Say hello to Karen White, the first guest in my 5 Audios / 5 Questions series. Karen is not only one of the queens of romantic fiction narrators but is also known for compelling performances in literary fiction, memoir, mystery, and more.
Audiobook fans live for those magic pairings between author and narrator, especially for ongoing series. Karen has performed many of Jill Shalvis’s novels and is the voice of her Heartbreaker Bay Series, including this fall’s CHASING CHRISTMAS EVE. Her delivery emphasizes the romantic tension between the characters and brings out the Shalvis’s sense of humor. Karen’s believable characterizations and spot-on pacing for Julie James’s FBI-US Attorney romantic fiction series won her an Earphones Award for SUDDENLY ONE SUMMER.
Two recent entries on Karen’s résumé highlight her skills in creating distinct voices for a range of characters and bringing out the emotional core of a story. The challenge for Lauren Grodstein’s OUR SHORT HISTORY was to convey the main character’s intense feelings of sadness and anger while avoiding the melodramatic. For Gabrielle Zevin’s YOUNG JANE YOUNG, Karen was tasked with guiding listeners as the story changed viewpoints and media (such as email).
Karen has also been tapped to narrate a variety of nonfiction titles, from history to personal growth. One highlight in this arena is her engaging delivery of Julie Klam’s heartfelt memoir YOU HAD ME AT WOOF, which not only won an AudioFile Earphones Award but also earned a place on our list of best biography and memoir for 2011.
After having given voice to hundreds of audiobooks, Karen White is a familiar companion for listeners across the genres. But who is that woman on the other side of your earbuds? Karen graciously agreed to Take 5 with me and answer five questions.
AudioFile: Tell us something surprising about yourself.
Karen White: People who follow my blog might know this, but I’m excited to share that I have written a book. THE WAY YOU MAKE ME FEEL is what I’m calling a “vintage feminist romance.” It’s the first in a series called Shakespeare Boston; each book will feature a distinct romantic pair. The series takes place in the late 1980s because I’m interested in exploring gender issues at that time as well as the dating scene before the Internet happened. THE WAY YOU MAKE ME FEEL’s heroine works in investment banking, and the hero is an actor. It won the New Jersey Romance Writer’s Put Your Heart in a Book Contest last month. I’m already working on book two, which is about an actor/underwear model and the veterinary technician who was his best friend’s little sister. I’m seeking representation at the moment but these babies will be published one way or another! I’m still deciding whether or not I will record the audios…
AF: What’s your most embarrassing moment in the recording booth?
KW: Definitely when I recorded my first romance, which had pretty explicit sex scenes. I was working with a 20-something male engineer, who I thankfully could not see while I was actually recording the scenes, but when we’d take a break there was always that awkward moment where I had to make a joke to address the strange tension that resulted from the uniquely intimate experience we’d just shared.
AF: When reading for pleasure, do you find yourself creating voices and thinking about pacing and emphasis?
KW: Oh, yes! I’m always curious about how other people experience books when they read them, but I’ve always heard a book in my head as if somebody were reading it. Now, when I read for pleasure—which I do a lot, since I’m in two book clubs and cannot go to bed without reading first—I find myself wanting to highlight character information and words I don’t know how to pronounce. Often, I hit a point in the book where I say to myself, “You’re not prepping this book!” And then I’m able to relax into just reading it. (Of course for book club, I highlight interesting quotes and thoughts for discussion.)
AF: What are the pros and cons of working on a multi-narrator audiobook?
KW: Pretty simple—the pro has to do with what’s best for the book. For instance, if a book is in first person and is written with multiple narrative voices, it makes sense to use a narrator for each one. WHEN WE WERE SISTERS by Emilie Richards and THE KIND WORTH KILLING by Peter Swanson are good examples.
The cons are that since narrators are paid by the finished hour (that is, how long the book is, or my section of the book is, once it’s edited) we all end up doing more work for less money. Even though each narrator performs only a section of the book, we have to read and take notes on the whole thing. In addition, I always share samples of the main characters’ voices and pronunciation research with the other narrators so that we’re consistent.
AF: What’s the first task you tackle when given a new audiobook project?
KW: Of course, I read the book, but the first thing I usually do is ask the publisher for contact information for the author and if it’s okay to talk about the book on social media. Some publishers give you the contact info as a matter of course, but usually it depends on the author. In addition, publishers often have preferences as to how and when a narrator can announce that they’re recording a book, and it’s important to respect those parameters. I made the mistake early in my career of contacting an author without asking first. It was a memoir and the author (1) didn’t know the audiobook was being published and (2) was hoping to record it herself. Obviously, this led to an awkward conversation for the publisher, and I learned to never ever do that again! That said, if I don’t start the wheels turning regarding author contact, I sometimes get stuck with important questions for an author who is trekking through the wilderness somewhere and can’t be reached.
Thanks to Karen White for many hours of listening pleasure and for taking the time to answer my questions. To discover more audiobooks performed by Karen, explore her audiography page.