Kat Chats with Xe Sands

Xe Sands (pronounced EK-see) is one of my favorite audiobook narrators. She performs in many genres, but I’m mostly familiar with her SFF titles such as Juliet Blackwell’s books, Jeff VanderMeer’s Acceptance, and Kelly Meding’s DREG CITY series. I’ve read several online interviews with Xe in which I learned all sorts of interesting stuff such as:

Xe Sands

Xe Sands

  • how she got into this kind of work (she is not a professional actress, it was love of reading to her daughter that inspired this vocation)
  • how she chooses or is chosen for roles (there are a couple of ways)
  • how she prepares for a role (yes, she reads and studies the books before beginning)
  • tips for aspiring narrators
  • how much she interacts with authors (how else is she supposed to know how to pronounce character and place names?)
  • how she keeps her voice in shape (Throat Coat Tea and plenty of rest)
  • some of her favorite past performances
  • books she wishes she could have narrated
  • her favorite genre of books to narrate (“messy” fiction)
  • her relationship with other narrators
  • her proudest professional achievements
  • the biggest challenges of audiobook narration
  • what it’s like to narrate sex scenes
  • and what she does for fun (um… narrate audiobooks!)

So, I just had a few questions for her, which she was kind enough to answer for me.

Readers, one random commenter from the US will win a FanLit T-shirt, or a book from our stacks.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsKat Hooper: Xe, I’ve always wondered this about audiobook narration: When you perform a first-person role, let’s say Lily from Juliet Blackwell’s WITCHCRAFT MYSTERY series, do you feel like you become Lily? And if so, do you feel like Lily’s friends, lovers, and enemies are yours, too?

Xe Sands: Oh I love that question! Yes, I absolutely become Lily, or whomever the character is. This happens to a lesser extent with third person POV, but is definitely a welcomed occupational hazard with first person projects, which is part of the reason that I have certain plots points that make me take a second and third look at a project before committing. Tertiary characters also take on a 3D aspect for me. At the risk of sounding completely crazy, this has happened to me throughout my life when reading. There are some stories, some characters, who stay with me, and their journey feels so much like a memory… so perhaps that is where the tendency to connect so deeply with the characters I’m voicing comes from. I consider it one of the most rewarding aspects of my job… although it can make for some amusing and awkward days around my house when I’m fully immersed in the “skin” of a character.

Do you mind talking about the plot points that will make you reject a project?

Generally, if there is detailed sexual abuse/severe sexual manipulation of the characters that is spelled out in the text, I’ll spend a bit of time evaluating whether I can take on that emotional baggage and emerge unscathed. All depends on how it’s handled and presented, and what I think I can credibly deliver without damaging myself. We all have our personal demons, and I try to avoid rousing mine. :)

That totally makes sense.fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews
I understand you also do video games. How is that different from audiobook narrating, and which has been your favorite video game to narrate and why?

Actually, with games, you’re usually voicing just the dialog, so working on them always felt like the easiest and most fun aspect of voicing audiobooks. My favorite game to voice was Dying for Daylight, which read almost like a lighthearted version of the DREG CITY books, and my character, Dahlia, reminded me at times of a more confident version of Evy.

Tell us about your Going Public project. I know you’ve talked about it elsewhere, but many of our readers aren’t aware of it and I know it’s something you feel passionate about. 

I *do* feel passionately about it — thanks for asking! OK, first the official schpiel:

Going Public is a celebration of work in the public domain or shared via Creative Commons licensing, recorded purely for the joy of reading something that truly resonates with the narrator and then sharing that joy with others. Pieces are offered gratis on a weekly basis, without compensation of any sort either to the narrator or author.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsNow… how it all got started…

Going Public really came out of two separate desires. One, to record things I was really into, stuff I would never be hired to narrate. Usually, that’s poetry, but I’m also particularly moved by well written micro and flash fiction, short stories… you know, the kind that slip in under your skin and wind their way around your heart in a 1000 words or so? The type of raw and wonderful writing coming out of Little Fiction & Big Truths, Ficly, SixMinuteStory, and the like. There isn’t currently a place for such things in commercial audio production (for the most part), and it’s the sort of work that really feeds my soul.

Two, a desire to give back to listeners to say “thank you,” with free audio. I had witnessed a beautiful act of philanthropy unfold on Twitter back in 2011. A friend colluded with another friend and audiobook narrator to record a personally significant classic poem for someone and post it for everyone to enjoy. And that got me thinking about how I and other narrators could give back to listeners, those who make our jobs possible, who support us and encourage us, etc. I’m a firm believer in giving back whenever possible, and giving something away for free is incredibly (…wait for it…) FREEING! OK, that’s horribly cheesy-sounding, but it’s also absolutely true.

So from those complementary desires came Going Public, which has grown into a weekly post featuring readings of poetry, microfiction, serials, music/poetry mash-ups, etc, from anyone who wants to submit something to be posted. Pieces have to either be from the public domain or licensed for use via Creative Commons, or the narrator needs to have express permission from the author and/or publisher to post the piece. The playlist on the Going Public site and on SoundCloud is a rolling testament to the diversity of what resonates most with folks in any particular week and I encourage any who’d like to contribute, whether they are a professional narrator or not, to do it! You’d be surprised how much fun and fulfillment you derive from recording a bit of poetry. Interested folks should shoot me an email at voxology(at)xesands(dot)com for more information on how to contribute.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsAre there any SFF titles you’d recommend from that project?

There have been a few SFF pieces done for Going Public (by me and others). One of my favorites has to be Oliver Wyman reading Lovecraft’s “Dagon”. I’ve done several over the years, including Nano and a Zombie Apocalypse in Three Acts, which includes a bit of microfiction from Wil Wheaton.

The audiobook industry has changed a lot in just the last few years. It seems to me that more people are listening to audiobooks as they get easier to use and as prices are going down with services such as Amazon/Audible Whispersync. How has this change affected audiobook narrators?

I think the most profound effect this has had on narrators is that with the incredible push in audiobook production, more and more books are making it into the medium, which means there is quite a bit more work to be had. Of course, many folks have realized this, so there are quite a few more narrators vying for that work. The downside is that with that avalanche of work, sustainable wages for narrators have been on the decline, and for the amount of time we have to spend for each hour that the listener hears… well, I’ll be diplomatic and just say that this career is for those who love doing it, who can’t imagine getting up in the morning and doing anything else, not for those who are hoping to make, as my husband would say, mad bank. ;)

As far as speculative fiction goes, what will you be working on in the future?

Oh I wish I could tell you, but negotiations are still ongoing for an upcoming series that I would love to voice, but mums the word for now. BUT! I recently did a project with Jeremy Robinson and Sean Ellis — Flood Rising, the first in a new SFF series, featuring a badass teen female protagonist. Reads like a speculative fiction version of 24, although for the majority of the book, it’s a straight action thrill ride.

Also, working on an exciting and entertain new Spec Fic podcast with Serial Box Publishing. They plan to publish weekly episodes of fiction serials, organized into a season of about 10-16 short episodes. Written by a small team of authors (Max Gladstone, MurLafferty, Brian Francis Slattery and Margaret Dunlap), each episode will be released in text and audio formats. The first serial, Bookburners, is a fast paced modern fantasy in the vein of Supernatural or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It will launch September 16th and be available through the Serial Box app, their website, and ebook retailers, with the audio version released simultaneously through the Serial Box app.

Well, it looks like I’ve got some stuff to add to my TBR list. And I can’t wait to listen to some more of your projects. Thanks for spending time with me, Xe!

Readers, comment below for a chance to win a FanLit T-shirt, or book from our stacks. (US addresses only, please.)


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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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8 comments

  1. Thanks for stopping by! Kat turned me on to your narration, and she was so right!

  2. With audiobooks, the narrator is just as crucial as the author — otherwise the story doesn’t come out right. I’m so glad to hear your perspective, Ms. Sands!

    Kat, great interview! You should do this more often. :D

  3. Margo Hurwicz /

    I’m looking forward to ear-reading one of your narrations. We are so lucky that you can do what you love without worrying about that ‘mad bank’ thingie :)
    The Going Public project sounds wonderful … definitely something I’m going to look into.

    • Oh I hope that if/when you do, Margo, that you enjoy what you hear! But either way, please let me know what you think. And ha! I think my husband would prefer the “mad bank” option :)

  4. What a great glimpse into another aspect of reading. With podcasts, audio-books etc, the aural options are growing daily, it seems. Xe, thanks so much for the back-stage tour, and Going Public sounds wonderful.

  5. Margo, if you live in the USA, you win a book of your choice from our stacks, or a T-shirt.

    Please contact me (Marion) with your choice and a US address. Please include your preferred T-shirt size if appropriate.Enjoy!

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