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Author Cara Bastone on Creating Audio-First Romances

New York-based author Cara Bastone is certainly one of the most audio-friendly authors in romance. Her audio-first romance CALL ME MAYBE, narrated by Luci Christian and Neil Hellegers, was a 2021 Audies Finalist. SEATMATE, narrated by Amanda Ronconi, Zachary Webber, and a full cast, was chosen as one of AudioFile's Best Romance Audiobooks of 2022 and is a finalist in the 2023 Audies. Both feature immersive sound effects. Her newest audio-first title, LOVE AT FIRST PSYCH, features Santino Fontana and Stephanie Einstein, accompanied by a full cast.

Love At First PsychAudioFile: Including LOVE AT FIRST PSYCH, you have written four audio-first/audio-only stories. What’s it like writing a story for audio?

Cara Bastone: It's always such a unique challenge because we never know exactly how the sound design will integrate with the story and dialogue. Of course, with any great writing, the author is charged with showing, not telling, but in an audio-only story, we also have to understand exactly how much information can be conveyed by the sound design. For instance, we don't need a character to say, "Oh, this coffee is too hot! I better set it on the table!" because it's way too much detail; listeners would roll their eyes! But . . . *slurp sound* "Yow! Too hot!" *sound of mug being set down* That ends up conveying all the same information in a more natural way. And the icing on the cake? If I, as a writer, can make the dialogue informative and make it pop at the same time. *slurp sound* "Ah! Hot! Jeez, Jennifer, did you decide I didn't need a tongue anymore?!" *sound of mug being set down*.

AF: Can you tell us about your new release LOVE AT FIRST PSYCH?

CB: I'm biased, but I love this book. It was so fun to write that I wrote the whole thing in four (totally non-stop) days. In this story, we see two opposites attract each other over the course of a semester as they work on a group project together. It's different from my other audio-only titles because the main characters interview different couples for their project. So not only do we get a full cast, we also get the tea on a bunch of other love stories. It's juicy, emotional, silly . . . sigh. I seriously have a crush on this book.

Santino Fontana and Stephanie Einstein
Narrators Santino Fontana and Stephanie Einstein

AF: Did you know in advance that LOVE AT FIRST PSYCH would have a full cast and be led by Santino Fontana? How did you approach crafting an audiobook that would be performed by a full cast?

CB: Santino was a happy surprise, but I did know it was going to be a full cast. I had such a blast writing it because I didn't have to worry about structuring scenes around one actor doing many different voices (which often requires bits of narrative thrown in). This story is written using exclusively dialogue, and I was able to write so many different characters of various ages and accents and voices because I never had to wonder if it was too much for one actor. Instead, all the actors were able to collaborate and work off of one another's energy. The first time I heard it, it brought tears to my eyes because everyone's chemistry was so on point!

AF: LOVE AT FIRST PSYCH is just 4 hours and 35 minutes long. How do you approach writing such impactful audiobooks that follow such tight story arcs?

CB: I write what I like to read! Not to say that I don't fully enjoy lengthy, complicated plots, but there is something so soothing to me about stories that can draw me in and then get wrapped up succinctly and neatly. It's sort of the difference between being so hungry and having to either: 1. eat a plate of nachos with your hands (ultimately fulfilling and deliciously messy) or 2. eat a pre-wrapped sandwich. With a tight story arc and a novella length, you can get in, get out, get fed, and not have to get too messy!

SeatmateAF: Romances are often beloved for tropes like forced proximity, second chance at love, etc. Do you have favorite tropes for writing audio-only romances?

CB: I love any trope that can produce a unique soundscape. For instance, SEATMATE was so fun because the characters were stuck on a bus (forced proximity). Maybe in my next one they'll get snowed in and have to share a bed. We'll hear a fire crackling in the hearth and wind between the slats of the log cabin.

AF: Humor is an important element in your audio romances. Can you talk about how you approach humor, especially as it relates to the audio experience?

CB: I want to enjoy writing, so humor in my stories is often a by-product of trying to make myself laugh. I love silly characters, I love taking risks with dialogue, and I love hearing what the voice actors can do with a piece of writing. What's funny on the page might not translate out loud and vice versa, but I've been fortunate enough to work with incredibly talented voice actors. They often make me laugh even when I wasn't expecting to!

AF: Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to mention?

Yes! I have a new book, READY OR NOT, coming out from Dial in spring of 2024. It's my first print book in years, and I'm so stoked. Check it out!

AF: Is there anything else you’d like to share about LOVE AT FIRST PSYCH?

CB: Stephanie Einstein and Santino Fontana absolutely crush their performances in it. It’s transporting, swoony, funny, emotional. I'm truly blown away by their unreal talent. The direction by Sara Pagluica and the sound design by Joe Dell'Aquila are seriously some of the best you'll hear in the industry. I'm so blessed to have this team!

Cara Bastone photo by Autumn Layne Photography; Santino Fontana photo by Nathan Johnson; Stephanie Einstein photo by Joanna DeGeneres

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