Prism Book Alliance® would like to thank Alysia Constantine for stopping by today.
Author: Alysia Constantine
Publisher: Interlude Press
Cover Artist: C.B. Messer
Genre: Contemporary, M/M Romance
Not every love story is a romance novel.
For Jules Burns, a lonely baker, it is the memory of his deceased husband, Andy. For Teddy Flores, a numbed-to-the-world accountant who accidentally stumbles into his bakery, it is a voyage of discovery into his deep connections to pleasure, to the world, and to his own heart.
Alysia Constantine’s Sweet is also the story of how we tell stories—of what we expect and need from a love story. The narrator is on to you, Reader, and wants to give you a love story that doesn’t always fit the bill. There are ghosts to exorcise, and jobs and money to worry about. Sweet is a love story, but it also reminds us that love is never quite what we expect, nor quite as blissfully easy as we hope.
What book do you wish you could have written?
There is a very long list of books I wish I had the mind to write. I will hesitantly say I really love The Cancer Journals by Audre Lorde, a beautiful collection of wise, moving, honest essays about the world that is both joyful and crushing, and contains some of the most poignant writing I’ve ever read. But, in order to right that book, she had to endure the ordeal of breast cancer and breast cancer treatment, and I don’t wish for that. The book isn’t about breast cancer, and it isn’t about the treatment process, but it’s intelligence that she came to possess partly by way of that experience. She has an incredible essay, for instance, about why she resisted wearing a prosthetic breast after surgery was used to remove hers, and how people reacted to that. It’s just so smart and moving, this essay, about what it means to be ill, what people expect of you, all the meaning we invest into peoples’ bodies—especially women’s bodies—and the responsibilities of women to look a particular way. It’s also brilliant in talking about strength and being centered in your own self. None of that would have been an essay without the mastectomy as its catalyst, though, so it’s weird to wish I could have written that, because I don’t want to endure what that woman endured. But she wrote things like, “I have found that battling despair […] mean teaching, surviving and fighting with the most important resource I have, myself, and taking joy in that battle. It means, for me, recognizing the enemy outside, and the enemy within, and knowing that my work is part of a continuum of women’s work, of reclaiming this earth and our power, and knowing that this work did not begin with my birth nor will it end with my death. And it means knowing that within this continuum, my life and my love and my work has particular power and meaning relative to others.” Joy and struggle and work and optimism in the face of all of it are bound up together for her. It never ceases to overwhelm me with hope.
How important are names to you (in your books)? Do you choose names based on liking the way it sounds or meaning? How do you choose your names?
Names are usually a horrible struggle, and feel like a detail, but a detail that has so much effect on how people read the work. You’re going to read that name hundreds, maybe thousands, of times during the course of the novel, so it better be a good one. I do think about the sound of the names, as a result, perhaps as the most important part of the choosing. But I also consider the connotation of the name—does it sound formal? What impression does it convey about the person? We make a lot of judgments about a person based on a name, before ever meeting that person. But in large part, the name has to be something I wouldn’t mind hearing over and over and over, since it usually is repeated so frequently in a book.
Were you already a great writer? Have you always enjoyed writing?
I’ve been drawn to writing since I was pretty young. I think, growing up as the daughter of a mother who was an English teacher in the U.S. and a father who was a Greek teacher in Greece, there was a sort of inescapable result, that I would somehow become attuned to language. Language wasn’t an inevitability, but a tool to explore and understand from the outside. (This is why it’s so important for kids to learn a second, if not third, language in school or at home—not only do you learn to speak that language, but you learn about language in general. Folks who speak English as a second language have such a special perspective on the language—nothing is inevitable, and so every language rule, every word, is open to question and play.) I wound up studying Comparative Literature for a PhD, and had, as a result, to take exams in three languages other than English. I wound up learning the basics of five, aside from English, though I’m only really fluent in maybe two of those, and probably only French has hung on as a language I’m comfortable conversing in. But I can read and translate in those other ones. As a result of growing up bilingual, as a result of growing up the daughter of language teachers, as a result of studying languages in grad school, I came to understand language from the outside; instead of just talking or writing, I could think about what I was writing as a choice that could always be made differently, and came to see how words worked, on what they depended for their meaning. When I was learning Mandarin Chinese, for instance, (I don’t mean that to sound pretentious… I learned to speak it because my partner at the time was from Taiwan, and the whole family spoke Chinese) I discovered that there were no adjectives in the language, at least not in the sense that we use them in English. I was told that the word that referred to the color “red”, for instance, contained the state-of-being verb, so that it was both the verb and the adjective. In other words, that word meant “to be in the state being red,” not simply “red.” In English, you would say “the ball is [red],” but in Chinese, you would say “the ball [is in the state of being red].” That discovery floored me, made me understand that the language you spoke could entirely change the way you understood the world. How different it is to imagine something is red, or something is in the state of being red—it could then be in another state at another moment. The language suggested that English adjectives were too fixed.
Oh, but I suppose I’ve answered a different question. Yes, I’ve enjoyed writing for as long as I can remember.
How long have you been writing?
My mother and father used to tell me stories when I was little, and I suppose that’s when I started writing. I knew the stories so well, I would recite them in my head as they were being told. That is the start of composing (I did that before actually being able to “write” in English). When I was a student in college, I had a poetry professor who told us to read aloud the work of writers we really enjoyed, to literally incorporate (take into our bodies) that voice. Learning how to write was about taking in as much as it was about putting out. Another professor had us take a poem we liked, empty it out of its specifity, and replace all the words with our own. So one would take a sentence like Ginsberg’s “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness…” and rewrite it by replacing verb with verb, noun with noun: “I saw the last drops of my intuition pressed into silence…” It was an exercise in part designed to help us incorporate the rhythm of someone else’s language. I suppose, growing up bilingual, I’ve always been writing. Translating is a form of writing. In choosing language, in imagining something through language, you’re writing, or at least composing. I was also a nerdy kid who had to be forced into sports; I daydreamed a lot. Beyond learning to play around with language, I engaged a lot in plot-making and scenario-imagining.
What hobbies do you enjoy?
When I get stressed out, I do music-making things: piano, guitar, violin, singing. I studied classical singing (like, opera) for a bit as a way to put me back in touch with my body—I live with a couple pretty debilitating diseases, including Multiple Sclerosis, and singing engaged my whole body in ways that the disease threatened to destroy, so it felt joyful and therapeutic to do. I also do other making things: knitting, drawing, sewing, baking… knitting is great on the subway, and I’ve gotten so I can do it in my lap without looking at it too much, which means I can knit while I pay attention to something else. You know what they say about idle hands. For me, though, all those making-things activities are less about the product getting made than about the meditative process of producing it, which is why those things are relaxing. I mean, there is joy for me in making something, in producing a sweater or a clear, pure note with my voice, but much of the joy actually comes from the intense focus of producing it, rather than the finished thing. I never did find that in most physical sports, which is probably good, since I’ve become more disabled as I’ve aged, and it would feel like a horrible loss to me, if I was more dependent on being sporty.
“Speakerphone. Put me on speaker so you can use your hands. You’re going to need both hands, and I won’t be held responsible for you mucking up your phone. Speaker.”
Teddy set his phone on the counter and switched to the speaker, then stood waiting.
“Hello?” Jules said. “Is this thing on?”
“Sorry,” Teddy said. “I’m still here.”
“It sounded like you’d suddenly disappeared. I was starting to believe in the rapture,” Jules said, and Teddy heard, again, the nervous chuckle.
Their conversation was awkward and full of strange pauses in which there was nothing right to say, and they focused mostly on how awkward and strange it was until Jules told Teddy to dump the almond paste on the counter and start to knead in the sugar.
“I’m doing it, too, along with you,” Jules said.
“I’m not sure whether that makes it more or less weird,” Teddy admitted, dusting everything in front of him with sugar.
“It’s just like giving a back rub,” Jules told him. “Roll gently into the dough with the heel of your hand, lean in with your upper body. Think loving things. Add a little sugar each time—watch for when it’s ready for more. Not too much at once.”
Several moments passed when all that held their connection was a string of huffed and effortful breaths and the soft thump of dough. Teddy felt Jules pressing and leaning forward into his work, felt the small sweat and ache that had begun to announce itself in Jules’s shoulders, felt it when he held his breath as he pushed and then exhaled in a rush as he flipped the dough, felt it all as surely as if Jules’s body were there next to him, as if he might reach to the side and, without glancing over, brush the sugar from Teddy’s forearm, a gesture which might have been, if real, if the result of many long hours spent in the kitchen together, sweet and familiar and unthinking.
“My grandmother and I used to make this,” Jules breathed after a long silence, “when I was little. Mine would always become flowers. She would always make hers into people.”
Teddy understood that he needn’t reply, that Jules was speaking to him, yes, but speaking more into the empty space in which he stood as a witness, talking a story into the evening around him, and he, Teddy, was lucky to be near, to listen in as the story spun itself out of Jules and into the open, open quiet.
When the dough was finished and Jules had interrupted himself to say, “There, mine’s pretty done. I bet yours is done by now, too,” Teddy nodded in agreement—and even though he knew Jules couldn’t see him, he was sure Jules would sense him nodding through some miniscule change in his breathing or the invisible tension between them slackening just the slightest bit. And he did seem to know, because Jules paused and made a satisfied noise that sounded as if all the spring-coiled readiness had slid from his body. “This taste,” Jules sighed, “is like Proust’s madeleine.”
They spent an hour playing with the dough and molding it into shapes they wouldn’t reveal to each other. Teddy felt childish and happy and inept and far too adult all at once as he listened to the rhythmic way Jules breathed and spoke, the way his voice moved in and out of silence, like the advance and retreat of shallow waves that left in their wake little broken treasures on the shore.
Only his fingers moved, fumbling and busy and blind as he listened, his whole self waiting for Jules to tell him the next thing, whatever it might be.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
About the Author
Alysia Constantine lives in Brooklyn with her wife, their two dogs, and a cat. When she is not writing, she is a professor at an art college. Before that, she was a baker and cook for a caterer, and before that, she was a poet.
Sweet is her first novel.
Where to find the author:
Goodreads Link: http://www.goodreads.com/AlysiaConstantine
Tour Dates & Stops:
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.|