Stephanie Kate Strohm
Author/Narrator Stephanie Kate Strohm on Bringing Characters to Life

Back in 2016, when my first audiobook was being produced, I jumped at the chance to narrate it. After all, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to dust off my rusty theatre degree and show my dad that four years of studying Brecht and Vogel had been totally worth it. (Just kidding, Dad – thanks for being incredibly supportive of both of my incredibly difficult and unstable career paths!) As soon as I stepped into the booth, it was love at first sight – er, love at first sound. Audiobook recording was a dream come true. It combined everything I love about acting with another one of my great loves – wearing sweatpants. Recording an audiobook was like doing a play without having to fuss with makeup, wigs, or costumes. As long as I kept my ‘p’s from getting too plosive, no one cared if I rolled into the studio without mascara.

There is something pretty magical about being able to bring the characters that you created to life. As an author, I feel lucky that I get to deliver the lines exactly as I intended them, knowing the reader (er, listener) will hear exactly what I heard in my head while writing. Of course, being an author-narrator is not without its pitfalls. It’s easy to become self-conscious after spending several full days reading your own words out loud, wondering if that joke really lands, or if that scene could be tighter, or if the first kiss is romantic enough.

My latest book, Love à la Mode, was so much fun to bring to life. Love à la Mode tells the story of a girl from Ohio and a boy from Chicago who meet while spending their junior year of high school at a cooking program in Paris run by a celebrity chef. As they explore the city, create inventive dishes in the kitchen, and try to survive in their competitive program, the two teens fall in love with food, Paris, and ultimately, with each other.

Listen to a clip of Love à la Mode

Just like the protagonists in my book, I have loved cooking, baking, and eating my whole life. To me, there is no greater joy than sampling the treats at a new bakery or eagerly flipping through a new cookbook. I loved being able to describe each bite of a flaky croissant or a delicate macaron in delicious detail, and being able to bring those descriptions to life in the audiobook was even more fun. I hope listening to this book makes you very, very hungry.

Of course, narrating Love à la Mode presented some particular challenges. I was lucky enough to spend my junior year of college abroad in France, studying medieval history in the city of Poitiers. Although my college French is a bit rusty, I still felt plenty confident in pronouncing the French words and places in the book. What I hadn’t totally taken into account, however, was the accents. There are, naturally, several different French characters in the book, and doing a consistent French accent that doesn’t verge into Pepé Le Pew territory is challenging enough its own. But right up until it was time to start preparing for the audiobook, I’d forgotten just how many different characters with accents I’d written. The cooking program draws students from all over the world, including Sweden, Japan, Spain, South Africa, England, Germany…and there’s probably even more that have slipped my mind right now. YouTube proved invaluable in helping me listen to native speakers from all of these places speaking English. And, luckily, my director was on hand to help me back on track when any of my Briticisms turned too American accidentally.

There is a large cast of characters in Love à la Mode, and I so loved bringing each and every one of them to life, and creating the world of this fictional French cooking school. Wherever you listen to audiobooks, whether it’s in the car, at the gym, or just hanging out at home, I hope this one transports you to Paris for a few hours of your day.

If you close your eyes, you might even be able to smell freshly baked bread.

Hear more from Stephanie on our podcast This Is the Author!

Photo © Braden Nesin