Today I am so pleased to welcome Kirt Graves to Joyfully Jay. Kirt has come to talk to us about his upcoming audio release, Straight Boy by Jay Bell. Kirt is sharing an interview with Jay, as well as an inside peek at his audition for the book. Please join me in giving Kirt a big welcome!
I have the extreme honor of narrating Jay Bell’s novel, Straight Boy. This opportunity came about in a very straightforward way: I auditioned for the book and I got it. Of course, nothing is as straightforward as it seems, and I was intensely curious about Jay’s perspective on the process. So…I asked him about it.
Joyfully Jay readers will also have the exclusive opportunity to hear my actual audition that I submitted for Straight Boy.
Kirt: Thanks for taking the time to answer some of my questions about the audition process for your new audiobook, Straight Boy. Since you ultimately chose me as the narrator, this might seem like an obvious ruse to fish for compliments, but I swear that’s only half true.
Jay: I’ll bite that worm! The voice you did for Carter—the supposed straight boy the title refers to—was incredibly sexy. I keep thinking of it and feeling butterflies. You totally made me crush on him.
K: Before we talk about the audition process, I’m curious: Why did you choose to make Straight Boy into an audiobook?
J: I felt it was important to get this story out there to as many people as possible. On one hand, it’s a universal experience. We all know what it’s like to love someone who can’t return those same feelings. That’s very relatable, but it gets a lot more complicated when you throw young gay people into the mix, because there’s always that doubt. “Is he really straight, or just closeted? Maybe he hasn’t figured that out yet.” This can play out in multiple ways, which Straight Boy explores through a variety of characters. Unfortunately, I don’t think there are enough books which tackle the issue realistically. That’s what I strived to do, drawing mostly from my own past. So much in this book is deeply personal, and I figured hey, if I’m going to toss my bleeding heart onto the table, I might as well invite everyone to the party. That includes audiobook listeners. I’m a big fan of being inclusive, so I like making my stories available in as many mediums as possible, be it books, audios, comics, or movies.
K: Why did you choose the Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX) as the platform for creating this audiobook?
J: There aren’t too many options for indie authors to produce their own audiobooks, but even if there were, I appreciate the large pool of narrators on that platform. Everyone from total novices to industry professionals are on ACX, which is exciting. Someone who doesn’t have any experience can get their foot in the door and rise through the ranks, if they’re determined enough. That’s always cool to see. I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before you’re too famous to acknowledge me.
K: Auditions for audiobooks on ACX are hit or miss. Even great books sometimes have bad audition scripts and it’s impossible to figure out what the author wants from the audition. I thought the selection you chose from Straight Boy was a great one; it immediately helped me understand who the two main characters were, and I feel like the tone of the book was also apparent. I’d love to hear why you picked that section.
J: I chose that excerpt because of its emotional range. We have the cruelty of a bully, the anger of a proud young man, the hurt and confusion of someone who means well, and even a little sorrow and fear toward the end. I wanted to see how a potential narrator would handle not just the intensity of those scenes, but the politics behind them as well. While it wasn’t a prerequisite that the narrator be gay, I wanted them to at least be comfortable with queer issues. Having worked with a different narrator on the Something Like… series, I saw how often my readers would engage with him in some way, and I wanted to make sure that they were in safe hands with the new guy too.
K: You don’t have to go into specifics, but I’m always curious how many submissions an author receives when they post their book on ACX. Were you overwhelmed? Underwhelmed? Just whelmed?
J: Most readers probably aren’t aware of this, but authors can choose to share fifty percent of their royalties with a narrator, or they can pay a set amount for each hour of audio. Any author who earns a decent income from writing is going to pay the narrator upfront. Just imagine if someone like JK Rowling agreed to split the proceeds. That narrator would be set for life! What’s more likely, is that unestablished authors with limited resources will choose the royalty share option, which is a risk for any narrator who takes the deal, because they might not ever be fairly compensated for their hard work. Because I offer a decent amount per recorded hour, my projects attract dozens of auditions in a matter of days, which can indeed be overwhelming. Mostly because it’s tough to shoot anyone down, especially when you can tell they are genuinely enthusiastic about the prospect.
K: So why me? What about my audition stood out to you?
J: We’re both married, so let’s keep this between us, but it was love at first sight. Or love at first listen, I should say. Most auditions can be quickly dismissed, because the narrator will have a gravelly voice with a Brooklyn accent when the character is supposed to sound like a teenager from the Midwest. So right away, you were in the correct range. I also like it when narrators can provide a unique voice for each character, but it’s a delicate balance, since that can get too cartoonish or shrill. Your voices were each distinct without being distracting. What matters most to me is performance. The biggest weakness of the written word is how easily it can be misinterpreted. You clearly understood the intention of the story, and best of all, how to imbue those crucial parts with emotion. I love bringing out the feels with my books, and your narration really elevated this story to a new level. Your voice echoes the joy and sorrow, the longing and need, of Andrew as he navigates a very complicated issue. You also understood the importance of pacing. Your audition was a minute or two longer than most that I received, because you slow down during more pensive moments, and speed up when there’s action, which is perfect. Movies achieve the same effect with a soundtrack, but you do it all with your voice. That’s pretty dang neat!
K: After you listened to my audition, you sent me a message on ACX with a few questions. This lead to a back and forth with some additional questions. For my benefit and the benefit of other narrators who might read this, were there any “deal-breaker” questions in that correspondence? What might I have said that would have been a red flag to you?
J: While I did need further information from you, how you answered those questions mattered more to me. You were quick to respond, which is great. You didn’t dismiss any of my concerns by waving them away with flimsy reassurances. That you anticipated most of my questions and answered them before I needed to ask showed efficiency, which I’ve always been a sucker for. You were enthusiastic without being disingenuous or pushy, and best of all, your messages were clear, concise, and had most likely been proofread. Typos happen to everyone, but when hiring someone to do a job, you want to see that they can conduct themselves professionally. Bedside manner is crucial, no matter the industry.
K: I think it’s just important to note at this point that while you were listening to my audition, I was already posting on social media how much I loved the audition and how lucky I felt to be doing this work because of amazing stories like Straight Boy. And I felt that way after only reading a few pages. There’s not really a question in this. I just wanted you to know.
J: I saw those posts actually, because I was shamelessly cyberstalking you. LOL As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to make sure that my readers would have a positive experience if they chose to contact you. That’s been a tough lesson for many people lately. What we say and do on social media reflects back on us, even years down the line. Most of us try to be civil while in public. When we post from the privacy of our homes, it can be confusing, because we’re actually doing something very public and increasingly permanent. It’s okay to be human, and goofy, and real… but it’s also important to keep it classy. So I was happy to discover that you’re a goofy real human with class.
K: I worked with teenagers as a speech coach for many years, and I am so excited to have finally narrated an audiobook I can recommend to a teenage audience. In your opinion, why don’t we see more gay YA novels? Do you think the popularity of movies like Love, Simon (or the movie adaptation of your novel Something Like Summer *wink*) will lead to more work being done in this genre?
J: In ye olden days, social acceptance was a big obstacle for gay young adult novels. Publishers weren’t willing to take a risk on books that they thought would have limited appeal and sizeable backlash, so that culled the herd. They weren’t completely wrong to consider it a bad investment either. Young adult novels were thought to interest teenagers only, who admittedly, were especially hard to market such books to. A young gay reader would have to risk outing themselves when asking an adult to buy or order the book for them. Or even if they were filled with pride, they were unlikely to have money, which remains an issue. (If you’re young and broke, feel free to steal my books. Seriously. I don’t mind.) These days, the gatekeepers are all but dead. A book doesn’t have to be financially viable before it can be published, and anything that puts us in an awkward situation can be purchased online.
It’s also become more socially acceptable to enjoy content geared toward a younger audience. Remember when Harry Potter books were issued with special “mature” covers so grown-ups could save face? That seems laughable now, especially since most box office hits and bestsellers belong to franchises previously dismissed as childish. That having been said, I don’t expect the gay young adult genre to take off on its own. Instead, I suspect we’ll see more and more queer characters incorporated into the general young adult genre. However, there will always be a need for specialized books that focus on the experience gay people go through when growing up. That’s good for those who need personal guidance, allies who want to broaden their understanding, and old farts like me who consider those teen years to be the ultimate staging ground for delicious drama and angst.
K: Do you have any questions for me?
J: When auditioning for books, do you only choose those that you think you’ll enjoy working on? I noticed a lot of your previous work is in the in m/m genre. Was that an intentional choice?
K: I do only audition for books I’m truly interested in producing. I think the final product suffers if the narrator has no connection to or interest in the material. I would be the wrong narrator for an audiobook about the ‘96 Chicago Bulls (a team and year I had to look up to see if it made any sense). I didn’t intentionally aim to work in M/M romance, but my first book was in the genre, and that led to another book, and another book, and so on. And I love it. I love telling queer stories. I wish I had more of these stories when I was growing up.
J: Some of your voices are disturbingly distinct, like when you do female characters. Those sound like a completely different person. Are you able to slip into such voices without effort when reading? Or do you have to pause before those lines to get warmed up somehow? Also, have you ever used your powers for evil? I would have pretended to be my mother and called in sick to school.
K: Wow, that’s a great compliment. In general, I’m focused on making sure each character has their own attitude and personality. In that way, I hope that each character is distinct when the listener hears the audiobook. Because I have a higher voice naturally, I can slide into a typically female register pretty easily. (Also, it’s not that far from a typical male register. A lot of male actors make the mistake of going too far when imitating female voices, and that’s when it sounds fake.) I have never used this for evil, but I did have to tell a lot of telemarketers that I wasn’t my mom well into my teens.
J: Thanks again for doing this!
K: It’s truly my pleasure. I’m in love with the story you told in Straight Boy and I’m happy to be a part of any effort to get it in front of more readers and listeners.
Straight Boy will be available as an audiobook sometime in late January or early February.
I love him. And I’m pretty sure he loves me back… even though he’s straight.
When I first met Carter King, I knew he was something special. I imagined us being together, and we are, but only as friends. Best friends! I’m trying to be cool with that, even though I know he has secrets, and there have definitely been mixed signals. I don’t want a crush to ruin what we already have. Then again, if there’s any chance that we can be together, it’s worth the risk, because Carter could be the love of my life. Or he might be the boy who breaks my heart.
Straight Boy is Jay Bell’s emotional successor to his critically acclaimed Something Like… series. This full-length novel tells a story of friendship and love while skating the blurry line that often divides the two.
Kirt Graves is an audiobook narrator most known for his work in the MM Romance genre. His first audiobook (TJ Klune’s Wolfsong) was featured as one of Audible’s Five-Star Faves in November 2016. A tenor by training, Kirt easily moves between characters of any age, genre, gender or ethnic background. In addition to his work as an audiobook narrator, Kirt is a graphic artist, a podcast host, and an award-winning speech coach.