Author Interview: Alexis Hall on writing, reading and everything in between00:00
I'm starting a series of author interviews. This probably won't be a regular feature but you can look for interviews with some of my favourite authors from time to time. And I'm very happy to present you my first guest, who is an amazing author and a favourite of mine, Mr. Alexis Hall.
Interview with Alexis Hall on writing, reading and everything in between
ER: Hi and welcome, Alexis! I'm really happy to have you on my blog today. I have pepared some questions about your writing, your reading taste and a few more things. So, let's start this.
Your latest release was the short story TruNorth in the How We Began anthology in the end of last year. And you have just released Glitterland in audio, if I’m not mistaken. So, what is next for you and when we can expect it?
AH: My next release will probably be Nettlefield, which is a Victorian historical with strong romantic elements that I’ve signed with Brain Mill Press. I think that’s due out in the summer. Then there’s, Looking For Group, an extremely nerdy contemporary about two university students who meet in an MMORPG. I think that’s scheduled for late summer / early autumn. People who hang around with me on the internet will know that I had a gothic called Arcadia slated for released with Samhain but, um, following the recent news that’s all a bit up in the air now. There’s also something else I’m working on that I can’t talk about at the moment. I know that’s annoyingly mysterious but, well, I actually can’t. Although I suppose I could have not mentioned it at all…
ER: Summer seems so far away now but I’m happy that there will be so many new things by you coming our way at some point. And, a secret project, how exciting. I can’t wait for you to share more about it when you can :)
I have a couple of questions about your writing process, because I am nosy and because while I have always been fascinated by fiction I have never been able to write of it myself, so I am curious how it happens for writers. Many romance authors I follow on social media talk about daily goal of words to write, use NaNoWriMo, etc. What is your writing process?
AH: Embarrassingly, I don’t really have one. I think the limiting factor on my, err, process is managing my time. I have a dayjob and a life to live, and obviously there’s lot of things about Being A Writer ™ that don’t actually involve writing anything. I used to have a policy of writing at least five hundred words a day come hell or high water, but I was slightly overwhelmed for a while and fell out of the habit. I’m currently trying to get back into doing that because it actually works for me quite well.
I know it sounds kind of unromantic but I think it’s quite important to see writing as a thing you choose to do, rather than as some kind of spirt of inspiration that comes upon you from the outside. And five hundred words is a manageable minimum.
ER: Now going deeper into your writing process - are you a plotter or a pantser?
AH: At the risk of being one of those interviewees, I think this is sort of a false dichotomy. I honestly don’t believe that anyone goes into a book completely cold (that is, having no idea what’s going to happen in it or what the emotional arcs will be or who it’s going to be about). Nor do I believe that anyone goes into a book with every single nuance and story beat planned out in advance. And, actually, I think the other thing is that I’m not even certain that “plotting” and “pantsing” are opposites. You can make a reasonable case that pantsing properly requires you to do quite a lot of prep work: if you understand the characters and the themes (and, if you’re doing something genre-y and secondary worldy, the setting) well enough, then you can go in without much an idea of what’s going to happen and trust the details to sort themselves out.
I suppose the one thing is really important to plan in advance is, for what of a less flippant way to put it, “what is the point of this book?” So, for example, with For Real the “point” (from my perspective and it’s important to recognise that readers can take very different things away from books than I intended them to, and that’s okay) was to write a kink story in which the kink wasn’t itself a source of conflict and which challenged stereotypes about the relationship between sexual dominance and submissiveness and masculinity and social prestige. And that led to the characters and the characters themselves led to the conflict.
ER: What is most difficult and easiest for you when it comes to writing?
AH: Oh, I hate writing endings, and I’m quite variable on titles.
I think the thing about endings is that you’ve been writing this book for so long, and it’s been so much a part of your life, that you sort of have to let to go of it, and that’s really hard, so I tend to either rush it or drag it on interminably. And, sometimes, I spectacularly manage to do both by taking forever to write it and yet have it come out rushed anyway. I always wind up having to re-write the ending or, in extreme cases, re-write everything else to make the ending fit.
Titles are tricky beasts because they’re either right there like Glitterland or Prosperity or they’re just not, and there’s this painful vacuum that you have no idea how to fill. You get this paranoid sense that the perfect title is just waiting somewhere out there in the aether but, of course, it isn’t and what you should really do is just pick something that isn’t particularly terrible. Because, as David Mitchell (the British comedian, not the novelist) points out, ultimately, a title is just a phrase that very quickly becomes associated with the thing it’s the title of. Like, if you think about it, Star Wars is a pretty crappy title. But when you hear it, you don’t think about a war or some stars, you think about Jedi and lightsabers.
ER: Moving on to your favourites to write/read. You have published books in several romance subgenres – contemporary, steampunk, BDSM/kink – which is your favourite subgenre to write?
AH: I honestly don’t really have one. I’m a horrible dilettante that way. And I really like being able to jump around write what I like. It’s sort of the privilege that comes from having an okay dayjob that I quite enjoy and can fit comfortably around writing. If I had to rely on my books to pay the bills, I’d need to pay a lot more attention to what’s popular and on trend, but since I don’t I can generally go with what I feel like.
5.1. Which subgenre (het and queer) is your favourite to read?
AH: Again, kind of dilettante. Because my own personal reading background is SFF, I think I do enjoy genre more than straight contemp. It’s weird because, in many ways, contemp is more difficult to write because you can’t fall back on vampire and spaceships, but I do rather like vampires and spaceships. In het, I read a lot of historicals.
ER: What is the wildest/most outrageously different story you want to write? (Please, think of doing so in a perfect world where you don’t have to worry who will publish it and whether people will want to read it)
AH: I’ve got to be honest, quite a lot of the wild outrageously different stories I want to write I have, in fact, written – and been lucky enough to someone to publish for me. I mean, cyberpunk fairytale about SeaWorld is not exactly mainstream. And neither really steampunk set in a skytown above the north of England.
I mean there are a whole bunch of whacky ideas. I tried to pitch a fantasy Elizabethanpunk spy thriller loosely based on Christopher Marlowe. And I have a weird idea for a Le Carre-esque, um, spy thriller (um, I swear not all of my ideas are spy thrillers) with angels and demons. I have a completely nuts cyberpunk shifters concept that involves trans-dimensional internet spirits and a secret military base on Exmoor. Oh, and I pitched a contemp once that was written entirely in the voice of someone with ADHD but it was deemed unreasonable.
6.1. Same question but about a story you want to read.
AH: Oh gosh, I’m happy to read anything really. Part of the thing I enjoy about reading or, really, consuming a text in any medium is that it’s somebody else’s ideas, and they’re ideas I wouldn’t necessarily have had myself. In a sense, the story I most want to read is the story I wouldn’t have thought to tell.
ER: Co-writing books seems very popular and successful lately. Megan Erickson and Santino Hassell’s Strong Signal comes to mind as an example. Is co-writing with someone something you are interested in doing?
AH: Theoretically yes, but I’m completely terrified of it. I have a horrible suspicion I’d be a nightmare to work with.
ER: What is the best and the worst thing about being a writer?
AH: The best thing about writing is, well, writing. I really enjoy it which is … why I do it. Obviously I have some wonderful readers and that’s amazing and powerful, but I do sort of strongly feel that if the actual putting words on the page bit wasn’t your primary motivation you’d probably be better off doing a different job.
I don’t want this to sound negative but the worst thing about being a writer is the sort of business-ey/logistics-ey side of publishing, basically because it’s a completely different skillset. There’s this whole extra process that starts after the fun bit is over where you have to decide what goes on the back cover and when things should be released and how they should be released and who you should be soliciting reviews from. There’s this really jarring emotional and viewpoint shift you have to go through where you start of seeing the book as a creative project you are working on by yourself and end up seeing it as a product you are selling with the help of a large team of people. And that always gives me a bit of whiplash. Thankfully, I have an amazing agent who handles a lot of this for me now, and essentially helps me stay in the nice comfortable writing bit where I feel safe.
ER: Besides a reader and a writer you are also an editor for The Hellum & Neal series of LGBT+ fiction at Brain Mills Press. Can you share more about this new role of yours? Any books under your editing coming our way soon if it’s not another top secret project?
AH: Basically I’m one of a team of developmental editors who work for Brain Mill Press. Essentially I solicit manuscripts and, well, edit them. I find it really exciting and rewarding because … well, you know that thing I said about reading, where what I most value is discovering stories I wouldn’t have thought to tell. I get to do that, and help those stories grow and develop, and then share them with a wider audience. What’s not to love?
There’s quite a few really exciting things in production at the moment but since they haven’t been officially announced yet I can’t talk about them. Ahh! But we’ve got EE Ottoman’s DOCUMENTING LIGHT coming in May: http://www.brainmillpress.com/books/documenting-light/, which was such a pleasure to acquire and help develop. I love this story very much: it’s really romantic, but it’s about history and identity queerness, and the way the absence of history can affect your present and your future. It’s also contemporary which I hope will really intrigue EE’s fans, since they’re probably used to them working primarily in invented worlds.
ER: This sounds really intriguing and I'm excited to read it when it comes out.
Here is my final question for you, what advice would you to aspiring authors?
Oh, I’m really bad at this question. And I hope this doesn’t sound dismissive or negative, but the first piece of advice I’d give an aspiring author is step back and think about whether you really are an aspiring author. Or whether you just think an author is the sort of thing you ought to want to be. I recognise that that’s a high impact opening, so let me unpack it a bit. Whenever I watch a stand-up comedian, I have a brief flash in which I think to myself “hey, I’d really like to be a stand-up comedian” and then I think to myself “no, wait, what I’d like to do is to do the things I watch stand-up comedians doing for about the amount of time that I watch them doing them”. But actually being a stand-up comedian involves stuff like driving for five hours to play a gig in the middle of nowhere, then driving home. It involves eating from service stations all over the country and having surprisingly little time to see your partner.
Basically, I think what I’m saying is that I feel a lot of people who want to be authors really sort of want to feel the sense of validation they imagine comes from being an author. They often don’t have a strong desire to negotiate contracts, maintain an author profile, continuously edit and re-edit, miss social engagements because they have a deadline or, alternatively, quit their job for another one that pays much, much less and is much, much less reliable. Or, in extreme cases, actually sit down to put words on paper.
And I should absolutely stress that I’m not saying that being is author is terrible or that it’s such a unique and special job that only a unique and special person can do it. In fact, I’m saying the opposite it. That being an author is just a job and that it’s okay not to be one. Even if you are intelligent and creative and overflowing with ideas you might still find that the specific career of being a bespoke long-form narrative salesman doesn’t actually fit with what you want out of life.
Sorry, I appreciate I’ve now said more about this than pretty much any other question on the list but writers get asked it all the time, and it’s always treated in this very formulaic way. It’s always “keep going, don’t get discouraged, put yourself out there” and I sort of wanted to challenge that. I meet so many people, many of them really good friends, who go through sense with this nebulous feeling of failure because they’ve never had one of the three or four jobs that we’re socially conditioned to believe we should aspire to. You’re basically meant to either be an author, a performing artist or something charmingly self-sacrificing like a teacher in an inner city school or a volunteer for Medicine Sans Frontier. And, obviously, I’m speaking from a position of privilege here because I happen to be an author (albeit a very, very small one) so it’s probably very easy for me to say “this isn’t as important as people think it is” but I am genuinely troubled that I know so many people who are, on some level, made to feel bad because they’ve never achieved something that, in reality, they may not want to particularly want to achieve.
All of which said, if you really do want to be a writer then, well, the standard advice is basically right: keep going, don’t get discouraged, put yourself out there.
And read every contract really thoroughly.
ER: Thank you very much for this interview!
Alexis Hall's latest release is For Real, a BDSM May-December romance full of feels and err, hot sex. You can see more of my gushing over this book in my review.
Author Bio and Links
Alexis Hall was born in the early 1980s and still thinks the 21st 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 did the Oxbridge thing sometime in the 2000s and failed to learn anything of substance. He has had many jobs, including ice cream maker, fortune teller, lab technician, and professional gambler. He was fired from most of them.
He can neither cook nor sing, but he can handle a 17th 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.
Alexis Hall's latest release is For Real, a BDSM May-December romance full of feels and err, hot sex. You can see more of my gushing over this book in my review.
Laurence Dalziel is worn down and washed up, and for him, the BDSM scene is all played out. Six years on from his last relationship, he’s pushing forty and tired of going through the motions of submission.
Then he meets Toby Finch. Nineteen years old. Fearless, fierce, and vulnerable. Everything Laurie can’t remember being.
Toby doesn’t know who he wants to be or what he wants to do. But he knows, with all the certainty of youth, that he wants Laurie. He wants him on his knees. He wants to make him hurt, he wants to make him beg, he wants to make him fall in love.
The problem is, while Laurie will surrender his body, he won’t surrender his heart. Because Toby is too young, too intense, too easy to hurt. And what they have—no matter how right it feels—can’t last. It can’t mean anything.
It can’t be real.
Note: I'm using Amazon Kindle Instant Preview (an affiliate link) where if you click on the cover it will take you to the Amazon site where you can read a sample of the book.