Prism Book Alliance would like to thank Alexis Hall for taking the time to talk with us today.
Title: There will be Phlogiston
Author: Alexis Hall
Cover Artist: Simone
Genre/Sub-Genre: Menage/Poly, Steampunk
An instructive story in which vice receives its just reward.
Inspired by true and scandalous tales of the Gaslight aristocracy, we present the most moral and improving tale of Lady Rosamond Wolfram.
Weep, reader, for the plight of our heroine as she descends into piteous ruin in the clutches of the notorious Phlogiston Baron, Anstruther Jones. Witness the horrors of feminine rebellion when this headstrong young lady defies her father, breaks an advantageous engagement, and slips into depravity with a social inferior. Before the last page is turned, you will have seen our heroine molested by carnival folk, snubbed at a dance, and drawn into a sinful ménage a trois by an unrepentant sodomite, the wicked and licentious Lord Mercury.
Reader, take heed. No aspect of our unfortunate heroine’s life, adventures, or conduct is at all admirable, desirable, exciting, thrilling, glamorous, or filled with heady passion and gay romance.
Hello, and welcome to the mini blog tour for There Will Be Phlogiston (released: 8th December), a free novella set in the Prosperityverse. Many thanks to Prism Book Alliance for hosting me today!
About ‘There Will Be Phlogiston’
You can get a copy, and read an excerpt, over at Riptide Publishing.
There will Be Phlogiston:
To celebrate the release of Phlogiston, I’m also doing a little giveaway of any book from my backlist, which you can enter by entering the Rafflecopter at the bottom of the post
I’ve also got a scant handful of cover postcards left, so if you’d like one of those, I’d be really happy to post one to you wherever you are in the world. Send me a message via Facebook or Twitter, you can email me at email@example.com.
And I’ll be hanging the Steampunk Flashgroup on Facebook for the next couple of days, talking about the book in more depth, and answering any questions. I hope to see you there.
Free to a Good Home
I guess a legitimate question you might be asking about There Will Be Phlogiston is … why is this 40k novella free?
I’ve done freebies before but they’ve been shorts, like Glitterland: Aftermath and Draconitas. Obviously, the personal or artistic value of a text is not directly linked to its length or how much you have to pay for it, but I can see it might look a bit inconsistent, especially when, for example, Sand and Ruin and Gold is only 10k words, and very much the opposite of free.
But in case you’re curious, here’s why this happened.
The thing is, Phlogiston was actually meant to be a short. There’s a scene in Cloudy Climes and Starless Skies involving Byron Kae’s half-sister, Lady Rosamond. She’s kind of an antagonist at that point, but my general rule of thumb for writing secondary characters (which I’m sure is everyone’s rule of thumb because how else you gonna do it?) is to write them as if they’re the hero/ine of their own book. Let the current protagonist perceive them based on their own preoccupations and prejudices, but at the same time try hold onto an idea of how those characters might perceive and understand themselves. And this was particularly true for Rosamond, perhaps more than any other character I’ve written, because there’s an absolutely enormous gap between how she acts and who she is.
She’s about seventeen years old in Cloudy and Phlogiston, newly returned from finishing school, knowing her only hope of success and happiness in life is to marry a rich, titled man, and that in order to do that she has to behave in a heavily limited, heavily prescribed way. Her father is largely indifferent to her, her mother is a laudanum addict, and she suddenly discovers she has half-Chinese, half-sibling who doesn’t define as a man. There’s no denying that she’s awful to Byron Kae in Cloudy:
Lord Wolfram’s daughter—Rosamond, she was called—tilted her head inquisitively. It was a charming gesture, harmless, artless, clearly practiced. “Are you truly half-Celestial? My mother says your mother was a demon whore.”
But … I confess, I loved her.
Byron Kae is too trapped and miserable to be able to recognise that Rosamond is just as trapped and miserable. All they see is someone wielding without mercy what power they possess – and it’s not entirely a habit Rosamond loses, even in Phlogiston. Power is important to her. Of course it is, she doesn’t have any. But she’s also terribly lonely, and terribly afraid: she essentially blackmails her half-sibling into “performing friend duties” (listening to her and spending time with her). This is obviously not even a little bit okay, but it’s the act of a desperate person, not the act of a cruel one.
I couldn’t leave Rosamond like that. I just couldn’t.
But I write for a queer press and Rosamond isn’t even a little bit queer, despite some boredom-fuelled experiments with other girls at finishing school. I should probably say at this juncture that it isn’t so much that queer presses selfishly exclude non-queer stories … it’s just that if you want to find non-queer stories they’re, uh, bloody everywhere, so there’s real value in centralising and showcasing more marginalised voices. And, equally, one does owe something to reader expectations: if someone is looking for a queer romance, and I give them an entirely het romance… that’s kind of a dick move on my part.
So, I talked about it with my wonderful editor, Sarah Frantz-Lyons, and we decided to include Rosamond’s story as part of the anthology Liberty & Other Stories as an extra that people could read or ignore at their own discretion.
But then a couple of things happened. These were, in order:
1. Lord Mercury
2. …About 36 thousand more words than I had intended.
I knew almost from the moment writing her what kind of partner Rosamond would want and need – probably someone from outside her world, someone who would admire and understand her for all the reasons she’s not the most naturally sympathetic person in the universe, someone who was comfortable enough in himself to dismantle her power games without being hurt by them. And, with a nod to the romancenomics of Jane Austen, somebody very, very rich. Knowing more about secondary and barely mentioned characters than a reader could ever be arsed to once again paid off: no sooner had I figured out what sort of person Rosamond would like than I knew exactly who she needed to meet. On the first page of Prosperity there’s a throwaway mention of the Phlogiston Baron, who had made his fortune from the sky and then bought himself a house in Gaslight’s Golden Quarter.
Yep. That guy.
It was pretty obvious that he would need some manner of ‘in’ to Gaslight high society, so I introduced the character of Lord Mercury, one of the city’s aristocrats, of late fallen on hard times. Jones restores his fortune in exchange for tutoring, social introductions, and respectability. From the first scene I wrote between them, I knew they were fucking. I knew Jones was comfortable with this—and I knew Lord Mercury wasn’t.
It was meant to be background only. Something that troubles me about romance is the way the central relationship will sometimes only be seen as valid if it exists in splendid isolation from all other connections in a person’s life – so I like my characters to have sexual partners, friends, people they parted from amicably, people they parted from badly. At least, if they’re not a seventeen-year-older Victorian virgin with no friends. It’s obviously more difficult, then.
I was also indulging an opportunity to present a sexually fluid character more directly than is usual for me. Not all my characters are purely homosexual, but one of the major problems in portraying sexually fluid characters in fiction, especially romance fiction, is that you’re trapped between two unsatisfying extremes. Either you set up the sexually-fluid person in some kind of polyamorous arrangement, thus implying that someone who enjoys all the genitals can’t be happy in a relationship unless they have direct access to said genitals— [which is, of course, nonsense, because love is about love, not about bits. It’s not like you wake up one morning and are all like “I love you darling, and I know we have a completely fulfilling relationship but I seriously can’t go on without some boobs in my life.”] —or you put the sexually-fluid person in a standard pairing, whereupon … their sexuality suddenly becomes defined by the gender of the person they’re with at that moment. Which is also nonsense, but—nevertheless, a genuine erasure problem in life as well as in fiction. Bisexuals don’t stop being bisexuals just because they’re in a monogamous relationship, but it’s easy to forget that.
And that was when I realised: hey, wait a minute, if Anstruther Jones is bisexual, then surely I’m still writing a queer story, even if he ends up with a straight, cis-gendered woman. Except it really doesn’t work that way, does it: queerness and straightness, in the romance genre, are entirely defined by the gender-identity of the partners involved, not the sexuality of the protagonists.
I’m honestly kind of troubled by that, but it’s a rant for another day.
So there I was, ten thousand words into a six-thousand-word short, and once again bitten by the secondary character problem. I realised how much I cared about Lord Mercury. Yes, I’d only introduced him for the sake of context, but – like Rosamond – he was lonely, trapped, and miserable.
And I couldn’t just leave him like that, either.
Aaaand 40k words later: my 6k het short was a 40k MMF novella.
Sarah and I put our heads together, and thought about what to do with it, and eventually we decided to keep it as a slightly outlandish freebie. MMF is a thing that not all romance readers are into, and for whatever reason, there’s a strong contingent of m/m readers who aren’t comfortable with too much, um, F in their MM. And, ultimately, whatever I might feel personally about the choices people make, I believe very strongly in their right to make those choices.
But here’s the other thing. The Prosperityverse is what it is: it’s weird steampunk with magic and krakens and airships and Victorian pseudo-science, and the first book is, y’know, actually written in dialect. I’ve done my best to make it entertaining and accessible but … God … I’m very aware that it takes effort to sink into that kind of thing. More than that, it takes trust; it takes trust that what I’m asking from you as a reader is worth it. I mean, you could be spending your time on a story that isn’t drenched in 19th century thieves cant.
So … Phlogiston is my thank-you.
Thank you for giving Prosperity a chance.
Thank you for sticking with it, despite the language.
Thank you for letting me tell these stories of my heart in the way I felt they needed to be told.
I hope you enjoy it.
About the Author:
Alexis Hall was born in the early 1980s and still thinks the twenty-first century is the future. To this day, he feels cheated that he lived through a fin de siècle but inexplicably failed to drink a single glass of absinthe, dance with a single courtesan, or stay in a single garret. He can neither cook nor sing, but he can handle a seventeenth century smallsword, punts from the proper end, and knows how to hotwire a car. He lives in southeast England, with no cats and no children, and fully intends to keep it that way.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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