Author Grafton and audiobook reader Kaye met for the first time on a recent afternoon in New York. Over Earl Grey tea and cucumber sandwiches at the St. Regis Hotel, PW spoke with the women about Q Is for Quarry, Kinsey Milhone and how they detest abridged versions.
PW: [to JK] How long have you been reading these books?
Judy Kaye: I was hired around D Is for Deadbeat, and then I guess everybody thought it was okay, so they let me go back and do A, B and C.
PW: When was that?
JK: Around 1988. And I've done them ever since.
PW: Why are you just meeting now?
JK: [to SG] I had heard you didn't want to meet me!
Sue Grafton: You're kidding! That's ridiculous. It just never came up. Usually when I'm in New York, I'm on tour, and my plane is leaving and I've got to get out of here.
PW: [to JK] How did you get the job?
JK: My agent got a call, and I went and auditioned with a lot of other extremely talented women.
PW: [to SG] Did you hear the audition tape?
SG: I don't think so. I don't think they gave me that kind of power. But it's been perfect.
JK: We both got really lucky.
SG: For me, one of the reasons I will never sell the rights to film or television is because I don't want a physical image attached to Kinsey Milhone. But with audio, it's perfect, because everybody can still feed in their image of this woman.
JK: She's pretty specifically drawn in my mind. She actually has the body I would like to have.
SG: Oh, me too! With audio tapes, the listener can still imagine what everything's like.
JK: It's like the old great radio theater. You are a participant, and I love it.
PW: [to JK] Has your presentation of Kinsey changed over the years?
JK: I think there's a continuity to this person. I grow as Kinsey grows; I learn as Kinsey learns. I don't want to be ahead of her, ever. She leads and I follow.
SG: That's true of me too. So Kinsey is in charge of both of us. She's very bossy.
PW: [to JK] What about Grafton's novels appeals to you as an audiobook reader?
JK: It was clear to me from the beginning, the person who was writing this was someone who understood drama, a person who had done some script-writing. The dialogue is human speech at all times. When I picked it up, I said, "This is just flowing out of me... this is good theater." It makes my job easy. The only time I ever have any problems is when there are a lot of guys in a scene. This last book presented me with a new kind of problem, which is a lot of old guys.
SG: True! Kinsey Milhone meets Grumpy Old Men!
PW: [to JK] Do you record the abridged and unabridged versions separately?
JK: Yes. I prefer to do the unabridged first, so I know where we're going and I know what's missing when we do the abridged. That way I can find a way to give some of what's missing to the abridged version.
PW: [to SG] Do you have any say in the abridgements?
SG: Originally, it was very hard for me to read the abridged scripts, because I would think, "Where is this whole sub-plot? Where is the sentence I labored over?" I think there are certain audio readers who don't care for the detail—that isn't a focus of their interest—and I think for them, they want the big story beats. They don't care about the little nitty-gritty stuff that I turn myself inside out over. It was hard for me, at first, to see all that stripped out. But at a certain point, I thought, "Just a minute. This is my responsibility." I have caught a couple of boo-boos, and I now take that terribly seriously. The minute the script comes in I tend to that because, while that is a different kind of job for me, it's just as important, and it's what sets it up for Judy to do her work.
When I read the abridged scripts, there will always be bracketed paragraphs, optional cuts. When Judy reads, if they're running over, this is a little piece they can excise. If I decide that an optional cut is really important to me, I meticulously go through and find exactly that many lines and trade. There are certain things I'm willing to fight for; I understand their constraints. But it's sort of fun. I like the task of finding a little way to trade out something I want for something they can do without.
PW: [to SG] Do you have much input in how Judy reads your books?
SG: [Glancing at the shopping bag of audio tapes at her feet] This'll be my first exposure to what she's done [with this book].
JK: There are times when I'm in that little booth and I'm thinking, "Gosh, I wish she did hear this right away and tell me if it's okay." I'm making a stab at this and I want it to be right, but I'm on my own. Sue is entrusting this stuff to me and I'm praying I'm doing it right. To pass it over to somebody like me and hope I don't screw it up, it's an act of faith.
PW: [to SG] When you sit down to write, do you think about how the words are going to sound out loud?
SG: Always. Sometimes I read it aloud, but I can tell the way a sentence is going to lay out, and then I revise until it sounds right to my inner ear. But as Judy said, my act of faith is to pass it to her. She takes it to a place I can't go. I am not an actress. I am not talented in that way. Judy takes it to another level. That's a joy to me, because that's something I can't do. Sometimes I'm asked why I don't read my own audiobooks. To me, it's an absurd suggestion. I can't do what Judy does. When I finish the book, my job is done (except I go on the road to sell). At that point, Judy picks up the slack.