Today I am so excited to welcome Joel Leslie to Joyfully Jay. Joel is a highly acclaimed audiobook narrator and was nice enough to stop by to talk to us more about it. He has also brought along a great giveaway.
Thank you Jay – it’s super awesome to be here.
So, first off, can you tell my readers a little bit about yourself?
Well – first of all I grew up in a rather odd place, which explains my weird affinity for dialects. My family lives in Bermuda (yes, the triangle lol), which is British, but my parents are American. I went to an all-British school with teachers from all over the UK, and all my friends were English and Scottish. So, I was totally immersed in those accents until I was 17. It wasn’t until I went to college that I realized I had kind of absorbed them all by osmosis and had a gift for dialects. My undergrad at USC was in performance and, when I did my masters, I continued to study dialects in depth. My American accent is kind of learned behavior – when I get tired or stressed I sound really British. I started off as a performer but then moved into stage directing. I’ve worked in the West End with Dame Maggie Smith and Eileen Aitkins and in NY with Kathie Lee Gifford and Patrick Wilson. One of my most fun gigs was directing The Tempest with Anthony Head (who played Giles the librarian on Buffy). I ended up teaching speech and dialects at NYU for a while before my b.f. and I, (we’ve been together 15 years) decided we wanted to start a theatre company and moved to Indiana.
Some of my readers may already know you from your work recording audio books. Can you tell us about how you got started in this type of work?
Well, it’s a circuitous route. I’ve always been a huge audiobook fan. I listen to them all the time… I’ve always loved aural storytelling and theatrical adaptations of books. The thing that made me fall in love with theatre was the stage adaptation of Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby. Anyway, my partner, Rich, and I worked at building this theatre company in Indiana for eight solid years… working our guts out. Renovating this massive 100-year-old vaudeville theatre and doing some great productions. But it’s just the wrong place for it. We couldn’t find a large enough audience that connected to the kind of work we wanted to do. So, we found ourselves at an impasse. But one of the things I had done at our theatre that people liked were one-man radio dramas of classic stories. I did Treasure Island, Christmas Carol, Jekyll and Hyde… a bunch of them. I have a friend back in NY who said to me “why don’t you try doing audiobooks, you would be great at them”. And I just figured it was a pipe dream… cuz it is kind of a dream job for me. Getting to act, AND direct (because you are directing yourself) AND do funny voices. I did some auditions, and the first job I booked was a Skyler Foxe mystery. Haley Walsh had been looking for someone for quite a while and just hadn’t found a narrator that was the right fit. It was a perfect first book for me – she writes playful, fun characters and I’ve always been a huge fan of cozy mysteries. Eight Skyler books later… he is very dear to my heart. I’ve been at this for about two years and I’ve done over 90 books and have about 20,000 sales on audible… which blows my mind.
You record romance novels under the name Joel Leslie and other types of books as Joel Froomkin. How did you get started in romance in particular?
The reason I split the names is simply for the convenience of the reader. Leslie is my middle name. Audible likes to suggest books by the same narrator when you make a purchase… and I love doing kids’ books and young adult stuff. So, it’s not good for anybody if you purchase “Fluffy the Magic Unicorn goes to Snuggle Town” and the suggestion says “You might also like: Locker Room Gang Bang #5”. So, Joel Leslie basically does all the m/m stuff… which is hilarious because he is quite a bit more successful than my ‘real name’. In terms of getting into romance? I just wanted to tell great stories. I never had any kind of a stigma or reluctance about it. The first DSP book I did was this huge Victorian police story called “Come To Dust” by JS Cook… and it was like getting to do a BBC miniseries all myself. I was in heaven. And sex just came along with it. But I love telling LGBT stories. I am very passionate about it. I think that it is so empowering to be able to voice strong gay characters who frequently break stereotypes. They often get to have happy endings (which for a long time, in mainstream media, never happened… the gay characters were tragic, or ancillary or died). I also take the genre very seriously. Before I got into narrating, I listened to a couple of early m/m audio releases and they sounded like they were narrated by Wilfred Brimley. Not good. And now, there are some top-notch, really inspiring storytellers working in m/m. And a lot of us are friends and support each other… Greg Tremblay, Derrick McClain and I have dubbed ourselves ‘The Ear Buds’ lol. Ironically gay romance stories cured me of my anxiety over doing straight romance. I was worried I just didn’t have a butch enough ‘manly’ voice to do the straight stuff…but I rapidly realized that there are often twice the number of Alpha Males in a m/m book than in a m/f one! Ironically when I did my first m/f romance (Word Play by Amalie Silver…it’s sooo good) there was a gay best friend and the author messaged me and was worried the gay friend was too flamboyant to might be offensive to gay people. And I was like, “Um…you know I’m gay, right?”. And she had no idea… from then on I was like… “ok… we got this”. LOL
How do you approach recording a new story? Do you read the book first? How do you “hear” the characters in your head to decide how they should sound or be voiced?
It depends on the publisher. Sometimes you don’t have a lot of contact with the author…but I prefer to be in a dialogue with them. It’s their book, and I want them to love the result AND be excited to promote it. So, when I can, I contact them and send them a rather lengthy questionnaire about each character in the book. Even the ones who even have one line (you will often notice those characters are the ones where the author tells you nothing). So, I ask about age, where they grew up, if they were raised in the same region as any other character, level of education, age etc. I ask them who they would cast in a movie version (voice wise… very often people get that confused. You’ll be doing a Victorian British mystery and they will say “Sandra Bullock”… which is no help). I also like to know what kind of animal they think each character is. Another way of looking at that is “What’s their Patronus”. Cuz if someone is a snake vs. a mouse vs. a beaver vs. a poodle… that tells me exactly how to voice them.
So then, if I’m able to get that info, then I read and prep the book, reading it through. I record three days in a row (eight hours a day), then take a day to prep whatever is coming next. An 80,000 word book takes me about five days. I’m a pretty didactic narrator… I am too critical and I work slow. Out of that eight hours, I get about an hour and forty-five minutes of finished audio done a day, usually.
Is recording romance harder or easier than other genres? Is it hard doing the steamy parts? Or is fun getting into the more intense scenes?
Actually, the steamy parts are some of the easiest. Usually there isn’t much dialogue and you can just sort of relax. When I get to sex scenes my brain knows it gets a little bit of a break from all the heavy lifting. That’s not to say that they don’t require skill… I think it requires a sense of intimacy. Remembering you’re literally whispering sweet nothings into someone’s ear. It can’t be clinical or disconnected. The only part I hate are orgasm lines… it’s tricky to yell “I’m coming” in an audiobook and not feel like you’ve gone full on ‘porn’ or, on the flip side, make it so underplayed that it seems silly.
Can you tell us about any books that you are particularly fond of or that you found unusually challenging? What is your favorite type of audiobook to make?
The hardest ones for me are books with a whole bunch of American alpha males. British books are much easier (in terms of creating characters), because in Britain dialects change every 20 miles. So, you have a huge variety of sounds to help delineate individual voices. I do two series that, on the surface, would have characters that be kind of similar: The Collars and Cuffs (which I took over at book 7) by KC Wells and Parker Williams is set in a BDSM club; and The All Cocks Series by TM Smith is about a gay porn studio. But All Cocks is American and Collars is in Manchester. And All Cocks is so, so, so much harder because you don’t have the same flexibility of dialects to help a character stand out. The same thing happens in the Skyler books for me when Haley adds in a bunch of new high school students… I panic. In terms of favorites? I love fantasy books because you get to create a whole pallet of characters – anything goes. I always get excited when you have the chance for world-building. My favorite book of all time is Treasure by Kim Fielding, which is this sweet British gay fairy tale… it’s the cutest thing ever. I’m also love the characters in the Red Dirt Heart series, and having NR Walker trust me with those was incredible. I would also really love to do more gay Y/A material. I think having those stories out there is really important. A teen who is struggling with their identity can’t really purchase or read book as discretely as they can an audiobook – and they can make a difference. I am keeping my fingers crossed that DSP will start putting out more of their Y/A stuff in audio. Kiernan Kelly has one called “Mad About the Hatter” that I would loveeeee to do.
Were you surprised by the audience for m/m?
Absolutely… I think when anyone begins to explore this genre they are shocked to learn that a huge percentage of the readership is women and the majority of the writers are female. I guess it makes sense since guys tend to respond more to visual stimulus. But I don’t care who writes it as long as it’s a great story! The readership is just extraordinary. The m/m audiobook fans are so passionate and loyal and engaged. Far more than any other genre in audiobooks. It’s incredible to have people follow your work, and tell you how much it means to them and even develop a ‘fan base’. That doesn’t usually happen for narrators. Greg Tremblay and I talk about it a lot, how privileged we feel to have listeners like this. I wish there were more gay men reading the genre, just because I think they are missing out on some great stuff!!
Anything you would change about your job?
I’m very lucky – so not much lol. I would definitely advise independent authors that no matter how hard on your budget it may be – hire a professional editor. You cannot do it yourself, you can’t have it done by a friend. Because it makes SUCH a difference. On a similar note… don’t ever send in your final draft before you personally have read the book OUT LOUD. It doesn’t matter if you do it in the shower or in the basement…but read it out loud. Because you’d be amazed how much your eye will skim over and miss that your mouth will not. It’s invaluable.
I also think it’s really important to make sure the sex is plausible. 99.9% of my female authors write superb sex scenes. But sometimes, when a guy has multiple orgasms in one minute, you’re like “Whaaaa?”. LOL. Derrick McClain advocates every m/m writer purchase “The Joy of Gay Sex”, which is super advice. Also, this sounds silly, but I think it’s amazing that Skyler Foxe is a bottom. Most of the time in m/m everyone is versatile… and very rarely do we come across heroes who are ‘catchers’… I really applaud her for doing that. Being versatile is the cat’s pajamas …but when the butch alpha males don’t ALWAYS save the day, I think it’s nifty.
Do you have any upcoming projects that you would like to tell us about?
I have a bunch of fun things ready to release. On sale in a week or two will be the third book in the “Loving You” series for Renae Kaye. Later this month will be the release of a book I was OBSESSED with – Lord Mouse by Mason Thomas. It is a fantastic book – kind of Gay of Thrones lol. I just finished “The Necromancer’s Dance” by SJ Himes. Currently, I’m working on Flux by Kim Fielding and then I start the Reese Holt series for Laura Baumbach.
If my readers want to learn more about your or your work, where can they find you online?
My m/m website is www.joelleslienarration.com. If they are interested in my other stuff they can take a look at www.joelfroomkinaudio.com. Facebook is Joel Leslie Narration and twitter is jojofro. And if you’re a fan of audiobooks, I really recommend the “m/m audiobook discussion lounge” on facebook… it’s a great place to hang out! I very often offer promotional copies of my new audiobooks in exchange for reviews… so let’s connect!
Thanks so much for stopping by today!
Thank youuuuuu!!!!! xoxoxxo
Joel also brought us some clips of some of his audio to check out.
First, the upcoming Lord Mouse by Mason Thomas
Don’t Twunk My Heart by Renae Kaye
Crazy Like a Foxe by Haley Walsh
Crime Wave by Adam Carpenter
Joel Leslie is a UK transplant, growing up with American parents in a British commonwealth. A classically trained actor with an MFA in theatre from USC, he is often cast for his unique ability to deliver native, authentic combinations of American and British sounds. Among the m/m series he records are NR Walker’s Red Dirt Heart, Haley Walsh’s Skyler Foxe Mysteries, Sloane Kennedy’s Protectors, Adam Carpenter’s Jimmy McSwain Files, Perie Woolford’s Sam Dorsey’s Gay Popcorn, and Smith and LeNoir’s Blackballed trilogy. His great range and ability to bring characters to life with honesty, wit and versatility delights producers and listeners alike.
He is proud to have a strong following with m/m listeners and an ongoing relationship with some of the finest writers in the genre. He loves that every day he gets to share these beautiful, inspirational and empowering GLBT characters with the world. When not in the booth he spends his time chasing after two loquacious wiener dogs. He records projects outside of the m/m genre under the name Joel Froomkin. Visit www.joelleslienarration.com for more and friend him on facebook at Joel Leslie Froomkin.
Joel has brought a FIVE audiobooks to give away to five lucky readers. Choose any of the audiobooks he has narrated. Just leave a comment at the end of the post to enter. The contest ends on Friday, February 24th at 11:59 pm EST.
- By entering the giveaway, you’re confirming that you are at least 18 years old.
- Winners will be selected by random number. No purchase necessary to win. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning.
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- Prizes will be distributed following the giveaway either by Joyfully Jay or the person/organization donating the prize.
- All book prizes are in electronic format unless otherwise specified.
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- Readers may only enter once for each contest. Duplicate entries for the same giveaway will be ignored. In the event of technical problems with the blog during the contest, every effort will be made to extend the contest deadline to allow for additional entries.
- Void where prohibited by law.