Between The Sheets with Xe Sands
Romance Narrators: Before we get into it, can you set the record straight on how to pronounce your beautiful first name? We've noticed folks don't always get it right:)
Aw, thanks so much for asking! It’s pronounced “EK-see.” Although honestly, I’ve often preferred some of the other creative options people have come up with :)
Romance Narrators: On the topic of names, your pseudonym Jo Raylan just got a nice shout out from the Audible editors. One of the voices in romance that listeners want to hear more of, yeah? That's gotta be a nice feeling!
It really was! They called out my work (as Jo) on The Submission Series by CD Reiss, which was honestly some of the best work I’ve done in my career - and one of the few bits of audio I can stand to go back and listen to years after doing it, LOL. It was great to see that particular series called out because it was a transformative project for me personally, so it was especially nifty to hear that it’s still resonating with listeners who are just finding it.
Romance Narrators: Sometimes the romance genre can get a bit of a bad rap. Why do you think that is? You've had a bit of personal transformation through working in this genre. Are you able to share a bit about that?
I think that romance often gets a bad rap for exactly the reasons that I originally panned the genre. Until I started narrating professionally, I, er, confess that I just couldn’t understand the point...I mean there’s no suspense! You know exactly how it’s going to play out in the end - why would you read something when you knew how it was going to end? Everyone would get together and it would be great. Boom! No need to read that!
Man, I was so wrong, LOL.
Because the Universe has an excellent sense of humor, the very first book I was hired to narrate was a romance novel. But know what? I’m glad the Universe played that joke, because it has transformed how I think about romance and relationships. I’ve realized that it doesn’t matter that we know how it’s ultimately going to turn out (with that HEA), because what that happy ending really gives us is a safe place. We can take that journey with the characters - all its ups and downs - without having to worry, because we know it will be alright.
Romance provides us this beautiful place where we make mistakes and recover from them...where we’re honest with each other about how we feel...where love really does trump everything else...where we’re brave enough to look at another person, and without knowing if they’ll be brave enough back, tell them we choose them. And in the end, they *do* choose us. And that’s an incredibly powerful thing, because life isn’t always like that. Sometimes the other person just can’t be that brave...or sometimes we can’t be. But in romance, everything *does* work out, and maybe we need that in life. Maybe we need to know there is a place where that can happen...even though it’s fictional, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t ring true, yk? It doesn’t mean it can’t help us reach for something better, to be something better, to love better. The whole purpose of romance is to show the hope and beauty there can be in life...and honestly, don’t we need more of that?
OK, I know this has been hella long, but we gotta talk about the other thing that gets romance panned...that some out there use to diminish it, make fun of it, or look askance at it. Yeah...all those sexy times, right? Well - this is about to get to a different level of personal, so saddle up people!
When I first started narrating, not only did I erroneously dismiss romance because of that HEA, but I was pretty much allergic to the sexual content. In my case, this really was coming from my own damage, my own unresolved issues (which in NO way is to imply everyone uncomfy with sex scenes has hang-ups - this is just my story, k? K.). Now, as I said, the Universe hands me a romance as my very first project, so I’m narrating romance - and yes, all those sexy times - from the get-go. And at that point, I couldn’t even read a sex scene in a book or see sexy times in a movie without skipping ahead while humming to myself! Heck, I got to the sex scene in the first book I was hired to narrate, started crying and through the book across the room (I know right? Such drama!) I just wasn’t comfortable in my own skin, including my own sexual skin, and that let to me to believing all that bullpuckey that is so commonly whispered with a denigrating smirk about the genre.
So I remember asking a mentor, ‘How am I supposed to do this? How do I get through it?’ And the exchange when a bit like this…
Awesome Wise Mentor: ‘Well, is the sex consensual - are they enjoying themselves?’ And I said, ‘Well, yeah.’
Awesome Wise Mentor: Ok. So is your objection to the content itself...or is it just that you don’t want to read sexy times out loud?
Awesome Wise Mentor: Because if it’s the latter, you have to get over it...because people have sex and they enjoy it, and sometimes they even want to hear you tell them about it in a book. So it’s really on you, hon.
And I thought about that, and realized that of course she was right. It wasn’t the content that was the problem - it’s our assumption that sex doesn’t belong or shouldn’t be spelled out in a book because there is something unseemly about it. But that’s just the damage talking, at least in my case. Because sex is a beautiful, often healing and transformative thing. Why should it be excluded from a story? We’d never think of excluding an emotional journey, so why should we automatically exclude a sexual journey? Why should the presence of sex devalue a story or diminish its credibility as a piece of writing? It’s a life-affirming part of the journey…
About the time I was thinking about auditioning for Beg(Book 1 of The Submission Seriesby CD Reiss, which would also see the creation of “Jo Raylan”), one of my dearest friends pointed me to this quote from Anais Nin: Shame is a lie someone told you about yourself.
Whoa. That rung damn true.
Shame is a lie someone told me about myself.
So it likely sounds ridiculous but narrating romance really did change my life. It has allowed me to open up a bit, to look at what is making me uncomfortable - both the emotional and the sexual content - and challenge my reactions and assumptions...to ask, “What’s going on in there?”
There is nothing shameful about sexuality. There’s nothing shameful about wanting to hear about it...just like there’s no shame in wanting a happy ending. I mean really, why *wouldn’t* we read for hope and beauty, however we you find it?
Romance Narrators: Beautifully said, thank you! Is there a narrator that you find you learn a lot from when you listen to his or her work?
OMG yes. Macleod Andrews. He has this incredible way of delivering whatever book he’s reading in the most natural, authentic way...I never catch myself thinking of him as “the narrator,” because I am fully immersed in whatever story he is telling - he seems entirely the character he is portraying. That’s what I love listening to, and what I strive to do in my own work. When I need a hit of inspiration or just damn good narration, I find something of his to listen to and let it carry me away...let it remind me that THAT is what I’m trying to achieve.
Romance Narrators: You used to publish your photodigitalmanipulation artwork. Tell us more please. And... can we see?
You know, a funnynotfunny thing happened on the way to sharing them...ahem. When I revisited the pieces I created years (and years...and years) back...I don’t know...they seemed to belong to a different life in a way. And the more I thought of sharing them, the more it felt like I was stealing from the past to pay the present, so to speak - stealing from a younger artist, and not honoring whoever it is that I am at this point in my life. So I’m going to veer us off in a bit of a different direction and share a bit about where my artistic eye has been wandering more recently, if that’s alright.
So my husband and I like to take jam-packed (yet somehow still meandering) journeys through the Pacific Northwest, focusing on the offbeat and the abandoned. There can be something so beautiful, so compelling about abandoned places, about ruin...the hyper saturated color of oxidation or graffiti juxtaposed with the washed out wood and colors of decay. An old, derelict church, empty, save for the afternoon light moving slowly across the floors. A shipwreck emerging from the surf. And capturing that resonance in a photograph with my poor inadequate phone (and then enhancing it so it matches what I saw and felt), is where my artistic bent finds its outlet these days. Come take a little walk through the ruins, and the clouds and the rivers…(er, meaning come see me on Flickr :) https://www.flickr.com/people/xesands/
Romance Narrators: How cool! Thank you for sharing. Tell us about an audiobook of which you are particularly proud.
Long Shot, by Kennedy Ryan, which I co-narrated (as Jo Raylan) with Sean Crisden. This book features an extensive and graphic look at the true nature of domestic abuse, from emotional to physical to sexual abuse. But it also features the coming back from that, the recovery, the potential that still exists for love and healing, for finding safety within, finding strength within. And I’ll be honest, it was one of the most difficult books I’ve had to narrate because it was all first person, so every time I was behind the mic, all that fear and horror, desperation and pain - that was all lived out in the booth. So often, abuse is treated lightly, and the recovery is, well, downright insulting in its brevity and ease. Ryan doesn’t go that route, and her grace in handling the aftermath (while still being mindful that she was writing a romance novel) was what allowed me to carry Iris’s story with the grace and dignity she deserved.
Romance Narrators: Where can people keep up with you online?
Let’s see...well, to connect and chat and such, find me on Facebook or Twitter. For all the sounds I throw out there, cruise to my SoundCloud page. Whatever is catching my eye can be found either on Instagram or Flickr...and of course the official site can be found at xesands.com and joraylan.com.
Xe Sands’ Audible catalog: https://adbl.co/2nd3DES
Jo Raylan’s Audible catalog: https://adbl.co/2vnD8RN
Links to people in the interview: