My friend and fellow author Leah Noel is living proof that what may at first seem like a detour in life might turn out to be the road you were meant to travel. After publishing her first novel in book form she is publishing her second one as a weekly podcast. Here’s my fascinating interview with the lovely Leah:
Give me a thumbnail bio of yourself.
I am a novelist and storyteller, who has—through a sort of Lewis Carroll-esque journey—found myself a podcaster, narrator, and voice actor for my latest novel. I live in the woods of north Georgia with my husband, two young children, exuberant hound mix, and endearingly vicious black tortie cat.
Tell us about The Innis Forgettance – what it’s about, the setting, where the story originated.
The Innis Forgettance is a spooky fantasy podcast set in 19th-century alternate-Appalachia, and a faraway Celtic fort. (Hear the podcast trailer on Spotify here. ) According to rumor, 17-year-old Porter Hollis is to blame for his mama’s “crying sickness”—he’s been bewitched by the Neverseen, spirits who haunt the forest and steal townsfolk’s souls. When disaster strikes the Hollis family, Porter sets out on a journey to untangle the lies of the past and a spell woven of darkness and fear. Will he bring about Inniscombe’s deliverance, or its end? The story emerged through a few different “intuitive flash” moments. When my first child was an infant, we lived in a farmhouse built in 1890. I excavated every bit of the home’s lost story that I could find, and spent a lot of time thinking about lost and buried history, which is a central theme. My mental health struggles are also a prominent theme, although this was unconscious on my part. I didn’t realize I had postpartum depression after my son was born, and continued to struggle in this way for a few years. And my grandmother lived with chronic depression that my mother called “crying sickness.” One day, I was rocking my son in his nursery—not even trying to come up with a story idea—and I heard a voice say in my mind, “Mama’s crying sickness is not my fault.” Then, on another occasion, I heard another voice say, “You have everything you need inside of you, but much of it is locked away. This is why we saw the Locksmith.” And then I knew: These are the seeds of my next story.
Leah Noel - author, podcaster, narrator and voice actor
How and why did you choose this particular medium for your story?
Never, ever did I plan for this story to become an audio drama of sorts.
After having self-published my first novel, While Cerberus Sleeps, in 2016, I decided to give traditional publishing a go with The Innis Forgettance. I pitched the story as a novel throughout 2021. One hundred agents rejected the story. Only two even wanted to read more than the first 10 pages. Self-publishing appeared to be my path, so I started the process again.
But after formatting everything, I was about to hit “order” on the final proof… and I had done something wrong. Very wrong. I was going to have to start completely over—formatting and everything. Even the cover image that I had paid for would no longer be compatible.
Completely deflated, I decided to set the story aside. Since it had been rejected so much, I thought this was a sign that I needed to shelve it. Every author has a story they’ve shelved, right?
That was the beginning of 2021 for me. Not great. I began a training program unrelated to my writing, and thought maybe writing would take a lesser role in my life now.
Later that year, I met with an astrologer (something I had always been curious about). She said, “Leah, I know you’re a writer, but when I look at your birth chart, I really think you could speak. Have you ever considered this?”
But I had been an actor in my younger years. In that moment, I remembered how—as a young child—I dreamed of being a voice actor. The idea sounded… really fun.
I mentioned this to a friend who is a podcaster and—bam!—suddenly he was training me in audio recording and editing. He gave me a mic he no longer needed. Before I knew it, all the pieces had fallen into place to turn The Innis Forgettance into a serial fiction podcast.
Now I can see how the roadblocks I hit in 2020 and 2021 were subtle nudges, redirecting me to this medium. I love the story so much more as an audiodrama, and I love doing the acting and narration! I also add sound effects, creating a more immersive, dramatic experience than you find in typical audiobooks. Amplifying the drama in this way is so exciting and rewarding. It makes the thing that has lived in my heart and imagination for so long truly come to life. And best of all, the story that so many agents rejected; the story that I thought would never see the light of day… is loved by my listeners, which touches me so deeply. On Spotify, The Innis Forgettance was in the top 10% of podcasts shared globally in 2022, and it is in the top 15% most followed.
That is quite an accomplishment!
Since this is a listening experience, how does that affect your writing style?
I haven’t had to make major changes, thankfully. I am more conscientious of adding dialogue tags or other cues (like physical movement) to keep listeners anchored in who is speaking, since there is no visual cue of having different characters’ dialogue on separate lines on the page.
As narrator and voice actor for the podcast, do you find yourself rewriting as you narrate? Do you enjoy that part of the process?
I’ve only had to make minor changes as I narrate, thankfully. And I do LOVE the narration and acting part of the process. I love that I can really amplify the emotion in a scene, because I know exactly how each character is speaking every line.
Scenes with high drama and passion are so much fun. Developing unique voices for each character is very, very challenging (so many male characters!! My voice can only go so deep!!), but so rewarding when I finally hit the character spot-on. I forgot how much I love talking in various accents, so switching between Appalachian accents (for the main timeline) and various Celtic dialects (for the other timeline) makes for a fun change of pace.
There is only one character that I do not voice. This mysterious character truly needed to be a deep, terrifying entity. My friend David (who trained me and gave me my first mic) voices that character and his voice is so chilling and perfect. We do have to do a fair amount of rewriting for his role, however, because I had initially used a sort of e.e. cumming’s style prose for it that only works on the written page. But it hasn’t been terribly difficult to alter that (so far…).
Will this be developed as a novel?
I do plan to make it available in book form, but probably not until the podcast is complete. This is mainly because I’m too busy right now!
How long a project will this be? And will there be more stories told through this medium?
Currently, we are just about at the halfway mark for the story, at 24 recorded episodes (21 released). The podcast began in September 2022, so I imagine—at the weekly rate that I am releasing episodes—the project will not be complete until late spring. Which is actually perfect timing, seasonally, because the story begins in late September and ends in springtime!
Advice for writers who might be interested in doing something like this?
One step at a time.
It’s easy to get crushed under the avalanche of the endless to-do’s required to record, edit, sound design, promote on social media, website development, etc. I did have a few panic attacks (never had those before), because despite having published one previous novel, I have never tried to put myself out there in this sustained fashion.
One step at a time. What do you need next? Start there, and try not to get too far ahead of yourself. Trust the process.
What do your two kids think of Mommy’s story?
They have heard several episodes while I am listening for errors and cooking dinner, and they were completely sucked in! That was really cool to see, given that they hear my voice literally all day.
They also love the opening song, “Beware the Neverseen,” which was written, composed, and performed by two dear friends, local Georgia musicians Miles Landrum and Laurelai. I practically exploded with joy when I heard my six-year-old singing in bed one night, in her little voice that can’t quite say the “r” sound yet: “Conjuw all the light wif’in you, fo’ to face the Nevewseen…”
Do you have any other novels in the works?
I have another story in the works… yes. I can’t say too much about it right now, except that part of why The Innis Forgettance is a podcast is also because I was training myself in audio and podcasting for this story, which really feels like it needs to be a podcast as well. I’m completely intimidated, and also deeply impassioned about this project, and trying to take all of my own advice outlined above. Trust the process. Whew. Deep breaths.
Where can we find the podcast?
The Innis Forgettance is available wherever you love to listen to podcasts, and even on Audible. I submitted it to every platform I could find. I release a new episode every Sunday, though for some platforms there is a little bit of a lag.
Link to podcast trailer and episodes on Spotify
Follow her on Instagram: @leah.with.a.pen
Check out Leah's website: https://www.leah-noel.com/innis