Lisa: We’re so pleased to welcome author SJ Himes to TNA today on the virtual tour for her latest release, The Solstice Prince, book one in her new Realms of Love series. It’s great to have you here with us, SJ, let’s begin by having you tell us something about yourself that most people don’t know.
SJ: I once hung out with a doe and her fawn in the front lawn of our new house when I was a child, about 4 years old, and the deer tried to steal me. She treated me like one of her babies, and the fawn liked me. My mom watched from the front door, and only said something when it was obvious I was going to follow the deer into the woods. Just think, I could have been raised by deer. The doe flicked her tail, gave my mom some serious side-eye, and nonchalantly escorted her offspring into the trees. I still resent not following.
Another thing I guess people don’t know is that I have dyslexia and used to have a lot of trouble in school. I was diagnosed in college with dyslexia and dyscalculia. I averaged a solid D in math my whole school career, only passing math by the gracious intervention of my teachers who saw how hard I really was working and trying, and routinely not comprehending. I still resent the fact that no one saw what the real issues were with me–if I had early intervention with both learning disabilities, my life would have been easier.
Yet, I am a very, very fast reader. I adapted on my own to dyslexia after a traumatic experience as a third grader, I was tortured for a whole week by being made to stand in front of the class and copy a word letter by letter from a poster on the chalkboard, and failing every single time, because my brain literally did not see the letters ‘ae’ as two letters, but as one, or I didn’t see them at all. I adapted through accessing and developing my eidetic memory, ie photographic memory. I don’t see words as WORDS, tiny pieces strung together to make sounds that have attached meaning, which is where my dyslexia confounds me. I see them as images. I know what a page of words is because I see the whole, and I can decipher the entirety of it before most people can read the first few lines. Unfortunately I was never able to find a way to handle my dyscalculia, and I cannot do basic math past algebra, and I only know the answers to most mathematical questions because I have memorized the correct answers, and not doing the actual math.
Lisa: What’s your favorite scene in “The Solstice Prince”, and what makes it a fave?
SJ: My favorite scene is actually a major spoiler, so I won’t share it. I will share the scene where Jaime and Prince Maxim meet for the first time. It’s a type of “meet cute” connection, but with some serious underpinnings.
Lisa: Would you care to share an excerpt from the scene with us?
SJ: Excerpt from The Solstice Prince. (Some scene setup–Jaime is working in the palace kitchens as a servant after being rescued from slavers.)
Following the gold arrows, he found a small crown carved into the stone, the lines painted with gold. It was next to a door that exited the servants’ hall. He wiped his hands again and quietly opened the door. He peeked out, saw the main hall was empty, and pulled the trolley out. He shut the door behind him then looked for the door to the prince’s rooms.
The large double doors were a wood dark in color and shined to a high sheen, the handles a bright golden metal and ornately carved. The entire hallway was festooned in artwork and paintings with deep red carpets beneath his feet. He felt drab and vulnerable in his simple servant’s uniform, but at least he was clean. A bit sweaty, and he smelled like onions, but he worked in the kitchens—that was expected, right?
Jaime knocked, once, loud like Cook instructed. He waited a heartbeat and jumped when a deep voice bid him enter. Gathering his courage, he opened the door, trying not to appear as nervous as he felt. His first sight of Prince Maxim was of the man’s broad back and strong shoulders clad in a pristine white shirt topping a trim waist and skin tight black breeches that flowed down thickly muscled thighs to feet encased in black leather boots. He all but swallowed his tongue, and it took him a second to find his own extremities and recall how they functioned.
He pulled the trolley into the room, leaving the door open as he looked about for a table to set up breakfast. Prince Maxim still hadn’t turned around; his head was bowed as he read some papers. His thick, brown hair obscured his features when the chin-length locks fell forward, and Jaime had an errant wish to see the prince’s face.
There was a table beside the fireplace, and he hurriedly set up breakfast, arranging the tea service and bowl of porridge while trying not to make too much noise. He was sure most servants would be in and out in seconds, with nary a sound. Jaime was so focused on his task that he never noticed the prince walking up next to him. Jaime turned and gave a most unmanly squeak, clutching a fork to his chest.
Prince Maxim smiled down at him, so close Jaime could smell the pine-scented bathwater he must have recently used and feel the warmth that poured off the taller man. Jaime blinked, working his mouth, but nothing resembling sound emerged.
“I’ll take that,” Prince Maxim smiled, and Jaime marveled at how his honey-brown eyes seemed to glimmer with mirth.
“Huh?” Jaime sighed out, utterly captivated. A warm, big hand engulfed his, and Jaime swayed on his feet. The fork was gently tugged from his hand, placed on the table, and then, the warm hand was back, pulling his hand away from his chest.
“What’s this?” Prince Maxim murmured as Jaime stared fixedly at high cheekbones and a lush mouth, totally distracted. Prince Maxim tugged his sleeve back from his wrist, and callused fingertips smoothed over his sensitive skin. The scars on his wrists reacted, the skin tightening as if cold, and Jaime gasped, the spell broken. The prince was holding his right arm in both of his hands, caressing the ravaged skin that had been flayed open by the cruel shackles of his slavery.
“That’s, that’s nothing,” Jaime gasped, tugging his arm free and backing away a step, shoving his sleeve back down.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you,” Prince Maxim reached out a hand, palm up, as if coaxing a shy wild creature to come closer. “You’re new here, aren’t you? Are you the lad the Royal Guard brought in a few weeks back?”
“How…how do you know? I mean, yes, that’s me,” Jaime stuttered out, backing up until his rear end smacked into the now empty trolley. He recalled why he was there and his duties, and he sketched bow and dragged the trolley to the door. “Enjoy your breakfast, Highness.”
Anxious not to make a fool of himself any further, Jaime exited swiftly, closing the door far too hard. His last glimpse of the handsome man was of him frowning in puzzlement and concern. Jaime cringed at the slam of the door and hunched his shoulders as he all but ran for the servants’ hall.
Long minutes later, and after a frantic battle with the lift that left him shaking and sweating, Jaime stumbled back into the kitchen, barely managing to replace the trolley along the wall. He returned to his designated spot and began chopping veggies, praying Cook would pay him no mind and leave him alone for the rest of the day.
Just then, he felt Cook’s looming presence behind him, and he slowly turned around, only managing to lift his eyes to the center of his wide chest.
“Back already? Did the prince need anything else?” Cook demanded, crossing his arms over his chest.
Jaime fidgeted. He forgot to ask.
Cook sighed, as if reading his mind. “It wasn’t a hard task, boy. Just deliver his breakfast, ask if he wanted anything else, then come back. Why do you look like you just went through torture?”
“I forgot, Cook. I’m sorry. I’ll do better, I promise.” Jaime hunched his shoulders, ducking his head, afraid he might be hit for failing at so simple a task. His captors in the slave pens inflicted harsher punishments for lesser offenses as the normal course of things.
Cook heaved another great sigh, and Jaime cringed. He waited, but Cook said nothing more for a long moment. “Boy, I’m not going to beat you.”
Jaime nodded, though he didn’t look up. He could sense the servants around them watching and listening, and his face burned. Some days he was fine, then the nightmares crept back in and he was afraid all the time. Waking nightmares of a whip flaying his back and sharp metal cuffs slicing his wrists open with every movement of his arms. He could sometimes feel the rock of the ship beneath him, and the salty sea spray on his tongue, the water poison as he suffered from dehydration. He rubbed his wrists and didn’t have the strength to fight the tears that flowed down his cheeks.
Cook put a hand on the top of his head, ruffling his hair gently, but still he flinched. Another sigh, then Jaime was led away from the table towards the door that led to the small room he slept in behind the kitchen. Cook slept in the room next door. Jaime found himself sitting on his small pallet, and he curled up in a ball, tucking his face into his knees and shivering. A blanket covered him, and Cook’s big hand rubbed up and down his back for a few moments. “Stay here, boy. You’re off duty the rest of the day. We’ll talk when you wake.”
Lisa: If you could spend some real-life time with one of the characters in the book, who would you choose and why?
SJ: King Llyr, Prince Maxim’s father. He’s a very old man, who has ruled his country for over 70 years. He has seen and done it all. Warrior, leader, father, and then in the twilight of his life, he has come to grips with who and what he is, and still fears the unknown. He is very human, in the most appealing of ways.
Lisa: On the flipside, which character would you probably least get along with? Why?
SJ: Captain Marcus, captain of the Royal Guard for the palace. He’s a bit of a flirt, and devastatingly handsome, and he knows it. He not a bad man, but he isn’t the type of person I could spend time with without our interactions devolving into an argument.
Lisa: Let’s take off your author cap and put on your reader cap for a moment: what do you look for in a book, what sort of protagonists do you love, and do you have a favorite genre/sub-genre?
SJ: I LOVE urban and epic fantasy romance. My favorite trope involves marriage of convenience or arranged marriages. My favorite kind of protags are flawed. Not the anti-hero, but the realistic human. It’s a bit of an odd mix–fantastical worlds with realistic characters.
Lisa: What are your least and most favorite things about being an author?
SJ: Least favorite thing would be the administrative work. It is exhausting and I sincerely wish I could afford to have a live-in PA to take care of that part of my life for me and just let me write. Favorite thing about being an author is the actually writing. When the story is flowing, there is no other feeling like it in the world.
Lisa: Have you ever written a line, paragraph, or passage, and thought, “Darn, that’s pretty amazing, even if I do say so myself”? What was it?
SJ: I have a couple. From Wolf of the Northern Star, “She meant for the gifts to be sundered, not the wolves.” Pretty much the entire core of the series.
From this book, The Solstice Prince, “I don’t want the world,” Jaime said. Maxim lifted his eyes, and Jaime’s heart exalted at the hope he saw there. “I just want you. Is a prince too much to ask for?”
Lisa: Let’s talk tropes: do you have a few favorites that you enjoy both writing and reading? If so, what are they and what makes them your faves?
SJ: I love arranged marriages and marriages of convenience, especially in fantasy, since it’s there that trope can be used most effectively. I am attempting to write them now actually, and the next two books in the Realms of Love series will have those two tropes. I hope I can pull them off, too!
Lisa: If you won the lottery, what’s the first completely self-indulgent thing you’d do?
SJ: Buy myself a house and land and make it as self-sustaining as possible and set aside maintenance, taxes, and utilities projected for the next 50+ years in an escrow account, then buy as many books as I wanted and turn every room except the kitchen and the bathrooms into libraries.
Lisa: If you had to choose between becoming a superhero or supervillain, which would you choose and why?
SJ: Supervillain. More options. AND I don’t have to be wholly evil. Villains are more complex and have more freedom than heroes.
Lisa: What would your superpower be?
SJ: The ability to compel the truth from ANYONE, no matter who they are. Only flaw in this is it won’t work on someone who honestly believes what they are saying is true. And with too much truth always comes chaos and pain and strife. Peace is held together too often by white lies that have been compounding over lifetimes, and once that is gone? Oh boy. Fun times.
Lisa: If James Corden invited you to Carpool Karaoke, what song(s) would you sing with him?
SJ: Adele, “Set Fire to the Rain,” though I’m an alto, so it would end up a bit more jazzy.
Lisa: If you could travel back in time, with all your years of experience and wisdom intact, what advice would you give to your teenage self?
SJ: Being in a relationship is about being with someone who likes you as you are—change for yourself, and never make yourself into someone you think the other person wants or likes. And being single is not the end of the world. Once the hormones settle down, you’ll find yourself enjoying the solitude, and you’ll be better able to have a stable relationship with anyone when you’re happy with yourself.
Lisa: If you were to sit down and write your autobiography today, what would the title be?
SJ: “What Are Wordz? An Author’s Struggle to Get Around Herself and Just Write.”
Lisa: Star Trek, Star Wars, both or neither? Explain.
SJ: BOTH! Star Wars for the grand scope, the opera and drama and action. Star Trek for the vision of what we CAN be like as a species, one day. Hope for a better tomorrow.
Lisa: It’s the zombie apocalypse. It’s up to you and 4 other uninfected humans to save what’s left of humanity. Which fictional characters would you want on your team, and why?
SJ: I already have the lineup:
- Wolverine. He can’t get infected, killed, and he would be the ultimate short range weapon.
- The BBC’s version of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor John Watson. Sherlock for his problem solving skills, his utter ruthlessness, random moments of sincere empathy, and his unshakeable devotion to John Watson. John was a combat medic and emergency trauma surgeon. Exact set of skills we would need. Not the brightest when it comes to relationships, BUT he would fight heaven and earth and an army of the undead to protect those under his care. Sherlock would keep John alive, and all of us because John would demand it of him. Sherlock bends to John when he uses his Doctor Voice.
- Deadpool. Same reasons as Wolverine. Plus, entertaining as f*ck and he wouldn’t let any of us get away with bullshit.
- Angel Salvatore from my Beacon Hill Sorcerer series. He would be able to control the zombie hordes with ease, since he’s a necromancer. Bring in Simeon, his vampire mate, and we would rule the world.
Lisa: Thanks so much for taking the time to be here with us today, SJ. It’s been fun!
Title: The Solstice Prince
Series: Realms of Love: Book One
Genre/Categories: Gay Epic Fantasy Romance
Cover Illustration and Design: Sarah Jo Chreene
Release Date: November 24th, 2017
Book Links: AMAZON || GOODREADS
Blurb: Rescued from slavers, healer novice Jaime Buchanan finds himself alone and free in Pyrderi, a kingdom of magic, mythical creatures, and a culture as open and kind as his homeland was cruel and close-minded.
Despite his rescue, Jaime is not left without scars, both mental and physical. Traumatized by his experience and hiding his gift, Jaime struggles to earn his place in the kitchens of Angharad Palace, the heart of Taliesin City. His former life as a student of the healing arts leaves him at a disadvantage in the kitchens, and his damaged state is becoming more apparent by the day.
One day, when necessity and fate intervene, Jaime meets someone unexpected—Prince Maxim, youngest son of the Pyrderian king, a sword master and a devastatingly kind man. Unaccustomed to powerful people with compassion and heart, Jaime flees. A cascade of events reveals Jaime’s hidden talents of healing, and he finds himself not in chains, but at the beginning of a new life.
This swift change of fortune opens Jaime up to new possibilities, including a smitten prince who cautiously courts Jaime, easing him away from his fears and reminding him that compassion and love can make him strong. The winter solstice is quickly approaching, and Prince Maxim shows Jaime the enjoyment and excitement to be found in a land that embraces the ice and cold, and the mysteries of all things magical. He learns to see the man under the royal mantle, and Maxim is more than even Jaime suspected.
The winter solstice is nigh when tragedy strikes, and Jaime learns that his past of grief and sorrow can be a pillar of strength for his solstice prince. If there is one thing that Jaime believes above all else, it is in the healing power of love.
About the Author
I’m a self-employed writer who stresses out about the silliest things, like whether or not I got my dog the best kind of snack and the fact my kindle battery tends to die when I’m at the best part in a book. I write mainly gay romance, erotica, and urban fantasy, with occasional forays into contemporary and paranormal. I love a book heavy on plot and character evolution, and throw in some magic, and that’s perfection. My current series are: The Beacon Hill Sorcerer, Bred For Love (as Revella Hawthorne), The Wolfkin Saga, and the epic fantasy romance series Realms of Love. My last two novels in the Beacon Hill Sorcerer won 3rd Place in the Gay Fantasy category for the 2016 Rainbow Awards.
I live in New Orleans, where the personalities are big and loud and so are the bugs! New Orleans is rich in cultural history, and the flavor and music of the City is impossible to hide. Before that, I lived all over the United States: Tampa, Western Massachusetts, Indianapolis, and on and on…. I’m a nomad, and I’ve yet to find a place that calls to me strongly enough to become home. My faithful travel companions are my dog Micah, the numerous voices in my head who insist they all get put on paper, and the wind at my back.
About the Cover Artist
Sarah Jo Chreene is a 23-year-old resident of Dallas, Texas, where she works part-time in an antique shop, which is one of her dreams jobs. Sarah Jo delights in meeting new people, interesting personalities, unique restoration projects, and the atmosphere of the shop inspires her muse. Her other passion, and one she devotes most of her time to, is her art. She sold her first piece at the age of 17, and hasn’t stopped since.
Her professional portfolio includes the self-titled album cover for the popular Texas band, Thieves of Sunrise, and will be working with the band again on their third album cover. Sarah Jo has worked with international best-selling romance author Riley Hart, doing a wide range of projects from promotional artwork to interior illustrations, and artwork for Hart’s alter-ego, Nyrae Dawn, in the YA novels The Weight of Destiny, and Turn the World Upside Down. Sarah Jo’s most recent collaboration is with urban fantasy author SJ Himes, creating the cover art, design, and interior illustrations for The Solstice Prince, the first novel in The Realms of Love epic fantasy romance series. Sarah Jo will also be creating the interior artwork for the remainder of the series, a project for 2018 and 2019.
Sarah Jo loves to work in a variety of mediums, including digital painting, Photoshop, charcoal, pens, pencils and freehand sketching and painting in a wide range of styles from anime, sketchy, realism, and cartoons. Sarah Jo ranks Norman Rockwell as a primary influence for his evocative use of emotion and his beautiful portrayals of humanity.
Between professional commissions, Sarah Jo delights in creating private artwork based on personal requests, from original characters, to portraits, and has brightened the walls of many patrons over the last eight years of selling her work.
For examples of her work, Sarah Jo is on Instagram, DeviantArt, and Facebook. She is accepting commissions for a wide variety of projects, and can be reached through social media and the following platforms: