‘With a Kiss We Die’, by L. R. Dorn | Credit: HarperCollins

From authors Matt Dorff and Suzanne Dunn, who write under the name L. R. Dorn, comes a true crime podcast experience with a local spin. Their newest book, With a Kiss We Die, is written in the form of a Serial-style podcast, narrated by investigative journalist, Ryanna Raines. Throughout the chapters, Raines gets involved with suspects in the brutal murder of a wealthy, middle-aged couple. The suspects are the couple’s son and his girlfriend, both UCSB theater students. They claim their innocence — so who’s the real murderer?

In creating the audiobook for this title, the authors wanted a multi-voice style of read-through, rather than a single narrator, to mirror the experience of a podcast. And who better to hire as voice actors than the actual UCSB BFA acting students? The authors and their publisher, HarperCollins, partnered with academic advisor Sean O’Shea to seek the perfect voices for the project. The result of the multi-voice reading bears a striking verisimilitude to an actual podcast, making the audiobook an immersive listening experience that places the audience in the midst of the high-profile murder investigation. 

“This is our grand experiment,” says Dorff, “to cast these theater students, college students who had no audiobook experience before this … .Their training is theatrical, to project to an audience, and audiobook recording is a very intimate medium. It’s just you and the microphone.” 

The students sat down with director Robin Lai to discover the techniques for an audio-based performance. 

“This was my first voice-acting gig,” says Joan Cheam, a BFA sophomore. “[In acting], it’s all about the eyes, your intention behind the eyes. With audiobook work, it’s the color and intention in your voice.” 

William Huffaker, who graduated from UCSB in June, describes stage acting as big, performative, and dynamic, making voice acting a unique challenge. “When I first got in to record,” he says, “I was super expressive, and they kept telling me to tone it down, tone it down. I’ve never acted solely with my voice before and it’s interesting trying to find that character despite having to pull it way back.” 

Dorff and Dunn are thrilled to be able to create acting gigs for student performers: “We’re their first commercial gig,” says Dunn. “Some of them never thought that their college studies would walk them through a door like this. Some of them are thinking, this could be a career, or at least part of it. That means everything to us, to bring the practicum to the university setting.”

To celebrate the release of the book, the authors will be at the UCSB Studio Theatre on Saturday, July 15 to host a book launch, live performances, and discussion about the process of writing and producing a multi-voice audiobook. Featuring moderator Independent writer David Starkey, this event dives deep into the world of the novel, offering a Q&A with the authors and director, and live readings from the performers to give audiences a taste of the material. Open to the community, this event is the ultimate book club meeting for this fun new adventure.

With a Kiss We Die, by L. R. Dorn, published by HarperCollins, will be released on July 11. The book launch and audiobook event takes place on Saturday, July 15 at 1 p.m. at the UCSB Theatre on Campus. Admission is free but reservations are requested. See bit.ly/3O2P1Fi


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