Best-selling romance author Lauren Blakely routinely delights fans with her prolific and innovative ways of bringing her books to life in audio, and there’s honestly nothing she’d rather do. By Melissa BendixenMay 13, 2019 10:22 AM
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One of the many joys of being a Lauren Blakely fan is that you never have to wait too long before you can queue up a brand new romance. One of the other joys is that each time you'll probably get to hear some of your favorite narrators in fun collaborations and doing interesting new things. And that makes the best-selling author feel like she's doing exactly what she set out to.
Blakely has honed her ability to deliver witty banter, strong heroines, sweet heroes, and compelling romances with dozens of titles that absolutely make her a fan favorite. She continues to build on that trust with her latest offerings, Most Irresistible Guy and Satisfaction Guaranteed. Listen in as she talks with editor Melissa Bendixen about the joys and challenges of writing for audio and what she has up her sleeve next.
Note: Text has been edited and may not match audio exactly.
Melissa Bendixen: Hello, listeners. This is Audible editor Melissa Bendixen and here with me today is Lauren Blakely, the number one New York Times and USA Today bestselling author. Hey Lauren.
Lauren Blakely: Hey Melissa, thanks for having me.
MB: Of course. So lovely to have you. Lauren is one of our most popular romance authors on Audible and in the Audible romance package. Lauren's books are also consistently loved by fans for their strong heroines and swoony heroes who always make us laugh. Her first Audible original, Wanderlust, was narrated by Richard Armitage and Grace Grant and was Audible's pick for best contemporary romance in 2018. Lauren's recent upcoming books include Nobody Does It Better, The Dating Proposal and Satisfaction Guaranteed, all of which are performed by rock-star romance narrators.
First off, I just want to say that I am so completely impressed with how prolific you are. So far just this year you've released seven books on Audible and you're about to come out with two more, The Dating Proposal and Satisfaction Guaranteed, and last year you released about a book a month as well. Oh my gosh, and they're all so funny and lovely. I am just dying to know how do you do it?
LB: Thank you, first of all. My secret sauce honestly is that I get bored if I'm not writing, which I know kind of sounds like a not glamorous way to describe why I'm prolific but it basically comes down to I really enjoy writing. I really enjoy creating these fictional scenarios and spending time in these worlds and messing things up for heroes and heroines and then making them have to figure it out and come together. I sort of feel like I'm never, ever lonely because I have all these voices in my head that are demanding me tell their stories.
MB: That's so nice. So you always have your friends in the background as you're walking around over the course of your day.
LB: It sort of feels that way. I read a blog that Nora Roberts wrote a couple weeks ago and I made it required reading for my husband. I said, "You have to look at this. It will tell you everything you need to know about being married to a romance writer." He read it. He goes, "I already knew all that," but she had essentially said that she really enjoys the company of these imaginary people, that she's never really craving to go to a party necessarily or to have a lot of people over or to see extra friends because she feels like she's kind of busy all day long with these people whose worlds she's creating. I thought, "Yes, that's exactly how I feel too. Now go leave the house so I can write."
MB: That's so sweet. Wow. So do you think of things for them as you go through your day and things happen to you?
LB: Yeah, I try to. I feel that you never know when an idea is going to strike you. I have five dogs so I'm out with them a lot walking them and doing various things with the dogs. It's actually I think a really fertile time for coming up with ideas. Just this morning when I was walking them, I actually was in the middle of listening to an audiobook. I said, "No, you know what? I'm towards the end of this novel that I'm working on and I really need to kind of go through the next few things that are going to happen." So I actually turned ... Which is a shame because it's a great book. I'm listening to Sadie by Courtney Summers but I turned it off so I could just kind of let the ideas flow through my head as I was walking the dogs, and I wound up coming up with the next few scenes, so yeah. My fictional characters keep me quite busy.
MB: Wow. Do you have a favorite trope that you like writing about or one that you tend to gravitate towards most?
LB: I've probably done friends to lovers quite frequently. My readers and listeners seem to really respond to that and connect to that and I think it sort of fits my style of dialogue and banter that I like to write, but lately I've been playing around with enemies and rivals a little bit more. My next Audible original actually is kind of an enemies, frenemies to lovers storyline and it was great fun to kind of write that. It's called Never Have I Ever. It was great fun to write something that was a little bit sharper in the dialogue. Like maybe they're kind of firing barbs at each other and not always getting along and that got me really excited about writing a few more in that vein of enemies or frenemies to lovers.
MB: Frenemies, I like that. Do you have a favorite kind of hero?
LB: I'm sort of known for writing the good guy hero. I remember there was a reader at a book event a year or two ago who came up to me and I was with my friend, C.D. Reiss, who also does quite well in audio and the reader had said, "I need your worst hero. Like your biggest jerk face hero. That's what I want to read." C.D. turns to her. She's like, "Do you know what Lauren writes? You're not going to find that in her book. She writes the good guys." So I think that's really the type that I think I'm able to connect with. The funny guy, the smart guy. Maybe he's cocky but has a heart of gold. Those are generally the type of heroes that I think I'm good at and that my readers and listeners have come to expect and hopefully to enjoy.
MB: Yeah, I think so. I really enjoy them. I find them very enjoyable.
LB: I'm glad to hear that.
MB: Of course. So you're also producing audiobooks that are more than just your typical duel or single narration. I mean, like all the bells and whistles. You have Birthday Suit which came out in January, had 12 narrators that are all fan favorites and with Satisfaction Guaranteed coming up in June, you had narrator Jason Clarke record a full album's worth of music to go with the audiobook. I'm really curious to know what that process has been like and what has inspired you to go the extra mile in creating your audio books.
LB: Yeah, Jason Clarke is like a gold mine of talent. I'm so delighted to have stumbled across him. I actually found him first just as a listener, because I'm an avid audiobook listener. I was listening to Jana Aston's Sure Thing last year which he narrated and then I picked up her next book. I believe that was Good Girl and he narrated that as well. Like wow, this guy has a really good voice. I need to find a way to use him. I'd hired him for Birthday Suit and I knew that he had a background in singing, so it was sort of a great fit to start experimenting and think, "Well, that could really be the next cool thing that I do." At that point I'd already planned Birthday Suit and it was in production and when I was thinking about Satisfaction Guaranteed, I started thinking, "Wow, what if I had a hero ..." I knew he was going to be a veterinarian. I wanted to write a veterinarian hero. I thought, "What if he was moonlighting as a lounge singer."
Then it sort of felt like kismet because I'd already hired Jason for the part and I knew that he could sing. So I went back to him. I said, "Would you just try this scene and do this slide from the song acapella and we'll see how it sounds?" He sent a sample to my sound editor and me on a Saturday afternoon in February and I listened to it and was like, "Oh my God, this is incredible. We have to do a whole album." Things just kind of took off from there, but I was originally thinking it would be sort of fun to have a few song lines throughout the story line, that when the hero is at the club and he's singing these kinds of old standards, like familiar songs that we know and love ... Irving Berlin. Songs that have been sung by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. I really wanted to hear them throughout the actual audiobook and through the story.
Then I thought, "Well, the next extension of that is to actually put together an album." My sound editor has a lot of connections in New York with folks for producing music so he was able to have the piano done. It sounds incredible. I'm so excited about it. I can't wait to hear what listeners think. It's all because Jason's really talented. None of it would be possible if I didn't have these great narrators who had incredible abilities, and I'm just really fortunate to be able to showcase them. So yeah, I can't wait for people to listen to that.
MB: Wow, so you're finding inspiration from the narrators themselves.
LB: Definitely, yeah, absolutely. You sort of have these little seeds of ideas that are always coming at you and pinging you and then I think when you really tap into what they're capable of doing ... So many of them are theater actors. For a lot of narrators, that was why they're ... They might still be doing it to some degree. For a lot of them, it's what their original training is in. A lot of them have done Shakespeare in the past, not that I'm going to start writing something like that per se. But when you really tap into what their abilities are, most of them are able to do so much more than simply read, and I think the key then is finding that balance between, "Okay, here ..."
You want to be able to give listeners the book and a story. That's what they want, but what ways can it be more interesting, more inventive, more innovative than just the story while still keeping them in it. So what I did with the album portion is ... What I didn't want to do was just kind of stick a bunch of songs at the end. I mean, that's fine and good but I wanted it to still feel integrated into the storyline. So for the final bit of the story, it's basically like a bonus epilogue. Andi Arndt and Jason went back into the studio and they have an entire scene and that's done duet style with them talking duet style, and the hero is basically talking about this album that he went in and recorded. He's kind of telling her the story of their love through the song.
So you'll hear little interludes in between the songs of them talking to each other and I did it that way so that you're never really escaping the storyline. You still feel like you're in this romance between these two characters and the story that has been told about their romance and that the songs just become this added layer to that.
MB: Yeah. I love that. That's so nice.
LB: Thank you.
MB: I'm curious, what is the story behind Birthday Suit? I feel like that was your first one in which you pulled out the 12 narrators. Was that also a similar process or what was the process for that one?
LB: Yeah, and you'll be the first to know that I'm planning my next one so I'll tell you a little bit about that if you'd like, but in terms of planning Birthday Suit, I love theater. My great love besides my family and dogs has always been theater. I've gone to musicals my entire life. My dad took me to see Fiddler on the Roof at some theater in Connecticut when I was nine or 10 years old and I just fell in love with that. I fell in love with 42nd Street. I always just felt most at home and sort of like emotionally connected at the theater and going to a musical, so I've just had such a deep connection and appreciation for theater, plays, performing, actors, the craft, and I think that's one of the reasons I've really responded as well as a listener to audiobooks is I like that performance aspect of it.
So when I started listening to more audiobooks in the last few years and hearing a few ... It was actually an Audible original. Unfortunately I'm going to blank on the name but it was a sci-fi. I'll have to look it up later. It was a sci-fi that was done by a full cast and it had really cool sound effects and it just had that whole feel of a play. I'm like, "Oh my gosh, I have to find a way to do this." Oh, and there was also a production of Murder on the Orient Expressthat was done with a full cast. That may have been an Audible Original as well, and that was just tremendous as well, hearing all of these voices bring this incredible story to life, and I just thought, "You know what? It's time. I need to do it. This is my passion. This is what I want to do."
Andi and I had been talking about it for a while, sort of what would be entailed and how we could pull it off. So last year we just kind of went through what would be required and what we would need to do, and then I just went for it. It's like okay, if I can get Andi Arndt and Sebastian York to lead this, then I'm going to go with it and as soon as Sebastian said yeah, I could fit it into his schedule, we were able to start planning it and to build out the rest of the cast.
It was something that I'd always wanted to do and then I just said, "Okay, now is the time." I'm so thrilled with how listeners have responded. There have been so many great reviews where people say, "Oh! All books should be done this way!" Well, that's difficult. But it is really gratifying to read reviews like that and to know that listeners have truly connected and enjoyed that style of storytelling. I think they really were delighted to hear so many different voices.
MB: Yeah, definitely. So you picked up from the Audible originals, we're going places with audio and you're the romance person to do that. That's so great. I had another question for you kind of in line with that, was fans have been loving your audible originals too, like Wanderlust, Unzipped, and Lucky Suit. So what's been your favorite part about doing and creating the Audible Originals or writing first for audio?
LB: Well, I try to give a lot of attention to how the stories sound for all of my books, but I think even more so there's this sort of freedom when you go into something knowing that it's probably going to have more consumption on the audio side than on the other side, which is fine. I am okay with that. I've definitely seen shifts in my business. I've seen shifts in market share away from eBook and toward audio more, and with the Audible Originals, I think it just gives this whole sense of, okay, I really feel like I'm writing for that medium. I try, when I'm going into the story, to hear the narrators in my head as I write and to just really imagine the dialogue and what's going to be spoken.
Even the transitions ... You sort of start to learn when you're writing more Audible originals or audio first or multicast or whatever it is, that there are some things that don't work as well as audio. Sort of some of the sarcastic internal monologue that can be great in an eBook where the characters are sort of talking back to themselves isn't always going to work exactly the same way in audio because you don't have italics and that can actually really help direct the reader in an eBook, but you can't do that in audio, so you have to think about other ways to convey.
There's so many different aspects to [Lucky Suit] but it's very much a back and forth sort of who's zooming who, who's fooling who, who knows what when? And there's a lot of text message exchanges, so I had to make sure that those were set up in such a way that they could truly be followed and understood in the audio form and sometimes that just means you have to say beforehand, "I pick up the phone and text her back," whereas in print you can just write the text message and that's clear. So it just challenges you in a different way as a writer to make sure that everything is clear in both mediums and sometimes there will be differences between the mediums and that's okay. For the next book that I'm working on, Instant Gratification, that's going to be my next multicast.
There are actually going to be some scenes that are adapted and changed in a different way for the audio book just because I think they'll sound better in a particular way, whereas in an eBook, they'll work better in a slightly different way. I'm being kind of cagey about the specifics but it just challenges you as a writer to kind of approach scenes in a different way. For somebody who has written 50 books, it's great to find new challenges. It's great to be able to approach the process in a different way and I hope that that keeps the storytelling fresh to be experimenting with the medium in new ways.
MB: Yes, yes. So, I've seen you mention on social before and it sounds like you're talking about your narrators, like you guys are really close. When you're building these full casts, you're in talks with Andi and Sebastian. It seems like you guys have a lot of synergy going on and you've talked about writing specific scenes for specific narrators. Can you talk a little bit about how your relationships with your narrators has impacted or influenced your writing?
LB: Yeah. I feel very fortunate especially in my relationship with Andi. She's probably voiced ... I think it's well over 16 of my audiobooks now and I have her scheduled for at least four more and then there'll certainly be more after that. She and I are very collaborative. Like I said, I'm currently in the process of finishing the book Instant Gratification. It'll come out in September and that'll be a multicast. I haven't announced the cast yet but Andi Arndt and Shane East will be the hero and heroine. They're very charming and funny and sexy, of course, and I probably shoot her a message a day, like, "Hey, what do you think I should do if I have a 5-year-old character? I don't want to hire another actress just to do five lines from a five-year-old. Should you do it? Should one of the other actresses do it?" So we'll talk about things like that. So there's a logistics of the cast when there's a multicast involved, and we'll talk about even things like ...
Okay, in this one it's going be a little different than Birthday Suit because I have a much larger cast of characters in the story. Birthday Suit had 13 characters in the entire story and I had 12 narrators with Robin Miles doubling up, so it worked really well with a one to one. This one, it's going to be different. I have 36 characters so far in the story.
LB: There's going to be a lot of actors who are doubling up, which they're really excited about because they love that. They love the chance to be able to show their range and to do different parts, but I think the key as the writer, director, if you will, is to make sure that you're not creating unnecessary devices, if you will. That I don't give 10 different accents. As fun as that could be, we don't necessarily need a Russian accent in this book. I already have a couple British accents obviously with the hero being British. So you sort of have to think about their talents and then use them judiciously but also make sure that it doesn't feel like here's a new accent entering every single scene to distinguish the characters. You have to kind of know when to let the narrators do what they're able to do and what they're capable of.
Yeah, I've had conversations with several of the ones that I've cast. Jason Clarke is actually going to be in it. It's a surprise. I'm a huge fan of his. He's going to be playing a part in it but I was actually just emailing him the other day because one of the smaller roles he'll play is another British character. I'm like, "How would you describe a type of British accent that you usually do?" Because I wanted to be able to have it reflected in the scene itself, in what the characters are saying dialogue-wise. So it's really cool to be that collaborative with them and to make sure that the writing at times is actually reflecting what they're able and they like to do with their voices.
MB: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. That's really cool. Where do you see your audio work going in the future and what else do you want to try in this space? I know, spicy question.
LB: I'm listening to Courtney Summers's book right now, Sadie, and it's really fascinating because there's a podcast integrated throughout the storyline. And that just kind of makes you think ... There's so many aspects of the medium that you can experiment with. I think we have the songs obviously in Satisfaction Guaranteed. You have multiple voices, but what are different elements that could be experimented with in different ways to take what characters are doing in their everyday lives and make it sound interesting in audio.
So that's what I'm looking at. I tried to listen to as many different types of audiobooks as I can, to think about, "Okay, would this work in romance? No, it actually wouldn't," and that's okay, but I'm glad I know about what's being done in sci-fi, for instance, or what's being done in thrillers, for instance. I think that's how anyone starts to figure out what could work particularly well and what could be fun to listen to, and I think really the key is just making sure that the tail isn't wagging the dog, making sure at the end of the day that whatever is being done in audio truly supports the storyline.
It's like for Satisfaction Guaranteed, for instance, we had all of these songs that were done and it can be tempting, "Maybe I'll have a little piano tune that introduces each chapter," but that would get really annoying, so I didn't. But we do have a little bit of piano over the opening and closing credits. It sounds awesome. I love it. It kind of gets you in the mood for the story. So I think really that's the key ultimately, is just exposing yourself as a consumer and a listener to everything that's out there and then really deciding judiciously, what is going to work best in your medium. What's an interesting way that I could tell a romance that respects what the romance genre does best and also gives the listeners a whole new experience? So, I'm thinking ahead to the next set of books now. I'm going to do that.
MB: Yeah. Wow, so you're picking up from all the different genres and you're bringing it back to your genre and giving back to the world with everything that you're thinking about.
LB: I hope so. It's a lot of fun for me. I have to say, making audiobooks is probably the most energizing part besides the actual writing itself. Obviously, I love the writing itself but beyond that, it really is a chance to work with this, because again, I think it speaks to my interest in theater and it just gives me this chance to play and participate in partnerships with incredibly talented people and actors, which I love doing.
MB: What kinds of things do you love to hear specifically when you listen to audiobooks? What do you look out for? What catches your eye and tickles your fancy? Is that the phrase? Tickles your fancy?
LB: Yeah, I think that works perfectly. I love romance, of course, but I also have a bit of an addiction to celebrity memoirs. I just finished listening to Carrie Fisher's Princess Diarist. I thought that was fantastic. I have listened to Amy Poehler's Yes Please. She's amazing. She's so funny and sarcastic and big hearted at the same time and she just moves back and forth between telling these very funny stories and then kind of opening up about who she is and mistakes she has made. They're fascinating to listen to and they also, I think, give you great insight as a writer in terms of understanding humans. That's what I really love ultimately about celebrity memoirs. I've listened to both of Rob Lowe's audiobooks and I think they're fantastic because I feel he has such an authenticity to his storytelling and he really opens up about alcoholism and who he is and how he's conquered that and his relationship with his sons and failures and foibles and successes and all of that.
I think just hearing that helps you as a writer to stay fresh. It's not just entertaining but it helps you as a writer to think about different types of characterizations and how they might inspire different aspects of fictional people that you're creating. So it's both a pleasure and also a little bit of research as well.
MB: Yeah. So, back to romance, do you have any specific boyfriends that you're crushing on right now either from your own works or from fellow authors?
LB: Oh, I love Elle Kennedy and Sarina Bowen. I think they're really fantastic. I listen to and read works from both of them. Elle's hockey books are just ... They're so yummy. I sort of gobble them up and I've listened to Sarina's Bittersweet series-
LB: And have read a number of her books. Tad Branson did such a great job on the first one. I think it was the first one in that series. I listened to that in [inaudible 00:28:16] I listened to the romance package actually.
MB: It was our very first book club pick.
LB: That's where I heard about it.
MB: Yeah, yeah. Gosh.
LB: I thought that was terrific. I really enjoy his narration and if memory serves, I feel like Saskia Maarleveld narrated that one as well.
MB: Yes, yeah, she was the other one.
LB: I love her. I want to work with her someday. She's one of my favorite female narrators.
MB: Yeah, she has a very rich voice.
LB: Yeah, she does. Incredibly nuanced. I pick up a lot of the Audible Originals honestly. I have the romance package and I really try to make use of it. I listened to International Player recently by Louise Bay because Shane East is fantastic and I actually really loved him in Corinne Michaels's-
MB: Who doesn't?
LB: Book that was done with Sophie Eastlake. I'm like, "Oh my God." I remember I told Corinne, I go, "That's Shane's best work." He's so incredible. He's so passionate and emotional at the right moments. Selfishly I'm thinking, "Yeah, I've got him on a book coming up soon." Those are some of the ones that I've really been enjoying a lot recently.
MB: That's so nice. I'm so glad that ... I mean, we do good stuff. I love our Audible originals too.
LB: You definitely do good stuff.
MB: And you're part of that list, so, yeah. Well, thank you again for taking the time to chat with us today, Lauren. I feel like I learned so much.
LB: Well, thank you, Melissa, it was a pleasure. I love talking about audiobooks, so this was such a treat for me.
MB: Yeah, I love hearing about it. I'm really looking forward to all the amazing audio treats you're going to be continuing to make for us listeners. And fellow listeners, you can download The Dating Proposal by Lauren Blakely beginning on May 6th and Satisfaction Guaranteed beginning on June 17th on Audible.com. Thanks for listening, everyone.