It’s my pleasure to welcome Joel Leslie to my blog today and ask him a few questions.
Hello, Joel! Please introduce yourself to my readers and tell us some interesting facts.
Hey there! I’m Joel Froomkin – I also record a lot of m/m material under the name Joel Leslie. I have two wiener dogs who like to bark when I’m trying to record and an incredibly patient boyfriend who does all my editing. I grew up in Bermuda – which is a British colony – and my parents are Canadian and American. I went to a British boys school and all my teachers were from various parts of the UK. So I grew up around this vast array of different sounds…which gave me this weird skill set of being able to sound like a native Brit and a Yank lol.
I record under two names… Joel Froomkin and Joel Leslie. I use my middle name (Leslie) for grown up stuff. It’s not because I’m ashamed… it’s because of the way Audible book recommendations work. Under Joel Froomkin I do children and young adult books quite a bit, and when you buy a book Audible always lists “other books by this narrator you may enjoy”. So someone could buy “Flopsy the Bunny goes to Unicorn Town” and then get a recommendation for “Prison Jocks Fraternity Bondage VI”. Which could be awkward. It just keeps the audience separate. But my m/m fans should definitely check out the Joel Froomkin stuff… they might like some of it
How long have you been narrating and what made you decide to follow this career path?
I did my undergrad in acting – but I was very ‘in my head’… always analyzing and judging what I was doing. And my professors (wisely) pushed me towards directing and designing. So when the undergrad was done they convinced me to stay on for an MFA that was sort of specially tailored to me. But my major passion while I was there was dialects… the speech professor kind of became my second mom. It’s where the obsession with voices came from.
I worked in the West End for a while and then in New York as an assistant director and a director. Did shows with Maggie Smith, Anthony Head and some other really cool people. Then my b.f. and I started producing theatre and we wanted to start our own theater company. We moved from NY to Indiana an started a regional theatre in Indiana. When we weren’t doing big productions we sometimes did a couple “radio drama” readings where I would do performances of books like Christmas Carol and Treasure Island – I’ve always loved great story tellers like Patrick Stewart, Stephen Fry and Jim Dale. That made me think about taking a stab at audiobooks.
Weirdly the “being in your head” thing and the director background is incredibly helpful for audiobook work. As a narrator are basically shaping the entire ‘performance’ – casting it in your mind, shaping the pace and arc of the story, and directing your own performance. So the thing that was a hindrance as a stage actor became a strength.
This is just about my one year anniversary. I dove into it in March of last year… and now I’ve done about 50 books. I’m really excited about how things are going and I’ve forged some relationships with some amazing authors. Lily’s Paint the Sky is honestly one of my favorite books to date. Audiobook narration really is its own art form. I am very theatrical – I love to ‘perform’ the material. But as a theater person, over time, I’ve learned that good audiobook narration is almost like film acting in a really tight close up. It’s incredibly intimate. I’ve learned that the performance draws the reader in – as if the story is being told just for them – it can’t come at them. You want a sense that you are in the room eavesdropping with real people rather than listening to a play from the back row.
What are your ambitions for your career and what’s your favorite part of narrating?
Right now I am primarily narrating for independent authors or smaller publishing houses. In a few years I would really like to be balancing that with some larger publishers as well. The m/m work is something I’m really passionate about and I always want to continue working in that genre.
Do you have a favorite quote from the stories you have narrated?
I don’t know if I have a specific quote – but the painting scene in Paint the Sky is certainly one of the loveliest moments from a book I can remember narrating. (Blushing here. Thank you, Joel xx)
What scene in your narrating has made you laugh the hardest or cry the most?
I did a book called Come To Dust by J.S Cook – it’s this huge, sprawling Victorian m/m mystery epic. At the end of the book she basically sends away a character that I had just fallen in love with and voicing the ‘goodbye’ scene I was sobbing. I had to keep stopping because the recording was nothing but choking sniffles. But I actually cry a lot at the ends of books… which is actually bad because it gets in the way of you actually conveying the emotion in the recording. Usually I have to pull myself together and then start that bit again.
In terms of laughing the hardest… I did a book that’s soon to be released called “The Gelatin Coast” it’s a very silly kind of “Mad Mad Mad World” adventure about a Moose that gets stuck in Africa written with this sort of Stephen Fry wit… very dry. There were lines that I had to deliver really deadpan to make them funny – but I’d be howling with laughter.
Do you feel awkward or embarrassed when narrating erotic scenes?
At first it was pretty hard not to blush doing that kind of material. But now I do so much romance and m/m material that it’s actually something that I don’t even think about. I guess it’s kind of like being a gynecologist lol – seen one, seen them all. I actually find it a bit of a relief when those sections come along, because it’s no characters, no voices… just narrative. It’s actually some of the least complicated stuff to do… you can’t get it the way of it too much. I will say “orgasm sounds” are always something I’m never sure about in audio books… I don’t really want to listen to a narrator to suddenly sound like I’ve turned on Skinemax…but it still has to sound honest and engaged. So, to all authors,
“oh yeah, oh yeah, OH YEAHHHHHH” is not my favorite thing to narrate lol. But the descriptive bits… that’s actually some of the easiest material to tackle.
What do you do to prepare before you start narrating a new book?
Well – it depends, really. With a new book I send each author a character sheet… I ask them to tell me for each role what would be their Hollywood dream casting (vocally), age, level of education, who they are related to or from the same region as (You might accidentally miss that on page 264 someone is someone’s sister and they grew up in the same town and you’ve been voicing them from totally different regions). I also ask them what kind of animal the character would be.. knowing an author thinks of someone as a bear or a snake or an owl or a bassett hound really helps me find the voice. Weirdly, for me, the minor characters with a couple line are the ones that are the toughest sometimes.
It’s dangerous to not read the whole book first… Allegedly, I read the first three chapters of a book once, thought “I’ve got this” and started narrating. Then on page 220 they finally mentioned one of the lead characters was black. Whoops. So yah – you need to do prep.
Which actor would you like to see playing the lead character from your most recently narrated book?
I recently did a really yummy gay Regency Romance called “Duke in Denial” and it would be soooo perfect with Eddie Redmayne. Right now I’m doing a book called “Forever England” and the author told me think of Anthony Head. Which is really funny because I directed Anthony in The Tempest… so I’ve spent the whole time trying to channel his energy.
Where can you see yourself in 5 years’ time?
We would really like to relocate our theatre company out of Indiana. It was a great place to get our feet wet, but the social climate has really changed and the audience isn’t broad enough to let us do the kind of work we would like. So we are looking to try and shift the company to Florida in the next year or two. But the lovely thing about audiobooks is that I can record wherever we go.
How do you relax?
I’m really bad at it. But I actually listen to an audiobook every night in bed (not my own stuff). I’ve always been a crazy fan of audiobooks… it’s really neat to think of people listening to my own work.
What is your favorite movie and why?
Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Without question. Angela Lansbury is brilliant. I actually think it’s superior film to Mary Poppins… Disney produced it while they were trying to get PL Travers to agree to Poppins and it actually has all the same elements. As far as TV goes…I was addicted to Doc Martin and Wire in the Blood.
What genre/books do you like to read in your own time?
I really love cosy mysteries. I love MC Beaton and all her characters. I also devour anything written by Stephen Fry. The Hippopotamus is one my favorite books.
What books are you reading at the moment? It’s okay to give an author a plug!
I’m recording a book called “Forever England” by David Luddington and then I’m doing a vampire epic called “Of Light and Darkness” by Shayne Leighton. At the moment the only thing I have time to read are the books I’m preparing to record! I’m listening to Simon Vance narrate “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” at the moment and the incredible Lisette Lacat doing one of the Ladies’ Detective Series.
What would people be most surprised to know about you?
Well, when people listen to one of my books they are usually shocked to find out my own neutral voice is American. I am always really complimented when people listen to various samples of my work and can’t figure out where I’m from. I think people would be shocked to know that I’m actually painfully shy in social settings… to the point where it’s super awkward. Networking is not my strong point.
If you were writing a book about your life, what would the title be?
“Can We Take that One More Time From the Top?”
Please tell us a little about your current release and what can we look forward to from you in the future?
My latest is called The Duke in Denial by Alexandra Ainsworth. For a costume drama junkie like me it was such a treat. It’s a full on m/m regency romance – the whole Jane Austen thing – but between men. The characters were wonderful and I loved the story. Alexandra truly crafted a believable historical romance working within the confines the characters would face at that time in history. And yet it kept that lovely, frothy, swoony Sense and Sensibility feel. Plus I get to do my Maggie Smith impression which is always icing on the cake (hee hee).
I narrate the Skyler Foxe Mystery series… I’m book six of those and I always have one of those on the burner. It’s my Harry Potter lol. I have more books coming out by Kim Fielding and Kiernan Kelly – they are really imaginative writers. Stephanie Summers writes a great vampire series I loved doing and I’m now doing her new “Take Me” series. If folks wanna know what I have being released (usually two or three each month) they can join my Facebook page “Audiobook Updates” or my personal Joel Froomkin page. I love hearing from listeners… it really means a lot.
I’ve already found a couple of people who are consistently looking out for and reviewing my work on Audible. The fact that I have a couple ‘fans’ who buy a book not only because of the author, but because of the narrator, makes me feel so special. I read the reviews on Audible constantly… even when they hurt. I know that I’ve developed and learned from some of them. But when someone takes the time that to share that they love a performance – it makes my day. And I’ve learned how important reviews are to authors and narrators… If you read something you enjoy – leave a review… you have no idea how much it helps the visibility and potential success of that book.
Many thanks for your detailed and interesting responses, Joel.
Best wishes for your future narrating.
I’m especially looking forward to listening to your latest stories.
Check out Joel’s work on: