Today I am so pleased to welcome Joel Leslie and Marshall Thornton to Joyfully Jay. They have come to talk to us about their collaboration for the audiobook, Femme. They have also brought along copies to give away. Please join me in giving Joel and Marshall a big welcome!
JOEL: Thank you so much for inviting us on the blog today!
MARSHALL: Thank you!
JAY: So how did you come to be the narrator for Femme, Joel?
JOEL: When Marshall got in touch and invited me to do the book, I was already over-booked for the summer and he needed it to come out in time for the Lambda Awards, since the book was (so deservingly) nominated in the Romance category… and I really NEEDED to say no. But, I read the first five pages and just had to do it. I thought it was such a special piece of writing. First, it’s hilarious – Marshall writes real punch lines…he has great comic skill. And scenes of the book play out almost like farce. But the story also has so much to say – and it makes people really think. I thought it was so unique that a book that on the surface is a fluffy comedic Odd Couple rom-com could also be so prescient and smart. Marshall’s writing reminded me of Neil Simon’s classic edgy comedies in all the best ways.
JAY: What was the spark that led you to write the story?
MARSHALL: I began seeing a lot in social media and the gay press about people posting “No Fats, No Femmes” and other awful things on dating apps. And certainly, there has been a prejudice against the “obvious gay” that I’ve always been aware of. So, I got the idea of an opposites attract story on this issue and wrote the first chapter in the spring of 2015. For various reasons, I set it aside and came back to it a year later, and felt that it was even more relevant so I wrote the rest of the book in about two months.
JOEL: Yes! The Grindr phenomenon of people being able to so casually dismiss and deride anyone not ‘masc’… It has brought this self-loathing element of the community out into the open. I thought the book had something important to say. I also think you were very, very clever to set the book in a gay-friendly community… it really makes it more confounding. And, to be honest, we see that in the m/m genre as well. I’m constantly narrating Alpha males dating Alpha males. Someone once asked me if I have any trouble voicing straight men for m/f romance and I laughed because I have to voice TWICE the number of butch men for most of the m/m romance I’m performing. Whenever I get to voice someone who is more in touch with their feminine side it’s awesome, because we just don’t see that as often as I would like. I also love that Marshall challenges bedroom stereotypes as well in this book… it’s awesome.
JAY: How did the two of you collaborate on Femme?
JOEL: Marshall is friends with Haley Walsh, and he listened to one of the Skyler Foxe books… and I think Skyler’s friend Jamie is what gave him the idea that I might be a good fit. It was interesting because the way I voiced Jamie in my audition for Skyler was what clinched that gig for me. Marshall was very, very gracious when we were talking about character… because he explained to me that he’s not someone who really loves ‘performed’ audio books. And there are people who prefer a more neutral narration – where the words kind of do all the work and the narrator doesn’t ‘interpret’. But he knew that these characters were so specific, and the cadence of the writing meant that it needed something different than his own personal taste as an audio listener. So, he put a huge amount of trust in me.
JAY: The book is written in 1st person, dual point of view, alternating between Dog and Lionel. What led you to choose 1st person for this story?
MARSHALL: I began as a playwright so in many ways I’m most comfortable with voice—and first person is all voice. You simply writing a very long monologue. I was also very influenced by Nick Hornsby’s About a Boy, which is written in a very tight dual 3rd person. My Favorite Uncle is written with that same structure. Then I wrote The Ghost Slept Over and switched to dual first person there. It’s kind of been an evolution, I guess. I do think it’s perfect for Femme since the characters are so opposite.
JOEL: You’re use of the word ‘monologue’ is great…because from a narrator point of view, that’s exactly what it becomes. You have to be completely invested and involved and ‘in character’ every second of the performance. The fact that the characters are SOO different was a blessing and a curse. Obviously, it was useful in that it allowed me to differentiate the two narratives vocally (I hope?!), but the 1st person format demands authenticity. I had to try and find these voices (none of which were my own natural placement) which would still allow the performance to sound vulnerable, honest AND funny.
JAY: Joel told me that a lot of people have a very strong reaction to Dog. Some want to kick his butt, some people just want to give him a hug. Why do you think some people find his actions (and his insecurity about being attached to Lionel) so surprising?
MARSHALL: I know people sometimes have issues with Dog and it hurts my heart when I see that because I love him. I haven’t questioned readers who have these issues, but I suspect it may have something to do with whether you’ve been in the closet, or even when you were in the closet. And I may not have drawn that experience clearly enough in the book. Being in the closet makes people do terrible things. It makes people marry people they’re not in love with, support legislation that actually hurts them and lie to the world even when it’s not important.
The pressure on anyone queer doesn’t just come from family and friends. I came out to my family when I was twenty-three. I deliberately waited until I was in a relationship to do it so that if I lost my family I wouldn’t be alone. Ten years later, I mentioned that to my mother and she was shocked. She immediately asked me “What did we ever do to make you think we’d abandon you?” And I had no answer. The idea that I might lose my family did not come from my parents it came from the world around me. I’d learned the good people rejected their gay children. My parents were good people. So, it was a very real possibility to me, though it had nothing to do with who they were. (As I’m writing this, I’m remembering that my mother came to visit me in Chicago before I was out. I brought her to the restaurant I worked at and my first boyfriend worked there as well. I remember ushering her around and making sure they did not meet.)
Anyway, for Dog it isn’t just about his Dad’s heart condition and how his family might react, it’s also about who the world wants him to be. And the desire to fit in makes him do a couple of challenging things.
JOEL: An interesting thing with this book is that it totally appeals to the m/m romance audience…but it’s LGBT fiction, so it’s a different experience for the reader. This doesn’t follow the Harlequin formula… and as humorous and heartwarming as it is, it’s a very honest portrayal of the best and worst in our community. The way Dog (and the other members of the team) behave isn’t something that would shock anyone who has spent time on a gay dating app, or has been in the LGBT dating scene. It’s maddening behavior, and you feel so much heartbreak for Lionel being on the receiving end of it… but Dog’s fear of people judging him because he is with someone so flamboyant is something that happens in our community. We are at this interesting point in social development where Queer culture is becoming mainstream – Ru Paul’s Drag Race and Real O’Neils etc… but as a community we still aren’t 100% comfortable embracing it. I have a 6′-3″ inch friend who works at Disneyworld every day wearing full makeup – he’s utterly fabulous – and he gets far more b.s. about his look from people on dating apps than he does at work! I have so many gay friends that I’ve said, “You HAVE to read this book”, because I knew how much it would mean to them. It’s a piece of writing that people experience and then feel the need to talk about – laugh about AND argue about – and helping to bring a story like that to people is a real honor.
And now you can check out an audio excerpt from Femme!
Queeny cocktail waiter Lionel wakes up to find himself in bed with Dog, a straight-acting softball player, and the two embark on a rocky road to romance. A journey that requires coming out of the closet, going into the closet, a pair of red high heels, many pairs of red high heels, a failed intervention, a couple of aborted dates, and homemade pom-poms. Mostly, Lionel and Dog learn what it means to be a man.
Buy link: Audible
Joel Leslie is a two-time AudioFile Magazine Earphones Award Winner. He has narrated over 112 books. When not voicing LGBT material, he records as Joel Froomkin. A UK transplant, growing up with American parents in a British commonwealth, Joel is a classically trained actor with an MFA in Theatre from USC. He was named 2016 Narrator of the Year by sinfully m/m book reviews and his narration of Sloane Kennedy’s Absolution was also awarded audiobook of the year. His work has reached #1 on Audible’s LGBT chart on numerous occasions.
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 loquacious wiener dogs.
Lambda Award-winning author, Marshall Thornton is best known for the Boystown detective series. Other novels include The Ghost Slept Over, Desert Run and Full Release. Marshall has an MFA in screenwriting from UCLA, where he received the Carl David Memorial Fellowship and was recognized in the Samuel Goldwyn Writing awards. Femme was a 2016 Lamda finalist for Best Romance.
Joel and Marshall have brought three copies of the Femme audiobook to give away to lucky readers. Just leave a comment at the end of the post to enter. The contest ends on Wednesday, July 26 at 11:59 pm EST.
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