Author: Alysia Constantine
Release Date: February 4th 2016
Genre: Contemporary, Gay Fiction, M/M Romance
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
Today I’m very lucky to be interviewing Alysia Constantine author of SWEET. Hi (Alysia), thank you for agreeing to this interview.
Q: Give us an interesting fun fact or a few about your book or series.
A: I was a pastry chef and baker for a caterer for a few years long ago. When you are a writer and a young academic, you learn to do a lot of things to make money, and you wind up with a very motley career. When I initially wrote Sweet, I and friends came up with recipes to go with each chapter, and we tried them out… just to be very sure they were good. I got so spoiled writing that novel.
Q: How did you come up with the title of your book or series?
A: I liked the title Sweet because it can be either a genuine description or an ironic one. It can describe love as it is, or love as we think it should be. I like it, too, because it can describe the bakery’s goods or the story itself. But sweet things aren’t interesting if that’s all they are. Even a cream puff needs a little warm bitterness of flour, or at least the plain, fatty taste of the dough, to make the sweet cream inside make sense. I hoped to write a story like that, that didn’t turn out exactly Romance Perfect. So it’s a title that doesn’t entirely deliver on its promise, I guess, because it only tells part of the story.
Q: Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special?
A: I’m not entirely sure which character to call the “main” one. That spot is shared, in my mind, by three: Jules, Teddy, and the narrator. Jules, obviously, is a magical baker and a pretty great writer. Teddy is sensitive and intuitive about people. The narrator has the ability to see for miles, and can also see past time; the narrator is omniscient, and able to keep out of the fray of the story, like a Buddhist, understanding that the pulls and snags and bumps of the story are just little ripples on the surface of a much larger story. I wish I had that ability.
Q: What do you think makes a good story?
A: I don’t want to see the hand (or the head) of the writer there. I hate when I’m watching a film, and I know what’s going to happen next, or I can tell why the writer made a particular move. I like to think about intention and craft afterward, in retrospect, but I really love the experience of being totally sucked in in the moment, putting myself at the mercy of the story and just giving over to it. A good story, then, takes control away from me. There is this beautiful novel called First Light by Charlie Baxter, and it tells its story in reverse: each chapter occurs at a point earlier in time than the last. It’s really lovely, because the present moment tells of a brother and sister who’ve fallen at odds. The novel follows backwards to find the point at which they were still close, telling the story of their disengagement backwards. But it makes most sense that way. And the narrative line of the novel shows these two characters coming together, even though in time, they are coming apart. The loss that we’re told about in the first chapter colors everything that comes afterward. I think that’s absolutely brilliant, and he does it so beautifully. The writing manages to achieve as much through form as it does through what it actually says—it’s as much about how it tells the thing as what it’s telling. And it’s really smart—it’s not just an emotional involvement (though it is), but an intellectual engagement, self-reflexive about storytelling as much as about the story it’s telling. I think that’s beautiful.
Q: What does your family think of your writing?
A: When I was in college, studying for a B.A. in poetry, my father (who, to be fair, speaks English as a second language) used to refer to my major as “journalism.” I think it was the most practical writing-type thing—and therefore the most dignified—he was able to imagine, especially as an immigrant who’d worked so hard to get here. I mean, poetry isn’t very practical, and it’s certainly not going to put food on most poets’ tables nowadays. Now, my partner is incredibly supportive—she is my biggest cheerleader, and goads me into trying everything. I dedicated Sweet to her, because even though I wrote it on the down-low, afraid to show anyone (including her) for fear of getting judged, once I “came out” to her as having written it, she was so loving and supportive, happy and enthusiastic.
“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.
About 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.
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