Author Name: Alysia Constantine
Book Name: Sweet
Release Date: February 4, 2016
Pages or Words: 246 pages
Categories: Contemporary, Fiction, Gay Fiction, M/M Romance, Romance
Publisher: Interlude Press
Cover Artist: C.B. Messer
- How do you develop your plots and characters?
Sweet evolved patchwork over time. Some of the chapters came about as the next inevitable step—it was about rhythm, for me. Other things developed in response to assignments from a friend. She would hold up plot hoops, and I would figure out how to get the story to jump through them. Like working a puzzle.
- Who doesn’t love a good hero? Tell us about your protagonist. Was there a real life inspiration behind them?
If Jules is the hero of this book, then he is a kind of narcissistic offshoot of me as I’d really like to be. But so is ‘Trice and so is, to some extent, Teddy. They all have their own hero journeys in the novel, if we’re going to strictly understand Joseph Campbell. There were no real-life inspirations for any of the characters except Andy-the-man, whose image was based on a few cobbled-together images of people, but whose personality was a total invention.
- What real-life inspirations do you use when world building?
The bakery was an invention, and so was the side street of the city. But the ambience of the city itself, that was based on my years of living here. I suppose a bit of real life bleeds into anything, but this was all pure invention. The real life inspiration served as a foil here, a not-space that the novel space answered.
- Did you learn anything from this book and what was it?
I learned a lot from the process of writing this novel. Mostly, I had to un-learn a lot of what I’d learned as a young, middle class woman who was raised to be polite, generous, and offensive to anyone. Writing this book, I learned to be happy and to celebrate happy things, little victories, even if my best instinct was to downplay the victory and undo the happiness until it became dissatisfaction. I got taught really well not to be satisfied with less than perfect, not to rest on my laurels, and not to brag. I took the lessons way too far, like most of us do. I had to unlearn all those lessons here, and writing this novel (and going through the process of publishing it, which makes one feel really vulnerable!) was a good way to confront the fact that I had to unlearn those things.
- It’s your last meal on earth. What do you choose?
Well, my first instinct is to say that if I know it’s my last meal, I’m probably too nauseated to eat. But then I think about the fact that there will be no consequences to what I eat—no upset stomach, no bill to pay at the end of the meal. So I’d probably want to eat stroganoff made with wild mushrooms and seitan instead of beef (because I’ve been a vegetarian for over 25 years, and I can’t imagine eating beef and liking it). Plus, really good rye bread with salted butter. Oh, and cherries, lots of fresh Bing cherries. And pie of any sort, maybe tart apple, but pie with really good crust. And green beans tossed with sesame oil. And a couple really ripe tomatoes with oregano and good olive oil. That’s a pretty big meal. I might need a week-long banquet, if the world is ending for me.
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
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.
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.
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