Today I’m chatting with award-winning audiobook narrator, actress, and author Lorelei King. You might have heard her voice narrating The Charley Davidson series by Darynda Jones, the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich, or books by Kathy Reichs and Patricia Cornwell. I’ve received a number of email messages from you about audiobooks – how they are made, what narrating is like, and how one gets a start in audiobook narration. All your questions shall be answered!
We start off talking about a place we have in common, deeply buried memories of sound, and about regional accents in large and small places.
Then Lorelei shares how she got her start, how she develops character voices, and how she creates distinctions between characters. She also talks about:
How she cares for her voice.
The impossibility of avoiding laughter at the word “gumpy.”
What to do when she can’t stop laughing.
What she does to keep track of multiple character voices.
The importance of sincerity when narrating sex scenes.
And who she thinks of or speaks to sometimes while she’s narrating.
We also discuss her new audiobook, Storyteller: How to Be an Audiobook Narrator, co-written with her business partner and engineer, Ali Muirden. I’ve been listening to their book and can happily recommend it if you’re remotely curious about audio narration. And, of course, we talk about what she’s reading, and listening to.
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Here are the books we discuss in this podcast:
During this episode, we mentioned the following:
- Lorelei King’s recording of Anais Nin for the Royal Library, which you might be able to access via your library.
- Two articles on why restaurants got so dang loud, and how loud they actually are (answer: very):
- And if you really like audiobook narrator interviews, I did two with narrator Renee Raudman:
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Thanks for listening!
This Episode’s Music
I’m outside DC, and I got me a FOOT OF SNOW, so this track is “The Real North.” I’m not in the “Real North,” technically, but it’s pretty outside. And real cold, too.
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Sarah Wendell: Hello, and welcome to episode number 334 of Smart Podcast, Trashy Books. I’m Sarah Wendell from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. Today we have the interpretive art of narrating audiobooks, an interview with Lorelei King. Lorelei King is an award-winning audiobook narrator, actress, and author. You might have heard her voice narrating the Charley Davidson series by Darynda Jones, the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich, or books by Kathy Reichs or Patricia Cornwell. I have received a number of email messages from you guys about audiobooks! How are they made? What is narrating like? How does one get a start in audiobook narration? All of your questions shall be answered!
We start off by talking about a place we have in common, the oddity of deeply buried memories of sound, and about regional accents in large and small places. Then Lorelei shares how she got her start, how she develops character voices, and how she creates distinctions between characters. She also talks about how she cares for her voice, the impossibility of avoiding laughter at the word “gumpy,” what to do when she can’t stop laughing – it works on me too – [laughs] – gumpy – what she does to keep track of multiple character voices, and the importance of sincerity when narrating sex scenes. She also talks a little bit about who she thinks of or speaks to sometimes when she’s narrating. She also has a new audiobook, Storyteller: How to Be an Audio Book Narrator, co-written with her business partner and engineer Ali Muirden. Now, I’ve been listening to their book, and I can very happily recommend it if you’re remotely curious about audiobook narration. And of course we talk about what she’s reading or listening to.
I want to send a special thanks to Tam and to Amanda for question suggestions for this episode.
This podcast episode is brought to you by everyone who has supported our Patreon. If you have supported the show with a monthly pledge of any amount, thank you so very much. You are helping the show continue, you’re helping me make sure every episode is transcribed, and you’re making sure that every episode is accessible to everyone, which is important to me and to the folks who read and listen each week.
If you would like to join the Patreon community, it would be most excellent if you did. You can have a look at patreon.com/SmartBitches. Monthly pledges start at one dollar a month. Every individual dollar makes a deeply appreciated difference, and you’ll be part of the group who helps me develop questions, makes guest suggestions, and sometimes gets weird outtakes that I can’t share on the proper podcast file. You can join us at patreon.com/SmartBitches.
I have a compliment this week. Yes! I love this part! Okay.
To Rhode R.: You are the reason fourteen different people smiled, ate cookies, danced in their socks, and had a very lovely day today.
If you would like a compliment of your very own, that is one of the reward tiers at patreon.com/SmartBitches. In addition, the Patreon community makes sure that every episode receives a transcript, and I don’t want to miss the opportunity to thank garlicknitter – thank you, garlicknitter! – for every transcript we have.
At the end of the episode, I will have information about the music you are listening to, I will have information about what is coming up on Smart Bitches this week, and I will have a listener-submitted joke that was so wonderfully bad my entire family groaned loud enough to echo off of houses; it was amazing. And of course in the podcast show notes at smartbitchestrashybooks.com/podcast I will have links to some of the things that we discuss in this episode, and, of course, all off of the books that we mention, particularly the audiobooks, many of which were narrated by Lorelei King!
So, without any further delay, let’s do this podcast thing! On with our interview.
Lorelei King: Hi! I’m Lorelei King; I’m an audiobook narrator, a writer, and an actress, and I’m very happy to be talking to Sarah Wendell today.
Sarah: Thank you so much for agreeing to do this. I am so excited to talk to you. You and I are from the same place, but neither of us have a good Pittsburgh accent. Do you remember, or do you have in, like, in your store of narration tricks, a Pittsburgh accent to, to, like, to use on people?
Lorelei: I kind of, I think my accent, because it was so long ago – I’ve got to ask you where you’re from in Pittsburgh; I’ll do that in a minute – I kind of, you know, I know the usual thing, the yinz, yinz goin’ downtown, and sometimes, sometimes I will, there, some words will surprise me, that I still sound Pittsburgh. One of the is the I and the E. I can’t – oh, pell instead of pill, pill? Like, you take a pill?
Lorelei: And certain things like that sometimes come out, but I remember Pittsburgh very well, and I consider that my, my true home, where I was born.
Sarah: Yeah. Yeah, me too. I once spoke to someone who moved from, I believe it was Ireland to Pittsburgh, and so kept his Irish accent but said that the best explanation of a Pittsburgh accent is that the piece of fabric that you use to dry yourself when you’re done showering –
Lorelei: [Laughs] Yeah.
Sarah: – and the square, and the square of ceramic that is on the wall of your shower are the same word. So they’re tawls.
Lorelei: Yes, tawls, yeah.
Sarah: Use your tawl, you use your tawl to dry yourself, and then you’ve got to wipe down the tawl in the, in the shawr, because it’s wet.
Lorelei: [Laughs] Do you know, when I, ‘cause I moved to California when I was a teenager, and when I go back home, go back to Pittsburgh, my uncle used to make fun of me because, like we say fah-er, fah-er for fire, and when I went to California –
Lorelei: – I started saying fire, and he would make fun of me, and he would go, “Fie-yer? Fie-yer? What’s – fah-er, it’s fah-er!”
Lorelei: So yeah!
Sarah: Sweet. [Laughs] You got Pitts-, Pittsburgh’s, Pittsburgh accents are, are a very specific regional accent, and when I hear one I’m al-, I’m almost like, what, what, wait, I hear my people. I hear them! Where are they?
Lorelei: Yeah! Yeah. Yeah, I do too. I know what you mean. Like, I can, I can still spot a Pittsburgh accent –
Sarah: Oh yeah.
Lorelei: – and I kind of pride myself on that.
Sarah: Yeah! It’s like, it’s like recognizing a secret code!
Lorelei: Mm-hmm. And there’s a sound that I, to me is very Pittsburgh. It might be a little bit Baltimore as well. It’s the O in Donny? The name Donny?
Lorelei: And –
Lorelei: – but they, they say almost an O, awe, awe, it’s a, it’s a really peculiar Pittsburgh sound that I’ve noticed. Oh yeah, it’s a great accent.
Sarah: So where in, specifically, where in Pittsburgh are you from?
Lorelei: Bethel Park. Where are you from?
Sarah: I am from Point Breeze, next to Squirrel Hill. So not far at all!
Lorelei: Yeah, I know Squirrel Hill. Yeah, yeah, yeah! It’s not that big a town, is it? And I –
Lorelei: – used to go downtown a lot. I used to go downtown on the, on the streetcar?
Sarah: Oh gosh, I remember them from when I was really little; the streetcars were the best.
Lorelei: Yeah! Oh, they were just amazing! And in those days, I mean, I would go down-, I was allowed to go downtown on my own, age eleven. It was a different world then.
Sarah: It really was. I was in Melbourne, Australia, a couple years ago, and they have streetcars, and one went by me, and I had, like, this full-body reaction to the sound –
Sarah: – because, you know, it had been buried deep in my memory –
Sarah: – the sound of what it’s like with the wire and the tracks and the clacking, and I was like –
Sarah: – [gasps] – I remember this sound from when I was extremely small! It was a weird –
Sarah: – like, full-body memory.
Lorelei: It is; they have them in Manchester, in the north of England here. They have trams, as they call them, and it’s the same thing. It, I love them, and I love taking them, and it just really, really takes me back.
Sarah: So with your work in, in narration, ‘cause we’re talking about regional accents, do you sort of study the regional accents around you in England now that you live there?
Lorelei: Not really. I don’t, I don’t specialize in English accents, so I wouldn’t dream of narrating a book in an English accent. I, I would have English, I, I can have English characters in a, in a book, but to – I prefer to narrate in my own accent, and also, there’s so many English and British actors here, it’s like, as they say, taking coals to Newcastle. I think they can do a better job than I can, so I don’t particularly study British accents. I, I recognize them, obviously. I’ve lived here a long time. But I prefer to, I prefer to stay American.
Sarah: I understand completely.
Sarah: I find it so interesting how many different ways there are of speaking in a country and how, how a few miles or kilometers can change the way people talk so significantly.
Sarah: Like, the way they talk is as much representative of where they are.
Lorelei: Yes. Especially in this country. America’s a big country, and you can, you can cross large parts of it without the accent changing too much. This is an island, and it can change almost within a mile. It, it’s quite something. That took some getting used to.
Sarah: Yes. So how did you get your start in audio narration? I know you’ve probably told this story a thousand times, but what was, what was your introduction to audiobook narration?
Lorelei: I had a really nice introduction, and again, it was simply a matter of being in the right place with the right accent at the right time. It was a, a, a guy I – I was doing voice work, and I had done, I had done, I can’t remember, I think I was dubbing some, some European series into English for him – something like that; I can’t remember – but he had to record a book of American short stories. I think they were kind of like ghost-y horror stories, and it needed a female American voice, and he kind of was a bit worried about using me ‘cause I hadn’t really done it before, and he booked a studio for the whole day, and, like, I finished in the morning. It was, it was easy for me. I, I found I had a knack for it; and he was really, really happy and took me out to this fantastic restaurant for lunch because we had the rest of the day free, and I thought, oh wow, this is such a good job! This is, like, I could – it’s not always like that, believe me, but I thought, this is great! But I, I think I didn’t really get started until I, developing my craft, until I started reading for the RNIB, which is the Royal National Institute for the Blind. They did libraries of recorded books, and you got paid a little bit, not very much, but it was fantastic experience, and that really – I got a lot of hours under my belt there, and then it kind of grew from there.
Sarah: That’s really cool! What sorts of things did you read for the RNIB? Was this the type of thing where you had to, like, describe a chart or describe a map and, and nar-, and also narrate a book?
Lorelei: Oh, oh no, no, they were all books. They were all novels and true crime and quite a, a book of pornography. Oh, that was very literary pornography; it was Anaïs Nin. All kinds of things! Mysteries were very popular, so it was really novels. Novels of – same as commercial narration, except it was specifically for the, for the blind.
Sarah: Oh, that’s cool!
Sarah: And that must be an excellent way for someone who’s starting out to figure out what works for them.
Lorelei: You know what? It really is. It was, this particular institution, you did have to audition for it and all that kind of thing, but, but they would really help develop you, and it’s, it’s a wonderful opportunity for someone who wants to get – this particular group – for someone who wants to get started and wants to get some experience and learn, learn a lot and, and get to record all kinds of material, ‘cause you kind of took what you were given, so I got to record, you know, things I might not have been that familiar with or might not have read that kind of – romance novels, that kind of stuff, and, and it was really fun.
Sarah: You have a substantially excellent back catalogue of romances that you’ve narrated, and I have a bunch of questions from listeners who’ve been asking me to please talk to you and talk to someone who does audiobooks, because there’s a lot of questions about how audiobooks happen.
Lorelei: Yeah! So curious!
Sarah: So I have a bunch of technical questions. What, how much character history do you get before you begin a narration project? Is there such a thing as, like, too much information or too little information? Is there an amount that you’re looking for in particular?
Lorelei: You don’t really get a character history as such. The only character history you get is what’s in the text, what’s in the book. That’s what you get.
Lorelei: And, I mean, you’re not provided with anything else. I’ve, I’ve never actually heard of such a thing! And so you get what the author decides to give you, and from that you have to infer what the character is like.
Sarah: Wow. So you have to read and prepare in advance, obviously, to, to work with the text –
Sarah: – as a performer.
Sarah: So how many times do you, how many times do you read through the book before you perform it, typically?
Lorelei: It’s different for everyone. For me, I do it once, but I’m very experienced, and I tend to mark it up as I go and make my cast lists. I mean, I have a routine that I go through, and, but I think for someone who is just starting out, for example, I would always recommend that they read it, just read it once for pleasure and to kind of get the feel of it –
Lorelei: – and then go through and choose your character voices and all that kind of thing and mark up the script, but once is, is, is what I do.
Sarah: Oh. That’s actually, that was my, my next question: how do you develop audible distinctions between characters? I’m always amazed when I’m really absorbed into an audiobook that I can tell who is speaking by the differentiations in speech. How do you develop those, those distinctions between characters?
Lorelei: It’s, it’s a good question, and it’s really, I think, one of the most important things about audiobook narration, because the primary thing is clarity for the listener, and if it’s a dialogue heavy book with a lot of characters, as many modern novels are, you have to be able to hear the difference clearly, because there isn’t always attribution. By that I mean, you know, it doesn’t always say, “Bob said,” or “Sherry said.”
Lorelei: It, it, sometimes no attribution at all, and I, what I use is – I talk about this a lot in, in the book I’ve just written, which I, I think we’re going to talk about later –
Lorelei: – I use a technique called mapping, which means I always know who’s in the room. I always know which characters have a lot of interaction, and I consciously and specifically make sure that those two characters, if they’re going to have a lot of scenes together, have quite different voices, whether it’s pitch or whatever or accent. Whatever it is, something that really makes them quite, quite different, ‘cause otherwise you can, if your two characters, two of them sounding too similar and they happen to have scenes together, it can be confusing for the listener.
Sarah: So how do you map the, the amount of time that these characters talk to each other? Do you sort of draw it out on a piece of paper and then decide from there?
Lorelei: Yes. I just, I make notes; I just jot down every page a character appears on by the character name, and then I can see which ones are, like, on the same page or tend to appear on the same pages, so it’s, it’s simply that. And I make sure, as I said, that they’re quite different from each other.
Sarah: Oh, that’s cool!
Sarah: Do you have a, do you have, like, a character bible? ‘Cause I know you’ve narrated some series, like you’ve –
Sarah: – you’ve narrated Charley Davidson, Stephanie Plum, and Kathy Reichs and Patricia Cornwell; you’ve narrated a lot of books with the same people. Do you have, like –
Sarah: – an audio bible to keep track of what they all sound like?
Lorelei: Well, that’s also a really good question, and I absolutely do. Particularly if you’re doing a series, you kind of have to. You can’t rely on your memory. The only exception I would say probably to that for me is the Janet Evanovich series. I just recorded book twenty-five, and that, those characters are now so much like my family that, you know, I know, I know who they are; I know what they sound like.
Lorelei: But, but I’ll still keep, I keep a record, every book, I keep a record of every character and the voice that I’ve chosen to give them. I have, you know, personal cryptic notes I know what I mean by it, and, and I think you really kind of have to. Otherwise, you’re going to waste a lot of time if you have to ask, for example, you might have to ask an engineer to go back and, and go to a previous book and pick out your voice, so definitely keep your cast lists, which is what I call them, and yeah, I’ve got, looking right now, I’m looking at my file cabinet. There’s one whole drawer that’s full of, full of these kind of lists.
Sarah: I imagine the Plum characters are just sort of hanging out in your brain all the time.
Lorelei: They do. I just, I just feel like I know them so well now. I mean, that, particularly in America, that was the series I think that put me on a map, on the map as a narrator, and for that I’ll always be grateful to Janet Evanovich, and from the first moment I read the book – the first book of hers I recorded was in this country, and it was what I call an emergency record: someone phoned and said, can you do this book tomorrow? It’s unusual to have that short of notice.
Sarah: [Astonished noise]
Lorelei: Yeah, and I said, yeah, sure, and they said it was, like, sort of about a bounty hunter or crime, so I thought, okay, and I stayed up reading it, and I didn’t stop laughing! I thought, oh yeah, oh my God, I have never read anything like this. Her voice was so fresh and so –
Lorelei: – unusual and funny, and so I kind of fell in love immediately, but up to book twenty-five, as I say, yeah, they, they all do. They live in my head; they live with me; they’re just, they’re like friends now, those characters.
Sarah: I remember that one of the earliest Plum books in that series I read, I was sitting in, at an intersection in Jersey City outside the, the train station, outside the PATH station, and I was waiting for someone to pick me up, and I was reading, and I was laughing so much that an officer, a police officer came over to see if something was wrong with me?
Sarah: And he was like, what are you laughing at? And I’m like, okay, I’m really sorry; I must have made a big fool of myself. I’m loving this book, and it’s about a bounty hunter in Trenton, and he’s like, wait a minute, my cousin’s a bounty hunter in Trenton. Is this a real book?
Lorelei: Get out. Get out!
Sarah: I said, no, it’s fiction! It’s fiction, and she’s a woman, and she’s really not very good at it, and he’s like, oh, well that’s not my cousin.
Sarah: I have, I have similar, like, fond memories of reading the early Plum books and just cry-laughing. I don’t know how you get through narrating them –
Sarah: – when you’re laughing so hard. How do you do that?
Lorelei: Oh my God, Sarah, this is a – with, with Janet’s books in particular, there, there’s never one, I’ve not recorded one where we haven’t had to stop the recording because I’m just wetting myself, and –
Lorelei: – and of course the trouble is that once you start laughing – oh God, one of the worst, I don’t even remember which number it was; it was when Grandma Mazur says something like, oh, just shoot the chicken right in the gumpy, and it, for some reason –
Sarah: In the gumpy! [Laughs]
Lorelei: She could have shot him right in the gumpy! And I couldn’t stop laughing, and I couldn’t deliver this line, and the engineer’s getting a little bit ticked at me because we’re, you know, take eighteen, and, and sometimes we just have to stop, and I have to go away and compose myself, and then – or I try to think really sad thoughts. I try to keep my mind occupied doing something else, and, and, till we eventually get through it, but it’s, it’s hard! And especially if you see, if there’s, you happen to be recording in the studio where you can see the engineer, and if you see his shoulders or her shoulders shaking because they’re laughing, it doesn’t help.
Lorelei: – set you off. So, yeah. No, we, we never get, we never get out scot-free from, from recording one of those books.
Sarah: [Laughs] That is, hands down, my favorite scene, whereas if you just say the word “gumpy” to me I’m going to start laughing.
Lorelei: I know, right? It’s like, me, something about the word as well, and – oh yeah. That, that series is so much fun, as you can imagine. It’s just, it’s just great fun to record.
Sarah: I imagine the Charley Davidson series is, is often difficult to get through because it’s a very sarcastic and dry humor?
Lorelei: Yes! She’s also got a fantastic sense of humor, and it’s very, it’s probably, I think Charley Davidson is most akin to me, her sense of humor, that kind of snark-, yeah, snarky, dry sense of humor. I think she’s, she’s a wonderful character, and yeah, that, that series as well has its moments for sure, as well as some pretty steamy moments.
Sarah: Yes! That was – [laughs] – that’s actually one of my questions. Amanda wanted to know, what are your thoughts or your, your approaches to narrating a sex scene out loud? How do you approach that, that content? That must be kind of tricky to say out loud with an engineer in the next room maybe.
Lorelei: Mm-hmm. It, it’s funny; it’s a question I get asked a lot, and you have to be completely unselfconscious. This is the thing.
Lorelei: So you can’t be aware of it. I think for actors it’s a little bit easier because we’re used to this kind of thing. Not all narrators are actors –
Lorelei: – but you, you just have to forget. I just forget everyone who’s there; I forget anyone else is there. I actually, again, refer to this in the book; I call it making a closed set in your mind, and you just, you have to do it with sincerity as well. Otherwise, you can’t let anything else bleed through, like you can’t try to be ironic with it. You have to do it sincerely, because the characters in the scene are sincere, and you have to present it that way. I feel a little bit bad for the engineers. Engineers are often young men, very young men, and the number of times I’ve sort of taken a peep up in the glass and their faces are just priceless, and especially if they have to ask you to pick it up from somewhere? Like if it’s, could, could, could you please go from –
Lorelei: – and, and I do feel, I do feel bad for them. My business partner, Ali Muirden, who’s an audiobook producer, director, and consultant, she says, oh no, darling, you’re just listening to see, you know, darling, did we here the K on cock, there? And that’s what she’s worried about is the technical side of thing, and –
Lorelei: – it’s, it’s, you know, it’s a job, and you kind of treat as such.
Sarah: Right, and because, like you said, the characters are sincere, and the reader is, is not approaching this with irony, they’re in-, they’re emotionally invested in those scenes, or one would hope, you can’t let your own senses of discomfort bleed into your voice at all. I imagine that takes a lot of practice, because there’s a certain amount of, oh wow, I can’t believe I’m saying this out loud in a room full of people.
Lorelei: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, it, it is. I mean, you just, you have to put your own feelings aside. As I say, there, there are scenes that, you know, may not be to your taste or your particular kind of thing, but you, you have to do it from the perspective of the, of the characters in the scene. That’s true. Oh, the only time I felt slightly awkward, and it was earlier in my career, it was, it was one I did, I mentioned to you I did a book of erotica, let’s call it, written by Anaïs, Anaïs Nin, beautifully written, and they asked me, would you prefer a female engineer? And I said, I think I would, actually, ‘cause it was pretty, you know, yes. It was out there. And oh my God, did I regret it, because she loved this book, and she’d be going, oh my God, I just want, I can’t wait to get home; I’m going to try that with my boyfriend! And it, and that made me – [laughs] –
Sarah: Oh, nooooo.
Lorelei: – and that made it much worse for me! I’d rather someone was, like, awkward and embarrassed on the other side of the glass than someone who was thinking, oh, this is fabulous! So yeah, that was the only time I felt a little bit self-conscious.
Sarah: Not just with sex scenes, though, but generally, when you’re recording, are you – ‘cause you say, you mentioned you had a, a closed set in your mind so that no one was there –
Sarah: – and it’s just you.
Sarah: When you’re recording otherwise, do you, are you talking to someone? Do you picture speaking to someone or performing the material in front of an audience in other circumstances, or is it always a mentally closed set?
Lorelei: That’s a good question. I, generally speaking, I would say I, I am always talking to one person. It isn’t necess-, I’m not consciously talking to one person, but that’s the level of performance I aim at, someone who’s right in front of me. I think sometimes I do consciously read to a specific person. That’s one of my little tricks for if my energy’s flagging, ‘cause as I’m sure you know, they can be very long days and reading is very intense, and sometimes I will, if I need a boost I’ll – my grandmother’s a favorite one – I’ll think of my grandmother and I’ll read it to her, and –
Lorelei: – that just gives me a little, a little boost without, without making me project my voice too much. The trouble with performing – you, you have to be careful not to project too much when, when you’re reading, so that’s why it’s one person.
Sarah: That makes sense.
Lorelei: But then the other thing, when I’m not, there’s a, the best state for me to read in, the experience I enjoy the most is what I call narrating in a state of grace, and that is when – I, I can’t explain it, and it doesn’t happen often, but when it does, when the writing is particularly good and the mood is right, where it’s like the words know how they want to be said, I just, it’s like there’s nothing between the words on the page, they go in my eyes and out my mouth, they don’t pass my brain in any way, and it’s the most wonderful feeling, where I just feel – sorry, I sound a bit mad here, but I do, I feel at one with the text, and then it, it’s the most magical thing to feel, and I love that when I’m narrating, and that’s, that’s my favorite; that’s the optimum state to narrate in.
Sarah: I don’t think that sounds strange at all, because when I’m into an audiobook or I’m really into a book, I, I don’t hear anything around me. I’m, I’m very hard to distract because I am fully immersed in that experience, so it’s not surprising that with some narration you’re really into the performance, because that’s kind of the job of the, of the, of the text and of the writer, to make it an immersive experience for everyone. It’s very cool that you can do that through your, through your work, though. I mean, that, that sounds really cool!
Lorelei: No, I do love it, and those are the moments where – well, at the risk of sounding like an asshole – those are the moments, you know, when I feel like an artist. I really do; I, I, I love it. There’s nothing quite like that feeling. [Laughs] I hope I’m allowed to say asshole.
Sarah: Yes. Yes, you are.
Lorelei: Thank you! It’s similar to, I’m not crazy about doing theater, but when I was younger I did a fair bit of theater, and there were moments like that on stage. It’s not consistent, and it’s not all the time, but there are sometimes those kind of magical moments when everything is just working. You’re in a state of grace, and you’re one with the audience and the text, and, and it’s similar to that, I think, with audiobooks. It’s, it’s, yeah, it’s a terrific feeling.
Sarah: I, I was a Speech and Drama major in college, and I can remember specific performances, either on stage or working backstage, that you can tell the difference when the audience is fully engaged with what’s happening and, and that they’re right, they’re there with you, and they’re not moving. Like, there’s a specific sort of, almost like a magic. Like, I completely remember that experience.
Lorelei: Yeah! Yeah! That’s, I think you can get addicted to that feeling, and maybe that’s –
Sarah: Yes. [Laughs]
Lorelei: – what people do when they go into theater and into the arts. It’s addicting!
Sarah: I think you’re, yes, it’s, it can be, and it’s, and it’s really powerful when it happens! It’s like a rush that lasts and lasts –
Sarah: – as long as the show’s going on! [Laughs]
Lorelei: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Sarah: With your experience – this is a, this is a tricky question, ‘cause you’re the performer, but a number of audiobook fans have, have said to me, and I agree with them, that sometimes listening to a story reveals things that they didn’t see or, or catch when they were reading. Does that happen for you as the performer, and do you ever discover, like, continuity errors or things in the text that you realize, having spoken it out loud, you catch things that weren’t caught earlier?
Lorelei: Yes! I think this is two questions, really. I think the first question about, obviously, for me, if I’m approaching the text for the first time, it’s one thing, but I’ve had writers say to me that when they hear the audiobook of their books, of their writing, they sometimes get a fresh – it’s like, oh! Oh! You know, is that what I meant? Because it’s a different interpretation of their work, because audiobook narration is an interpretive art, and, and I think that’s fun if an author can think, oh wow, okay, is that what I meant? Or I didn’t know that that would be also another way it could be read, so I think, I’ve heard of that happening. In terms of, do you find bloopers? Oh my God. I don’t think I’ve ever recorded a book where I haven’t found a typo. It’s, the best way to proofread is to read a book out loud. I tell you –
Lorelei: – the things you find, and yeah. Yeah. If they’re small, I’ll ignore them; if they’re larger, you know, I might pass it on to the publisher if it hasn’t published yet.
Sarah: Yes. I, I proofread my own writing by reading it out loud to myself, and sometimes I challenge myself –
Lorelei: Good for you.
Sarah: – to do it in a specific accent, or I, I try to do it in, like, a, like, a specific mental character so that I’m forcing myself –
Sarah: – to focus on what I’m saying more than what I’m reading, and I catch all kinds of ridiculousness.
Lorelei: Yeah! I think all writers should do that.
Sarah: Yeah, reading aloud is the most powerful tool!
Lorelei: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. And you can see what works and what doesn’t work, ‘cause something that works on the page, you might, yeah, you might get a different, a different angle when you read out loud. I recommend it heartily. So good for you doing that –
Sarah: Oh –
Lorelei: – I think it’s, it’s terrific.
Sarah: Actually, I was walking my, my dogs earlier today with my husband, and there’s a bunch of houses for sale around us, and the real estate agents have flyers about the houses attached to the posts, so you can pull out a flyer and read about it, and this one had a wonderfully spacious space? And I was like, you know, if you just read that out loud –
Sarah: – you wouldn’t have written spacious space, ‘cause your spacious had space in it already, and I’m like, I was ranting for probably half a block. Like, how did you spend all this money on this full-color brochure and you didn’t read it out loud?! [Laughs]
Lorelei: Yeah! You know what, I’m with you. I’m so, like, I’m such a – I really need to have a life – but your, I complained about, there’s, over here there was, I can’t even remember what, it was a, about built-in, like, cupboards and closets and things, and it had something like that. It was something like, make the most of your space and maximize it, and it’s like, hang, that’s the same thing, and I complained bitterly on Twitter.
Sarah: You said it twice!
Lorelei: They changed it! They’ve changed the ad now, so I’m –
Lorelei: I don’t know if it was my little Twitter campaign or not, but – [laughs] – I agree; that’s the kind of thing that drives me crazy. There’s no excuse for it!
Sarah: When you’re reading, when you’re performing a book, what are some of the more difficult emotions to capture? Are there elements that you find more challenging, or is it at this point, because you’ve trained as an actor and worked on stage and on film and done voice work, you, you’ve pretty much got the, the full toolbox of emotions at this point?
Lorelei: Oh, I’ve never been asked that question before, Sarah. That’s very interesting.
Lorelei: No, it is! I, I think most emotion, I, I think I can play most emotions. I, hmm, it’s, it’s almost more technical. Aggression, just because vocally I find it difficult to do a too harsh – it just strains my voice to do something too harsh. Sometimes emotionally, if something touches me very deeply, that’s difficult, but that’s kind of a different, approaching your question from a different way, but I, I find that hard sometimes if something affects me emotionally, or I connect to it in some way personally, that can be hard, ‘cause the emotion can come through the voice too much.
Lorelei: So it’s about learning how to hold that back a little.
Sarah: And if something is, is very emotional in a sad way, it’s actually going to make your voice, like, harder to use, ‘cause your, your throat –
Sarah: – gets clogged up and your, your vocal cords start to –
Sarah: – like, move around.
Lorelei: Yeah, and your throat gets really tight. Again, again, sometimes, occasionally, I, you know, the best thing is just to stop, because – and kind of get a grip –
Lorelei: – because it will affect the voice. It makes it harder to go on. I think singers have a similar thing, don’t they? If they’re singing a song and they allow their own emotions to connect to it too much, and they might start to get emotional, and then you can’t sing! The same, I think –
Lorelei: – in speaking, mm-hmm.
Sarah: You have to recognize, when your voice is tired or when it’s starting to become difficult, that you need to stop, ‘cause otherwise you’ll hurt yourself.
Lorelei: Well, yeah, and also, this has just triggered another thought: sometimes in, I think two of the times I found very difficult to record, I was recording a lighthearted book, I was in America recording a lighthearted book and, and discovered, got a phone call that my husband had been diagnosed with cancer.
Sarah: Oh no!
Lorelei: And I had to, and I had to go on the next, and I made plans to travel back, but I had to finish the book, and then I had to go and continue this lighthearted book. That was hard. And –
Sarah: Oh my God.
Lorelei: Yeah, and I think that is, it, I suppose it’s like any job. When you face that kind of emotion, you have to, which shakes you to your core, you have to find a way, and that’s where technique comes in. Whatever’s going on inside you, the voice still sounds light – in this case it’s what was required – comic, bright, and that, that’s a real challenge.
Sarah: Wow. That, that’s, that’s hard! That’s really hard.
Lorelei: It is hard. But it’s like any job, I think. Things happen to people, don’t they, in life, and you have to be able to –
Lorelei: – to carry on, but because the voice is so sensitive, and because the voice shows everything, I think it’s, it’s particularly challenging to –
Lorelei: – not show that in the voice.
Sarah: Yeah. How do you care for your voice? What are some things that you do to take care of your voice?
Lorelei: I think the best thing is not to smoke, and I, I don’t shout. I won’t go to loud venues where I have to –
Lorelei: – shout at – [laughs] – of course, now I’m getting older, it doesn’t appeal in any way, but even loud parties, I just, I, I can’t, you know, I can’t take it, and – ‘cause it strains, it strains your voice, and it’s just not worth it.
Sarah: Yes. Yes, I, I have two kids, and they know that if I am yelling, it is an absolute emergency, because I only yell when they’re in danger. ‘Cause otherwise I, it hurts my vocal cords; I can’t talk; it, it hurts; like, if I yell it really hurts. So I’m like, if you ever hear me yelling, that means that there is a serious emergency, and you need to haul ass and find out what’s wrong –
Sarah: – or if I say stop, you stop –
Sarah: – but, like, but, like, my kids would be like, no, my mom never yells. Only when it’s an emergency –
Sarah: – my mom doesn’t yell. But when I’m angry and I drop my voice, they’re like, ohhh, mom’s mad. Oh, crap!
Lorelei: You, you have a wonderful voice, Sarah. You should really –
Sarah: Oh, thank you!
Lorelei: Yeah, I’m glad you’re looking after it.
Sarah: I, I, I try. I like my voice. I –
Lorelei: Yeah, good.
Sarah: – I think about starting audiobook work, and I realize how hard it is and how many people there are involved in it, and it’s sort of daunting to sort of look at the process. Like, whoa, that’s, there’s a lot of people doing that; I don’t know if I’d get anywhere at all. I do like doing a podcast, though. It’s really, I have my own radio show –
Sarah: – and no one can stop me! [Laughs]
Lorelei: Exactly! But you should think about, you’ve got a pre-, I think you have a really good voice for audiobooks, because it’s slightly lower. I think women who have slightly lower voices tend to do better –
Lorelei: – because it’s easier for them to do male and female characters? And you have a, your voice is very pleasant. It’s, it’s comfortable to listen to.
Sarah: Oh, thank you! That’s a really –
Sarah: – that’s a really big compliment! I appreciate that! I –
Sarah: – I have already purchased your book, so I’m going to listen to it.
Lorelei: Have you!?
Sarah: I love that you wrote a book about audiobook narration, and it is an audiobook. This tickles me to no end. Thank you for that!
Lorelei: [Laughs] It kind of had to be, because I wanted to do, you know, to demonstrate things and to, you know, it’s a little bit interactive and stuff like that, and it’s hard to do that in print. So I think the audio- –
Sarah: No, it is.
Lorelei: – the audiobook seemed its natural home, for sure.
Sarah: And this, as I said when I emailed you, this is the absolute worst, worst question to ask an author, but I ask it anyway, and I apologize in advice. First of all, congratulations on the purchase, on the –
Lorelei: Thank you!
Sarah: – on the publication of, of Storyteller. That is so brilliant, and please –
Lorelei: Thank you so much!
Sarah: – tell, tell us about your book! This is so cool!
Lorelei: I’m delighted you asked the question, personally! I think what motivated me to write the book – I co-wrote it with my business partner; I have a small publishing company called Creative Content Limited. We’re digital only; we do audio- and e-book, and she is, as I said, a consultant and audiobook director, award-winning. She’s terrific, and we talked about it for a long time. Like, eh, we should write something about audiobook narration, ‘cause it’s the question each of us in our different jobs are asked the most: how can I become an audiobook narrator? How can I do what you do? Whatever. And rather than, like, sending out a kind of generic email and cut-and-pasting and stuff, I thought, you know, it’s such a complex issue, and we had talked about it for some years, and then it, the time seemed right. I, earlier this year – terribly sorry, sounds like boasting, but I was inducted into the Audible Narrator Hall of Fame this, this spring, and it just felt like – [laughs] – like they were going to put me on the ice floe and push me off into the, into the Atlantic, and so I thought, oh my God, I’d better put down what I know!
Lorelei: Before – but I just think I’m at the stage of my career where I wanted to share some of what I know.
Lorelei: Additionally, digital has changed everything in terms of audiobooks. There’s a boom, as everyone knows, in, in audio sales, and people are looking to record their backlists and all this kind of thing. Consequently, there are a lot more narrators coming on the scene, and they’re kind of coming into it cold. They didn’t, they haven’t had the opportunity to serve the kind of apprenticeship I did, for example, and I thought, I can give some pointers to – I mean, it’s, the book is less than three hours; it’s, it’s very logical; it’s laid out, it’s very structured so that it kind of takes you through, and just a lot of hints and tips and thoughts and all that kind of thing about becoming an audiobook narrator and what it entails, ‘cause people don’t really know, and I think the book is also for people who love audio and just would like to know more about how the process works. They’re just curious; they’d like to know more about it. So that kind of motivated us to write it, and we went away together. We took a few days off by the seaside, and we sort of blocked out what we were going to do, and then I wrote the bulk of it, and then Ali, she comes in with her producer’s and director’s perspective, so I think you get two sides of the business, which is really, really useful, and she did a great job, and we recorded it together. So it was fun! I really loved doing it, and, and I hope people like it, and I hope they, I hope they find it useful and that it can help them.
Sarah: What are some of the misconceptions that you’ve had to address? I know that, I know that in my initial research about audiobook – I wanted to, I want to narrate the novella that I self-published in 2014. I self-published a Hanukkah novella, and I wanted to narrate it, so I started doing research, and I, and I knew already that this is very much like, there are so many people who think that it’s super easy to write a romance novel, and you just whip one out on the weekend, and it’s not that difficult –
Sarah: – and it’s actually really hard, and the same is true of narrating.
Lorelei: Yeah, yeah.
Sarah: What are some of the misconceptions, aside from “anyone can do it,” that you have had to face and answer, either professionally or, or in the book.
Lorelei: I think people don’t realize, first of all, how hard it is. People don’t realize –
Lorelei: – how physically demanding it is, and as I say in the book, and as I would say to anyone in life, if you can’t read out loud for at least three or four hours without, with only taking, like, a break to have a wee or whatever or a cup of coffee, you’re not going to make it. It’s very long days, and it’s, it’s physically demanding, as you can imagine, and you have to sound fresh. It isn’t just reading; it isn’t just, like, getting through the words and kind of – you can’t, everything has to sound fresh. You have to sound as engaged at five o’clock as you did at ten o’clock when you started, and I think people don’t realize how hard it is. [Clears throat] Excuse me. I’ve had, I’ve heard of some authors wanting to narrate their own work, and they give up when they try, because they think, oh my God, I had no idea it was just so physically taxing. The stamina is what people don’t expect. How hard can it be? You’re sitting down! You know, you’re reading! It’s – but you’d be surprised; I think that’s the main thing.
And the second thing is perhaps the level of preparation that’s required. Some people, I don’t know, just assume that, crack open the book as soon as you get into studio, and that, that ain’t going to fly! [Laughs] There’s, there’s a –
Lorelei: – a well-known story about a very well-known British actor who used to read cold; he never prepared. Now, he was very experienced, and he got away with this, except he got to the end of a long book and apparently discovered the character was actually American –
Lorelei: – when he’d been doing him British the whole time, and, you know, those are the kind of things that it helps if you read the book.
Lorelei: But it’s not just that. It’s, it’s the pronunciations; it’s deciding all the character voices; it’s being, having that kind of facility to distinguish between them that we talked about; and looking up pronunciations of words that you think you know how to say, but maybe you don’t; and, yeah. So the preparation takes as long as the reading sometimes.
Sarah: I have been listening to Timothy West reading Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope, and not only is that a really long book, but that’s a really long book with a whole lot of characters, like, and then –
Sarah: – every chapter, another three characters roll in, and, and I’m just like, dude, how are, how? How are you doing this? And I realize, you know, he’s got his tricks; he’s probably got this in the bag. I am amazed every time I listen to a book and I catch myself thinking, I can tell everyone apart, and it’s the same person reading it!
Sarah: It’s not a cast –
Sarah: – it’s one person.
Sarah: That’s, that’s a, that’s a skill I imagine that takes a, a lot of, of time and experience to develop. Or am I wrong about that, and you just sort of roll up and be like, oh no, I got this in the bag? Hang on, here comes six people.
Lorelei: No, no. No, I think it, it –
Lorelei: – I, yeah. I have a pretty solid background in radio drama, and in this country, in Britain, a lot of actors do. Timothy West, certainly, incredible radio career, and has really stood me in good stead, and also animation. I do a lot of animation, so I’m used to using my voice in this way, and I think Timothy West probably is too, so I think it’s, it’s that. You bring your experience with you. That’s where being an actor is a help, I have to say; it gives you an edge. Not all actors are good narrators, and not all great narrators are actors, but generally speaking, I think if you’re an actor it’s easier. If you’re not an actor, it, it doesn’t hurt to take some classes or whatever. Oh, just as a little sidebar here, in fact, Janet Evanovich, who writes dialogue so well – the one thing I’ve always particularly admired about her writing is her dialogue; it’s so good; it’s so crisp and real and – and she told me she went and took an acting class, a dialogue class, just to help that part of her writing, and it really paid off –
Lorelei: – and I think, you know, I think the same is probably true for, for a narrator. If they’re not an actor, maybe do a class and see, see how it goes. That’ll help; it’ll give you a little bit of experience and a grounding in creating character voices. In the book, in Storyteller: How to Be an Audio Book Narrator, I, I do, I use a technique that I made up for myself called layering, and I, this is a way of creating voices purely technically, ‘cause sometimes that’s all you have to go one is technically, and something like that can help too, a, a technique like that.
Sarah: So how do you layer? What is your, what is your technique? Unless you don’t want to give it away, ‘cause it’s all in the book and you don’t want to spoil the ending?
Lorelei: [Laughs] It’s, it’s not, it’s not that so much as it’s quite complicated. It’s difficult to just say it, but it just, it’s, in a nutshell – in the book I go into more detail in it – but it’s really just about creating different elements, what those elements are, and how you can mix them and layer them, one on the other and, to make, to create hundreds of voices, simply technically, and how to find voices. It goes into different ways to find voices in, in the real world and what to do with them and how to remember them and all that kind of thing. You have to become a collector of voices, I think.
Sarah: Do you have favorites among the audiobooks that you’ve narrated or that you’ve heard? Are there any that you’re like, this is, this is brilliant? This is, this is, this is my best performance, or this is a great performance? Are there any that you’re always referring to as, this is a great example?
Lorelei: Ooh! You know, there aren’t. I think my favorite books often tend to be the, the ones I’m working on at the moment. I’ve got a, obviously, the soft spot for Janet Evanovich and Darynda Jones; those books are wonderful. I do have little quirky personal favorites. I did a book called The Cabinet of Wonders, and I don’t know that it ever did anything in terms of sales. It was slightly fantastical, but it was just absolutely magical. I loved recording Margaret Atwood; you know, her writing is so rich and, and wonderful. And at the moment I’m recording The Glovemaker by Ann Weisgarber, and that is –
Lorelei: – amazing. This, this is the best book I’ve read in a while, and I really, I think it’s, I think it’s lending itself well to audio, so if you ask me this question a couple of weeks from now I might say, ooh yeah, The Glovemaker! But it’s one I’m really excited about recording. I think, I think it’s going to be good. It’s a, it’s a fantastic, gripping kind of story.
Sarah: I always ask, I always ask my podcast guests what they are reading, but I wasn’t sure if (a) if I should have emailed you the question, and (b) I wasn’t sure if you read outside of your work, if you read fiction, or if you read other things because your work is fiction. I’ve spoken to many writers who are like, I don’t read my own genre because I’m busy immersed in it; I read other things. So are there any books that you’re reading that you want to talk about?
Lorelei: That’s also a good question, and the fact is, I have very little time for leisure reading –
Lorelei: – because of my work. I do so much reading for work, so it’s very rare, and when I do, I tend to reread my old favorites, books that, that I loved as a child and, or my favorite writer, Gerald Kersh, or The Razor’s Edge, which is one of my favorite books. I’ll reread the same book, like, eight times rather than try something new. Having said, that I’ve just bought Melmoth by Sarah Perry, and I’m looking forward to reading that. Leisure reading: I think I’m going to read that –
Lorelei: – when I get, next get a few days off, ‘cause the opening chapter was –
Lorelei: – super good. I think it’s important to read, and, and I just, I also had to do a lot of reading. Last year I finally finished my degree, and I, because I, between work and having to read so much for my degree, there was no time to read anything simply for pleasure, and now I feel a little bit freer, so I’m looking forward to getting, getting acquainted with some new kinds of books that are different from what I might narrate.
Sarah: Congratulations on your degree!
Lorelei: Thank you! I’m so proud. It only took me fifteen years! [Laughs]
Sarah: You should be! You published a book; you got a degree; that’s –
Lorelei: I know!
Sarah: – wow!
Lorelei: Right? [Laughs]
Sarah: That’s a lot!
Lorelei: I suppose it is, looking back. You don’t think it at the time, but yeah –
Sarah: Yeah! That’s a lot!
Lorelei: – it’s like, you’re right; I need to kick back for a while! [Laughs]
Sarah: I think you need all the leisure reading now.
Lorelei: Thank you. You’re right; I’ve earned it.
Sarah: And that brings us to the end of this episode. I want to thank Lorelei King for hanging out with me and answering all of my nebby questions. If you would like to find more about Lorelei King or the books that she’s narrated, I will have links to, of course, the books that we mentioned in this episode, and you can find her website at loreleiking.com, and she’s very active on Twitter @LoreleiKing.
This week’s episode was brought to you by all of you who have supported our Patreon. Thank you to the podcast community who has supported the Patreon at any amount. You help me make sure the show continues, you help me transcribe episodes, and you make everything accessible to everyone, which is very important to me and the people who read and listen every week. If you would like to join the Patreon community, have a look at patreon.com/SmartBitches. Every pledge makes a deeply appreciated difference, and pledges start at one dollar a month. Plus, you’ll be part of the group who helps me develop questions and makes guest suggestions, and well, everyone in the Patreon group is pretty nifty as well, so have a look at patreon.com/SmartBitches!
The music you are listening to is provided by Sassy Outwater. This is the Peatbog Faeries. This is from their album Blackhouse. This track is “The Real North.” Now, I am outside of DC, and we got a foot of snow, so even though I’m not in the real north, this song was exactly perfect for me today. It is very pretty, and it is very cold, so if you are feeling this music, please know that I am with you. You can find this album at Amazon or iTunes or wherever you like to buy your fine music.
Coming up this week on Smart Bitches: I assume you knew this, but there is a whole website that goes with the podcast, and I bet you knew about that. Our goal is connecting you to other romance readers around the world and with the books you want to read, so here’s what you will find on Smart Bitches this coming week as we try to meet that goal. Saturday, we have a new edition of Hide Your Wallet, Part Deux, which Amanda calls Word on the Street and I call, in my mind, Hide Your Wallet II: Electric Boogaloo. This is where she shares news and mentions of books that might appeal to you, because, well, we’re all about talking about books all the time. Sunday, we have another Outlander recap, and on Monday, we’ve got a special post sponsored by Adam & Eve dot com [adameve.com] with accessory and toy recommendations from Amanda that you’ll be able to order in time for Valentine’s Day, and there’ll be a special coupon code for all of you in there too. Now, Amanda is the person who her friends turn to when they want to go to a sex shop for the first time or they’re looking for new toys and accessories, and she’s very, very good at matching people with accessories and toys, about as good as she is with matching people to books. It is a very interesting and terrific, absolutely terrific superpower. Tuesday, you can join Elyse and grab your flasks to count the number of times The Bachelor mentions virginity, as she will be recapping this season of The Bachelor. We also have reviews, a Rec League, a new edition of Unlocking Library Coolness, and of course Help a Bitch Out and Books on Sale.
If you have got an idea or a question or a request for book recommendations or you want to write a guest review for a book you want to talk about, please email me, Sarah, with an H, at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books dot com [[email protected]].
And next week on the podcast, I am talking to the two hosts of one of my favorite podcast discoveries, so if you like Sweet Valley High and Irish slang, come back next week for a lot of fun in this episode.
Now, as usual, I end each episode with a terrible joke. This is a listener-submitted joke. I love these so much! This joke is from Jen. I told it to my family while we were walking around Kyoto, and the groans actually echoed off the houses. It was that good, so thank you, Jen. Are you ready for this terrible joke? It’s really bad. Okay, I love it. I love it so much! [Clears throat] Ha! Serious joke face. Got to get in position like a serious podcaster. Okay. [Clears throat again]
If there is H2O inside a fire hydrant, what’s on the outside?
Give up? If there’s H2O inside a fire hydrant, what’s on the outside?
[Laughs] It’s so dumb, I love it! My dog in particular is very proud of this joke, especially because I specifically shoveled out towards a fire hydrant and a tree so that he could, you know, do his thing. [Laughs more] Thank you, Jen, for this terrible joke. If you want to send me a joke, I love it when you do. You can email me at Sarah with an H at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books dot com [[email protected]] or [email protected]. All the email goes to the same place, which is to me, like me personally.
On behalf of Lorelei King and my dogs and everyone here, we wish you the very best of reading. Have a wonderful weekend, and we will see you back here next week.
[snow day music]
This podcast transcript was handcrafted with meticulous skill by Garlic Knitter. Many thanks.
The transcript for this episode is brought to you by…the new options for sponsoring this here podcast! For 2019! New options!
You can sponsor an episode or a month of episodes, or you can book the intro only, or the outro only – more options, lots of price ranges, and like I say in my information about advertisement at Smart Bitches, I want the options to be accessible to everyone.
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