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.
Release Date: February 4, 2016
Cover Artist: C.B. Messer
Publisher: Interlude Press
Length: 246 pages
Purchase: Amazon, ARe, Interlude
Interview with Alysia
Hi, Alysia! Thanks so much for dropping by! What genre is Sweet and what you drew you to that genre?
Well, I think some book sellers, maybe even the publisher, might call this “romance”, but I think of it just as a story about love. And other things. It’s just a story, in my mind (which the former bookstore employee in my head is telling me to shelve it in “Contemporary Fiction”).
There are people who fall in love, so I guess you could call it romance. There is also a ghost, so maybe you could call it a ghost story. But I think of it simply as fiction.
Genres don’t draw me, because genres seem to come with their own sets of rules and expectations. When I was in undergrad school for creative writing, we were strongly admonished not to write “genre fiction,” because the rules of the particular genre often undercut the rules of good writing. So perhaps I’m an anti-genre snob, but I think a story should avoid genres, because genres are often shortcuts around good writing.
I know some excellent writing that has been categorized as sci-fi, for instance (Octavia Butler, as a great example) that might be sci-fi, but it’s just really great writing. What does a genre label tell you, other than what to expect? I don’t want to know things ahead of time, I want to be surprised and delighted by what I read.
How many days a week do you write?
I write something every day, but very often it’s just a note to remind myself of something because I have a memory that’s rapidly deteriorating. But I’m horribly undisciplined about sitting down to plug away at the fiction-writing. Probably only two or three days a week, unless I’m pressing toward a deadline.
On average, how long does it take to write a book?
For me in particular, or people in general?
I think it probably depends upon the book. All but the last few chapters of Sweet was written over the course of a couple months; then I took a very long break (almost a year), and returned to finish the last few chapters in about a week.
I don’t know how often I can stress this, but writing isn’t easy for me. It’s slow, it’s frustrating, and I have to force myself to stick with it, because my best instincts are to go take a shower, go buy celery, go take the dogs for a walk… go do almost anything but write.
But all that is simply the time it took me while sitting down and banging out the words on the keyboard. That doesn’t include the marinating time, the thinking time. I am very slow, as I said, and the instant burst of language (sound, sense, feeling) is really natural to me, but the long haul of plot isn’t.
Do you have a trailer for your book?
I’ve never even heard of such a thing. A trailer like for a movie? Or a trailer like a Winnebago? Because that would be really cool, to have a Sweet Winnebago I could drive around the country in. Or have someone drive for me, because I am a New Yorker, and we tend to hate driving.
If I could be a character in a book, I would be ______?
Beloved, the ghost baby from Toni Morrison’s Beloved. Or the missing father from The America Play by Suzan-Lori Parks. Both those characters are no longer on the scene, but have immense impact on the characters left in their wake. How amazing would it be to be that powerful?
Awesome! Thanks so much for answering some questions for me, Alysia! Enjoy the rest of your tour!
“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.
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.
You can find Alysia on…
PRIZE: $25 Interlude Press gift card to one winner, e-copies of Sweet to five additional winners
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