But just because it’s a romance novel, it doesn’t need to be sexy all the time. That’s just not life. Usually contemporary romance is about a relationship in the midst of someone’s life, with characters who work, etc. So you follow the story. If there’s bubbly flirting going on, then that’s one kind of energy. If there’s that really intense intimacy, that’s another. It’s like water-skiing. The book is the boat, and I’m just being towed behind it.
On getting into the groove.
Now that I’ve done 400 books—two thirds of which are romance novels—I try to remember that every love story is unique. So it really depends on the book. I am very aware of my focus. My voice doesn’t get tired—because I’m not talking anymore strenuously than I would on the phone—so I don’t have to strain myself. But I get mentally fatigued and I notice distraction creeping in. I do everything I can to clear my mind and be ready to sit with the story for however many hours—I get paid by the finished hour—then I go for a quick walk at lunchtime. I have to eat something so my stomach’s not making noises into the microphone, then I do a couple of more hours and knock off around five. It’s a nice nine to five job, which is unusual for an actor.
On the romance stigma.
I tell people that I narrate audio books full-time and when the romance part comes up, I like to watch other people’s reactions. I like to take note of their reaction because they’re telling me about their relationship with that topic. I don’t take it as a judgment on the value of my work. Sometimes they’ll kind of get conspiratorially close to me and say, “Oh, I love those books.” Or sometimes they’ll get giggly or whatever. I just find it interesting to see what people’s relationship is to it, because frankly, I would rather talk about two people making each other feel awesome than a horror book where you’re talking about the really creative ways somebody can destroy another person’s body. I couldn’t do horror, but I love doing romance.
On embodying her characters.
I’ll do character work in the sense that I’ll look at the protagonist’s age, their background, what social class they’re in. If they are upper crust-y, they might take their time with things a little bit more. Or I just did a character last month who was an abandoned orphan as a child. So her expectation of the world was that she had to take care of herself and look out for herself. It made her harder when it came to other people. That’s a different character for me. I don’t do character voices, per se, in a cartoonish way. It’s more of how do you differentiate the men from the women, and the women from one another, in subtle ways that allow the listener to follow what’s going on, without my voice being a distraction?
On what keeps her coming back to the genre.
Everybody loves a good “how we met” story. The rush and the excitement of that. So whether you are single, or you’ve been with someone for a few years, or you’ve been married for 50 years, I think people are drawn to romance because of that rush. Those are some of the most wonderful moments of life.
One of the authors I love working with is Kylie Scott, who’s an Australian romance writer. What I love about her work is that the people are so real. They have real concerns and real bodies. She’ll write about women who are maybe not so happy with their body, and part of the excitement of the relationship is being completely accepted as beautiful—just as they are. I love her stories because they’re about two people with flaws meeting one another, right where they are, and loving each other. There’s also laughter in her romances, which I think makes things sexier because it means that the two people are really aware of what’s going on. They’re not only swept away, they’re really present with each other. I just love being a part of the story.
Samantha Leach is the associate culture editor at Glamour. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @_sleach.