Hi guys, we have Alysia Constantine stopping by today with her debut novel Sweet, we have a short interview with Alysia, a great excerpt and a brilliant giveaway, so enjoy the post and click that giveaway link <3 ~Pixie~
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.
Today I’m very lucky to be interviewing Alysia Constantine author of SWEET. Hi Alysia, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Tell us a little about yourself, your background, and your current book.
Why do you write?
It comes pretty naturally to me. Not easily, but naturally. Personal essays, especially. Poetry or fiction is tougher, but still really satisfying to write. I often hate what I’ve written after I’m done, so it’s not about the finished product. And I don’t think of it as self expression. I think I have a synesthesic response to language, so I love writing like I love playing the violin or the piano (two other things I grew up doing very seriously)—I suppose it’s always about making music of some sort. I guess it’s about making something—I like to make things, whether it’s by baking, writing, sewing, drawing, playing an instrument, or talking. I’m not much of an athlete, since I have a cane and I fall down pretty easily, so writing is my way of “doing something” in the world, a way to exercise.
Which of your books was the most difficult to write?
Given that Sweet is the first book I’ve written, I would have to say that Sweet was the toughest! I did write collections of poems for both my undergraduate and MFA theses, and those were tough, but they were collections. In Sweet, I had to sustain a plot over several hundred pages, and I had to remember what I’d written about a character before. I’ve always been more easily attuned to details rather than larger pictures, so that was tough.
Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special?
I’m not really sure whom to call the main character here. If we’re talking about Jules, he bakes, and his baked goods affect people physically and emotionally. He effects a kind of kitchen magic. My partner is absolutely horrible in the kitchen (though she does many, many other things beautifully); I’m not sure what goes wrong, but even when she follows a recipe, it’s just not glorious. Sometimes it’s horrifying. Jules is the opposite of that. He’s also very good with words, I think. Teddy eats well, once he finds Jules. He is also very focused—when he wants something, when he’s driven by desire, he takes, he gets, he wins. He’s not exactly a crazy Type A guy, but things seem to fall in place for him, and he approaches the world as if they will, so he usually wins. But he’s also very astute, a very keen observer of the world; he quickly and thoroughly understands people. The narrator, who is the third main character, sees everything from a clear perspective. Sees Teddy and Jules, and understands how their story fits into the life of the universe, but sees me and you as well, and understands why we are reading, and what we really want.
How much research do you do for your books?
For Sweet, I endured the horrible punishment of baking every week to experiment with recipes, flavors, ideas. The recipes didn’t make it into the final draft of the book, but they were a big part of how I composed. I was, many years ago, a baker and pastry chef for a caterer, so I suppose that counts as research, too. For the book I’m working on now, which is about circus performers, I’m trying to do a little traditional research into circuses and sideshows.
Who designs your covers?
First, I must say that I absolutely love the cover and book design for Sweet. I think it’s beautiful, and it also really captures the tone and important parts of the book. It was designed by C.B. Messer. I’ve already badgered her into agreeing to do the next one, too, and I hope she can, although she’s recently become the art director at Interlude Press, so I’m not entirely confident she’ll have the time. I think her work is absolutely beautiful; she has this great combination of intuition and intelligence that allows her to imagine the purest image of the story, how it would look if it were a solid thing. She has much of her art online at < http://choiart.tumblr.com/>. This has been a shameless plug for an artist I think is absolutely wonderful.
“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.
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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