Let's talk sexy...
What was your interest in narrating Honor Roll?
What initially caught my attention was the main character: a guy trying to pay his way through graduate school by being a male prostitute. It’s not something you hear about often. After all, how does a man, whose body usually requires more time to rest between sexual climaxes than a woman, make enough extra money by selling himself? This curiosity about being a male escort (not that I’m thinking of becoming one!) was one reason Honor Roll interested me.
The other reason was the potential for conflict when romance is thrown into the mix. In this case, Luca Gregorio unexpectedly develops an attraction for Mim Knight outside of his time doing sex work. It’s definitely a tightrope situation. Can Luca keep his escorting a secret from Mim and still be able to avoid student debt? Or would he have to settle with one or the other? When a story develops a tense setup like that, it’s bound to be intriguing and entertaining.
Were there any characters that you identified with personally?
I certainly identified with Luca, and it’s not only because I’m narrating this story told in his first-person perspective. He and I do share a few similarities. For example, Luca in this story is bogged down emotionally, as he cannot ignore the issue of paying for school and the notion of disappointing his family. It’s not different from times earlier in my life when I felt very unhappy about the way things were going for me. Also, Luca going to school far from family definitely reminded me of when I did the same.
Interestingly enough, I also identified with Judith Kent. It’s easy to assume initially that she is a strange person for asking Luca to be her escort, given that she is an elderly lady. But once you realize it’s totally nonsexual, you will see that the relationship develops into a touching valuable friendship. Judith has both a good mind and a good heart, a combination that I always admire in people. That’s why, unexpectedly, I identified with this character as well.
Was it hard to keep the characters distinctive?
When I review the characters in the story before recording, I make notes about how to make each character’s voice unique from all of the others, in terms of pitch, tempo, mannerisms, and other little quirks I can throw in. Having a variety of voices to create and a way to keep track of them does make my work easier. That said, the challenge I had with voice distinction for Honor Roll was doing it for the various women in Luca’s client list. There were times when I wondered if characters like Laura, Jessica, and Meredith sounded too similar to each other, or if I would accidentally mix them up over the course of the audiobook. I like to think I haven’t actually made those errors, but you can go ahead and be the judge. (laughs)
As a man, how hard was it to narrate a woman’s voice/tone/personalilty?
I imagine that narrating a woman’s voice is the biggest nightmare for many male audiobook narrators. Fortunately, during an audiobook coaching session, I was taught the way for male narrators to voice female parts: making the voice lighter in weight rather than higher in pitch. That first step makes it easier to layer on other vocal characteristics to achieve a little more femininity. One thing certainly helps me: emulating the voices of women I hear in real life or in the movies.
That’s not to say I sound 100% like a woman. It’s not likely that I can ever achieve that. As long as the voice I provide for a female character is at least a rough approximation of a woman’s voice without anything exaggerated to make it sound too strange, I’m satisfied.
When you met Luca for the first time what was your first impression?
Luca first struck me as a man living in the dark. As the story went along, I saw a recurring theme of light versus dark. When Luca is closer to his financial goal of paying off his education entirely, he is seeing light at the end of a tunnel. When the beautiful Mim enters the picture, she is also a source of light for him. Interestingly, you can also think of her as an angel who is a striking contrast to the sinner in Luca, who doesn’t want to taint her by bringing her into his world of escorting. If you want a story with real conflict, you got it right here.
Luca faced a lot of obstacles in his life and career, what has been your greatest challenge as a narrator?
Figuring out what unique voice I can bring. With so many audiobook narrators out there, it’s hard to imagine how one could narrate a story in a way that stands out from all the rest. But’s that OK. I remind myself that, in the end, every voice is unique, even in subtle ways. The important thing is that I have fun while reading a story. When there is intensity in passion, there is greatness in performance, and people will remember that.
Honor Roll is a sensual story with lots of heat. You are the first male narrator I’ve hired, and you did an excellent job, how did you prepare to read a steamy/erotic novel?
Thank you so much for your kind words. It means a lot.
I prepared to read an erotic novel essentially through an indirect route. You see, I have never read erotic novels before, and I didn’t take the time to learn directly from erotic book narrators to understand how they do their work. So instead, I turned to my own life experiences related to sex. I thought about the reasons why sex is so exciting, like the stimulation of all five senses simultaneously, the thrill of pleasing or being pleased by a partner, and the closeness of someone special. Plus, I thought about why pornographic films are so appealing: they present the joys of sex up close as if you’re there, while making you WANT to be there.
So when it came time to narrate Honor Roll, I reminded myself to be passionate with the sex scenes. I had to describe the action up close as if the reader is there, while making the reader want to be there. Erotica is porn in a book, after all. (laughs)
Did you find you niche in this genre?
Yes, I have found my niche in romance and erotica. It’s also a niche I never ever expected to find, considering my history of reading books. One, I never read a romance or erotica novel before diving into audiobook narration. Two, my favorite genres have always been mystery and thriller. All of that has changed after I expanded my reading horizons to other kinds of books, discovered my potential in narrating audiobooks of various genres, and, of course, narrated Honor Roll. :-)
The author and narrators perception of the story are often different. Each time I hear one of my books narrated, I sit back and experience the story through another person’s interpretation. If you had to describe the main characters in a few words what would you say?
The main characters discover something great without looking for it in the first place. Luca had been focused on his sex work without really looking for love, only to unexpectedly fall in love in Mim in a chance encounter. Similarly, Mim was just being a professor’s assistant without looking to date, only to end up gradually opening her heart to this student named Luca. It’s just like in real life. Whether it’s love or something else, sometimes a wonderful thing falls into your lap, and you just have to take that chance.
As an author, I have certain guarantees to my readers, some of which include a full story concept with interesting characters, and a happily ever after. As a narrator, what are the promises you make to the listener?
I have just one promise for the listener: I promise to read a book in an engaging way so that you can be immersed in it. If I fail to deliver, I will keep trying harder until I do.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Before jumping into audiobook narration, I thought the only route was to be in an elite group of voice actors, one that I imagine is hard to get into in the first place. With the rise of the self-published book market and, consequently, the independent audiobook market, there is now an opportunity for aspiring audiobook narrators to get started. That’s where I began, and I’m thankful for it.
Speaking of self-published books, narrating audiobooks also allowed me to closely see the kind of books written by self-published authors. It is true that the self-published book market has to constantly deal with the stigma of having low-quality books, but don’t let that discourage you from discovering quality writers who are not working with traditional book publishers because of rejection or just personal choice.
I say all of this because I honestly enjoyed reading Honor Roll by Kelly Collins. If you like contemporary erotic romance, chances are that you will also like this one. And if you decide to check out the audiobook version, I hope, as the narrator, I can bring a smile to your face.