As you know, the audiobook for HER LAST HELLO is now out. The narrator is Chrissy Bienvenu who was an absolute joy to work with. Not only did she totally GET the main character, Athena, but she also patiently answered all my newbie questions. Right after production was finished, we sat down for a chat. (Not really, because we live in different states, but let’s imagine we’re sitting at an outdoor cafe drinking coffee).
TARA: I could never be a narrator because I hate the sound of my voice. I cringe every time I hear it recorded. Did or do you ever feel like that, and if so, how do you overcome it?
CHRISSY: Before I started doing audiobooks, I never thought my recorded voice sounded like ME. But now I listen to it so much, I’m used to it, and my voice just sounds like my voice. But every now and then I hear a word in a recording that makes me wince, usually something OVERLY Southern (I’m from Louisiana) when I’m not supposed to be Southern, or something horrible like “git” instead of “get.” If it’s truly offensive or poses a problem in the story I’m telling, I’ll re-record it. Otherwise, I’ll make a note of the word, and in my off-time, I practice recording it over and over to reduce the problem for next time!
TARA: While writing THE SUBMISSIVE, I often took my laptop and wrote while Youngest was taking dance class. That’s the cool thing about typing, you can be writing the craziest sex scene ever and no one knows. You can’t do that while recording an audio book. Where do you record and has anyone ever overheard you?
CHRISSY: OMG LOL! No, no one can hear me while I’m recording. I record in the very back of my house and usually when my husband isn’t home (not to keep it from him -- because he knows -- but just because it’s quieter). And whether he’s home or not, 3 separate doors are closed between the front and back of the house to reduce background noise, so he couldn’t hear me anyway. :)
And the interesting thing about recording audiobooks is that I need privacy to RECORD the audio… but to edit, all I need is a set of headphones and I can do it ANYWHERE :)
TARA: What’s your process for narrating? Do you do anything different for a sex scene vs a non sex scene? Also, there are a few intense moments in HER LAST HELLO that aren’t sexy at all, is your process any different?
CHRISSY: There’s a lot of prep work that goes into recording an audiobook. Lots of research into your characters, how you want them to sound, and practicing that. Pre-reading the script so you know what’s coming. You have to know what’s ahead so you can give it the appropriate weight and emotion to each scene. And of course, I have a MASSIVE project spreadsheet which records EVERYTHING!
When I record a sex scene, I try to find a balance between just straight reading and a full-on porn site performance. Obviously, neither of those would be interesting to listen to! I’m usually hesitant with the first couple of takes, so I have to record-listen-adjust, record-listen-adjust, until I am comfortable with my performance level. I basically want to just give a hint of what’s going on. For example, instead of screaming, “Oh my God!” I would say “Oh my God,” at a normal volume, but infuse it with appropriate emotional notes.
I approach intense scenes, as you mention, very similarly. Trying them out first, a few different ways, until I hit upon the perfect delivery. Same thing with shouting -- I never really shout, I keep the volume level consistent, but change the performance to hint that I’m shouting. If my character is crying, I usually have to get myself to an emotional place, not to actually cry, but to be able to convey that level of emotion while I’m speaking.
TARA: What other novels have you narrated? Along those same lines, have you done any other voice work?
CHRISSY: I’ve only been doing audiobooks for a little over a year, and this is my third completed audiobook. I spent a great amount of time getting set up, studying, researching, practicing, learning, etc. It’s a BIG learning curve -- it’s not just “reading a book into a microphone” like people think.
My two previous books were both romance novels. The first one (“Finding His Heart”) was a PG rated, very sweet Hallmark-type story with a happily ever after ending. My second book was more PG-13 about a couple of actors in a community theatre who fall in love but don’t know it yet (“Soulmate: Stage Right”). I come from a radio family, so I have been doing voiceovers for commercials for years, ever since I was a child. My first on-air experience when I was about 8 or so was a Thanksgiving promotion, and my big line was, “Guess who got the bird!” Hahahaha.
Other than that, I’m also an amateur stage actor, so I’ve done some plays/musicals here in town, all of which helps me in my narration career.
TARA: What do you look for when considering a narration project? Any limits?
CHRISSY: I really have to be interested in the book and/or the subject matter and/or the author. I have a full time day job, so I’m narrating as my “side hustle,” and I hope to be firmly established by the time I retire in 8-10 years, so for now, I can pick and choose what interests me. Romance has been my go-to so far, but I’d also like to do some mystery/suspense books, crime dramas, maybe some sci-fi dramas. And maybe a children’s story -- my 8 year old grandson loves it when I read to him because I do voices, hahaha. Also, I’m a HUGE fan of true crime non-fiction, so that’s definitely on my list.
As someone who previously read your stories, I would have narrated the phone book if you had written it, so signing on with you was a complete no-brainer!
TARA: *blushes* Thank you. So you have some questions for me?
CHRISSY: I started reading your work when "The Submissive" was a fanfiction story online, and then I followed you like crazy and read every story that came after. How did you get the idea for “The Submissive?” It's not exactly a mainstream topic :)
TARA: Oh wow, that seems like forever ago! I’ve always been a romance novel fan and before I started writing THE SUBMISSIVE, I’d written a “clean” romance. But I always wanted to write something spicy. I’d recently started reading AU (alternate universe) TWILIGHT fanfic and thought to myself, hmmm, I could do that. I told myself if I was going to do it, I was going to give it my all. I’d make it extra spicy (BDSM) and I’d post a chapter every day M - F.
CHRISSY: I know “The Submissive” hit big as a fanfiction story. What was your reaction to this initial response? How did you handle the attention?
TARA: I was (and still am) floored. Writing fanfiction was my dirty little secret. No one in my “real life” knew. To this day, most people don’t.
CHRISSY: When you moved this series of stories out of the fanfiction world, it continued to grow in readership. How has that changed your “real life” life?
TARA: I was able to write full time and that was always a dream. I’m forever grateful to all my readers for that. But most people in my “real life” don’t know me as Tara Sue Me, so in many ways it hasn’t changed that much.
CHRISSY: “Her Last Hello” is a standalone book, one of yours not (currently) in a series. It’s also a little bit different from your usual subject matter. Was this intentional and where did the idea come from?
TARA: It was intentional. My plan was never to write erotica, much less BDSM erotica, and this was my first try at something more mainstream. The original draft, however, was very different from the final. It was my husband’s idea to shake it up completely!
CHRISSY: You’ve mentioned before that this particular book is hard to categorize, and now, having read it and narrated it, I know exactly what you mean! After much thought, I'm calling it a “suspense-romance.” What would you call it?
TARA: I think “suspense-romance” works. Either that or “what the hell just happened women’s fiction."
CHRISSY: Not giving away any spoilers, but, when I read “Her Last Hello,” I loved the characters and was immediately wanting more of them. Any thoughts on a sequel?
TARA: It’s always been my plan. I’m just waiting for the characters to tap me on my shoulder and start talking…