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With numerous AudioFile Earphones Awards and nearly 200 audiobooks to her credit so far, Xe Sands (that’s pronounced “Ex-ee”) is known for her ability to make an audiobook an intimate experience for her listeners. Interestingly, Sands didn’t come to audiobooks through acting as most narrators do. She began her adult life as a visual artist. “I used to paint. I did a lot of photo manipulation, and just a whole bunch of handcrafting of all kinds.” How did she get involved in the audio world? “My daughter and I had a long commute for many years, and we went through a million audiobooks.” She also read aloud to her daughter, until it dawned on her: “I would love to do that.” She didn’t think her voice would be one that anyone would want to hear, but she really wanted to try her hand at narration. So in 2008, she discovered a supportive audio community that encouraged recording. She worked with them for a few years before she was “discovered.”
Her Earphones-winning reading of THE MURALIST involved a great deal of research. “The book has a lot of French, and I don’t speak French, so there was quite a bit of accent work. But the majority of my research revolved around the historical figures in the novel.” Because they were such well-known people, Sands was striving to get the essence of their speech patterns rather than attempting to duplicate them. “To be honest, unless it’s Eleanor Roosevelt talking, it [her voice] can be a bit grating, and that sound coming out of me would not be good.” She also worked on getting the correct diction for the period. “The book is set in two different time periods, and trying to differentiate them for the listener was especially challenging.”
You might think claustrophobia would be the bane of a narrator’s existence, but Sands suffers from another phobia, which almost undid her one day while she was recording. “I’m completely arachnophobic. I was recording along, and it’s this romantic scene--not a steamy one, or it would have been even more surreal. I’m reading along, and I look down, and there’s a spider sitting on my hand! (It was a pretty small spider . . . If it had been a giant wolf spider, well . . .) I just panicked. I’m trapped in the booth with the spider! I knew I had to get out of the booth with the spider, or I’d never, ever work in there again.” Somehow she remained calm, exited the booth, and shook the spider off her hand. After that, when the danger was gone and the crisis over, “I just screamed and screamed. Everyone laughed. It was one of those moments when it was funny-- afterwards.”
We asked what’s next for Sands? “I just finished recording THE LIGHTKEEPERS by Abby Geni for Blackstone. It’s a phenomenal book. It’s historical fiction set in the present, with real people in a real place.” And hopefully, no spiders.--S.J. Henschel
© AudioFile 2016, Portland, Maine
Photo by Charles Tarnowski Photography
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