On the business side, the biggest hurdle has been working out in the Pacific Northwest when the major publishers are in LA and NYC.

As for what books I do, I largely have to consider what I'm offered, although I can and do make suggestions to publishers when there is something that really calls to me.

Misty Williams said...

This was great! I love the picture of the cake!

bn100 said...

Fun interview. I'd like to listen to the book.


M.V.Freeman said...

Hi Misty! So glad you could stop by! ;) That cake does look yummy. It's almost too pretty to eat.

Glad you could stop by bn100!, that book sounds good! Good luck, I'll do the drawing tomorrow.

Unknown said...

@Misty - it really was an awesome cake, I have to admit (so much better than last year's, which was admittedly, kinda lame).

@bn100 - if you give a listen, I'd welcome your thoughts on it! It was such a bunch of fun to record.