In the last decade, author Lauren Blakely has produced more than 50 of her own audiobooks, collecting acclaim for her work: BIRTHDAY SUIT was a 2020 Audie Awards finalist for Audio Drama, and WANDERLUST was a 2019 Audie finalist in the Romance category. I was excited to talk with Lauren and get the behind-the-scenes scoop about being an audio producer as well as an author, and to learn more about her brand-new audiobook, A GUY WALKS INTO MY BAR.
AudioFile: Can you talk about your journey from writer to producer?
Lauren Blakely: As a longtime lover of theater and an avid consumer of audiobooks, I am involved in every aspect of my productions. I oversee all the casting, leaning on advice from trusted casting consultants who know the audiobook world well. In the end, though, I handle all the casting choices and always endeavor to match voice to character. Generally, I cast my books before I begin writing them, so I have the narrator’s voice in my head as I go. That’s actually one of the best parts of the job—to hear Joe Arden or Emma Wilder or Shane East in my head as I write, and then later when they perform. I’m also deeply involved in the marketing and promotion of the books, choosing clips to showcase the performers and deciding how to position the recording.
AF: How do you choose which narrators to work with?
LB: I love to introduce new voices to listeners! And I also love to work with the actors who have delivered time and time again, like Joe Arden, Shane East, Zachary Webber, Teddy Hamilton, Andi Arndt, Emma Wilder, Erin Mallon, and Vanessa Edwin. Speaking of Vanessa, she’s a great example of when to work with newer talent. Shane East told me about her, shared her samples, and sang her praises. I was hooked within seconds of listening to her. Her voice is friendly, accessible, and versatile while also possessing a natural sensuality that fits the romance genre so well. As soon as I heard her voice, I knew I had to work with her. Since she was new to me and newer in romance, I paired her with Joe Arden on her first four titles for me, knowing that they’d sound great together and that I could use those titles and his longtime work with me as a springboard to introduce her to my listeners. Now she’s one of my main leading ladies. I also like to bring in newer talent for supporting roles or cameo appearances, paying close attention to how listeners respond to their voices.
AF: Your audiobooks range from dual narration to full-cast narration. How do you determine which projects get which narration styles?
LB: If a book falls into what I call the “high banter” category, that’s when I start weighing whether the costs for a duet production make sense. In general, my books have a lot of dialogue, but some tend to have rapid-fire dialogue, and those can often truly shine with a duet narration. When I began planning DEAR SEXY EX-BOYFRIEND for Shane East and Andi Arndt, I wanted a duet narration in part because their voices and their chemistry meshed so well on INSTANT GRATIFICATION, which had a full cast with those two as the leads. And the next book that followed that, THE WHAT-IF GUY, is also a duet with Joe Arden and Andi Arndt since it’s told in a similar quick-wit style with lots of flirting.
With A GUY WALKS INTO MY BAR, I specifically planned that project from the get-go to showcase my two primary male narrators, Joe Arden and Shane East, in scenes together. I decided to make it a full-cast production because I wanted listeners to hear those two solely as the heroes and I wanted women to play the female characters and other men to play the supporting guys.
AF: There’s been tons of buzz about A GUY WALKS INTO MY BAR.
LB: A GUY WALKS INTO MY BAR is my first male/male romance, and I fell wildly in love with the characters Dean and Fitz as I wrote. Dean is a sarcastic, witty British bartender, and Fitz is a charming, confident, and bighearted American hockey player who wants a fling for the week he’s in London. After some resistance on Dean’s part, the Brit gives in, but neither one gambles on falling wildly in love in five days with someone who lives across an ocean. Ultimately, A GUY WALKS INTO MY BAR is a passionate, witty, sexy love story about two people who have to decide what they will do for love. As I’ve mentioned, the story was originally conceived as an audio project-—if it weren’t for Joe and Shane, this book wouldn’t even exist. Their voices and their banter served as my muses as I wrote. Because I wrote with them in mind, about 75% or 80% of the scenes are just the two men, falling for each other as they explore London together. And because it is my first M/M romance, as well as my favorite romance, I wanted the audiobook to be particularly special. That’s why, in addition to my two leads, I brought on a full cast to play their friends and family, and I am so proud of the way all of these actors poured their hearts into this production, including Emma Wilder, Ron Butler, Jakobi Diem, Vanessa Edwin, Stella Hunter, Zachary Webber, Maxine Mitchell, Vikas Adam, and Sebastian York.
AF: Can you talk about writing for the audio format?
LB: Since audio has become such a vital part of what I do, from both a business standpoint and a creative one, I absolutely write with audio in mind. Sometimes that means little things, like tightening up dialogue tags or avoiding starting chapters with dialogue from another character, because that can be jarring to the listener. But writing with audio in mind has broader implications, too. Sometimes it means making sure, if the story supports it, that in a dual-point-of-view book, both characters appear near the start so their voices can be heard. And sometimes it means writing a few more sex scenes from the man’s point of view because, quite frankly, a lot of audio listeners enjoy that.
AF: What else should listeners know about you?
LB: When I’m not writing or spending time with my family, I can be found walking my dogs or working out, almost always with earbuds in, so I can listen to an audiobook. More than 90% of the books I read are books I listen to—from romance to young adult to humor. Also, I love cake.
Many thanks to author Lauren Blakely for spending time sharing her work with AudioFile! For more listening, check out her audiography.