Kristin (KJ) James
has always loved performing, leading her to get a B.A. in communications, with a double emphasis in theater and public relations from Mississippi State University. It didn’t take long for her to be drawn to voiceover work, and she now focuses oon audiobook narration. I really enjoyed KJ’s reading of the Trudie Fine books by Gale Deitch. In my review of A Fine Fix, I wrote, “Kristin James does an amazing job of the narration of this book. She does good different accents and created a great set of voices for each character. She really does seem to be Trudy based upon her nature as Trudy narrates the book. I was deeply impressed by the job she does in the audio edition.” I also wrote about her job in the sequel, Fine Dining, “Kristin James narrates the book in a strong performance. She makes Trudie come to life and delights in her role. The voices fit the characters, and I especially loved the sound of May, whom you just picture as a smooth jazz singer from New Orleans. The voices really add to the quality of the listening experience.”
How did you get involved in doing audiobook narration?
Right after college I started taking a lot of voice-over specific classes. My instructor helped me put my demos together, and when I was leaving the session he asked if I had ever heard of ACX. At the time I hadn’t, so I looked into it. It’s essentially a match-making site for authors and narrators. I put up some samples and started auditioning and I haven’t looked back.
You focus on all forms of voiceover work. How does audiobook narration compare to voicing other things?
Audiobooks are a marathon, not a sprint. Not to mention you’re playing all the characters instead of just one. They’re something you really have to love to do because of all the time and energy they take to produce. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy all aspects and types of voice over. But there’s something special about storytelling that I’ve always been drawn to.
You do a great job with character voices and accents. How do you determine the voices to use? What do you do to remember the voices for each character?
Thank you, you’re too kind! I keep that process as organic as possible. When I’m prepping a book, I always read it all the way through before I ever get behind a mic. As I’m reading, I’ll read portions out loud to myself and work out voices as I go. Some of the criteria is provided in the text; like age, gender, and the occasional, “he said in his gruff voice.” I’ll take those descriptions as a base to start from and then let the characters themselves determine the rest. If a voice “feels right” then that’s typically what makes it into the final production. Because this is the process I use, I haven’t had an issue remembering how someone sounds. The main characters just are who they are. I’ll sometimes make a note of minor characters’ types, like “valley girl” or “angry southerner,” but it’s usually not a problem to recall them. If it’s been several months between books in a series, I’ll be sure to listen to snippets of what I did originally for each recurring character to preserve consistency throughout.
How much say do you have over what titles you read?
I have 100% say. Most of my current work is coming through ACX.com, but I am on the roster for some publishers as well. If there’s a book I don’t want to do for some reason I just say, “no thank you”.
Do you have a favorite genre?
Sci-Fi and Fantasy is definitely my favorite. Thrillers are fun, too.
How much interaction do you have with the authors of the books you read? Do you prefer getting their feedback on books?
Through ACX most of the time the author is the Rights Holder, so I correspond with them a good bit. Through a publisher I have very little (if any) contact. It’s nice to know they’re happy with a finished product, but most of the talking and ironing-out of details happens before I start.
What do you enjoy reading for fun? Does that differ from your preference in what you like to narrate?
See the above answer. 😉 I know I can put in a better performance if it’s a story I’m really engaged in, so I seek out what I have a natural interest in.
I understand that Gale Deitch based her character of the champion agility dog Zeus on your own dog who ran agility trials. What got you involved in doing those? Do you still do them?
She did. I started taking lessons at the beginning of 2011. I knew about agility, though I had never participated in it. Zeus was a speed demon, and when he would play at the dog park he showed a lot of natural aptitude for the sport. I took him in for a few private lessons to see if he would like it, and from the very first jump he went over, he was hooked. He and I were so connected I swear he could read my mind as to what a course was. We started showing late that same year on my instructor’s recommendation and he did exceptionally. I lost him pretty horrifically on April 22, 2015 due to complications after a surgery. It was almost exactly 2 months before his 6th birthday. When Gale heard that he was gone she asked if he could be in her book. I was incredibly touched and of course said yes. Several weeks after losing him, the house was too quiet and I was too broken of a person to really function, so I went to the local shelter and found Phoenix. She was what our family needed to start healing and moving forward. She and I are now taking lessons, and my instructor keeps telling me I need to get her registered to start showing. I’m sure I will soon. I miss my Zeustopher Xavious every single day, though.
Can you make a living performing audiobooks?
Of course. It’s what I do full time. There are tons of narrators who do the same. Audiobooks are a fast-growing industry. You can find some stats here.
What do you enjoy best about being an audiobook narrator?
I get to make my living doing what I love. I love to read, tell stories, and act. I get to do all of that every day as an audiobook narrator.
zeus and all his ribbons:
Watch Zeus perform in his agility trial here:
You can read my review of A Fine Fix
You can read my review of Fine Dining
You can read my review of Fine Arts