I would like to welcome Alysia Constantine, author of Sweet, to Book Reviews & More by Kathy.
Hi Alysia, thank you for agreeing to this interview.
1) Please talk to us a little about your characters in this book. What makes them unique?
I don’t think they are unique, except that they star in this novel. The novel’s beginning claims that “it is a very unimportant story about two very unimportant people who find one another.” That’s important, I think—this is a mundane story, a narrative of the beautiful thing that happens as a result of chance. It could just as easily not happen, or happen a different way. That’s why it’s beautiful—love here is improbable and fragile. People themselves are this way, too: I am who I am because of an improbable coincidence of a billion influences that came about in just the precise way to make me as I am. I find that thought really lovely, that we are all uniquely who we are because of a mundane and random condition.
2) What was one of the most surprising things you learned in getting your book from start to publish?
I got to experience the whole process—how editing happens, how ideas get refined, how to let go and let other folks help to make the book happen in ways you might not have imagined at first. I was also really surprised—and I realize this sounds falsely modest, but I don’t mean it that way—at how supportive other folks could be. It was shocking that someone else could like what I did enough that they would want to make a book out of it, and make that book available to other people. It’s exciting, humbling, surprising. In the really best way, I mean.
3) Have you ever gone to a convention? If so, how was it? If not, do you think it’s something you’d like to do in the future?
I’ve been to plenty of book conventions. I love browsing the books, like a library of entirely new books. I don’t like the pressure of doing so right in front of the publisher, who sits there watching me… I always feel very self-conscious. But I love books even as objects, so simply wandering through the aisles, touching the books, looking at the covers, reading a page or two, it’s a really happy experience for me.
4) Would you like to be a full-time writer?
Would you like to pay my bills? Actually, it’s easy to say that the reason I do other work is for pay, but I like my life as a professor. It keeps me thinking, keeps me engaged with people and texts and ideas and problems. If I didn’t do that, and wrote full time, I think I’d wither, mentally. It’s just too hard to sustain for me. I like having time pressure; I like talking to other people; I like teaching things and puzzling through ideas and working out how to help people.
5) Design the ultimate pizza.
I’ve lived in New York City for most of my life, so I am a bit of a snob about pizza. I would love it to have handmade whole wheat crust, lots of good mozzarella (not too oily), a good amount of spicy red sauce (not sweet sauce, because that is a pizza travesty), wild mushrooms and a mixture of black and green olives. The crust should be medium-thick—I don’t need a loaf of bread, but I can’t be bothered with a thin crust. It should be free, and it should be delivered to my door by Catherine Keener, because she is my number one celebrity crush. Of course, I would invite Catherine Keener to have pizza with me, and she would accept, because of the olives. And then we would be best friends.
Title: Sweet by Alysia Constantine
Publisher: Interlude Press
Genre: Contemporary, M/M, Romance
Length: 246 pages
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.
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Click HERE to read Publisher Weekly’s review of Sweet.
“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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