So. GoodReads. One is aware it’s a thing. One is even aware every self-respecting, promotion-minded writer is very nearly obliged to be an active member, engaging her audience directly and actively. One was, indeed, briefly a member oneself…but then one discovered it was more a social platform than a convenient method of keeping track of one’s library and one scurried away in terror. Conversations about books make one anxious.
In collaboration with an entity that calls itself Strobing Limelight and characterizes itself as “a sentient shade of the color green,” Gentle Publisher has recently set up a GoodReads group for Lethe Press authors and fans. I’m not actually sure what that means since, self-defeatingly, I decline to be involved. But I was contacted the other day by the dread color out of space (I happen to know that Gentle Publisher regards the color green with a distaste verging on Lovecraftian horror) and asked to submit to an interview about That Door Is a Mischief.
It may have been posted already, I’m not sure. Nor am I certain whether non-members of GoodReads are/will be able even to see it. So, with Strobing Limelight’s amused permission, I post it here.
Strobing Limelight interviews Alex Jeffers
Two of Alex Jeffers’s eight books (all but one available from Lethe Press) were finalists for Lambda Literary Awards in 2014. One of ’em won. His latest is a fantasy novel, That Door Is a Mischief, released by Lethe this month. After nearly thirty years in New England, he and his two cats moved to Oregon about six weeks ago, where they’re gingerly finding their feet in a whole new ecosystem.
Strobing Limelight: What can you tell readers about That Door Is a Mischief?
Alex Jeffers: It’s a novel about a fairy in our world of the present day and the future. A real (that is, unreal) fairy—dragonfly wings, antennae, magical powers—not an unkind euphemism for a gay man. Although he is gay (most of the time), and so are both his human dads, and so is the fellow he ends up marrying (some of the time). So it’s kind of an urban fantasy, although there’s only, I believe, one scene that takes place in a city; kind of a sci-fi novel; kind of a literary novel—in an unexpected way kind of a companion piece to my first novel, Safe as Houses.
SL: What inspired this particular story?
AJ: I wanted to write a short story. The situation that came to mind involved a high-school kid walking home from school who encounters a fairy…and then the reader discovers the kid’s a fairy too, raised by human dads in rural Massachusetts. Then that 6000-word story grew.
SL: Who is your favorite character?
AJ: Liam (the fairy)’s eventual husband, Harry, a pint-size otter porn star with a lot of baggage and tremendous wellsprings of affection. I didn’t expect that. Harry’s first mentioned as the bully who makes Liam’s first year in high school miserable. I knew Harry would show up again and prove not to be quite as unsympathetic as all that, but it was three years before I understood his backstory. Liam and I fell in love with him right around the same time. We’re in good company: Lethe author Jeff Mann, who gave the book a really nice blurb, told me he’s wildly in love with Harry too.
SL: How does That Door Is a Mischief compare with your previous work?
AJ: Comparisons are odious. It’s my first (published) novel-length work of relatively pure genre fiction and might surprise readers who hadn’t noticed the science fiction novella The New People (2011) or my collection of wonder stories (2012) and think I only write about gay guys in twentieth-century New England. To reassure them I’d say a bunch of my usual preoccupations feature: fathers and sons, falling in love, gay marriage, Turkey, alienation from contemporary American society. Plus magic. And fairyland.
SL: Speaking of magic and fantasy, is there a subgenre such as sword and sorcery, urban fantasy, or fairytale that appeals to you most?
AJ: Done right and well, sword & sorcery is pure escapist pleasure. I love reading it but I’m not much of an action-adventure writer so doing it myself isn’t something I try often. I frequently find fairy-tale retellings and mash-ups tiresome, not adding anything interesting to the source material. There are exceptions, obviously. I don’t think I’ve ever read an urban fantasy of the variety that’s so popular these days and has redefined the subgenre around itself. (I’m scared to.) But almost all my work of the last five years, including That Door, SOUNDS like urban fantasy in outline: magic or fantasy erupting into our contemporary world. I don’t quite know how that happened. Actually I’d prefer to write (and read) pure imaginary-world fantasy but that doesn’t seem to be what my unconscious wants me writing.
SL: Zombies or unicorns?
AJ: Unicorns. Always unicorns. I grew up in a stone house where a unicorn horn hung above the dining-room fireplace. Clearly I was destined to write fantasy. That said, I’ve never published a unicorn story and WAS bullied into writing two zombie stories a while ago.
SL: You mentioned your favorite character in the novel is a porn star. Your Lammy was for gay erotica. Is That Door Is a Mischief erotica?
AJ: Well, no. There’s a certain amount of explicit sex—some of it hetero. I like to think it’s hot enough but it isn’t there primarily to be hot. I want to make people uncomfortable, question their assumptions. Face it, visual porn is vitally important in gay male culture. Hell, in male culture. Written erotica and erotic romance addressed to women, lesbian, straight, and M/M, sells astonishing amounts. But we’re not supposed to talk about it—we’re supposed to be embarrassed. In his blurb Jeff Mann called the novel “perverse”…and then confessed privately he’d worried the term would offend me. Actually I treasured it. Because That Door is intentionally a perverse book.
SL: Can you tell us about the hardest scene you have ever written?
AJ: They’re ALL hard. WRITING is hard. If it isn’t it’s hardly worth doing. But in this specific book the hardest was probably section xi of the last chapter. It’s just one paragraph. Liam is in fairyland for the second time in his very long life. Unlike fairies, humans are mortal so Harry, Liam’s husband, is dead. Liam has created a memorial to Harry in fairyland but now that’s done and he has nothing left, nowhere to go, nobody to care about. It was emotionally shattering to write that little paragraph, experience Liam’s devastation—I still cry nearly every time I reread it.
SL: What writing advice do you have for aspiring authors?
AJ: This will sound awful and self-defensive: Don’t. Really, don’t. Just stop trying—find a less self-destructive hobby. …I say this knowing that, if you take my advice, you were never going to be a writer. You were enraptured by the glamor of the writing life. There is no glamor. It’s hard, hard work that pays less well than Mickey D’s. If, on the other hand, you try to follow my suggestion and fail, then keep at it. There is always hope.
SL: What can readers who enjoy your book do to help make it successful?
AJ: Pimp it! Pimp it unmercifully. Tell your friends and enemies and perfect strangers. Post reviews on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and GoodReads. Tweet about it, blog about it, mention it on Facebook, nominate it for awards! Or just reread it, think about it, remember it fondly, and know I’m grateful for every reader.
SL: What are you working on now?
AJ: Sadly, truthfully, I’m not. In my defense, I did just make a transcontinental move and am camping out with relatives while looking for a place of my own. (Oddly enough, I’ve landed in the town that inspired the one where Liam and Harry end up. This move wasn’t even a glimmer in my mind’s eye when I wrote the book.) It’s possible there will be another collection of wonder stories next year and I have a big novel complete in draft I need to do something about. New work, though…we’ll have to see.
Since I’m self-promoting already and since the portrait on the About page is some four years old, here’s a new photo of ME. Snapped at lunch at the King Estate Winery outside Eugene, Oregon, by my brother-in-law.
Man, I need a haircut and a beard trim. And new spectacles.