Santino Hassell on Sutphin Boulevard ~ Blog Tour, Guest Blog, Interview, Rafflecopter Giveaway

Prism Book Alliance® would like to thank Santino Hassell for stopping by today.

Sutphin-Boulevard3

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

Blurb:

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. 🙂

You can read Beverley’s review of Sutphin Boulevard here

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About the Author

santino3Santino Hassell was raised by a conservative family, but he was anything but traditional. He grew up to be a smart-mouthed grunge kid, then a transient twenty-something, and eventually transformed into a guy who spends his days and nights writing romance with an edge.

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:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/author/santino…
Twitter: @santinohassell
Website: santinohassell.com

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Farewell Giveaway
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,

Brandilyn
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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.

9 thoughts on “Santino Hassell on Sutphin Boulevard ~ Blog Tour, Guest Blog, Interview, Rafflecopter Giveaway

  1. “And if we’re concerned about “sending the wrong message”, well I hope no impressionable children are stumbling upon Michael and Nunzio, anyway.”

    Hello, Common Sense. Nice to have you drop by…
    Seriously, I wonder sometimes if gay characters buy stock in condom companies. The all-condoms-all-the-time convention is incredibly pervasive and I just can’t imagine it reflects real life. There’s this whole slice of potential conflict (should I get tested? what if?) that doesn’t happen in m/m.

    And on a completely different topic, every time I read that Sutphin Boulevard started out as a romcom with a twink, I kind of giggle..

    Nice interview, gentlemen!

  2. Wonderful interview. I love hearing about the process and the thoughts behind the writing. Also, that first paragraph, about learning of the indie pubs and feeling credible, etc. I’m so glad to hear someone else say that. Because I had that same moment a couple years ago and thought, ‘where have I been that I missed this?’

    I’ve read Sutphin Blvd and it’s wonderful. Highly recommended.

  3. Well, SB is a great book and I found this a really interesting discussion about romance conventions in general. I notice you tend to apply them as “m/m” romance conventions – which some are – but some speak to the broader romance category.

    I read both Sutphin Boulevard and After Midnight recently. Not long before I did, a friend and I were having a conversation about on-page sex in romance with characters other than the MCs, so it was interesting for me to see that convention tossed and I think it worked well in both stories and didn’t impair the romance. I know you’ve gotten a little push-back about another character. Any type of cheating tends to be a big turn-off in romance, but it is obviously rampant in real-life, so I’m very interested to see how you develop that character in a future book.

    The condoms are another thing I don’t think is specific to m/m. For me, that straight up comes from wanting to advocate safe sex in general. On the other hand, I’ve written characters who don’t use them and it isn’t discussed on page for the same reasons you state – they have a long-term relationship and a basis for trust. Context is always important.

    Thanks for a great post!

  4. This is a lovely interview and quite fascinating to read. I especially like the points made about the condom use or lack thereof as it may be. When I read it it didn’t even cross my mind to think it was weird because they are who they are to each other. Anyway I could spend hours gushing over this book but I will just say I love it 🙂

  5. Great interview! 🙂

    I appreciate a lot the talk on the condoms “issue” (which should not be an issue).

    When I read SB one of the things that I appreciated the most was that the writer was trusting his readers. What I mean is that there is this thing, particularly in M/M where the MC’s need to have the talk, but sometimes it feels forced or out of context.. Funny, i know, how can it be out of context if the talk is usually had before a sex scene strikes…? I think that it feels weird because this particular scene seems to be usually inserted for the reader’s peace of mind. The thing is that i feel like doing it kinda takes away the oportunity for the reader to read between the lines, and understand the core of a relationship. It also messes with character & relationship growth, sometimes… For the same reason – It feels like a duty.

    I felt that as a reader i was trusted, instead of being guided through a bullet pointed sheet with what is or not acceptable in M/M Romance sex scenes.

    In this particular case the MC’s relationship was very strong. It ran very deep. They’d seen and lived so many things together before they got to that point, and when they did there were things that spoke about the amazing level of trust they had for and in each other. Never once did it cross my mind that they might have been putting the other at risk. Neither of them would’ve gone with it if there had been one. It was cleaw all along.

    • I’ve had similar situations. I’ve read some scenes where the condom discussion is so stark that I would bet good money that the author didn’t initially include it and then either decided they better to avoid criticism or an editor told them to add it.

      There’s also the simple fact that unless we’re explicitly told the characters don’t use them, there isn’t any reason to necessarily assume they don’t. Could be they did and the narrator just didn’t mention it. It’s fiction, we only know what’s on paper, the rest is up to our imagination. So, you what your characters to use condoms and you’re not told they don’t, just slip that little bit into your imagined visual of the scene.

  6. Fantastic interview! Looking forward to this read. Although I didn’t live in Queens, many of my friends did, and I was raised in NY.

  7. Great interview guys! On the same note – I am also so sick of reading this tired cliche that reads like the author has read the documents on safe sex as provided to her/him by PFLAG and she/he will be sure to include them in all their romances. I know romances are idealized, but still, reflect some reality–this thing of the 1-2-3 finger “gentle stretching” makes me GAG every time I read it because to me, 1. this does not reflect the sex practices of the men I know and 2. this reads like an author is taking M/F romance, replacing the dashing hero with a toppy top that is then making his bottom ‘ready’ for penetration, in other words, the bottom comes off reading like a virgin (heroine) that has to be treated specially, ‘gentled’ and prepared for penetration and it is just insulting for the character and to the reader. Uh, like, no, thanks, but no. I mean, if it’s the first time for a guy who has never been into ass play his whole prior life up to this very moment and it fits in the story, okay, but seriously, this little ‘bit’ is overdone to death. The other item in queer romance that I am pretty sick of reading is the ‘he fumbled for the drawer in the nightstand for the lube’ – like seriously, I have read the equivalent of that sentence about a kajillion times! (I know, minor rant.) I was like, Yeah, Go Santino! when he said what he said about saliva in the post. Spit has always been around–lube is a relatively recent luxury.

    On of the things that struck me in reading Sutphin Blvd was how they went raw in that first scene and it was very in the moment and reflected their real selves and sex lives and their “trust” in one another. (Some readers will freak on the fact that there is a third in that scene, that means it’s not a romance, or someone is ‘cheating’ and it’s like, whatever! threesomes reflects reality, imo.) I don’t need political correctness in my queer romance – I appreciate the whole safe sex advocacy, but yeah, pretty sure that most gay men (in the first world countries) are aware of safe sex practices and whether or not safe sex is adhered to or not is still pretty much up to an individual. Also, this shit is complicated (AJH) and I value queer romance that reflects complexity more than I do romances written that satisfy the requirements of reader expectations…I feel like there is this undercurrent of legislate the queer romance and I have this reaction of WTF? It’s queer romance–go Wild! Don’t make it behave in the same way M/F romance does, good grief.

    I really loved how SB didn’t read so much like a straight up formulaic romance – it kept me on my toes, I wondered what was going to happen and this was great, imo. I’ll be reading all future Hassell works, and with gratitude. Also, the City: yes please! Bravo!

    Oh, and the Puerto Rican stuff–I loved it, I thought you nailed it – I especially LOVED and laughed out loud when David says in response to Ray having burned the rice, something along the lines of you just follow the directions on the box how hard can it be, and both Ray and Michael are like dude you are so white. (My mom was born in Mexico and my Grandmother was the rice maker – no measuring, etc., so this part really hit home for me.)

    And, last but not least, I am super hoping for a Ray and David story…OMGosh pretty please…?!

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