Sweet, by Alysia Constantine
Publisher: Interlude Press
Release Date: February 4, 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Gay, 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.
“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.
Today I’m very lucky to be interviewing Alysia Constantine, author of Sweet. Hi Alysia, thank you for agreeing to this interview.
Tell us something about your character’s friends.
Jules’ best friend is ‘Trice. He doesn’t really have any others in the same city because of his weird hours—this is probably on purpose for him. ‘Trice is his healthy opposite—she keeps him from turning in on himself too completely. She’s very smart, and very brave, and very present in the world. She frequently comes off as rough, or a jerk, but the way she treats Jules is exactly what he needs to keep him balanced. She looks like she’d listen to, as Jules puts it, “shitty trashcan-screaming music,” but she likes Coltrane, and crosswords, and baking, and Jules, and women. She’s sort of a Dona Juana, lots of lovers, a rolling stone. She sharks pool, and has a circle of local bars she moves between to play. When she walks in, everyone at the bar knows her. She’s almost always in control, and I don’t think she likes it when she’s not. She’s a powerful woman, very self-possessed, uninterested in the things everyone else values (straightness, for one, and propriety, monogamy, fitting in, quiet, and blissful ignorance). She is exactly who I would be if I could be anyone.
What is your character’s favorite meal? Favorite dessert? Favorite snack food?
Ah, see, there are entire passages in the novel devoted to describing good food. I won’t replicate that here. But Jules, the pastry chef, loves lavender. He makes tea with it, and pastry cream, and shortbread, and tea bread. It’s a little spicy and herby, but sweet and floral, too. Actually, I love lavender for the same reasons. They say it’s also an antiseptic.
What activity does your character absolutely hate?
Both Jules and ‘Trice absolutely hate lies—it’s part of what they have in common. It’s also why neither of them can lie to themselves. Teddy isn’t actively lying to himself, but he is refusing to acknowledge the truth of how he feels about his life. He’s miserable. I guess you could say he hates his life, but it’s not an active enough emotion to be called “hate.” He mehs his life, perhaps.
What other author’s book do you think your character would be good in?
I think Teddy and Jules would get along with Nate and Trip, respectively, from Small Wonders by Courtney Lux. Nate, like Teddy, is a buttoned-down guy looking to unbutton. And Trip would be a great thorn in the side of Jules—Trip is a trixter character, an outlaw and a rule-breaker, smart and centered and playful, but deeply affected by the world. Actually, he and ‘Trice would probably gang up on Jules and make his life happily miserable.
What’s your favorite decade and why?
I’m pretty happy right now. I hated the years I had to grow through—growing up was hard, and the ‘70s and ‘80s made it harder, especially as a kid whose values and interests weren’t in line with my community and my peers. (I imagine things were similar or worse in even earlier decades.) I was the child of an immigrant, I was figuring out I was a lesbian, I played concert violin and liked poetry, I was smart, I was a nerd, and I couldn’t afford the clothes at the cool stores (I sewed a lot of my own). Now, those things are more acceptable to other people than they were when I was 14. Now, I can live with my partner without fear; I can even tell others that my partner is a woman. We recently got legally married, in part so that I could get health benefits through her (it’s not why we’re together, but it’s the reason for the “legal” part). There are women in positions of power; there are people of color in power. It’s not perfect-there are many things I wish were different about the current moment, especially politically, but I feel a lot of hope now that I didn’t feel in 1982. Although I sometimes think the pre-modern era in Europe would have been interesting—peoples’ minds were open to all kinds of strange possibilities in the world (premodern literature is fascinating for that), everything was understood to be flexible, nature barely balanced on a whim. Even things we imagine to be as fixed and apparent as racial identity and gender were understood in a more fluid way. But I really like indoor plumbing and refrigeration, and I would also do really badly with a corset.
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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