Today I am so pleased to welcome Joel Leslie to Joyfully Jay. Joel has come to talk to us about his audio release, A Gentleman Never Keeps Score by Cat Sebastian. He has also brought along an audio excerpt and a great giveaway! Please join me in giving Joel a big welcome!
JAY: Hi Joel, welcome to the blog! Thanks for joining us today. Tell us a little bit about teh book you are here to chat about, your narration of Cat Sebastian’s A Gentleman Never Keeps Score.
JOEL: Thanks Jay! I’m so happy to be here. (Even though we would both rather be having this discussion with you slightly tipsy on Margaritas at Disney Springs). [Jay — pics or it didn’t happen! Oh wait… there ARE pictures]
Gentleman Never Keeps Score is the second book in Cat’s Seducing the Sedgewick’s series. It follows a set of brothers… BUT I 100% promise you this works beautifully as a standalone, and both books can be appreciated separately or out of order. (But trust me… it’s like a potato chip… you won’t be able to have just one).
Here’s the blurb…
Once beloved by London’s fashionable elite, Hartley Sedgwick has become a recluse after a spate of salacious gossip exposed his most-private secrets. Rarely venturing from the house whose inheritance is a daily reminder of his downfall, he’s captivated by the exceedingly handsome man who seeks to rob him.
Since retiring from the boxing ring, Sam Fox has made his pub, The Bell, into a haven for those in his Free Black community. But when his best friend Kate implores him to find and destroy a scandalously revealing painting of her, he agrees. Sam would do anything to protect those he loves, even if it means stealing from a wealthy gentleman. But when he encounters Hartley, he soon finds himself wanting to steal more than just a painting from the lovely, lonely man—he wants to steal his heart.
JAY: How did your collaboration with Cat come about?
JOEL: Well, I’d been dying to work with her. I just had a feeling in my gut that our strengths would make for a really interesting collaboration. Challenge: she was already working on some titles with one of the best narrators in the business lol. She and I met at an RWA event in Orlando and connected a bit, and then she listened to Salt Magic/Skin Magic by Lee Welch (another exceptional story) and apparently decided I was vaguely competent. I just kept my fingers crossed and then suddenly Harper Audio came to me with not one, but three titles – It was a reallyyyyy nice day at the office. I was so excited. Cat had requested me and I’m still incredibly grateful for that. And, it seems she’s pleased because we have at least three more in the pipeline… The Duchess Deception, which will be out in a few months, the third book in the Sedgewick series, and Hither Page (which I kind of begged for in a totally non-desperate manner). LOL.
JAY: Why were you so eager to work with her?
JOEL: Well, I love narrating historical lgbt fiction. And Cat is about as good as it gets. Her work transcends genre. It’s so rich and witty and layered. The thing with historical lgbt stories is that they can be very tricky. The social and political realities of the time make it a challenge to create a truly plausible romance (i.e. with a legit happy ending) that doesn’t seem to ignore reality or involve some sort of massive compromise within their relationship. Cat, somehow, in every book of hers I’ve done, manages to hurdle this flawlessly. She writes situations that totally work in the time period, are original and creative, and specific to each relationship and situation. I think a lot of readers/listeners avoid historical m/m because it, by nature, can be angsty or depressing… but this book doesn’t fall into that.
The way she crafts characters blows me away. There is a character detail about Hartley in Gentleman Never Keeps Score that is so simple, so understated… but it just was so heart-wrenching. Sam notices that Hartley’s waistcoats always have an inordinate number of buttons… it’s this tiny little detail and it’s never dwelled upon. But when you understand the reason why, those little buttons are kind of an armor for the character, it’s so good. There are points where I was narrating this book where I thought, “This could seriously be taught as a text in an English Lit class. This book is a work of art.
Also – she balances research and storytelling incredibly well. I narrate quite a lot of historical work (often m/f), and sometimes the authors can get ‘research happy’ and you can be pulled out of the story because it feels like you’re getting a dissertation on period detail. Some authors can get so excited about telling you the intricate details of an Edwardian meal or take half a page to describe every single garment that appears in the book… and rather than immerse you, it can feel a superfluous. Cat manages this brilliantly. You are totally swept into the setting, but never distracted by it.
JAY: What about this particular book makes it special for you?
JOEL: The characters just grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. I had, in my head, a very specific version of them in my head. I could ‘hear’ them, which always makes my job so much easier. It ends up feeling like up just channeling an already fully existing performance. I’m not the actor, I’m the facilitator, if that makes sense. It was the last of the three I recorded. Each was so unique, and I love that she always finds a totally original twist on the usual historical m/m dilemma. With Unmasked by the Marquess one of the characters is (although they have no terminology for it) trans non-binary, and it is written with such care, and respect and originality. And then It Takes Two to Tumble has a real ‘Maria meets the Von Trapp Children and grumpy Captain’ vibe with a gender bent spin that is so delightful and, being a musical freak, gave me the warm fuzzies. And I was like… well there is no way the last one can get better… and then BOOM. I was floored. I think what is so clever is that Cat doesn’t JUST make “Oh we’re gay, and have to hide it’ the key source of conflict in her books… they are always individual situations and other tangible relationship obstacles. And I think the interracial element ofA Gentleman Never Keeps Score… and the unbelievable character arc of both characters, is just a once in a lifetime gift for a narrator. Easily it’s one of my three all-time favorite projects.
JAY: Were there any particular challenges for you with Gentleman?
JOEL: I think that was one of the reasons I became so passionate about it. On one side, Hartley was very accessible to me. He’s a flamboyant, seemingly vapid, fop. In my head it is kind of a distant relation to Algernon in The Importance of Being Earnest. He is camp, and British camp is one of my favorite things since before I was old enough to even know what it was. He is The Scarlet Pimpernel but gay, almost. I could just ‘hear him’ and see him gesture and imagine the way his clothes moved. Ben Whishaw in Brideshead Revisited was my jumping off point. I knew exactly who he was…
BUT… Then you had all the Afro-British characters and I was desperate not to screw them up or ignore their unique sounds and rhythms. It would have been a massive disservice for me to white-wash Sam in my narration. When we talked about Sam, there was no question in my (or Cat’s mind) that we wanted a young Idris Elba. And luckily, I have watched a lot of Luther and I think I channeled that pretty well. He certainly doesn’t sound like Jason Stratham or Ray Winston.
The thing that was really scary was Kate, Sam’s future sister-in-law. I hadn’t done a female Afro-cockney character before, and she is so beautifully written (Cat’s supporting characters are just as rich as her leads), and I knew the key to her dry humor was the lilt of her accent. It isn’t hard to find cockney contemporary samples of black women, but something that didn’t sound contemporary was tough. Through a dialect-coach friend I managed to track down an amazing woman named Hazel Holder in London, who I had put every line of Kate’s dialogue on tape for me to study. She saved my life, and it was really exciting to stretch those muscles and tackle something new but scary. I’m proud of where we ended up.
JAY: Why do you think people should give A Gentleman Never Keeps Score a listen?
JOEL: I’m really passionate about this book. I think it pushed me to be a better narrator, and it certainly transcends genre. I think that historical m/m gets a bad rap as a tough sell, and also that interracial couples on covers don’t always equate with a safe marketing decision. If people asked me to choose any one of my books that I most loved, as a reader or as a narrator, this would be way up at the top of my suggestions. It isn’t one of my favorite narrations. It’s one of my favorite books… period.
JAY: And you have a giveaway for our readers, yes?
JOEL: I’m super sorry neither Cat nor I have access to promo copies of the book, but we are going to do a giveaway of an amazon gift card that will cover the cost of the audiobook, and, if you’re so inclined, it would be lovely if you used it to purchase A Gentleman Never Keeps Score.
JAY: Thanks for joining us Joel. One last question. Where is my Dole Whip? I was promised a Dole Whip (preferably with rum — thanks Rich for introducing me to that treat!)
JOEL: I… can mail it to you? Anyway… Thank you, Jay!
JOEL LESLIE is an award-winning narrator who has recorded over 240 audiobooks, over half of them in the LGBT genre. He has received seven Earphones Awards from Audiofile Magazine. He has taught dialects at NYU/Tisch, is married to a swell costume designer named Rich that he emotionally blackmails every Halloween and, in his spare time, is an avid dachshund wrangler.
CAT SEBASTIAN lives in a swampy part of the South with her husband, three kids, and two dogs. Before her kids were born, she practiced law and taught high school and college writing. When she isn’t reading or writing, she’s doing crossword puzzles, bird-watching, and wondering where she put her coffee cup.
Joel has brought a $20 Amazon gift card to give away to one lucky reader. Just leave a comment at the end of the post to enter. The contest ends on Tuesday, September 10th at 11:59 pm ET.
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