Jeff and Will talk about the super fun High School Musical: The Musical: The Series on Disney+. Jeff has more book recommendations from listeners and also gives his review of Alexis Hall’s Boyfriend Material. Will reviews Honeymoon for One by Keira Andrews.
For this first listener favorite episode, we feature Joel Leslie’s appearances on the podcast. He talks about working with Haley Walsh on the Skyler Foxe Mysteries and with Marshall Thornton on Femme. Joel also talks about what it means to him voicing so many LGBTQ+ characters across more than 200 books.
Big Gay Fiction Podcast is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. Find many more outstanding podcasts at frolic.media/podcasts!
Here are the things we talk about in this episode. Please note, these links include affiliate links for which we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase.
- High School Musical: The Musical: The Series on Disney+
- Goode Boy series by Sean Ashcroft on Amazon
- Unbreakable Bonds series by Rinda Elliott & Jocelynn Drake on Amazon
- Ward Security series by Rinda Elliott & Jocelynn Drake on Amazon
- The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune on Amazon
- Tell Us the Most Recent Fantastic Book You’ve Read? – August 2020 on Patreon (leave a comment here–which you can do whether your a patron or not–and tell us about your favorite book of the month)
- Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall on Amazon (audiobook available on Libro.fm)
- Honeymoon for One by Keira Andrews on Amazon (audiobook available on Libro.fm)
- Joel Leslie Interview
- Joel Leslie: Joel Leslie website | Joel Froomkin website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
- Episode 74 – Haley Walsh & Joel Leslie Interview on Big Gay Fiction Podcast
- Episode 104 – Marshall Thornton & Joel Leslie Talk “Femme” on Big Gay Fiction Podcast
- Pride Month Bonus 14 – Joel Leslie on Big Gay Fiction Podcast
- The Skyler Foxe Mystery series by Haley Walsh and performed by Joel Leslie on Audible
- M. C. Beaton on Amazon
- The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith on Amazon
- Desert Foxe by Haley Walsh and performed by Joel Leslie on Audible
- Crazy Like a Foxe by Haley Walsh and performed by Joel Leslie on Audible
- Femme by Marshall Thornton & performed by Joel Leslie on Amazon
- Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli on Amazon
- The Astonishing Life of August March by Aaron Jackson on Amazon (audiobook also available on Libro.fm)
- Auntie Mame on Amazon
- Funny Lady on Amazon
- Manners and Mannerisms by Tanya Chris on Amazon
- Tell us your Big Gay Fiction Podcast Favorite Guest Submission Form
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast on Patreon.com
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast patrons on BGFP website
- Libro.fm website (use this link to receive your Big Gay Fiction Podcast special offer)
- Frolic Podcast Network website
Interview Transcript – Joel Leslie (featuring Haley Walsh and Marshall Thornton)
This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Jeff: So Joel, what’s your backstory?
Joel: I grew up in Bermuda, of all places, which is a British colony and, yes, the triangle. And I can explain all about the Bermuda Triangle I need to make a diagram, though. It involves visual aids. So I ended up growing up there. My parents are American, but I ended up growing up in this British Commonwealth, and going to a British school with teachers from all over the UK, then my best friend was Scottish. And so I grew up around all these different sounds. And if my parents weren’t American, I basically would have probably spoken with a British accent all the time. So I ended up as this kind of weird mutt, hearing all these sounds, and then went to USC for performance.
While I was there, kind of discovered that I had a gift for dialects and accents, and sort of focused on that. My intention, I mean, my primary career goal was quickly to become a director, a stage director. But I really had this huge passion for speech and, oddly enough, dramatized literary works. And in fact, the thing that made me fall in love with theater was the RSC dramatized version of Nicholas Nickleby. And so I did that in college. I did my masters in directing, and then I went to London to apprentice, and worked as a director there, and did things like assistant directed “Delicate Balance” with Maggie Smith and Eileen Atkins, and did a bunch of cool stuff, and then ended up moving to New York, where I met my partner, Rich, who you’ve met. And we swore to start a theater company. So we found this hundred-year-old building in the middle of Indiana, I had never even been to Indiana, we found this hundred-year-old vaudeville house, and we moved there.
And over the past 10 years, we sort of renovated it and turned it into a full size working theater, professional theater company, which is great, except for the fact that it’s in Indiana, and in the middle of kind of nowhere in Indiana. And it’s been very tricky in the past eight years as the socio-economic climate has changed and the political climate has changed. It became really difficult to get something like this to grab hold. No matter how proud we were of the work we were doing, and the reviews that we were getting, you know, and all that, just actually getting bums on the seats was very difficult. And I was also… I’m also a professor, and I was teaching in the university here. I was running the drama department for a while here.
And then… So through a whole series of events, we decided to sort of try something else. And at the same time, a friend of mine, a female who’s very successful with audiobooks, said to me, “You know, you should try this.” Because one of the things I did when we ran a theater company was I would do, like, these little one-man show versions of famous books. I did “Dracula,” and “Sleepy Hollow,” and “Treasure Island.” And she said, “You should try this.” And I was like, “Okay,” and I did. And it has been… You know, I’ve always been a huge fan of audiobooks. I’ve always loved them and really inspired by them. And the fact that it suddenly has turned into something that I do full time for a living is fantastic. And weirdly, I think the first book that I ever auditioned for was the first “Skyler Foxe” book. And from there, 8 books later and 90 titles later, it’s turned into a full-time gig that I love. It’s fantastic.
Jeff: So, Haley, you brought “Skyler” to audio in 2015 after there were already at few books out. What led you to that choice? And then how did you two make the connection to start working together?
Haley: Well, I really wanted audio because I just want it accessible to as many people as possible. The “Skyler” books are bought in a lot of foreign countries. They’re all still in English, but they’re bought in all kinds of places, and audio seemed more accessible to a lot of people. Plus, I really wanted to hear the characters. So that was sort of a push for me. And Amazon has a self-publishing arm for audio. It’s sold through Audible, and it’s called ACX, and you find your narrators there. You can hire them out right or you can share or…
Joel: It’s match.com for audiobooks. It really is.
Haley: It is. It is. We totally have to like each other and, you know, exchange pictures. Now, you basically hear lots of different auditions from narrators. You go and you plug in all the different things about your book. You want a male narrator. He has to be about this age. He wants to be able to access or, you know, whatever. You plug that stuff in, and a bunch of names come up, and you start listening to the guys. Now, he wasn’t the original narrator for the series. I picked this other guy. And I kept telling him, I kept saying, “You know, there are some fairly detailed graphic sex scenes in this. Are you okay with that?” “Sure. Sure. Yes.” So he was doing the narration for a while and suddenly, one day, just flaked away, and I never heard from him again. And so I had to start the process all over again, heard Joel’s voice and said, “Oh, my God. That’s Skyler. Please accept it. Please accept it. Please accept it.”
Joel: You said the reason you liked me, that you particularly liked my audition was the fact that I made Jamie believable.
Haley: Yeah. Yeah.
Joel: Apparently, to a lot of people, Jamie is this character in the books that’s very flamboyant, and he’s very kind of over the top and fun. But, apparently, you said a lot of people had made him…a lot of the male narrators had basically made him too…
Haley: Stereotypically way over the top.
Joel: Yeah. And too…
Haley: Insultingly so. Yeah.
Joel: Yeah. And so, apparently, I rang true with Jamie and the rest is history, but…
Haley: He is the voice of Skyler because when he called my house… And I didn’t tell my husband he was calling or really much about this. He knew that there was an audiobook. But when he called, my husband picked up the phone and heard his voice, and he said, “Hon, Skyler’s on the phone. ”
Jeff: That’s awesome.
Haley: Yeah. So I knew that was right.
Jeff: And for you, Joel, I mean, of all the things that are running around in ACX to choose to audition for, what drew you to the “Skyler” books?
Joel: Well, I’ve always had a thing… One of my favorite genres is cozy mysteries. I’m crazy about MC Beaton’s “Agatha Raisin” series and “Hamish Macbeth,” and the number one ladies detective series, and those kind of books. I’ve always loved them. And so, to get a chance to do a gay spin on that was so cool. And also for him to be… I love the fact that he really is a role model. Like, he’s…you know, they say too stupid to live. I mean, he does do very dumb things. However, in terms of the way he teaches his kids, he’s a fantastic role model. And he goes through a really interesting journey of…you know, he goes through a coming-out process. He goes through coming to terms with basically growing up and what it means to be an adult. And, you know, it was really, really cool. And also, in that initial audition, there were, like, five very clear what I call the Scooby gang, his best friends, who sort of end up swept into the mysteries along with him, but these five very distinct, fun characters. And I love doing colorful. You know, I’m not someone that you hire for a dead read. I’m not someone that goes, “Page one. You know, the mist was very blue in the sky, and…” That’s not me. And some people want that. Some people do… Some authors get very freaked out if they hear their book narrated not the way an author would do an author reading, you know.
Haley: It’s not how you do an author reading. That’s not how I do it.
Joel: If you’re good. If you’re good.
Haley: I want it performed. Yeah.
Joel: Right. But a lot of authors just want their book literally read, but these characters sort of jumped off the page and wanted to be performed, and they were lovely. And I just, I guess, hit the jackpot the first time out, which has been fantastic.
Haley: He loved them.
Joel: one thing that happened with… Which one is “Desert Foxe?” Is that book five?
Haley: Five, the fifth mystery, yeah.
Joel: So with “Desert Foxe,” what suddenly happens is, out of the blue, because she hates me, she decided to make all of these ancillary characters have their own chapters and their own very serious relationship issues. So it was really… You know, I was lucky that I hadn’t made them too stereotypical or whatever. You know, when you’re an actor, you always want to find truth in however big you go. But it was a real challenge to suddenly take these characters that were meant to be the comic relief, and give them their own focus, and give them their own, you know, relationship arguments and bedroom problems. And so, yeah, I was ready to kill her after that one. But …
Haley: Well, you gotta mix it up. You gotta mix…
Joel: She’s also not allowed to add… She keeps adding students to the class and it’s…
Haley: Oh, you’re not gonna like me now.
Joel: Every time she adds a damn exchange student or someone new, I’m like, “Really? How many straight teenage boys can I voice?”
Joel: And one of my favorite things about the series is that the murders are great, but they’re not what makes me excited to read each next chapter. She charts the relationships and the growth of Skyler’s relationship with Keith, and the relationships with the other characters, and their relationships. You know, it really becomes this family you care about. And I think the fact that you care about the characters makes them getting into perilous situations matter much more to you as a reader. But yeah, no, it’s, I would say, probably out of… At some point in each one, maybe six out of the eight books I’ve done, I would say I’ve ended up in tears at some point while narrating it. So…
Jeff: Is that tears of laughter?
Haley: Because he hates it so much.
Jeff: Tears of laughter or tears of sadness?
Joel: Tears of sweetness.
Joel: There’s a…
Haley: There’s always some pathos, maybe.
Joel: There’s a first time scene in one book for these two teenagers that is just really beautifully written. There’s a prom scene that’s fantastic. So, yeah, no, it’s great. And, you know, we haven’t talked about the fact… Well, you did sort of mention the fact that the books are also very sexy. They are. She writes good sex scenes. She really does.
The other thing that, I think, really makes me happy about the series is, and this sounds stupid, which, you know, so many women are writing in this genre for us, which is fantastic, and the audience is largely women. But what tends to happen for me as a narrator, I found, is you almost always end up with versatile couples. Everybody’s versatile. Every single person in the world is versatile. This sounds dumb. I love the fact that she’s written this really great hero, who’s a bottom. I think that’s awesome because…
Haley: I’m proud of it.
Joel: …that doesn’t happen.
Jeff: No, it really doesn’t.
Joel: That doesn’t happen, where the lead character is, you know, a receiver. And I think that’s great. I think it’s…
Haley: And I did that on purpose because I was tired of reading that too. I thought, “No. These are not the people that I know.”
Joel: I need to narrate a series where I don’t have to worry about trying to sound straight in order to voice a gay man, which happens to me a lot. I mean, a lot of the time, I’m voicing like alpha males, and it’s like, “I’m in special ops.” And, like, they’re great books. But I love the fact that Skyler really is some gay guy that you’d be friends with, and hang out, and have brunch with on a Sunday. Like, he’s not this idealized version of anything. You know, he’s such a fully rounded, plausible, flawed character. But I love the fact that she writes tops and bottoms, and that’s so cool.
Jeff: What was it like for you to find Skyler’s character even going, and how did it change from what you might have had in the audition to what’s actually in the books?
Joel: Well, this is slightly interesting. When we started Skyler, his voice was my voice. But since then, because I become a full-time narrator and because I’m doing so much other genre of material, my pitch has actually dropped. So now when I voice Skyler, I actually have to sit him higher up than my own voice. And we did… And there was book three, I think, I sent Haley the first 15 minutes and she was like, “What the hell is going on? ”
Haley: Why are you so depressed? This isn’t sad.
Joel: And I was like, “Oh, shit.” So I had to sort of, like, figure out how to now play Skyler, now that my own voice had changed. But Keith kind of sits at the bottom of my range, and Skyler sits slightly above my own range now, and Jamie sits right at the top of my range, and he’s much more colorful, and he’s there. And, you know, the others are… A lot of them are based on people I know, which is really funny. The lawyer character is definitely someone I know.
Haley: What a coincidence. So do I.
Joel: But he’s very persnickety and particular. My favorite thing about this person is he picks up potato chips with a napkin. He doesn’t wanna get… He’s a little bit germophobic and he picks up… But he’s just sort of… And so he’s just very careful. And that’s what I like about, you know, the way I suddenly voiced him. So, yeah, no, it’s weird, but…
Haley: And a lot of that is, now, when I write them, I hear, especially Philip…
Joel: Most probably.
Haley: …and I had Rodolfo but yeah, but definitely Philip and Skyler’s mother, I hear you. I know. And now, I sort of write them based on how I think you’re going to make them sound when you say certain, you know, phrases and sentences. So that’s not…
Joel: Your vocabulary actually has shifted because the first books that I did, Philip never said the word dude, and I voiced him as a character who would never… The way I did his voice is he was not someone who would say dude. And then all of a sudden, like, book three, she started writing dude, and I called her up and I was like, “What the hell do I do with this?”
Haley: “I wrote it before you.” I was gonna say that was BJ but that’s not a good announce…
Joel: It’s quite funny, though.
Jeff: It’s interesting you brought that up because I was curious, like, what’s the collaboration between the two of you, now that you’ve been doing this for a while, as a new “Skyler” comes up for audio?
Joel: Whenever a new character shows up, I sort of ask her, you know, not as involved as I do with my new writers, we have a sort of a shorthand now, but I’ll ask her, like, “If you’re thinking of casting somebody famous, who would you cast? You know, where are they from? How old are they?” That kind of stuff. With my new authors, when I approach new material, I send them a whole very detailed character questionnaire. I ask what…
Haley: What kind of animal are they?
Joel: I ask what… I thought what was useful to me is I ask about every character in the book what animal would they be? And now I’ve started listing it as if what would their patronus be? Because, for some reason, that resonates easier for some people. But, you know, if an author thinks somebody is a weasel versus an owl, versus, you know, a snake or a bear, that makes it very clear to me what that voice is. So that really helps me a lot. So…
Jeff: What kind of preparation is there for you, Joel, besides, obviously, like, reading the manuscript to get ready to go into the booth?
Joel: You know, I’ve had to start having a very disciplined routine because you get to the point where the weird thing about being an audiobook narrator is you can’t go to work sick. I mean, if something is, it shows. And what you recorded yesterday isn’t gonna sound the same as you recorded today, and that’s bad. So, I get up and I have to… I do a vocal warmup and I have to stretch, and I have to do weird mouth exercises, and I steam, and I recently discovered that I have reflux. So I have to be on a reflux diet now because that affects my speech. But I figured it out, there was a series of about three months when I was releasing books and my reviews kept saying I sounded older than they thought I should, and it was because of the reflux. So it involves a certain amount of discipline. But, yeah, I record three days in a row, and then take a break in between, and on that off day is when I do my prep. It’s when I’ll be reading… It’s when I’m reading the next book and making notes, and, you know, figuring out character voices, and doing research for certain dialects if I need to, and things like that. So, it’s three days on, one day off. And yeah, it’s a routine. It requires… You know, I think this is one thing that’s very similar to being a writer, is it requires you having your own discipline because you’re the only one making you get your butt out of bed and doing the work, you know. Especially if you’re an indie author or an indie narrator, as I am, you know, it could take me five days to record a book or it could take, you know, a month-and-a-half, depending on if I actually do the work. So I have a pretty specific schedule that I work on now and it seems to work. So…
Jeff: Any stories from the booth, Joel, like flubs or numerous things that ended up on the cutting room floor that should be on some DVD extras somewhere?
Joel: There is not… I have one horrifying story. And it actually… It doesn’t have to do with the “Skyler” books. But I’ll tell you because it’s pretty darn funny. You know, one thing about working with indie authors is that, sometimes, sometimes they don’t invest in an editor as they should. And if you ever wanna be good to your narrator, hire a decent editor because…
Haley: New readers.
Joel: Because, oh, my God, you’d be amazed at the stuff that we have to figure out on the fly. But I was doing this one particular book, and it was so incongruously edited. Like, sentences just went off. They didn’t make sense. They didn’t make grammatical sense. They ended somewhere they should have been… It was just… And I was exhausted and it was, like, hour seven and I was three-quarters of the way through the book, and I hit this page, it was just, like, every sentence was a mess. And at one point, I just said into the mic, “I can’t fucking do this anymore.” And it ended up… Rich somehow missed it and didn’t cut it out.
Jeff: Oh, no.
Joel: It went to print with me going, “I can’t fucking do this anymore.” We pulled it back, luckily, and…
Jeff: Well, that just shows you the author, how well they didn’t proof their audiobook either.
Joel: And so, yeah, it missed… It was really funny because we had beta listened on our end and he had… But whatever. But that’s the worst. That’s the worst one that’s ever happened to me. And, you know, the lesson that every narrator learns is you have to read the whole book because I did once do about half of an entire book and then realized the character was supposed to be black because they didn’t mention that until, like, page 134. And I went, “Oh, shit.” So, you learn the ropes quickly.
Jeff: when ”Femme” came out in audio you actually contacted me saying it was like a really honest to goodness, LGBT romance, and it’s a fun treatment of a really important topic, the anti-femme stigma among gay men. You called this an important romance because here was romantic lead who’s not the alpha male. You’ve recorded 100 books now. I take it, you don’t come across this type very often.
Joel: I don’t think you come across often a character who has a… The alpha-beta thing I mean, that comes up a lot when you’re narrating, like shift or fiction and stuff like that, you know, when it’s… But what you don’t end up with is an effeminate character who is a dominant personality who is comfortable in their own skin and really kind of functions as a hero in the book. And that’s amazing. I mean, I think what was so is… I mean, I love doing the male-male romance that I do. But it is a different animal. And very often in male-male romance, you’re ending up with two, the personalities of basically two alpha males that just happened to kind of come together.
You know, when everyone is very often versatile and that’s kind of, it’s a different sort of thing, but this was really, this really spoke to me as something very true and the character just, I mean, they just jumped off the page and they just kind of like grabbed me. And it felt like something I didn’t get to do very much of. You know, I wish there was a lot more LGBT, like actual LGBT fiction versus male-male romance that was out there in audio. And it doesn’t come across my desk very much. And what I loved about this is this is a true LGBT novel by an amazing, an amazing gay writer. And it is incredibly moving and it’s very romantic and it’s very funny. And it’s a romance, but there’s not like sex every page.
You know, it’s not an erotic romance. It’s sexy, but it’s not like, you know, there’s three sex scenes spread throughout the book and you can sort of anticipate, you know. It was very exciting and very different. And I felt like it was an important…it had a really interesting message and one that I’ve seen people in my life that I care about and friends deal with. You know, I have…one of the people that I thought of immediately is I have a friend who’s this 6-foot-5 guy who actually works at Animal Kingdom at Disney. And he wears like makeup to work every day and has like incredibly fierce eyebrows. And like, he’s not in drag at all. Like he is…it’s very gender fluid, but and he’s a top like a…but, you know, and it’s very interesting that he has people make fun of him all the time on Grindr. Like, you know, “I don’t believe that that’s what you are,” like… And having a friendship with him made me really go, “Wow, I totally, I get who this is,” you know. It hit a personal place for me just because of his friendship. So it was very interesting.
It’s those people don’t get represented in fiction. And a lot of that because of a lot of that in the male-male romance community, which is mostly what we do is probably because that’s not as strong of an appeal to female readers, which I totally understand. I mean, you know, because that’s a huge part of that market. So this was a very different book and it’s really touched people, like it really has surprised and I’d had people have really strong reactions to it, which is so exciting. I mean it’s beautifully-written, so of course they do, but.
Marshall: I would describe the book as being analogous a little bit to chick lit more like the relationship between chick lit and romance is kind of what’s going on here. And so, you know, those two genres have huge crossovers, you know. And I think that a lot of M/M readers would really like the book and it is different in the sense that it’s, you know, follows a different path and is much more in the romantic comedy zone and the chick lit zone than a strict romance. Because, and I think that really has to do with…the character growth is much more about personal realization. And this is the way I describe it. For me, the difference between a romantic comedy and a romance is that in a romance love conquers all. In a romantic comedy love is the trophy, love is the reward for learning your lesson. So, I mean, it’s a slight difference, but it…
Joel: That’s really cool. Well, and I’ve had people have very strong reactions to these characters. Marshall and I have talked about this and I had some, you know, one reviewer in particular, who’s a very smart, very good, very prolific reviewer of LGBT fiction. She had like this huge response to Dog and just thought he was basically a douche.
Marshall: Yeah. And he is. You know, I mean, and he does douchey things. I mean, you know, the really interesting thing for me with that is that it never crossed my mind that people would say those things about him. When I wrote the book and looking at those comments which I see every so often, you know, I wonder sometimes if it isn’t what their experience of being in the closet is and how closely they can relate to it, because for me, it was just automatic that, you know, people do incredibly douchey things when they’re struggling to get out of the closet.
Joel: Exactly. It was the same thing with me is it was just kind of more like, you know, smack your head, ugh. Like you felt bad for him. I felt bad for him because it’s just sort of so wild, you know, that kind of curbed your enthusiasm, like, “Oh God, I see it coming,” kind of rather than… But I do think unless you’ve, I think you read this book in a very different way if you’ve had to go through that journey. I think he’s a much more sympathetic character in some ways. And I think, again, something that isn’t really explored much certainly in the books that I’ve come across, that I’ve narrated, that sort of journey.
Jeff: How did you two come together for the audio version? Was it as simple as it turned up at ACX one day and you auditioned for it, Joel? Or was it a little more…?
Joel: It was Haley.
Jeff: It was Haley. All right.
Joel: Bizarrely enough, it was Haley, right?
Marshall: Well, actually I did not put this book up on ACX because, you know, it’s my eighth audiobook. And so I knew the kind of auditions I’d get and I just had this cringing thought about all these people sending in terrible reads. And I was listening to Haley’s book, the second ”Skyler Foxe” book. And that’s when I heard Joel and it’s like, I immediately thought, “Oh, well, he can handle all these voices. And you know, it doesn’t sound inauthentic as so many of the narrators on ACX would in this case.” And so I contacted Haley who I’ve met several times when I lived in California and then I contacted Joel through her.
Joel: It was very, it was funny because I was in, when he contacted me, I was in New York at the time for a big audiobook convention that they have and I was already overbooked. And he contacted me and I was like, “Ugh, I’m not sure I can do this.” And I was like…and we went and I think we were…Anyway, we were in New York and I was in the hotel room and I think I read like four pages of it. And I was like, “Oh, shit, I have to do this. There is no possible way I cannot do this.” And Rich was so mad at me because he controls my schedule. And it’s just, it’s, I’m like… I always am like, “Can you just spend the space-time continuum to find me another four days to do…?”
But I just loved it so much straight away and I had to do it. And it was… and I was so thrilled to be asked. It was interesting because he kind of clearly in ”Skylar,” there’s a character called Jamie who’s rather flamboyant. And one challenge I had once Marshall came to me via that route was I really worked hard to make sure they weren’t the same person. I didn’t want them to have the same voice. So that was fun. But again, like duo first person that is audiobook, that’s tough. It’s hard when you’ve got two male voices back and forth, and you’re not using two different narrators, you know, so.
Jeff: So as you were trying not to sound like Jamie, and I could tell you having heard both of the books, you’re nothing like Jamie when you’re Lionel. How did you find Dog’s voice and then the nuances with Lionel to make him not Jamie?
Joel: Lionel is much more, I think Lionel is less of a kid than Jamie is. I think Jamie is kind of inside, a six-year-old. And I think Lionel is… I think Lionel has a lot more survival kind of…jaded is the wrong word, but I think there’s a lot more bite to Lionel just as a survivor and so that helped. And then, you know, I knew once I found the sort of range for Lionel and what that rate of speed was, and that he was a quick thinker and stuff like that, that I needed to kind of find something that would, with my own voice still…you know, Lionel is a little bit kind of like me on like 12 red bull.
Marshall: I don’t think I wanna see you on 12 red bulls, just to say.
Joel: No. It’s so funny. I don’t drink and I’m one of those people that people are like, “Good.” But Dog, I knew I had to go to a lower place vocally. I knew that it would be useful to make him a slightly slower rate of speaking. And he’s kind of not, he’s not dumb, but he does dumb things. I think he’s more…his brain works less quickly than Lionel’s does. And something about his nickname, this is so silly, but I was thinking of the dog in “Up,” the one that’s like, “Hello, squirrel.” And something of, and his name is Dug in “Up.” His name is Dug, which I realized like… But something like about kind of like sort of a puppy that was too big for itself that kind of had giant feet and big floppy ears and didn’t quite know… I think an animal is a lot. And so, yeah, it was just like, I think the first thing that came to mind was kinda like, “Oh, crap.” And like his entire voice came out of, “Oh crap.” You know, because that’s basically what happens to him over and over and over again. So yeah, it was fun. And what’s, so…
Marshall: Yeah, sorry to interrupt. The interesting thing about listening to you talking about this is that a lot of those things are things you do when you’re closet-in, lowering your voice, not wanting to seem too smart because that will draw attention to you. You know, so those are all choices that people make about how they present themselves.
Jeff: How has the reaction been between a romance reader who’s, let’s say pick up any of Joel’s audiobook titles because they like what he does and they like the genre he’s working in versus somebody who may come into this book without being a regular reader inside the genre?
Joel: I had friends that do not read romance really at all as a genre that I was like, “You have to read this book.” Like I had gay friends that I was like, “This book will mean so much to you and it will touch you and it will stay with you. You have to read this.” And I had a bunch of…I’ve had many of my sort of romance listeners love it too. And I think a great thing about it is I hope that in some ways, it makes some of those romance listeners…gives them a little bridge to sort of look at other LGBT fiction that doesn’t necessarily, you know, fall under pure romance like Simon and the Homo Sapien Agenda, which is one of my favorite books like ever. And you know, that, but that’s not ever gonna show up in like an audible romance search engine.
So I think that’s really, really cool. And I mean, I think what’s funny is I’ve had, like I’ve gotten… There’s been reviews that have like…the headline of the review was like, I wanna marry Dog. And there’s been those people that are like, I wanna shoot Dog. So, which I think is the mark of a great character. Do you know what I mean? Like if the character is a cardboard cutout all black and white, then that’s not nearly as interesting as like, you know, we’re all kind of, we’re all not the perfect puzzle piece, you know. You just need to…it’s and I just loved it.
And like really anybody that I think that… What really resonated… I mean, this is, this happens, like this horrible, like way that we treat each other and the kind of like judgements that we make about one another within our own community where you kind of feel like we should sort of like all be on the same side and look after each other and be supportive, you know, like. You know, there’s a website called Douchebags of Grindr that you can go onto and like, look at, but it’s like, this is the way people are.
It’s like, “Oh, I’m straight looking for other straight guy.” No, no, you’re not. No, you’re not. But like it’s very interesting. And like, you know, people do the same thing with African-Americans and with Asians and with, but this weird thing of like people who are comfortable enough to celebrate actually like their gayness really can frighten people. And that’s very…it’s such an interesting thing about us and I think it’s important and it makes people, it certainly makes you think about yourself and like how you adjust yourself when you do anything, you know, what kind of masks we wear.
Jeff: So between your two nom de plumes you’ve voiced hundreds of books and no doubt, hundreds of LGBTQ characters at this point.
Joel: we’re over 200 LGBT books at this point. Definitely.
Jeff: Which is just incredible. What does it mean to you as a gay man to get to bring voice to all of these characters?
Joel: It means it means an awful lot. The thing that excites me so much about, about being a narrator for this kind of material is that I always imagine doing it for someone who’s trying to come to terms with coming out and they can have something on their iPhone and be listening in their headphones and it can be a very private, liberating experience for them. Do you know what I mean? Like it can help them on their journey and give them confidence and hope and inspiration and I think that’s really amazing.
And so, especially the YA that I get to do it, really hits me in the feels for that reason. But simply getting to give these characters a happy ending that, certainly when I was 14, 15, 16, wouldn’t be nearly as plausible, is an incredible gift.
I’m also really thrilled that the quality of narrators bringing life to this work is really special. You’ve got really talented guys who make the commitment to the genre and really do justice to it. I’m in a very privileged band of talented gentlemen who are thrilled to voice these stories. So I’m very, very lucky.
And I think it’s amazing to have so many allies out there that don’t even fall under the LGBTQ flag, but are passionate allies. They embrace these stories and care about them and care about the people they represent. And that’s kind of mind blowing in a way. It’s really extraordinary.
It’s really lucky and wonderful when you discover new queer authors, new queer voices and things like that. Recently I got to narrate a book called “The Astonishing Life of August March” by a new queer writer named Aaron Jackson, who I’m obsessed with. I consider him a major literary voice coming on the scene and to sort of be on the radar to get to work with those authors. Hiis book Isn’t necessarily what you would call a gay book, but he heard my voice and he heard something and we have this weird… we’re bonded together by camp.
He was also someone whose mother sat them down and watched them watch “Auntie Mame” at age 11. And you’re like, what mother? What were you attempting to accomplish? No 12-year-old needs to memorize “Funny Lady,” but I did. So we both kind of had this. An interesting thing that he heard that in my voice, and I heard that in his writing and it gets to extend the family. Do you know what I mean? It’s really a special privilege to get to give voice to own voices material and to characters that don’t get as much attention in mainstream as they should, but they’re starting to, which is amazing.
It really does matter a lot to me.
Jeff: Tell everyone how they can keep up with you online to keep track of all of the books that you put out.
Joel: I kind of mashed my Joel Leslie stuff and my Joel Froomkin social media together. I keep two separate names just for branding. So if you’re looking for LGBT material, you always know, Joel Leslie is what that material is. Joel Froomkin is the other stuff. You can find me on Facebook under Joel Leslie Froomkin. And joellesliefro is my Twitter. That’s primarily me.
Here’s the text of this week’s reviews:
Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall. Reviewed by Jeff.
It’s a little embarrassing to admit that I’ve only just now read my first Alexis Hall book, but what a first it was. Alexis’s latest, Boyfriend Material, is simply outstanding. It’s funny. It’s got a swoony fake boyfriend romance. It’s full of wonderful British people. I was absolutely delighted.
Luc O’Donnell is in a major rut. He can’t seem to keep a boyfriend–in fact his last one sold him out to the tabloids. Luc isn’t famous, but his parents are and as a result he can be tabloid fodder. When yet another compromising photo hits the papers, his job as a fundraiser for a dung beetle charity is at risk as donors begin to drop out of the year’s big event. Overall he knows his life is crap at the moment.
Focusing on one thing at a time–primarily saving his job and the charity event–Luc ends up looking for a fake boyfriend and he finds one courtesy of one of his friends. Oliver can certainly improve Luc’s profile–he’s a barrister, a vegetarian and lives a quite scandal free life. The agree to help each other. Oliver’s got to attend his parent’s upcoming anniversary party and he’d rather have someone to take with him. So, in the couple of week’s leading up to the events, they’ll be seen on some dates and even stay over at each other’s flats occasionally so it all looks right in case anyone is paying attention.
Initially the two mix about as well as oil and water because they come from such different backgrounds, but man do these opposites attract. As they go through the motions of establishing their relationship, of course they have to learn things about each other. Luc–or Lucien as Oliver calls him much to his delight–shares things about his job at a charity that people don’t really understand all that well and what it’s like being the child of rock stars. Oliver also shares his job and what he likes about it. Slowly they clearly start to care for each other too, checking in on each other or doing kind gestures. It’s crazy sweet and really had all the feels going for me too.
These two also don’t think they deserve someone to love. Luc consider the fact he could always end up in the papers as a reason while Oliver is work obsessed and has pretty much the worst parents ever. Luc at least has a great mom even while his dad hasn’t been in his life (though he’s trying to reconnect for reasons…). Thankfully they have their meltdowns over this, and other things, at different times so they get to pick each other up again. Of course that serves to cement them better together.
This trope is one we see a lot, but man does Alexis use it so well. And where Luc and Oliver could easily get bogged down in their personal crap, Alexis keeps it light, usually bouncing them back quite quickly or using a good dose of British charm. Part of the charm is from the character’s Alexis populates the book with. Luc’s band of friends and the people he works with are delgifult. The friends are good to Luc and good for him, trying to keep him moving on the right path and helping him out–sometimes going way out of their way–while also giving him a fair amount of grief for his poor choices. Luc’s mom too…I loved her so much. She’s a kooky former rock star who now just lives life to its fullest. She’s so good for Luc, when he’s not having a pity party at least, and I loved everytime she showed up.
I very much recommend Boyfriend Material. I fell so hard for Luc and Oliver and I think you all will too because it’s a perfect light, fun read. And now I need to go back and read some other Alexis Hall books because I totally get what all the fuss is about and why Alexis is often on the list of people’s favorite books.
Honeymoon for One by Keira Andrews, narrated by Joel Leslie. Reviewed by Will.
I’m going to take a trip in the wayback machine and talk about a release that’s a bit of a blast from the past. That’s going to be Honeymoon for One by Keira Andrews. Now this is one of her older titles. I’ve had this in my TBR forever. I think I bought it on sale a year or more ago and it’s been sitting there ever since. The cover caught my eye–the bright pink and blue, and the two guys sitting on the beach and it’s like, you know what? I need to vacation right now. So I picked up this one and I am so glad I did.
“Honeymoon for One” is about a guy named Ethan who on the eve of his wedding finds out that his fiancé has been cheating on him with his very best friend. So understandably at the beginning of the story, Ethan is emotionally broken by this betrayal, but he’s also a bit mentally frazzled because he is hard of hearing. A degenerative condition that has left him almost completely deaf. Despite everything, he decides to take off on his Australian dream honeymoon all by himself. But, he quickly realizes that he has been depending on his fiancé and his best friend for far too long in order to navigate the hearing world.
Despite the hearing aids that he wears, he finds dealing with crowds or social situations very, very frustrating. Some of that frustration is mitigated by Clay, one of the tour guides. He takes Ethan under his wing and helps him out whenever he can, seeing the sights and the great country of Australia. They go snorkeling on the great barrier reef. The two of them end up striking up a friendship. There’s a really lovely scene when the two of them share an early morning sunrise in a coastal beach town that’s a stop on one of the tours. They just sit there and they have a really long, interesting, meaningful conversation.
I’ve seen this book described as slow burn and I don’t think it’s quite that in the classic sense of the word. But, I do think Clay and Ethan sort of slow walk their way to the realization of their attraction to one another and what that’s going to mean for them. Now, unfortunately at one point in a tour, the batteries in Ethan’s hearing aids die, and he’s unfortunately lost his spares. This causes him to panic briefly. Clay gets everything under control and assures them that they’ll find replacements. Clay takes him out to dinner to a local pizza joint and they end up passing a note pad and pen back and forth and just spend the evening talking. It is so remarkably sweet.
At the end of the tour, Ethan’s Airbnb falls through so Clay suggests that Ethan stay with him. It’s at this point, when they’re in close proximity, that Clay decides to finally satisfy his curiosity about what it might be like to be with a guy. They sleep together and it is absolutely amazing and wonderful and fulfilling. Everything both of them needed.
There’s a really adorable conversation that the two of them have about whether Clay might be gay or bi or maybe he’s demi. Ethan assures him it’s like, you know what, Clay it’s okay. You just slept with a guy for the very first time. You’ve got time to figure this out, which later leads to an awkward situation where Clay has to come out to his daughter. It’s funny and awkward and charming. It really illustrates the sweetness and the realness of the connections and the relationships that these characters have with one another and the other people in their lives.
Eventually Ethan’s time in Australia is going to have to come to an end and they’re ready to part ways. Luckily they realize, even though they’ve known each other for an incredibly short period of time, that what they want out of life, that sort of something simple and genuine is what they found in one another.
I fell really hard for Ethan and Clay. They’re two kind, sweet, slightly damaged heroes that I really enjoyed.
The audiobook also happens to be read by this week’s guest, Joel Leslie. And, you know, he had a grand old time with those Australian accents. Since this is an older title most of you will have probably already read Honeymoon for One, but if you haven’t listened to it yet, I highly recommend it.