Sweet by Alysia Constantine
Release Date: February 4, 2016
Publisher: Interlude Press
Cover Artist: C.B. Messer
Today I’m very lucky to be interviewing Alysia Constantine, author of (Sweet). Hi, Alysia, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Can you share a little something about your story with our readers?
Sweet is a love story, and also a story about how we tell stories. I think these two things are related—most of us grow up having heard all manner of fairy tales and love stories, and we build expectations as a result of that, and our real lives don’t quite measure up. Especially for those of us who are gay—we’re under a lot of pressure to be romantic and fall in fairy-tale love, or else be accused of fulfilling the stereotype about promiscuous gays. On the surface, Sweet is the story of how two men—Jules, a baker mourning the loss of his husband Andy, and Teddy, a frustrated accountant—meet, how they court through pastry and shared pleasure, and how they fall in love. But it’s also the story of what we expect from a love story, and from our own lives. I might call it a self-conscious love story.
- How difficult was it to get into the main character’s head?
In this story, the chapters shift between being close in POV to Teddy and close to Jules, but the main character is actually the third-person narrator, who occasionally interjects into the narrative to remind us that s/he is telling a story, that everything is an invention. (To me, much as I hope people get caught up in the story, Sweet is about stories themselves, about narratives, and about how we invest in them. Most of us get told throughout our childhood—no, throughout our entire lives—called something like “The Natural Inevitability and Superiority of Straightness,” and it’s a narrative in which we come to believe, unless something goes “wrong.” (That’s Freud’s idea, thank you Siggie.)) In my mind, that narrator is actually the main character. The voice is half Cynical Omniscient and half Fairy Tale Believer, and I think it’s a voice very natural to me, very close to my own. And, I would wager, a pretty common tone for those of us who’ve grown up gay or queer in a culture that’s generally hostile to anybody who’s not straight. You get used to living as a pess/optimist: you’re prepared for the worst while hoping for the best.
- Is this book a standalone or do you plan on visiting it again?
As I see it now, it’s a standalone. The novel I’m working on next involves circus performers… a very different world! I’m interested now in thinking about margins and outsiders—the circus really allows for that. Sweet is about pleasure, to me. I think I’ve written what asked to be written there.
- Why did you choose to write M/M stories?
I don’t exclusively write M/M stories—the novel I’m writing now is about women in the circus. But I am interested in gay/queer stories, and those are the stories I’m more inclined to tell, because those are the stories that are so often silenced now, or are missing from the past, and those are the stories I wished were taught in my English class as a miserable gay teen in the midwest. Sweet was just naturally a story about two men falling in love—I don’t think the characters could have been anyone other than who they are. I also felt a bit resistant to putting lesbians on display in a novel, making their lives a thing for consumption (women are always put up for view, lesbians most especially—it seems like men are much more rarely made the object of everyone’s gaze), but I’m past that now. Not to say it isn’t a very valid critique, but I’m ready to write the stories I wished were there—about queers, no matter the gender. And I think I’ve found a home for a story about lesbians that isn’t a salacious or voyeuristic home. Interlude Press has, more than I can say, affected me so deeply—I wish it had been around when I was growing up.
- Where do you find your inspiration?
For Sweet, I was inspired both by my past as a baker/pastry chef and by thinking about how and why we tell stories, and how powerful it can be to have a story that reflects some part of you. I was inspired by the narrator’s voice, when it started speaking in my head, because it felt vital to me. More than just a love story, this was answering back to all the love stories I’d ever read. I was also inspired by all the good food I’ve eaten, and some really good recipes. I try to keep myself inspired that delicious way. I live in NYC, which has so much good and interesting food… I’ve inspired myself a lot.
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.
Praise for ‘Sweet’ by Alysia Constantine from Publisher’s Weekly: http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-941530-61-0
Pages or Words: 246 pages
Categories: Contemporary, Fiction, Gay Fiction, M/M Romance, Romance
“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.
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Meet 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:
Tour Dates & Stops:
Scattered Thoughts & Rogue Words, Book Lovers 4Ever, Hearts on Fire
A.M. Leibowitz, Love Bytes, Bayou Book Junkie
Fangirl Moments and My Two Cents, Divine Magazine, MM Good Book Reviews
Sinfully Addicted to All Male Romance, Kirsty Loves Books, Just Love Romance
Happily Ever Chapter, My Fiction Nook, Havan Fellows
V’s Reads, Kiki’s Kinky Picks, Lee Brazil, Elisa – My Reviews and Ramblings
Jessie G. Books, 3 Chicks After Dark, Book Reviews and More by Kathy
Wicked Faerie’s Tales and Reviews, Three Books Over the Rainbow, BFD Book Blog
Dawn’s Reading Nook, Inked Rainbow Reads
Prism Book Alliance, Up All Night, Read All Day, Molly Lolly, Alpha Book Club
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