Interview with audiobook narrator Xe Sands

This week I am excited to present an interview with Xe Sands, the narrator of the Burnout audiobook and the upcoming Informant and Deadly Evidence audiobooks. Xe is an accomplished narrator with a number of awards to her credit, including an Audie Award, multiple SOVAS Voice Arts Awards, multiple AudioFile Earphones Awards, and a Publisher’s Weekly Narrator of the Year Award. She has lent her voice to books in numerous genres including thrillers, romance, science fiction and fantasy, and others. Despite a very busy schedule, Xe was generous enough to let me interview her for this blog. I hope you enjoy it!

Larry: You have an interesting name, so let’s get that out of the way first. How is Xe pronounced, and what is the origin of the name?

Xe: It is…unusual, that’s for sure. Although one of my cousins also has the same name, believe it or not. Makes for some hilarious confusion on Facebook (although she’s 12 years younger and MUCH cuter, so being mistaken for her ain’t a bad thing…).We’re both named after my great-grandmother. Oh – and it’s pronounced EK-see 🙂

Xe Sands

How did you get started in the audiobook business?

Honestly, I owe it all to my daughter. Although a college student now (dear lord, how did that happen?!), during her first 12 years or so, I read to her daily, and we listened to numerous audiobooks on our daily commute. And as she got older, she grew more discerning in terms of my expected performance – I had to continually step up my game! I also realized over the years how much I loved reading to her, and eventually got serious about figuring out how to do it professionally. I started out by volunteering for Librivox.org (which I highly recommend – awesome organization and service), and lucked into an audiobook intensive offered by Pat Fraley years back…and from there, started working with Carrington MacDuffie to hone the raw skills into something listenable. Basically kept at it, worked my tail off, until something caught…and just kept on keeping on.

What are some of your favorite characters/roles that you’ve narrated?

Oh that’s like choosing among your children! I can’t play favorites…but I’ll cheat JUST THIS ONCE and say that I absolutely adored narrating Lillian Boxfish, the incredibly awesome 85-year-old main character from LILLIAN BOXFISH TAKES A WALK, by Kathleen Rooney (Macmillan Audio).

In addition to the Jessie Black books, you also narrated a legal thriller by Alafair Burke called The Ex. (In fact, it was your excellent performance in that audiobook that made you my first choice for my series.) Have you narrated any other legal thrillers?

Aw, thanks so much, Larry! Had a great time narrating THE EX. I’ve worked on other thrillers, but not sure they’d be classified as legal thrillers. I narrate the Jane Ryland series, written by the wonderful Hank Phillippi Ryan for Macmillan Audio, which features a detective and reporter as the main characters, and worked on TRAUMA by Brian and Michael Palmer, which was as medical thriller. But I think that your series and THE EX have been the main legal thrillers that I’ve had the privilege of working on.

How do you prepare for all the different characters and their tones/vocal ranges?

It’s an intuitive process and just…comes out. Which can be a bit maddening when the voice in my head just won’t come out of my mouth the way I hear it in my head. If it that happens, often I try to think of someone the character reminds me of, try to let that person inhabit me a bit, so to speak, and then let them come through. Often, there is a key phrase that helps me drop into the character when I feel them slipping away from me.

How do you convincingly do guys’ voices?

Ha! I wish I could tell you. It’s just…something that I can do with my voice – a combination of lowering the pitch in what I hope is a natural-sounding way, and changing my cadence and the way I carry the voice in my body, I suppose, to better match a typical male cadence. My daughter tells me that my speaking pitch has definitely lowered over these past years…

I’ll admit I wasn’t thinking about audiobooks when I wrote the first three Jessie Black books. Do you have any suggestions for a writer to take into account while writing a book that would make an audiobook version easier to record, or more effective as an audiobook?

That’s a wonderful question! Not specific to your work, but just in general observation, I’d say that books often benefit from being read aloud during the writing process. It seems that doing so really helps an author get a feel for the musicality, the rhythm of their writing, and helps them avoid awkward phrasing that perhaps isn’t as obvious on the page as it is when they try to voice it.

Is it different narrating a series rather than a standalone book?

Absolutely. With a standalone project, everything is contained within that one book – all characterizations, all plot, so there is only that one set of events and characters to account for. With series, however, I need to make sure that all characterizations will make sense moving forward – because often characters recur or a peripheral character in one book will come back as a main character later in the series…and if I’ve done my job right, the voice I’ve given them will work no matter where they are in the series. Of course, series are wonderful to work on as for all subsequent books, as I’ve already got a feel for the world they operate in, and many of the characters have already been established, whereas for standalones, that all must be recreated anew for each book.

What types of books do you read for fun? Has narrating affected the way you read or the genres you seek out?

You know, most of my reading is in audio form these days as I need to multi-task in order to get any reading, and I find I don’t choose books by genre but instead by narrator. When I find a narrator I really like, I basically binge every book I can find that they’ve worked on. My current audiobook narrator crush is on Macleod Andrews, who is an incredibly talented performer.

Do you listen to your own audiobooks once they are on the market?

Oh gracious NO! That’s just…too weird. I’ve heard from many authors that they cannot listen to their work in audio because it’s just too strange. And I completely understand that. Besides, I’d just spend the entire listen critiquing my performance, LOL.

Are there any other projects you’re working on that you want to tell us about?

Well, the next two books in the Jessie Black series, of course! In addition, for those that like serialized stories, I’m just finishing up recording on Bookburners, Season 3, from Serial Box Publishing, which is just an awesome kick in the pants – like Buffy meets The Vatican.

Thanks for the interview, Xe!

Click here to buy the audiobook of Burnout in digital format.

Click here to buy the audiobook of Burnout in physical CD format.

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