Prism Book Alliance® would like to thank Santino Hassell for stopping by today.
Title: Sutphin Boulevard
Author: Santino Hassell
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Cover Artist: Natasha Snow, Mel Seser (Model Juan Forgia)
Genre: Contemporary, Gay Fiction, M/M Romance
A Five Boroughs Story
Michael Rodriguez and Nunzio Medici have been friends for two decades. From escaping their dysfunctional families in the working-class neighborhood of South Jamaica, Queens to teaching in one of the city’s most queer friendly schools in Brooklyn, the two men have shared everything. Or so they thought until a sweltering night of dancing leads to an unexpected encounter that forever changes their friendship.
Now, casual touches and lingering looks are packed with sexual tension, and Michael can’t forget the feel of his best friend’s hands on him. Once problems rear up at work and home, Michael finds himself seeking constant escape in the effortless intimacy and mind-blowing sex he has with Nunzio. But things don’t stay easy for long.
When Michael’s world begins to crumble in a sea of tragedy and complications, he knows he has to make a choice: find solace in a path of self-destruction or accept the love of the man who has been by his side for twenty years.
Alexis Hall talks to Santino Hassell
Imma here today with Santino Hassell, talking about his new release SUTPHIN BOULEVARD and, err, anything else I can get away with asking.
AJH: sultry-like Hello Santino.
SH: We meet again, Mr. Hall.
AJH: Thank you for joining me today. So, you’re obviously best known for your co-written, gazillion word original slash epic In the Company of Shadows. What made you decide to branch out into published fiction?
SH: A lot of it has to do with discovering M/M Romance, to be honest. I had no idea there was such a genre, I had no idea there was such a thing as an indie pub, and for years I’d assumed all published fiction was done through NY publishers and required an agent and all kinds of writing cred that I didn’t feel I had. It seemed really unattainable. But then M/M opened up this whole new world of possibilities, and I realized it was something I could realistically pursue. And since I’d been writing what… more or less is M/M for years by that point, I went for it. First self-publishing (with AFTER MIDNIGHT) and last year I decided to get on with a publisher.
AJH: Do you think there’s noticeable crossover in terms of approach and style and type of story between what the original slash community is looking for and the m/m audience?
SH: The most obvious common denominators is the focus on queer relationships and romance, but original slash doesn’t have as many “rules” as M/M Romance. Not to say those rules are bad or wrong, or I wouldn’t have started writing romance, but I think original slash derives from fanfiction and there’s more leeway in terms of how a story ends or what happens on the way there or multiple partners, etc. There’s a certain freedom we had while writing ICoS that I don’t have while writing romance, but a big part of that is also that it was free so we were kind of doing whatever we wanted.
AJH: Oh, that’s really interesting. I’ll actually ask about your book in a moment but I’ve got all caught up in this now. terrible interviewer Do you think the responsibilities and/or role of an author changes when a text is paid-for rather than free?
SH: I think when you’re writing for a specific genre, you want to make sure you’re adhering to the genre’s norms to an extent because the readers of that genre have certain expectations. And with that I’m thinking specifically about having optimistic endings and a fulfilling romantic arc. So, in ICoS, Ais and I broke the main couple up in one of the books and they were split for like a thousand pages before getting back together. Readers responded really well to it because it was an unhealthy and codependent relationship at the time (and they still loved each other), but I don’t think I’d feel comfortable writing a contemporary romance series where 2/4 books had the main couple busted up and banging other people. Or, I’d do it, but I wouldn’t market it as genre romance.
AJH: Which brings us nicely onto SUTPHIN BOULEVARD, the first book of your FIVE BOROUGHS contemp m/m series. To my mind, it’s very much a genre romance: central love story (check), emotionally satisfying optimistic ending (check). But in some of the discussions I’ve had about it, some readers have been more inclined (incorrectly in my view) to categorise it as queer lit or whatever. What do you think?
SH: It’s a tricky thing because I know how I view queer lit (stories focused on queer people, usually there’s some kind of emotional journey, usually identity is a prominent theme) but I’m not sure how other people see it. So by my own definition, I think SUTPHIN BOULEVARD definitely shares those themes but where it veers off into romance, and why I consider it a genre romance, is that the primary plot is him falling for Nunzio and him being terrified of what’s happening between them and them having this tug-of-war relating to their growing sexual and romantic relationship while Michael is also being dragged down by trouble at work and at home. Without the romantic plot, I still could have had a book about Michael learning to cope and deal with his demons, but he wouldn’t have had Nunzio there and he would have been a totally different person. Also, it would have been super dreary.
AJH: I, err, I agree. Not to say your book would ever be super dreary. But I read queer romance precisely because a lot of queer lit (which nobody actually seems able to define beyond it being gay books for gays) doesn’t entirely tell me a story I want to hear. When were you writing, were you thinking about how to blend more explicitly queer themes (identity and so forth) with genre romance?
SH: Definitely not when I was originally planning the book. SB was supposed to be a lighthearted …romantic comedy thing about a guy falling for his twink co-teacher, but when I started thinking about Michael and developing his character and his history, the issues of identity became a prominent part of the book because he has all of these different identities. He’s a gay man, he’s Puerto Rican, he’s from South Jamaica, he’s a loyal son, he’s a NYC public school teacher, and I wanted to explore all of that and still have the primary plot be his relationship with Nunzio.
AJH: I don’t want to read too much authorial biography into your book, but while I’d say you definitely share some traits with Michael (you’re both teachers and grumpy bastards), your cultural background is obviously very different. How did you go about approaching that?
SH: Puerto Rican culture is pretty prominent in the book. It deals so much with Michael’s identity and family that it would have been almost impossible for it to not turn out that way. I don’t share a cultural background with Michael, but my ex-wife is Puerto Rican so I’m familiar with certain things (slang, food, music, several customs). Even so, I didn’t feel comfortable putting it out there based on my perception alone. I have a good relationship with a few Puerto Rican book folks who were willing to check my language and my portrayal and let me know what needed editing and what worked for them.
AJH: The other thing that’s pretty prominent in the book – almost a character in its (her?) own right is, of course, New York. And you do, in fact, describe the city as your, err, first love in the acknowledgements. Can you tell us a bit about your relationship with New York and what made you want to set a series there?
SH: New York City is just an incredible place. I’ve traveled enough to feel comfortable saying it’s one of the most unique places I’ve been so far. It’s incredibly diverse racially, ethnically, and culturally, while still being divided in a lot of ways. Originally, I planned for SB to be a standalone novel and I wanted to showcase the uniqueness of the city through Michael, but then I fell in love with all of these different characters and I thought “Wouldn’t it be awesome to write a series where each book features characters who have had totally different experiences in NY?”
AJH: That does, in fact, sound awesome. Can you tell us a bit about the rest of the series?
SH: The entire series will be about one group of queer friends. It won’t be as intimate as, say, the tight-knit group on Queer as Folk, but more like all of the people who get the same event invite on Facebook because they have so many friends in common. And the group is really diverse in terms race but also class and there are all of these different subcultures. So far I have characters who are super ambitious Trophy Kids, laid back potheads, discontent trust fund babies, a super lost hipster who thinks he wants to be a dancer but keeps flitting from thing to thing, and then a kid involved in a doctor shopping ring in Staten Island. So it’s going to end up reaching a big scope of people from all over the city and who have totally different backgrounds.
AJH: Uh, what’s a doctor shopping ring? Asking for a friend. (has no clue)
SH: LOL It’s what you call visiting different doctors to get scripts for the same chemical (in SI the big ones are Oxy, Vicodin, and Xanax), and usually those people have the intent to distribute. There was a huge ring in Staten Island that got busted up a couple years ago. The kid in the book isn’t an addict but he knows all the wrong people and gets sucked into this huge undercover investigation. There will be a hot cop.
AJH: Oooh. I should probably, err, let you go at some point. But before we finish, I’m going to ask you the awkward question that I believe means you’re officially a romance writer. I honestly don’t know why romance writers get asked this all the time but who am I break tradition? What’s your approach to writing sex scenes?
SH: I’m trying to figure out if I actually have an approach. Which sounds terrible. But sometimes I begin a book and I think the dynamic between two characters is going to be a certain way and it shifts on me. I’m a compulsive planner and outliner, so when I went into SB I had an idea about a few sex scenes and where they would go, but there ended up being… more. There were moments when Michael and Nunzio were having a moment where I felt, if it were real life, it would naturally lead to sex and I didn’t want to shut that down just because it didn’t fit into my pre-written outline. My sex scenes tend to be pretty dirty which… I don’t know. I wish I could make them prettier or something but it’s always like jizz everywhere and dicks out. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating. Or not.
AJH: I don’t know – sometimes effective is better than pretty 😉 You mentioned early on about adhering to the genre conventions of romance. Do you think there are similar rules and expectations regarding sex, particularly queer sex?
SH: I would say… yes. There are a lot of M/M Romance norms that I don’t adhere to in my sex scenes because they’re not things I’ve done in life. I don’t know if they’re rules so much as habits of writing. And I’m thinking about the 1-2-3 finger prep and the belief that one can’t have anal sex without a gallon of lube (like saliva can be adequate even if it’s not as… slick). But the biggest “rule” seems to be the use of condoms all of the time in any situation.
AJH: I’ve noticed that as well. Michael and Nunzio don’t use condoms, do they?
SH: Not with each other, no. But condoms do come up in the text and it’s made clear they use them with other people (Michael even says he used them with his ex-boyfriend of two years and explicitly states Nunzio is the only person he’s gone raw with), but the trust level between Michael and Nunzio, to me, is deeper than between people who met a month ago and went down to the clinic to check for infections or viruses that might not even be showing in their blood yet. They know everything about each other, and I didn’t have them use condoms together because I thought it was superfluous.
AJH: I often find romance’s relationship with condoms quite totemic? Rather than considered? So it makes no sense to me that two people who have been friends for their whole lives and trust each other completely wouldn’t believe each other when they say they’re clean. But it seems to go against the general rule of mm which is if you put your dick inside someone you wear condom (no matter what else you’ve done with them previously).
SH: Yeah, that does seem to be the rule. Which, again, seems superfluous because these are fictional people who we know aren’t swapping STIs. And if we’re concerned about “sending the wrong message”, well I hope no impressionable children are stumbling upon Michael and Nunzio, anyway. But, to be clear, I wouldn’t write two random dudes stumbling out of a bar and going at it without a rubber. I just think things should be considered based on the people and the situation.
AJH: I entirely agree. Thank you so much for stopping by to talk about SUTPHIN BOULEVARD and FIVE BOROUGHS.
SH: Thank you for having me! It was a pleasure as always. 🙂
About the Author
Santino is a dedicated gamer, a former fanfic writer, an ASoIaF mega nerd, a Grindr enthusiast, but most of all he is a writer of queer fiction that is heavily influenced by the gritty, urban landscape of New York City, his belief that human relationships are complex and flawed, and his own life experiences.
To learn more about Santino you can follow him on:
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,
|This post may contain affiliate links.
|Prism Book Alliance® assumes no liability for the ownership of photos or content used in guest posts and interviews. The post author assumes all responsibility and liability for this content.|