Hello, and welcome to my fourth ever blog tour (I really do have to stop counting), celebrating Riptide Publishing’s release of Sand and Ruin and Gold. Yay! Thank you so much to Smoocher’s Voice for hosting me, and for sending me such a thoughtful interview. And, to you, dear reader, for stopping by. If you’d like to come with me and keep me company on my virtual wanderings, you can find a full listing of when and where I am here on Riptide’s tour page.
For the rest of the blog tour, I’m trying something a bit different. Since Sand and Ruin and Gold is a short story, and I tend to feel that explaining short stories takes the fun out of them, instead I’m posting, well, a completely different story. It’s set in the same world so I guess you could call it a kind of spiritual sibling. If you like it, you’ll probably like Ruin. If you don’t … then … um … you probably won’t. Sorry. You can find full details of where to chase that down on the RP tour page which, once again, is here, or you can swing by my blog where I’ll be attempting to keep track of everything.
Oh, and there’s a giveaway. Nothing very dramatic I’m afraid, as I don’t have any mermaids in my possession right now, but if you want to enter the Rafflecopter below, I’d be delighted to offer a book from my backlist, in either hard or soft copy.
Jodi: Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for our readers. Tell us a little about yourself.
Alexis: Gosh, I’m not very good at answering these sort of questions because I never know what to say. I’m English, thirtyish, and I live in the southeast with my partner. Writing is kind of my hobby at the moment, but I also enjoy fencing, videogames and The Great British Bake Off.
Jodi: What made you choose to write in the male/male romance genre for your stories?
Alexis: This is a difficult one because genres, to an extent, are constructed after the fact. I tend to see myself as writing stories with queer protagonists, some of which are romances and many of which have strong romantic elements. This sort of puts most of what I do into m/m romance by default, although to be honest, the whole idea that romances about same sex couples constitute a subgenre (or, indeed, two subgenres) is a little bit troubling to me. I like to feel a love story is a love story regardless of the gender identities of the protagonists. And, actually, surprisingly little of what I’ve had published so far is m/m strictly speaking. GLITTERLAND sort of falls most comfortably into this category (but I have had people suggest it isn’t really a romance), the Kate Kane series is f/f urban fantasy, PROSPERITY is queer steampunk in which there is one male/male couple and it’s not the central one. And, finally, “SAND AND RUIN AND GOLD” is … well … a fairytale in which one of the main characters is a fish who doesn’t speak. Although, to be fair, he is a male fish who doesn’t speak.
Jodi: You write in the contemporary and fantasy genre. Do you have a preference?
Alexis: This may be blindingly obvious, but you can do different things in different genres, so I like having the freedom to do both. I actually gravitate towards what you might call “genre” (science fiction, fantasy, fairytale or, my personal favourite, mashup) because I like the fact that, in an invented world, you don’t feel constrained to carry over real world cultural expectations (although, I am aware that I necessarily, in fact, do without even noticing it). Like in the Kate Kane series, nearly all the major characters are queer women and obviously this isn’t “realistic” (and some people are bothered by this) but, for me, the overriding trope of that sort of genre is that everyone fancies – and is, ultimately, romantically compatible with - the heroine. So if you write a lesbian heroine, it follows that she lives in a queer-dominant world. By the same token, in PROSPERITY, while the bulk of the setting is straight-up Victorian England, with all the moral and social and personal restrictions that entails, the actual protagonists inhabit a world with no such limitations. Or, as I took to expressing it while I was working on the series: “everyone’s bi in the sky.”
By contrast, my contemps to be about very specific bits of the real world. So while GLITTERLAND is about depression in general, it’s about a very specific experience of depression: so being about my age, with my educational background, and how that all intersects to create one person’s narrative. And, of course, it’s also about regionality and the British class system, which again is very specific. I’ve got a couple of other contemps coming out next year which are similarly grounded in my experiences and perceptions of the world as it is, so I’ve got one about regionality (yet again, sorry, it’s a kind of a thing), homecoming and the North East, and another about –uh…well … the UK S&M scene.
Sorry that’s quite a lot of words to give quite a simple answer.
Jodi: What are some of the challenges in writing in the fantasy genre?
Alexis: I’m aware that the default answer here tends to be world-building, and I think to an extent that’s true, but not necessarily for the reasons you might expect. I don’t have much difficulty coming out with ideas for imaginary places or systems or societies. The problem becomes realising those ideas in a way that actually follows through and doesn’t bog the reader down in masses of exposition. So in the Prosperityverse I basically wound up having to put together a whole alternative physics to explain how airships worked, what phlogiston was and where the aethermancers fit into the whole. It’s sort of derived from things people vaguely thought in the Victorian era and it basically arrives at real world physical laws by different means but it’s really important to me to, for example, understand how a phlogiston-based explosive would be different from a chemical-based explosive.
Jodi: Your latest story, Sand and Ruin and Gold is a story of princes and monsters. What was your inspiration for this story?
Alexis: It was a lot of different things. I’d been having some conversations at the time about objectification within the m/m genre and that partly explored to write a story in which one of the central characters is literally an exhibit. I also have a sort general interest in what – for lack of a less pretentious way of putting it – I tend to think of as the unknowability of the other. Which is to say that no matter how much you love or care about someone, ultimately they’re them, and you’re you, and you can never really understand what it means to be them. I was also kind of missing someone. So all that kind of tangled up in this slightly melancholy story about exploitation, otherness and uncrossable distances.
Jodi: What was your inspiration for the Cirque de la Mer?
Alexis: Short answer: Seaworld.
Actually, there isn’t really a long answer. I’ve always found zoos kind of upsetting (although I also recognise that a lot of them do important conservation work) because – honestly – it just makes me really uncomfortable to see wild things caged. And I’m fully aware that this is largely an emotional reaction, rather than a real animal welfare concern. As far as I’m concerned, the one saving grace of zoos (apart from the aforesaid conservation benefits) is that they don’t pretend to be doing anything other than what they’re doing. When you see an animal in a zoo, basically all the zoo says is “here is a chimpanzee, in the wild they would live in such and such a country and act in such and such a way, but this one isn’t because it’s in a cage in London on account of the fact we destroyed its habitat.”
Marine parks, on the other hand, (and Seaworld in particular) seem to build this whole mythology round themselves. They go to great lengths to claim that all the tricks they train their animals to perform are things they’d do in the wild given half a chance and they actively lie about how healthy and long-lived free whales are relative to captive wales. Basically they sell an experience that pretends to be nature and isn’t. I would almost respect them if they said “we get them to do this because it looks cool, and it’s not very good for them, but who the fuck cares, they’re only whales.” But they don’t, and it’s the denial that freaks me out more than anything.
More generally, one of my recurring fascinations is with the intersection between surface and reality, both personally and culturally.
Jodi: Tell us a little about the main character?
Alexis: Okay, this is kind of difficult because I very much feel that short stories derive a lot from what they don’t say as what they do, and I think one of the pleasures of reading shorter fiction is that twin process of discovery and creation. It gives you a window into something with just enough for you to fill in the view.
Essentially the narrator is deliberately very lightly drawn. One of my copy editors wasn’t even sure if he was a man or a woman until halfway through.
Jodi: Nerites is the first merman the narrator encounters. Tell us a little about Nerites’character and background.
Alexis: Again, I’m afraid there’s not much I can say here for pretty much the same reasons. Nerites’s character, in particular, is deliberately ambiguous. We only ever seen him through the protagonist’s eyes and, ultimately, we aren’t supposed to know what he’s thinking or even if he’s capable of thought.
In a way, it’s kind of a story about belief. Among other things.
Jodi: This story, like your other books, is written in first person point of view. Why do you choose to write from this perspective? Is it a challenge to write from that perspective?
Alexis: I have actually written a couple of third person narratives. One of them is coming out next year, and the other is floating around in pre-submission space.
Generally, though, I do tend towards either first person or limited viewpoint third person. Basically I’m very interested in voice and language, and the big advantage of first person is that you can tell a story about a person the way that person would tell it. So GLITTERLAND is very florid and disjointed and introspective, and Kate is very sharp and quippy, and PROSPERITY is kind of written in a version of 19th century thieves cant. It also ties in the unknowability of the other thing because all you ever see it one character’s perception of events and the people around them. I like the intimacy of that, and I like the fact it’s very explicitly only showing you part of the story, and that there could very well be a different story if you were looking through someone else’s eyes. I got to play with that quite a lot in PROSPERITY because there’s a series of follow up shorts from a variety of different points of view.
To be honest, I find first person a lot less challenging than third, and I’ve never successfully deployed third person omniscient. With first person, it’s kind of pretty clear because you’re always just thinking about what this person would say next, and how they would say it, but with third person omniscient you suddenly have a world of possibilities, none really better than the other, and it feels really overwhelming to me.
Jodi: Are there disadvantages writing in first person point of view.
Alexis: To me, honestly no, because I really like that style of writing. I like unreliability, I like language, I like being immersed in a particular characters worldview and sense of self.
But it’s a taste thing. I know lots of people get frustrated if they can’t see all sides of a story, and know exactly what all the characters are thinking at all times.
And, obviously, I have chosen to write some stories in third person so I must sometimes feel it’s a better fit, but I’m not quite sure I can quite put my finger on why exactly that is.
Jodi: Tell us a little about your writing process. When you start a book, do you already have the whole story in your head or is it built progressively?
Alexis: There’s kind of thing that people tell you about writing, where you’re supposed to be either a plotter or a pantser, and to strongly self-define as one or the other. But I’m increasingly coming to the conclusion that I, well, don’t because I tend to both plot and, um, pants simultaneously. Before starting the book, I’ll usually have a clear idea of where it’s going to end and what the central arc will be (and, if I’m writing a mystery, I’ll plot in some detail how the mystery works and will unfold) but once I’ve decided on a structure, I have very little investment in keeping to it. In a way, it’s a like chess or, indeed, life: always have a plan, but never rely on it.
Very often major changes to the plots of my books take place in editing. I did a lot with the emotional trajectory of GLITTERLAND. It’s not quite a whole new story, but it means something very different now. Both Kate Kanes have essentially had their endings completely re-written – and, indeed, half the plot of book two stemmed from an event at the end of book one that wasn’t even in the first draft. PROSPERITY has essentially been two years in the writing. Because of the language, it’s had so many drafts, even before it got onto my editor’s desk. That whole narrative has been structured and restructured, written and re-written, and had extra emotion bunged in (because this is something I’ve been learning as I go) that it’s kind of like the Ship of Theseus now.
Jodi: Which of your books was the most challenging write?
Alexis: The thing I’ve found about writing is that, unsurprisingly, you get better at it if you do more of it. And so it becomes easier to do the things you need to do in order to make a book work. Anything, really, from knowing where to put the feels to where to the put commas.
This probably sound as bit melodramatic but I kind of had to break myself in order to put the emotional payoff into the final scene of GLITTERLAND. When it first came out, I talked about this a lot, but that very last scene – where Ash tries to win Darian back – took a lot of editing and, through several drafts, I couldn’t actually work out how to give it what it needed (which was, essentially, Ash having an emotional breakthrough). Then, at about two in the morning, I sort of realised that I needed to have an emotional breakthrough. I couldn’t make my character cry, and be vulnerable and sincere, because those things scare the fuck out of me.
So. Yeah. Challenging.
Jodi: Which of your books was the most fun to write?
Alexis: I have fun writing all my books. This is basically my hobby, and I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy it. I think I have more fun objectively with the genre stuff, because I get to romp around and write about airships and vampires, whereas with the contemps I have to have emotions and things.
Jodi: For you, what is for you the perfect book hero?
Alexis: I really don’t know how to answer this. I kind of feel that a hero can only work in the context of the story he appears in, so – to an extent – I don’t think describing a hero in a vacuum is something I can do. I would say that I have a strong attraction to non-traditional portrayals of masculinity, and I like to read about heroes in whom I can recognise at least some part of myself.
Jodi: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Alexis: Um, not so much, especially not in RUIN, which is a very deliberately opaque text. A friend of mine went to a showing of The Nine Lives of Thomas Katz, after which there was a short Q&A with the director. One of the questions that was asked was “what is the message you’re trying to get across with this film” to which the director replied “if I wanted to give people a message, I’d write it on pieces of paper, and stand on a street corner handing them out.” That’s kind of a really harsh thing to say to someone who’s trying to engage legitimately with you work, but – delivery aside – I do sort of feel that if there is any message in my work that could be better communicated by expressing it directly, I’d be better off expressing it directly. I hope readers will find something of value in what I write, but it seems borderline hubristic to call that message. Ultimately we take away from texts what we find in them.
Jodi: How much of the book and characters is realistic?
Alexis: Well, the silly answer is that “it’s kind of a cyberpunk fairytale about a merman and a genetically engineered marine park trainer so … not very.”
The sensible answer is that I feel the story is very much written in a fairytale mode and that, therefore, realism is not really a goal here. It’s told in very broad strokes, and the characters are very archetypal so while I hope it has a resonance, I don’t think it has the level of detail and sense of actuality that’s I would feel was a prerequisite for realism.
Jodi: What is your next project?
Alexis: I have a queer steampunk called PROSPERITY, which is coming out at the end of October, followed by an anthology of stories set in that universe coming in January. Then I’ve got a run of contemps.
Alexis Hall was born in the early 1980s and still thinks the twenty-first century is the future. To this day, he feels cheated that he lived through a fin de siècle but inexplicably failed to drink a single glass of absinthe, dance with a single courtesan, or stay in a single garret. He can neither cook nor sing, but he can handle a seventeenth century smallsword, punts from the proper end, and knows how to hotwire a car. He lives in southeast England, with no cats and no children, and fully intends to keep it that way.
You can also find him all over the internet, on his website, Facebook, Twitter, BookLikes, and Goodreads.
About Sand and Ruin and Gold
Once upon a time there was a king of a fallen kingdom. He was just and he was beloved. Or so the numbers said. One day, he gathered together the greatest, wisest minds in all the land—not sorcerers, but scientists—and he bade them fashion him a son. A prince. A perfect prince to embody his father’s legacy.
The scientists each brought the prince a gift: beauty, strength, ambition, intellect, pride. But they must have forgotten because when he saw the mermaids dance at the Cirque de la Mer, he ran away to join them.
For a year, he trained them, performed with them, thought he was happy. For a year he thought he was free. But then Nerites came: A merman who refused to be tamed. A captive from another kingdom. A beast in a glass cage.
The old stories always end with happy ever after. But this isn’t one of the old stories. This is a story of princes and monsters.
You can read an excerpt and, y’know, cough, buy the book if you want at Riptide Publishing.