Voicing the Story: Audible Narrator Khristine Hvam

Khristine Hvam. Image courtesy of the artist.
Khristine Hvam. Image courtesy of the artist.

Audible.com narrator Khristine Hvam first contacted me with a question regarding my novel Updraft. “How do you pronounce Tobiat? What about Kirit?” she wanted to know. Then she asked about singing.

I’d never worked with a narrator before, much less an award-winning one like Khristine. But I did what I could to help, recording (VERY) rough versions of the songs and Laws in the bone city that she could work with.

What resulted is a series of sung Laws and myths that interlace the audiobook for Updraft–something I could never have achieved on my own. (Trust me!) I’m still stunned at the beauty of it.

Khristine’s not only an award-winning audiobook artist, she’s also a mom. GeekMom seemed like the perfect place to ask her questions about her work and life.

  1. How long have you been working with Audible.com? What drew you to them? (Optional: Do you listen to audiobooks or are you a paper-book person?)

My audiobook career with Audible began in 2008. I had heard about them little by little during my fledgling beginnings in the voice over world. To me audiobooks were a mystery. I had absolutely NO IDEA what it would mean to record one. All I knew was that I wanted a full-time career as a voice over actor and audiobooks sounded like just one more feather to add to my cap. I was already doing some animation, video game, and commercial work. As with most industries you really need to know someone, and lucky me I met two! I had been doing some Audio Dialogue Replacement (ADR) work and both directors I was working with had begun directing audiobooks at Audible. Both of them thought I might be good and helped secure me an audition. Things moved pretty fast from there. I soon discovered the art of audiobook voice over is NOTHING like anything I had experienced before. It truly is the marathon of voice work. But so incredibly rewarding, not to mention tons of fun. The folks at Audible were wonderfully welcoming to me and continue to be to this day. I’m proud and blessed to call some of them friends. The rest, as they say, is history.

I did listen to audiobooks prior to becoming a narrator. It was amazing to me how easily I fell into the story, and often found myself sitting idle in my driveway for an hour or so just to finish a chapter. I’m also a huge fan of sitting in my bed at night with a good book and losing myself in the pages. There are myriad ways of getting lost in a story and I’m up for all of them!

  1. How do you prepare to record a new audiobook? 

There’s no one right way to prepare. Every narrator has her/his own way of approaching it. I like to read the book before I record it. I make lists of all the characters and jot down their details, i.e., name, age, accent, attitude, and what kind of voice I’m giving them. I also mark up the script (book) with different colors for each character so that while I’m recording I can easily switch voices when I see a new color approaching. Chatting with the author if possible is incredibly helpful. This is their story and I usually get an incredible amount of insight this way. Once I’m behind the mic I let the story do the rest. I just kind of let go and flow with the story. I watch the events unfold in my mind and work hard to stay present, in the moment. I try to BE there, and honestly experience it. I think it’s more fun that way.

  1. With the recording for Updraft, the singing is important–I was so happy when you asked about it. What’s your musical background? What impact does song have on a narrative?

My musical background is karaoke rock goddess. lol. That’s about the extent of my “singing” background. Although, when I was younger I really wanted to be a vocalist. I just didn’t have the chops, or the inclination to develop them.

As narrators we are limited in the ways in which we use song because of copyright infringement which is sad because music and song really add a second dimension to the narration. Music elicits more from us emotionally, creating tension and excitement, and therefore, heightening the listening experience. So, when an author presents me the opportunity to add these elements to a narration, I jump on it. I may not have the best voice, and American Idol certainly won’t be calling, but it helps me and the listener be more present in the story, and adds to the experience. It would be such a shame not to use such a wonderful tool.

Image courtesy of Audible.com
Image courtesy of Audible.com
  1. You won an Audie award for Daughters of Smoke and Bone and have been nominated for several more. What do you think the impact of the Audie Awards is on your genre? For your career?

It was such a great honor to be recognized for my hard work and dedication to this industry and I’m so grateful. My hope is that by being recognized I am thought of when casting directors have something really juicy to cast. And it was nice to be able to put my parents minds at ease as to my career choice. I think they secretly wanted me to be a teacher.

  1. You’re also a mom–how does a busy audio book-recording schedule fit with family?

Like ALL working moms, and stay at home moms alike… it’s a struggle and a balancing act. I now record mostly from my home studio, which allows me to work and have my babies close by. Which is a blessing and a curse. (They’re not very quiet.) Thankfully, I’ve got the loving support of my husband to help when things gets overwhelming and deadlines are looming. We’re a great team.

  1. Would you say you’re a geek, a nerd, something in between, or none of the above?

You know, I’m not sure these words really apply anymore. We’ve entered a new kind of technological, fantastical acceptance and appreciation. So, I’m just me. I like me. I like what I like and encourage everyone I love to do the same. Lives are always changing and growing, learning and experiencing. Putting a label on it serves only to limit that experience. I think my kids taught me that.

  1. You do great voices in your audio books–do you do them when you read to your family also? 

Yes! And not only when I read to them. My husband has been caught saying, “I never know who I’m coming home to.” I’m pretty sure he meant the character thing. Wink wink.

  1. As a reader, what do you think are the differences between reading and listening to a story? As a parent? As an artist?

As I mentioned earlier. There are myriad ways of experiencing a story. Each one is different and beautiful. As a parent I will encourage them to try them all. As an artist I want to preform them all.

  1. What advice would you give your kids? What advice (though they’re very young) would they give you? 

I have no idea… I think I’ll have to wait and see what kind of advice they need. I’m pretty sure they’re going to teach me much more than I’ll ever teach them.

Thank you so much, Khristine, for joining us, and for recording Updraft for Audible.com!

It was a glorious pleasure to record Updraft! I’m in love with the story and characters and I’m craving more!!! And thanks so much for giving me the opportunity to chat a little about what we narrators are all about.

Khristine Hvam has worked as a professional voice-over actor in NY for three years. Some of her most notable work has been with Audible.com, for whom she has voiced several young adult and science fiction series. Additionally, she has voiced several characters for Pokemon USA, including Alice in the feature film, The Rise of Darkrai. She also enjoys dabbling in theater where she has appeared in such Shakespearean adventures as King Lear and The Taming of the Shrew

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Fran Wilde writes science fiction and fantasy. Her first novel, Updraft (Tor, 2015) is called 'Soaring' by Publishers' Weekly and Barnes & Noble SFF blog, while NPR Books says it was "one of the most original fantasy novels I've read this year." Her next novel, Cloudbound releases in September. Fran's short stories appear at Asimov's, Nature, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Tor.com. She writes for publications including The Washington Post, SFSignal, Tor.com, Clarkesworld, iO9.com, and GeekMom.com/GeekDad.com. She can also program digital minions, tie most of the sailor's knot board, and re-load a fountain pen without spattering herself with ink (usually). She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and their tween-minecraft fanatic / book addict / budding Scratch programmer.