Best known for his captivating, rich narration and uncanny ability for pulling listeners into an immersive experience, Joe Hempel has been the driving force behind over 90 audiobooks ranging from Horror, Mystery, and Sci-fi to Romance and Personal Development, and has also been published by Audible Studios, Punch Audio and Listen 2 a Book.
Talking with Joe Hempel, Audiobook Narrator
Sci-Fi & Scary: You mentioned when you first reached out to me that horror was your forte in audio books. What about the genre makes you so comfortable with narrating it?
Joe Hempel: You know, it’s kind of funny. I have always been drawn to the darker side of literature. The titles that kept me awake and afraid of the dark. Something about that genre just felt so real. I’ve actually got a funny story about my first encounter with the darker side of literature. I was in 6th grade and I was reading Stephen King’s Cujo. My teacher noticed that and sent a note home telling my parents that I wasn’t to be reading that stuff for reports and asked if I needed to be in counseling. She told her to basically go to hell because I was obviously reading books that nobody else was. And from there it was horror and sci-fi and I loved each and every title! I think because of that I have a great ability to really get into what the author is saying. The fact that I don’t have a booming brooding voice actually plays to my advantage because it feels like we’re sitting at a campfire and I’m just telling you an account of true stories and gives that little bit of “realism” to the characters and makes it that much more creepy.
Sci-Fi & Scary: Out of the 90+ books you’ve narrated, which one was your favorite?
Joe Hempel: …that’s a tough one. Hmmm……I’ve got a few because of the different genre’s I’ve narrated, but I’m definitely partial to the Jonathan Shade series. There’s just something about those characters that I really connect to. I really “become” Jonathan Shade when I’m in the booth. I’m really going to miss him when I finish the series.
Sci-Fi & Scary: What did you do before you became a professional narrator?
Joe Hempel: I’m actually still a TV Engineer full time, but really close to going full time as a voice actor. Insurance reasons keep me there right now. I also ran a book review site for a few years, which kind of was the catalyst for me to get into narrating audiobooks.
Sci-Fi & Scary: What’s the process for a book getting into your hands for recording?
Joe Hempel: It’s an easy process. Just shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact me through ACX, or even my facebook page at www.facebook.com/voiceofjoey. Once we make contact we discuss due dates, rates, etc, and we go from there!
Sci-Fi & Scary: What’s the hardest accent for you to do?
Joe Hempel: Oh geez…..all of them?? LOL. If you’re talking foreign accents, anything Middle-Eastern is really tough for me. So is a cockney accent. I’m working really hard to hone my Brittish, and it’s a heck of a lot better than when I started thanks to a couple of sessions with Dr Dialect himself, PJ Ochlan.
Sci-Fi & Scary: I noticed from your website that you have a home studio. What is that set-up like? (Ie: soundproofed room, basement, do not disturb sign, etc.)
Joe Hempel: Yeah, I built the studio from plans that I bought. It’s not soundproof but it does keep a LOT of noise out. No home studio is going to be completely soundproof. I just have my Computer on the outside and a wireless keyboard and mouse inside with the monitor and mic and interface all having cables run through a passthrough in the booth to the outside. It’s nice and spacious and is comfortable enough to spend long periods of time in.
Sci-Fi & Scary: How many hours a day do you spend narrating books?
Joe Hempel: Since I’m still working full time, and also have 3 kids, it’s tough to spend long periods in the booth. I try for about 2-2.5 hours a day with about 4-5 on Sunday night taking Saturday off. I’ve got a very understanding family and I love the fact they allow me to spend so much time in there, and it’s paying off!!
Sci-Fi & Scary: Does your approach for narrating a book vary depending on the genre?
Joe Hempel: The approach is pretty much the same. You have to get to the bottom of what the author is trying to say. Get to the truth of the narrative so to speak. You let the characters guide your acting choices. Each book does require a read through to get to all of this before you step into the booth to record.
Sci-Fi & Scary: What’s the most popular/best-selling book you’ve narrated?
Joe Hempel: It’s hard to say because I only get sales info on certain titles that I share royalties with. There are 3 that are neck and neck in those sales. Two of them are non-fiction and complement each other. Surviving AI: The Promise and Peril of Artificial Intelligence and The Economic Singularity: Artificial Intelligence and the Death of Capitalism, both by Calum Chace, and one was a surprise in Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 1 from Comet Press. I’m excited to work on volume 2 in May. If I had to guess, I’d say that Game Changer by NYT Best-selling author Douglas E Richards may be the best selling based on the amount of ratings/reviews.
Sci-Fi & Scary: If you could get to record any particular book out there, which one would you love to give your voice to?
Joe Hempel: Anything by Stephen King. I’m actually VERY excited to narrate for a horror author that I’ve loved for a very long time in April. I’ll be lending my voice to The Rising series by horror legend Brian Keene. He’s a very close 2nd for authors I want to narrate to Stephen King.
Sci-Fi & Scary: Have you ever fallen in love with a series after narrating at least one of the books? Or author at least?
Joe Hempel: The Jonathan Shade series by Gary Jonas. I am incredibly attached to these characters. They are my pretend family and Kelly Chan is my pretend girlfriend (don’t tell my fiance).
Sci-Fi & Scary: When you meet people for the first time, what’s their reaction when you tell them what you do for a living?
Joe Hempel: Really?? Neat! How do I do that? I love reading and doing voices would be great! Seriously though, that’s pretty much the reaction.
Sci-Fi & Scary: What was the most emotional book you’ve narrated?
Joe Hempel: Hands down, the Bram Stoker-winning novella Little Dead Red by Mercedes M Yardley. I cannot put into words how much that story affected me. It was incredibly tough to get through. And here’s the kicker……it’s only 90 minutes long! It made such an impact in such a short amount of time that it was hard to narrate without tears in my eyes. It’s so visceral, so emotional. I don’t think I’ll be narrating another like it anytime soon.
The Raven’s Daughter: After a police shootout where she killed a man, criminologist Maggie Tall Bear Sloan retires from the force to enjoy peace and quiet in rural California. When sets of young twins are murdered in her town, the local sheriff recruits her to solve the gruesome killings.
But to catch a killer, Maggie either accepts her true nature as a “pukkukwerek” – the shapeshifting monster killer of Yurok legend – or more children will die. As the manhunt intensifies and her own family is threatened, Maggie will do whatever it takes to keep them safe. Whether she’s awake or asleep dreaming, Maggie is faced with a difficult choice: embrace her heritage – even if it means turning into myth itself – or deny that heritage and lose everything.