Talking with Narrator Xe Sands

Xe Sands2Romance listeners immediately embraced Xe as someone who spoke their language upon the release of Anne Stuart’s Fire and Ice in February 2011. She was a big winner in the Speaking of Audiobooks 2012 Favorite Romance Audiobook Poll, receiving more overall votes than any other narrator. That’s pretty amazing considering the fact that Xe has been narrating for less than two years and, at the time of the poll, had only 11 romance titles to her name. She’s picked up the pace lately and with her recent narrations of Mariah Stewart’s Chesapeake Diaries Series, it looks like that number will be 19 by the end of September. You’ll want to take a look at her AudioGals page.

Lea: Welcome to AudioGals Xe! 

Xe: Thanks so much for the kind introduction, Lea. I have to confess that it’s been one heck of a whirlwind, and the support from the romance listening community has been unexpected and wonderful. I’m so grateful for it and the connections I’ve made with listeners through the romance projects I’ve been privileged to narrate. There really are no fans like romance audio fans!

Lea: Your entry into audio narration seemed to come on like a tidal wave. You inspire listener loyalty after just one experience (as clearly indicated by Speaking of Audiobooks’ 2011 and 2012 poll).  Can you give us a look into the last 22 months – from recording your first audiobook to the number of projects you are currently working on?

Xe: Oh my, there’s a question! You know, if I think about it all at once, I might just pass out. If someone had told me in Fall 2010 when I booked my first project, Thrill of the Chase by Christina Crooks, that it would have unfolded quite this way, I don’t think I would have believed them. Oh I would have hoped, but…

Since that first project, I’ve been privileged to narrate some truly amazing books. I’ve been challenged and stretched in ways I could not have imagined possible, been humbled by the support of the listening community, and often been challenged by their feedback to improve, grow, go deeper. I’ve been fortunate to bounce between pretty much every genre – PNR, literary & general fiction, suspense, UF, romantic suspense and general romance, but that’s part of what keeps the job so interesting. Just when I’ve had my fill of something, I’m swept into a new and different world.

As for the timeline… from Thrill of the Chase, I went to classics, then back to romance with Fire and Ice, which was a wonderful challenge in several respects. In spring of 2011, romance was put on a hold for a bit as I worked on some beautiful and gritty literary fiction, then Kelly Meding’s UF Dreg City series (go Evy!) and eventually back to romance with Jacquelyn Frank’s, Nightwalkers series in the summer/fall of 2011. Then a trip through some truly gorgeous, poignant and tragic literary fiction in the spring of 2012, followed by On Thin Ice, the raucous ending to Anne Stuart’s Ice Series, featuring Finn, that delicious, randy Irishman. Those were followed by the first in the Witchcraft Mystery Series, Secondhand Spiritsby Juliet Blackwell, then a truly harrowing memoir, two wonderful first-person narrations (I’ll confess, my favorite type!), and Catch of the Day, my first Kristan Higgins (hopefully not my last). Then summer hit and it’s been a nonstop ride with Jacquelyn Frank’s, The Gatherers, and the first five in The Chesapeake Diaries series by Mariah Stewart, The Art Forger, the start to the The Deadglass Trilogy… and that brings us to this week, when I’ll be working on My Miserable Lonely Lesbian Pregnancy. Phew!

And thrown into all that were the truly humbling honors granted by the listeners in the 2011 and 2012 Speaking of Audiobooks Romance Audio Polls, for which I am profoundly grateful.

Lea: Can you share your acting background with us?

Xe: Well that’s an easy one – I don’t have one :)  Although many narrators do have an acting background or theater training, I came into this a bit differently. Over ten or so years of reading to my daughter, I fell in love with the process of translating the author’s intent into performance and decided to pursue that passion professionally.

Lea: I have to admit that with your ability to voice numerous characters so effectively, regardless of their background, I assumed your natural talent would  have led you to the stage long ago. That makes your success story even more impressive. 

How do you describe your profession to others unfamiliar with the audio industry?

Xe: It all depends on whether I get that “blank look” when I say that I narrate audiobooks. If so, I usually follow up with, “You know, books on cassette?” That usually sparks some recognition as many folks remember checking out those large cassette sets from their library. But as audiobooks become more prevalent, I get that “deer in the headlights” look less and less. However, if someone has never listened to an audiobook, they often ask if it’s anything more than simply reading the book aloud into a microphone.

But when discussing the profession with frequent or avid listeners, there is a mutual understanding and respect – they understand the commitment involved in delivering an effective performance, and I appreciate their willingness to allow me into that intimate relationship between reader and author.

Of course, there is the inevitable discussion about the steamier side of my work…

Lea: Do you find narrating romance particularly challenging?

Xe: In some ways, yes, and in some ways, it actually comes easier than some others. The challenge for me is two-fold: one, I like my male leads to sound as much like the impossibly deeply voiced heroes the author describes; second, I admit that I can be a bit “Victorian” in my attitudes … ahem. This means I am sometimes shocked (SHOCKED I tell you!) by some of what I come across in my projects. But that can be one of the gifts of narrating romance – it can help broaden your views on sex and sensuality. Ok … and that’s *quite* enough of THAT.

But in some ways, narrating romance comes more easily because the relationships are paramount and dialog dominates – both of which I find more accessible performance-wise than, say, pages of third person narrative describing a particularly amazing … tree (not that trees aren’t amazing, of course).

Lea: I’m already paging through your romance backlist in my mind wondering which titles most shocked your Victorian sensibilities!

Which of your projects has required the most preparation (all genres included)? Can you share what you did to prepare?

Xe: I’d say the most prep required to date was for Jacquelyn Frank’s, Nightwalkers series, with the majority of prep done prior to the first book, Jacob. The series was well established with a dedicated fan base, which meant that listeners would have very clear ideas about how the characters should sound. And as most characters introduced in Jacob had distinctive accents and would eventually have their own books/stories, I wanted to be sure to voice them in a way that would serve them throughout the entire series. So in prep for recording Jacob, I read as much as possible of the existing five books in the series to determine the appropriate character arcs and vocalizations. I also met with a dialect coach several times over the course of recording the series to develop the various accents required, including French, Eastern European, British, and Russian.

Lea: What are some of your current or upcoming projects?

Xe: On the romance front, I just wrapped on the Chesapeake Diaries series by Mariah Stewart for Tantor Audio, and am currently working on the novella and first book in the Deadglass Trilogy, by Kira Brady for Blackstone, which is an action-packed, hot-as-heck mix of PNR and UF.

In addition, I just wrapped on the wonderful The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro for HighBridge, and will shortly start working on the snarky, poignant memoir, My Miserable Lonely Lesbian Pregnancy, by Andrea Askowitz for Audible.

Then later in September I’ll be back at romance, recording the first in Jacquelyn Frank’s offshoot of the Nightwalkers series, Forbidden for Tantor, and then returning to the world of Lily Ivory with the rest of the lovely Witchcraft Mystery Series from Juliet Blackwell, also for Tantor. Time to brush up that Southern twang!

Lea: What a great body of work you have created in a short 22 months. Thanks for sharing with us today Xe!


Lea Hensley


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