Today I am so pleased to welcome Joel Leslie to Joyfully Jay. Joel has come to talk to us about his audio release, Mastering the Flames, Beacon Hill Sorcerers book 4. He has also brought along an audio excerpt to share. Please join me in giving Joel a big welcome!
Thanks Jay so much for having me on today to talk about the recent Tantor Audio release of MASTERING THE FLAMES, which is the fourth book in the Beacon Hill Sorcerer series by the incredible SJ Himes. And, clocking in at 14 hours of audible goodness, it’s a lot of bang for your paranormal buck!
I love this series. It has always blown me away how SJ has not only created a very distinct spin on vampire lore but also made it work so believably in a contemporary urban setting. She makes Boston its own character, and the history of the city seems such a natural match for vampires who have lived hundreds of years. Her characters and sense of dialogue are superb, her sex scenes super steamy, but, my favorite thing is that the world building is totally immersive and feels credible. The books are very cinematic.
This particular story was a really interesting challenge because we are three books into our relationship with the characters but now, the focus of the 3rd POV changes dramatically from Angel, the sassy wise-cracking, wildly powerful Necromancer who is the hero of books 1-3, to his brother, Isaac. I was about 20 pages into reading and doing my prep work when I had to kind of get my brain to do a reset. Isaac is a very different personality, and the narrative voice reflects that. The first three books have more of a devil-may-care, slightly cavalier tone to them… they are a romp. And this one is a more intimate, softer, more intense romantic story. It was really interesting to have established, so clearly, the world and style in three and a half books (incl. a volume of short stories, “A History of Trouble”) and then need to tweak it slightly.
After three books, it was weird at first for me to not be focusing my performance and head space on Angel – he’s one of my favorite characters in my m/m career. (It sounds silly but it’s so rare for a bottom to be the hero in an m/m story… and Angel is a sassy, kick-ass sorcerer. It’s epic.) It was interesting to have such a vibrant, indelible character ever-present, and in the background contributing and playing a role in the story, but not be at the forefront of our attention. But Isaac is a wonderful creation… SJ did an incredible job creating a young man who has been traumatized and fallen into a spiral of destruction but is fighting with all his might to reconnect to the world and find his own identity. He’s just come out of rehab. He’s got a lot to prove to others… but mostly to himself. His talents and skills as a sorcerer are as rusty as his interpersonal skills while sober, and his journey to living sober is difficult and painful, but he doesn’t give up. Isaac is a fire mage, a more common type of practitioner than his brother, who is an incredibly rare necromancer, and Isaac isn’t the stereotypical fiery personality that tends to occur with characters with this power in other UF novels. We learn who Isaac is as a person at the same time he’s learning who he is, and Isaac is relearning how to manage his powers and abilities and potential. Obviously, because of that, this book carries more angst than the previous books, but it’s a testament to SJ’s skill that it feels in total unity with the rest of the stories. Just through a different filter. And within it all she’s woven another great paranormal mystery and impending threat to the main characters.
As this series has developed, we now have three, similarly youthful sounding Bostonian men all living in the same apartment… and in close conversation back and forth with each other. When I was first fleshing out Isaac, my immediate instinct was to voice him deeper to help him stand out from Angel and the apprentice Daniel. But he was sounding too heroic… too alpha. And after the first day of recording I realized it wasn’t working at all. So, after talking to SJ about the challenge, I realized I was pushing it too hard. I ended up having to create a voice someone who COULD sound heroic, but vocally guards themselves. Angel, his brother is the small one, but he fills a room. I’m really pleased in the end that the three characters sound very different without me having to resort to anything too extreme. Their voices are entirely led by their personalities, rather than any vocal tricks, if that makes any sense.
Isaac’s romantic interest in this book is another character we have known from the first three books, the head of the Boston vampires, Batiste. But now he’s suddenly the focus – and an amorous one. One of those great challenges you can have as a narrator comes when a character’s backstory is fleshed out in later books or the author decides they are going to become a romantic lead. And suddenly your approach to that character has to be tweaked to fit the narrative reality. Batiste had a definite flair and eccentricity to him in the first books that bordered a bit on theatrical camp. I gave him ‘swish’. But, in this book we learn he has a violent warrior’s background. He’s a more grounded personality than I had initially thought. But luckily, he has so many one-on-one, intimate conversations with Issac in this book, I was able to treat the ‘larger persona’ as a bit of a mask… Isaac needs him to be a grounding, dominant influence. To be a kind of foundation to cling on to. So, it’s another personality layer, rather than me having to do a 180 on the character voice. I also had a bit of a panic attack when I learned he was originally French, and all this time I’d been giving him an English accent! But, there were flashbacks… so, I tried to chart the development of his voice over hundreds of years and give a sense that his English became so developed over centuries that he lost any accent he might have had. Because in real life, foreign people don’t easily LOSE their accents (listen to Celine Dion or Antonio Banderas… how long have they been living in the US?) but with a vampire living hundreds of years and needing to assimilate, I think we pulled it off. Every narrator has nightmare stories like this, and I was really lucky that we were able to weave these alterations organically into the vocal performance without it feeling jarring to the listener or incongruous.
Voicing Mastering the Flames was like going to your favorite theme park and then jumping on a brand new rollercoaster. I love the series. I love the book. And I love this new pairing.
SJ’s not only one of my favorite authors to collaborate with, she’s one of my favorite people. It’s a real joy when you know an author is excited by what you bring to the table and she’s always made me feel like a real part of these stories. She hears my voice in her head when she’s writing, and that’s really the most incredible compliment. It’s always a joy when I get to jump back into Beacon Hill. If you haven’t read or listened to the series, I cannot rave about them enough… I promise you’ll be hooked.
Guilt-ridden after the massacre of his family, Isaac Salvatore turned to binge drinking to escape the pain. Now twenty-four years old, Isaac is a recovering alcoholic woefully out of practice in the magical arts, leaving his fire affinity hanging on the edge of disaster. After a month of rehab, he returns to Beacon Hill and his family, determined to remain sober, learn to control his magic, and figure out a plan for his life that doesn’t involve drinking.
Constantine Batiste is the oldest, most powerful vampire in the city. Born in ancient Gaul, the bastard son of a Celtic king, his long life has been shrouded in tragedy and horrors. Recent mistakes have left him wary and determined to guard his clan from all foes. When two of his clan members fall victim to an ancient evil, he summons the Necromancer of Boston for aid. Accompanying his older brother to the Tower is the handsome young fire mage once wounded by Constantine’s arrogance, and their encounter reignites an attraction that burns within both Constantine and Isaac.
The answer to who is targeting the vampires of Boston is buried in the dark, early days of Constantine’s transition to an immortal life. Isaac finds himself saddled with a painful insight into the evil cutting a swath through the supernatural population of Boston. While his brother, Angel, takes over the hunt to find and stop the threat to the city, Isaac struggles to find a balance between helping his brother and finding his own purpose and place in the world, free from his brother’s shadow.
Falling in love wasn’t part of his plan, but mastering the flames that burn between him and Constantine soon becomes the most important thing in his life, even as an ancient evil seeks to destroy them.
Buy Link: Amazon/Audible
Joel Leslie/Froomkinhas narrated over 300 audiobooks. He was recently named Best Male Narrator at the 2020 Independent Audiobook Awards. He is the recipient of 8 Audiofile Earphones Awards. Proud to be an #ownvoices narrator, in his spare time he is chasing after two loquacious wiener dogs. www.joelleslienarration.com
My name is Sheena, and I have more pen names than I probably should. I write as SJ Himes, Revella Hawthorne, and Sheena Himes. I reside in the mountains of Maine (closer to Canada than I am to fresh lobster) on a 300-year-old farm beside a river in the woods.
My companions are my furbabies: Micah, my large dog who hates birds; and Wolf and Silfur, two cats who love me but hate each other. I write romances with an emphasis on plot and character development, and almost all my characters are LGBTQ+ and that’s on purpose.
To keep current on what I’m working on and where to find me on social media, go to my website: www.sjhimes.com