Romance audiobook enthusiasts discovered a new romance audio talent when Karen first talked with Speaking of Audiobooks in April 2011. Oh, we knew someone fantastic had narrated Julie James’ Just the Sexiest Man Alive but we didn’t know much about her work. Since that time, Karen has communicated regularly with romance audio fans both through the Speaking of Audiobooks column and our Romance Audiobooks Goodreads group providing insight into the art of narrating. For a full listing of Karen’s romance titles, take a look at her AudioGals page.
Lea: Welcome to AudioGals Karen! We’re thrilled to have you with us today.
Those of us who listen to audiobooks sometimes wonder what goes on while you are recording. I think we envision you sitting in a sound booth at some publishing company surrounded by a technician and a director. Is that reality? Or do you record in your own studio?
Karen: When I started out working as a narrator, and for the first seven years, I did work in a studio where an engineer would set our levels and then a director would be there for the whole recording process. About four years ago, I started working for Tantor Audio from a studio set up in my garage. (Tantor has proprietary software that makes it pretty easy to self-record.) My booth started out as four moving blankets hung around a mic, desk and computer monitor. Now I have a Whisper Room (a pre-fab modular booth) with two complete recording setups – Tantor’s and ProTools (recording and editing software) that I use for everyone else. I can’t imagine starting out as a narrator working without a director and engineer, but now I love it. I can manage my own schedule, work for publishers all over the country, and still pick up my kids from school and make dinner from scratch (at least some nights!). And I spend a lot less on gasoline.
Lea: Can you give us a look into your background?
Karen: I have both a BA and an MFA in acting, and I worked in New England for about 15 years as a theatre actor and director and acting and voice teacher.
Having a theatre background is generally good training for audiobook narrators (the demands are more similar than say, film or commercial voice over.) I was never an ingénue because my voice is pretty deep, so I ended up playing all kinds of roles, including LOTS of men in Shakespeare plays (Verges, Speed, Snug the Joiner). I also did quite a few plays where my role was simply Woman and I’d play multiple roles throughout the show (including an offstage voice for a dog – fans would come back stage wanting to “meet” the dog and would be surprised to meet me!) I also did some Radio Plays in Boston which I loved, and I think that whet my appetite for audiobook work.
I started out working in the audiobook world as an editor for Dove Audio of Beverly Hills, which recorded primarily abridged books with celebrity narrators. Then I was hired as jill-of-all-trades when Books on Tape opened its first Los Angeles studio and I continued editing but also directed, ran casting sessions and started narrating. That was a great year of training. When my girls were small I did a lot of proofing (listening to the product while reading the text to check for errors) which was another great way to learn.
Lea: And are there any awards or nominations you can share with us?
Karen: I have won several Audiofile Earphones awards over the years, was nominated for an Audie for The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed (a 30-hour history book about Thomas Jefferson and his mistress Sally Hemings). I have been recognized twice by Audiofile in the Best Narrators of the Year for my work in the Memoir and Contemporary Culture genre.
Karen: I did use a synonym (Caroline Ryan – my girl’s middle names) for my first romance with Harlequin. But then I abandoned that because I was getting recognition for Julie James’ JTSMA, which I’d recorded with my own name. I think that some narrators might prefer to have different identities for different genres. If I were recording a lot of children’s titles, it would make sense for me. But by working under my real name I might encourage listeners to try out genres they might normally shy away from.
Lea: Do you find narrating romance particularly challenging? Does your preparation for a romance performance differ from other genres?
Karen: My preparation and methodology are pretty much the same across the board. For all fiction, I do a great deal of prep on character details (for non fiction, it’s mostly about correct word pronunciations). I try to get a very specific picture of who each person is before I start. Then as I record I try to work as spontaneously as possible, going with my gut instincts. For me, this allows each author’s style and voice to guide me in my choices. In general, I think I’ve learned to be more definitive and take bigger risks in my character voices, and the romance genre especially seems to encourage that, as many of the characters are slightly larger than life. But I think my strength has always been in emotional truth and commitment to what is happening in each moment – and that can only happen if I just go on the ride the author has created.
Lea: What are some of your current or upcoming projects?
Karen: I have been a busy girl, and I am so grateful to get to record such a wide variety of projects. As you know, I have the 2nd and 3rd books in Julie James’ FBI/US Attorney series coming out very soon. Just recorded my first title for Brilliance Audio – a mystery with a strong romance component called Dangerous Affairs, by Diana Miller. I have a couple of beautiful family dramas coming out this fall, including You Are the Love of My Life by Susan Richards Shreve for Dreamscape and Those We Love Most by Lee Woodruff (wife of NPR host Bob Woodruff) for Harper Audio. I’ll also be recording two more of Beverly Barton’s very scary thrillers for Audible later in the fall. Finally, I have a wonderful non-fiction coming out soon from Blackstone Audio by the incredibly inspiring Brené Brown called Daring Greatly. Her research and writing is the kind of stuff that changes your life – if you haven’t heard of her, I encourage checking out her TED Talks (and the book, of course!).
Lea: Tantor’s announcement of their audio release of Julie James’ FBI/US Attorney series caused quite a bit of excitement among romance audio fans. After all, we had asked for more Julie James titles with Karen at the narrator’s helm many times! All of the gals have listened to the first in the series, Something About You, and agree it’s top notch. Check out Melinda’s review.