Once upon a time, we loved having stories read to us at bedtime. Then we grew up, became parents, and it was up to us to do the reading. But a growing segment of romance readers has come to realize that, thanks to audio books, it is still possible to have someone read to them. Bedtime stories. Adult bedtime stories.
Just imagine going about your day, lying back in the tub with a glass of wine, or snuggling into your bed as someone narrates your favorite love stories — complete with the sexy parts. Yes. I see you understand.
But what goes into making an audio book?
We recently caught up with actor/voice artist Kaleo Griffith and asked him that question — along with a few others. Griffith has been described by Hollywood Reporter as “powerful, with the presence of a young Timothy Dalton.” His leading-man good looks are likely to be familiar to fans of Law & Order SVU, HGTV and the soaps. Although he is a relative newcomer to audio books, his incredible voice ensures that we’ll be hearing a lot more from him. (Note from HEA curator Joyce Lamb, who has noticed that Pamela is being too humble to mention that Kaleo also narrates, quite awesomely, her equally awesome I-Team audio books for Tantor Audio. Extreme Exposure, Hard Evidence, Unlawful Contact and Naked Edge are available now. Breaking Point is coming soon.).
Pamela: Welcome to HEA, Kaleo!
Kaleo: Thank you! It’s a pleasure to be here!
Pamela: First, can you tell us about your name? Where does it come from? What does it mean?
Kaleo: Sure, the name is Hawaiian, and I named myself when I was 10 years old. My given name is Luther. I never liked it as a kid. I grew up on Oahu, Hawaii, with a fairly large Hawaiian blood family. We lived a Hawaiian lifestyle — beach on the weekends; Tutu’s house in between with all the cousins; church; lots of bickering; lots of eating and celebrating. This is all standard in Hawaii. But my name didn’t feel very local. And the other kids reminded me of how lame it truly was. Everybody in my family seemed to have a Hawaiian name except for me: mother, sister, cousins, aunties, uncles. And if they didn’t have one, theirs certainly didn’t seem as offensive as “Luther”!
I remember when I was 8 or 9 asking myself, mother included, “Why didn’t I get a Hawaiian name? Everybody else has one.”.
She said something like, “Well, son, your father wanted to give you his name” … “That’s great.” (Laughing).
My mother, my hero, who understood the microscope of living in Hawaii, said to me, “You can have a Hawaiian name, too, you know.”.
That was all I needed. I came back from school that day and told her I wanted to be called “Kaleo.” It just felt right. My mother told the rest of the family, and most everybody started calling me by my new name. (I still go by “Lute” to a few.) Even the school kids liked it. I felt like a new person. I felt happy, Hawaiian. My father was not happy! But he got used to it. These days I rather enjoy my given name and all parts of my ancestry. It turns out that Kaleo means “The Voice.”.
Pamela: What a fun story! And what an amazing coincidence given your eventual career.
Kaleo: Yeah, who knew?
Pamela: We don’t usually have actors on HEA. Tell us about your background. When did you know you wanted to act? What kind of training do you have? What are some of your favorite roles?
Kaleo: When I was a freshman in high school — a great place called Mid-Pacific Institute and President Obama’s high school rival — I took an acting class and was hooked. I was a pretty shy kid and the stage was a place where I felt complete freedom. There was a great teacher there named Tony Curry, also a great actor, who pushed me and perhaps without realizing it helped me discover my fondest passion. I was also playing a lot of competitive tennis at the time and there came a time where I wasn’t sure which one I should do.
I asked my mother, “Which one?” She paused, then said, “Do both.” I’ll never forget that and always appreciated it.
I naturally steered myself towards performance. My first foray into organized training was a summer while still in high school at The American Academy of Dramatic Arts-Los Angeles where I auditioned with a great Shakespearean monologue. After I was done the teacher said to me, “Nice work, very good. Did you know that you just read the part of a female? … Yes, you were just declaring your love for another man. I don’t believe that’s what Shakespeare intended.”.
Pamela: Oh, I love this!
Kaleo: I think I turned green and started sweating. Well, they accepted me anyway. Never made that mistake again and learned a heck of a lot! I ended up in New Hampshire at Franklin Pierce University for undergraduate work, where I received my B.A. In theater. I also took a semester to study abroad in the United Kingdom. Acting, voice, movement and Shakespeare classes five days a week along with attending roughly five to seven professional plays a week. I saw some of my favorite actors on stage weekly. I learned more from this experience than perhaps any other. The Redgraves, Derek Jacobi, the list goes on.
After graduating college, I went on to Rutgers University, Mason Gross School of the Arts, where I received my MFA in acting. The idea of having an MFA and being in a conservatory with fellow peers also seeking higher learning excited me, so three years of specialized learning seemed a small price to pay. Some of my favorite roles so far are “Jack” in George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman at Kansas City Repertory Theatre, an extremely irritable cop on Law & Order SVU, and a drifter cowboy, Lane McCrea, in the feature film Six Gun Savior (summer 2013). And last, but certainly not least, the role of reader and caretaker of Pamela Clare’s I-Team!
Pamela: What drew you to voicing audio books?
Kaleo: Audie winner Rosalyn Landor heard me at a commercial voice-over audition and approached me just over a year ago and asked me if I do audio books. I said, “No.” She said, “You should!” She was instrumental in getting me involved.
I’ve always loved to read — and to be able to do all of the characters, too! Wow, how fun! It was a perfect fit. I did my first audio book with Random House Audio with a little help from an audition and a separate recommendation from the terrific people at Deyan Audio. It’s a very unique medium — challenging and freeing. I’ve been enjoying it immensely.
Pamela: Is it easier or more difficult to convey the emotion of a given story using only your voice? After all, a significant percentage of human communication takes place through subtle visual cues and body language.
Kaleo: Well, to be honest, I don’t really see it in those terms. I see all of the characters as real, living people, and based on writer descriptions, their background, experiences, personality, goals, etc., A sound emerges that fits who the individuals are. I approach each role as I would a play, television role or film script. So I never feel like I’m using just my voice. Sometimes I may make a slight adjustment if I feel like a couple of characters are too close in pitch or tone. Also, I really don’t worry about the subtle visual cues and body language. I absolutely put it in! You may not see it, but I’m putting it in every time. I hope listeners can feel it.
Silence conveys a lot. In between these breaths and moments, there is subtext. All kinds of things happen there. But I don’t play subtext. I just play the scene out in my mind, and translate it as dramatically and truthfully as I can.
Pamela: What’s involved in recording an audio book? Is this something that happens in a studio with sound guys and a director? How many hours of recording go into each finished hour of performance?
Kaleo: I will typically read the entire book , then go back and make notes. The most important thing is my first impression. I write that down. I’ll ask myself, “What is the author’s intent?” I’ll try to answer that one as best as possible. All of this clues me in to how I feel the narration should go. I have two roles here: I’m a storyteller — a narrator and actor. So, then I’ll write down all of the characters and any pronunciations I may need help with. Then I’ll do any and all necessary research on pronunciations, places, things and anything else that may be technical.
Pamela: How long does that typically take?
Kaleo: It just depends on the amount of foreign material or terms. For example, I spent more time on Naked Edge and Breaking Point than the others because of the Lakota, Navajo, and Spanish language present.
Pamela: And when you’ve completed your research?
Kaleo: I save the best for last. The characters have been ruminating in my mind, and I have a pretty good idea of who they are by now. I’ll write that spreadsheet and start speaking some of their lines, making a few notes and go through all of the characters. Then I go into my studio, and I’m ready to go. I play and act out each scene and stay as present as I possibly can. Sometimes there’s a director present, sometimes not. It depends on the audio company. In the case of The I-Team, just me. Typically it’s 1.5 to 2 hours of recording time for one hour of recorded text.
Pamela: So 15 hours of narration might have taken you 30 hours to record. That’s a long time! I’ve been an audio book listener since the days of cassette tapes and have always been amazed at the ability voice actors have to be able to create different voices and then remember them over several books. How do you do that? What goes on in your mind as you create each unique voice? Are you thinking about character or more about sound and accent?
Kaleo: Well, I can remember the lead characters with no problem. I’ve spent many hours with them, days even. Some of the lesser-known characters, like Sergeant Wu, came up in Breaking Point, and I had no idea what he sounded like! That was three books ago for maybe two short lines. I had notes on him, but I still needed to listen to him to get just the right tone. I rarely think or focus on an accent. I’m aware of it, and even then that usually goes away. What I try to focus on more than an accent is what’s happening in a scene, what the character(s) wants.
Pamela: I’ve had the privilege of working with you this year as you’ve brought the I-Team series to life, and it’s been a lot of fun. These are the first romance novels you’ve voiced, I believe, but not your first fiction titles. What other kinds of books have you narrated? Did you have any initial misgivings about voicing romance, any notions of what romantic fiction might be like that made you hesitant to take on a multibook series?
Kaleo: Well, thank you, Pamela. It has been a great pleasure to work on material as good as The I-Team! Well, it ranges from teen to sci-fi to murder mystery. I’m very proud of all of them. I just finished a great book written by Bram Stoker called The Watter’s Mou. I recorded that one in Scottish brogue. This one is nothing like his famous Dracula except in its ability to draw the reader in with rich detail and beautifully expressed prose. It’s a sweeping love story. I’m also currently working on a terrific new mystery series called The Gabe Treloar Series for Deyan Audio.
Yes, the I-Team is the first romance series I’ve worked on. Yes, in fact, I was hesitant. I’ve never been a reader of romance, I thought, so why would I want to record it? However, after I did a bit of research on one Miss Pamela Clare and The I-Team, it became obvious that, in fact, I had to do it. I was genuinely surprised at how good the material was/is. I also thought, “If this many people like her material, it must be really good.” And the fans were right. So, I jumped in and have loved every minute.
Pamela: Thank you! I’m so happy to hear that. Voicing the I-Team has brought you some — what should I call it? — Admiration from fans, with audio book listeners and reviewers posting and tweeting that you’re “narrator gold,” that they now suffer from “Obsessive Kaleo Disorder,” also known as “OKD,” and, well, that you “give good aural.” To put it another way, romance readers can be very passionate in their responses. Did the attention surprise you? Certainly, there’s no denying that they love your voice.
Kaleo: Well, I am completely flattered. Yes, a little surprised, but very much enjoying them. The fans are terrific. They are smart, well-read, know these characters, have strong opinions, and I am happy to be embraced by them. And they should be passionate! I wouldn’t want some schmuck coming in and ruining a good Pamela Clare story! The Anarchy! Attica! The gall. They certainly make me laugh. Seriously, though, the fans are passionate because it’s in the writing. If it weren’t there, no one would care. My goal was to take all of that passion, that incredible suspense that’s so present in the novels, activate it, bring it to life.
Pamela: We know listeners have enjoyed the results of your work. How has the experience of recording the I-Team been for you? You’re on Breaking Point, the fifth book, now, and there won’t be another until I finish Striking Distance.
Kaleo: This experience of recording these novels has been absolutely fantastic! I’ve loved the rapport with the fans, the creation of the characters, and getting to know you, Pamela, has been a very special part of it. After five books, I’ve gotten used to having some of these recurring characters in my life. I’ve dreamt about them! So, it’s been a bit sad ending these books. I’ve had the greatest time performing them. I’m grateful to you, Pamela, for writing this very accessible, gritty material; the fans for listening; and to Tantor for having me as their reader on this project.
Pamela: When you’re not working, what kind of books do you like to read? How do you spend your free time?
Kaleo: I love adventure novels and geopolitics. I could hang out with those for a while. Any free time I have I first love to give to and spend with the love of my life — my incredible wife. I’m an outdoor guy. Biking, hiking, skiing, traveling and dancing, to name a few.
Pamela: What kind of audio book or film projects will you be working on in the near future?
Kaleo: I’m about to start work on Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Pulitzer Prize nominee Karen Russell for Random House Audio. I’m also currently starring in and working on a feature film, Six Gun Savior, with Eric Roberts.
Pamela: That all sounds very exciting. I’m sure your audio book listeners will follow you to these other projects. Thanks for spending time with us!
Kaleo: Thank you for having me! I appreciate it.
For more about Kaleo Griffith, visit his page on Tantor.Com or connect with him on Facebook.
Pamela Clare is an award-winning journalist and nationally best-selling author of both historical romance and contemporary romantic suspense. She loves coffee, the Colorado mountains, and her two grown sons. Her website is PamelaClare.Com.