Ylva author LEE WINTER chats with Abby Craden, one of lesbian romance’s most popular narrators. Abby explains the differences between narrating a lesbian romance and a straight one, the accents she avoids, and whether narrating sex scenes is in fact like reading an IKEA catalog.
THE ‘GHOST’ DRAWING US INTO LESBIAN ROMANCES
To many lesbian romance fans and book lovers of all stripes, Abby Craden is the warm, disembodied voice that brings books to life with husky drawls and sensual, teasing accents. She’s like an ethereal ghost, dancing in the backs of minds.
Away from the microphone and relaxing in her LA home, Abby is definitely whole and substantive—and there’s a lot more to her than that rich, award-winning, audiobook narrator voice.
She often can be found meditating and doing yoga (she’s a certified yoga teacher), raising her 16-year-old son, playing with her dogs—a wheaten terrier mix, and a poodle mash-up—and eyeing the roaming wild peacocks that often stroll by. That’s when she’s not hiking, salsa dancing, or cruising around in her convertible, music blasting.
One thing Abby is, through and through, is an actress.
As a girl, Abby always knew acting was the life for her. It was “a bit scary” for her teacher parents, given no actors at all existed in the family, but Abby was undaunted.
BEFORE BEING AN AUDIOBOOK NARRATOR: THE THEATER BUG
“I have a memory of seeing A Chorus Line when I was very young and thinking ‘Yes! These are my people!’” Abby recalls.
“I have always had a desire and passion for expression. I am also a deep feeler and acting gave me a healthy channel for all that emotion. I also love being in other people’s skin, seeing and sensing the world from other perspectives.”
Being “bit by the theater bug” saw the Long Island girl trek to NYC for acting classes at age 15. She later took a theater major at Boston University which she left after two years to try her luck in Hollywood.
“I continued training and studying with some wonderful teachers in LA,” Abby says. “I had no back-up plan and I did a lot of side jobs to get by in the early years.
“Ironically, I came to LA to be a film star but ended up doing professional classical theater. The voice-over work became an offshoot and then really the focus of my career.”
Despite spending much of her time now as an audiobook narrator, her love of treading the boards has never gone away.
“It’s scary, thrilling, and challenging,” Abby says. “It never is easy, and I think that’s what has kept me so engaged for so long.
“Live theater is truly the craft of acting, and to feel the audience’s energy with me and also get to build a world for them is amazing. It’s very sacred and special to touch people’s hearts in that way, and to share in the collective, live experience.”
Abby has now done almost every variation of acting there is, including voice-over work in dozens of computer games, from Star Wars: The Old Republic to Doom.
She has added her voice to movies and television titles such as The Great Gatsby, How I Met Your Mother, The Black Panther, and Cars 3.
There’s also her body of theater work, with liberal amounts of Shakespeare. She even directed a gender-reversed Romeo and Juliet at the Theatre of NOTE in Hollywood.
And, of course, there are the now hundreds of audiobooks under her belt, from mainstream, science fiction, and lesbian romance to young adult and memoirs. Her talent at the microphone has seen her crowned a three-time Earphones Awards winner.
LEAPING FROM ACTING TO NARRATING AUDIOBOOKS
“Many classically trained actors do audiobooks—it’s a really good fit,” Abby says of her shift into narrating. “We have language, dialect, acting skills, and we know how to sustain our voices for long periods of time.
“I really found voice work intriguing—not being seen, and doing everything just through the voice. In some ways it’s a very distilled process and there’s no hiding. The voice resonates truth and people feel it or not.”
Abby is in high demand as an audiobook narrator and does an astonishing average of four books a month. She’s open to all sorts of projects.
“Any strong, powerful woman with a deep, husky voice and I’m like ‘Yes I’m in!’” she jokes.
“I really enjoy the work, so I don’t say no to a lot, but I am starting to be a bit more discerning. I generally say yes if I have room in my schedule. And if it seems like a great book, I will work weekends and nights and fit it in. The great ones don’t come along every day.”
There is also an unexpected side effect to narrating great writing.
“When I lose time and forget where I am, even with all the technical aspects of narrating, I know I have just experienced brilliant writing. Sometimes when I’ve been with a book all day, it almost feels like my memories. It’s a very intimate experience. And I have such deep admiration for writers.”
THE AUDIOBOOKS ABBY CRADEN TURNS DOWN
Of course, not every book gets a yes from Abby.
“I have passed on some political books that are not my viewpoints,” she says. “And no books that have endless archaic words nobody knows how to pronounce!
“I also try not to do anything that crosses over into just sexual content with no story. But sometimes you don’t know what you’ve gotten yourself into, as I generally get a synopsis and not the whole book to read before I say yes.”
So what’s an audiobook narrator to do when they’re mid-book and realize they want out?
“I have never stopped halfway through, but there have been tears and hair pulling and the desire to bail,” she says. “But once I’m committed, I’m in.
“I think the demands of audiobook performance—all the dialects expected and many characters to voice—can be really challenging. I did a book where I had six different accents all talking to each other throughout and it was a bit crazy.”
LIVING AND DYING BY ACCENTS
Accents is one area that sorts the professional narrators from the wannabes. Have your lesbian romance protagonist’s accent sound like it’s going through a meat grinder—or worse, from an entirely different country—and listeners will be unforgiving. Nail it, and the fan love is immense.
Case in point is Alone by EJ Noyes. In the Facebook group Lesbian Audiobooks, which has 1300 members, a recent highly unscientific poll picked the lesbian romance Alone as the favorite Abby Craden-narrated book. Its story was powerful, as was the love for Craden’s alluring and beautiful Italian accent.
“I loved narrating Alone,” Abby says. “I read it and thought, ‘Oh yes, this is going to be a great narrating experience.’ I felt the book—it resonated deeply for me—while prepping, and when that happens I can’t wait to begin recording it. I could feel Olivia’s (Italian) character, so the accent kind of flowed easily.”
Not all accents are as easy for Abby.
“Scottish is not my favorite—it is so hard to enunciate the words with any kind of clarity. It’s always a challenge and a balance between doing it decently. And then there’s the acting of it as well. I also find Australian really hard.
“I have a pretty good ear but sometimes I study a few sounds or listen to someone speak for a while to get a feel for the rhythm. I had some great dialect coaches in the theater and that helped as well.
SO MANY CHARACTERS IN ONE HEAD
Keeping all the character voices straight is tricky. Some narrators will make extensive notes to keep in mind who’s who and how they each sound.
“Sometimes I mark characters’ voices in my prep, but generally once I have the voices and accents straight, I just launch in,” Abby says. “Books with accents take me longer because I can hear when I’m off and there’s a lot of stopping and starting. I do my best and try not to nitpick too much and trust.”
Abby’s voices are all very much contained. She isn’t one to whip out characters when relaxing with friends.
“No, that feels like my work,” she says. “I rarely bring it out socially.”
Finding the right voice for a character is a mix between the author’s description and the audiobook narrator.
“The more detailed description the author gives, the better it is for me. I always have to make sure I contrast the main characters who generally talk a lot to each other.”
WHAT MAKES AN AUDIOBOOK NARRATOR GOOD?
Listeners can instinctively tell when a narrator is good as opposed to merely average, but they might not know exactly why they feel that way. Ask a narrator to explain the difference, and it’s fascinating.
“A good narrator can move deftly from the general narrative to dialogue with ease,” Abby says. “And it’s someone who enhances the story without getting in the way of it.
“I think it’s a very delicate balance to act the dialogue well without overwhelming the writing. People’s voices feel like a direct expression of who they are. I think we’re drawn to certain narrators because we vibe with them on some level.”
ABBY CRADEN’S AUDIOBOOK FAVORITES
Abby’s favorite genre to narrate is memoirs.
“They’re so intimate and unique. And I get to really enter the writer’s personal experience. But really, any great, well-written book is a pleasure to narrate.”
As for her favorite character? Think: a female Indiana Jones.
“I’m working on a series right now and I love the main character,” Abby says. “She’s tough and funny and a badass and my current favorite—Easy Nevada. I actually just wrapped up book two of that series today. Georgette Kaplan has some awesome snappy patter—a true joy to record.”
So what makes an audiobook hard to narrate?
“Basically poorly written books,” Abby says. “And I really appreciate a balance in a book where it’s not all dialogue. So the dialogue feels earned and not in place of the writer’s descriptive skills giving us the story.”
*COUGHS* … WHEN THAT LESBIAN ROMANCE GETS STEAMY
And speaking of descriptive skills…is it challenging to narrate sexy times?
“Sex scenes don’t bother me,” she says. “It’s not exactly an IKEA manual, more like just part of the job. And if it’s part of bringing the story and human experience to life, I’m all for it.”
Abby believes her first lesbian romance was in 2012, with Georgia Beers’ Too Close to Touch.
“I have no hesitation doing lesbian fiction—to me love is love,” she says. “I do find the romance formulas interesting in the lesbian versus straight romances. I think in straight romances, women are portrayed more as vulnerable, lost, needing to be saved, and the man comes and—phew—fixes all their problems. Whereas in lesbian fiction, both women have careers and are complex and it’s more emotional obstacles to overcome.”
The endings and approach to sex scenes are different, too.
“Often in straight romances, the epilogue involves a few babies that have come or are on the way. And I always feel in straight romances that women are writing their fantasy of sex with a man. In lesbian fiction, it feels more true and realistic. There is the common theme of finding ‘the one’ but definitely in lesbian fiction, women are not looking to be saved. But [straight or gay] everyone wants the ring!”
As for her favorites among lesbian romance titles she’s narrated, she says Alone is one “for sure.”
“And I absolutely fell in love with the two-book series Pages for Her and Pages for You, gorgeously written by Sylvia Brownrigg,” she says. “A book I did a while back called The Silk Road by Jane Summer was beautiful. I tend to love the lyrical and emotional coming-of-age stories.”
Abby finds it “amazing” to learn she has many lesbian audiobook fans.
“Recording alone for hours can be a very isolating experience so it makes me really happy to know people are listening and appreciating,” she says. “If I’m ever tired or low energy, I try to imagine the listeners out there and it re-energizes me.”
Of all the audiobooks she’s narrated across mainstream, lesbian romance, memoirs, and beyond, she singles out young adult books Ask Me No Questions by Marina Budhos and The Dollmaker of Krakow by R. M. Romero.
“Both are beautifully written and important books—the first about the immigrant experience and the second a lyrical retelling of the Holocaust. Some of the YA books have been really incredible.”
STORIES AND OUR PLACE IN THE WORLD
So why do stories matter?
“Stories allow us to see and feel and understand ourselves through others,” she says. “As they sweep us away from our own lives, they also drop us into others, creating empathy and a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world.
“I always loved to read, and I know it helped grow and shape me. Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of human connection and such a beautiful way to reach and impact each other’s lives.”
When was the last time a story made her cry?
“James McBride’s Deacon King Kong. Not something I was working on—purely for pleasure—and I found it really moving.”
When was the last time she laughed out loud?
“I just did! I’m recording Candice Cushing and the Lost Tomb of Cleopatra by Georgette Kaplan and she is such a fun writer. I literally laughed out loud at some of the dialogue I just did.”
WHAT DOES A FAMOUS AUDIOBOOK NARRATOR DO TO RELAX?
While Abby Craden’s day job involves throwing herself into fictional worlds of superheroes, angst, romance, and adventure, in her downtime, it’s non-fiction that she immerses herself in right now.
“I’ve been on a self-education kick,” she explains. “I always have about three books I’m in the middle of by my bed. I’ve been deeply into reading about yoga philosophy and spirituality. I have a bunch of audiobooks too, mostly non-fiction.
“I have Michelle Obama’s book in my library and I’m looking forward to listening to it.”
In the past, authors she’s loved include Tana French, Anaiis Nin, and Kurt Vonnegut.
Aside from yoga and reading, she unwinds in some pretty diverse ways.
“Hiking and being in nature is a great de-stressor,” Abby says. “And a great TV series, preferably mystery, is probably my favorite ‘turn off my brain’ unwind. I also love to drive my convertible on a warm night with the music blasting.
“I really love to salsa and I have been missing it in our current situation. I’ve been attempting to turn my brown thumb into a green one and enjoying creating my garden. And recently through this ‘sheltering in,’ I’ve created a website where I’ve been blogging called BeYourOMuse.
“Oh, is enjoying a great cabernet considered a hobby?”
[Editor: Why yes, yes it is.]
LIFE, LOVE, AND COVID
Philosopher Henry David Thoreau once said, “Make the most of your regrets; never smother your sorrow.” Has Abby ever experienced anything bad that she doesn’t regret?
“Maybe being single again after a long marriage,” she says. “I have done so many new and interesting things that I never even imagined a few years back.”
Like a lot of people, Abby’s found Covid has turned things upside down. She says her 16-year-old son, Liam, is doing school from home now, although he’s not exactly underfoot.
“I wish he was—it’s more me knocking on his door to see if he’s hungry! I mostly feel sad that he’s missing his peers. I’m usually home working alone a lot, so I feel like I have a coworker now, which is kind of cool. But I’m really hoping he gets to go back soon.”
What does Liam think of her job and all those hours spent in a tiny booth?
“I bet when he was little he thought it was very odd. He doesn’t love to listen to me—he says it makes him feel weird,” she says. “I think my video game work might hold more cred for him now than my audiobooks.
“I did an AI voice in the film Upgrade and he says it’s his favorite movie—so that’s saying something!”
DREAMING THE DREAM
Abby’s done so many things since she first clapped wide eyes on A Chorus Line as a child. What would her dream job be now?
“I would love to do a great lead character, preferably a baddie, in an animated feature film,” she says. “I also have a new dream to do some traveling and blogging which has emerged during this crazy time.”
And what is the one thing in life she most wishes for?
“Love, peace, freedom for all.”
Which, she gleefully admits, is more than one thing. But when you say it in Abby Craden’s trademark warm, teasing voice, you can probably get away with anything.
Want to try a great story told by audiobook narrator Abby Craden? Check out these Ylva titles, which include everything from lesbian romance to superheroes and the supernatural.
AL Brooks: Never Too Late for Heroes
KL Hughes: The Art of Us
Jae: Paper Love
Jae: Conflict of Interest
Jae: Next of Kin
Jae: Second Nature
Jae: True Nature
KD Williamson: Crossing Lines (Cops and Docs book 2)
KD Williamson: Between the Lines (Cops and Docs book 3)
KD Williamson: Drawing the Line (Cops and Docs book 4)
Catherine Lane: Romancing the Kicker
Lee Winter: Shattered
Chris Zett: Irregular Heartbeat