Today I am so pleased to welcome Alexis Hall to Joyfully Jay. Alexis has come to talk to us about his latest release, Prosperity. He has also brought along a great giveaway. Please join me in giving Alexis a big welcome!
Sympathy for the Devil
One of the most liberating things I’ve learned about writing these past couple of years, when it rather suddenly became a thing I was doing, is this notion of a core story. Basically, the themes, the ideas, the characters and concepts, writers and readers return to over and over again.
I like this idea: I’m not repetitive, I have a core story.
Something I come back to a lot, in much of what I read, and pretty much everything I’ve written is the unsympathetic protagonist. I think I’ve probably come on a lot since Glitterland but, looking back, I am quite pleased with the way Ash is essentially – to use a pair of loaded terms – both the hero and villain of his own story.
But, then, aren’t we all?
While humans are capable of doing unimaginably evil things, there are few people in the real world who can be unambiguously termed villains. Everyone I’ve encountered in my own life, even those who’ve treated me badly, have been depressingly human all told, motivated by the same fears and uncertainties that drive us all. It’s hard to really hate someone when look at them and realise they’re no better or worse than you. I think this is what part of draws me to unsympathetic characters: while fiction can gives us models to aspire to, it can also show us reflections of our most flawed selves, and I find this strangely comforting. Of course, it’s nice when nice things happen to nice people, but watching the selfish and bewildered and hurt and angry limp towards their own brand of happiness is a story I’ll never get tired of reading or telling.
One the many reasons I enjoy writing genre fiction is that you can tell this sort of story in really big writing. I think the central theme of nearly all romances is that whoever you are you’re worthy of love, but one of the pleasures of writing genre is that you can take this idea and stretch it to breaking point.
And that’s how you get characters like Milord.
I basically wanted to write a character who is utterly irredeemable and undeserving, who does not even understand love, but nevertheless finds someone who is willing to love him. Milord’s first significant action in Prosperity is to shoot the protagonist, and he never changes or repents. You learn more about him and where he comes from, but I very much wanted to avoid at any point explaining him or suggesting a causal relationships between his past experiences and his more recent crimes. I think, like Ash, it’s not always possible to sympathise with him but I hope, I very much hope, that you can at least understand him.
And – wanky as it may seem – of the characters I’ve written, Milord is the one I feel closest to. I should probably clarify at this juncture that I’ve never murdered anyone, nor do I run a criminal empire in the north of England, but I’m kind of nowhere person like he is, and for a very long time love wasn’t really on my radar. I think there are some people who seem to find love effortless, they give it and receive it, and never seem to fear hurt or loss.
I’m not like that.
Love leaves me humbled and bewildered and grateful and terrified. It’s not a particularly gracious or graceful thing. It’s undignified and needy, and sometimes I’m selfish, and sometimes I’m cruel, and sometimes I’m, honestly, not very good at it.
But that’s why I write characters like Milord: to remind that love isn’t something you have to deserve.
A breathtaking tale of passion and adventure in the untamed skies!
Prosperity, 1863: a lawless skytown where varlets, chancers, and ne’er-do-wells risk everything to chase a fortune in the clouds, and where a Gaslight guttersnipe named Piccadilly is about to cheat the wrong man. This mistake will endanger his life . . . and his heart.
Thrill! As our hero battles dreadful kraken above Prosperity. Gasp! As the miracles of clockwork engineering allow a dead man to wreak his vengeance upon the living. Marvel! At the aerial escapades of the aethership, Shadowless.
Beware! The licentious and unchristian example set by the opium-addled navigatress, Miss Grey. Disapprove Strongly! Of the utter moral iniquity of the dastardly crime prince, Milord. Swoon! At the dashing skycaptain, Byron Kae. Swoon Again! At the tormented clergyman, Ruben Crowe.
This volume (available in print, and for the first time on mechanical book-reading devices) contains the complete original text of Piccadilly’s memoirs as first serialised in All the Year Round. Some passages may prove unsettling to unmarried gentlemen of a sensitive disposition.
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.
Alexis has brought a print copy of Prosperity to give away to one lucky reader. Just follow the Rafflecopter link below to enter.
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Milord was my favorite character in book and that’s quite a claim, since entire crew of Shadowless is this group of interesting and unique characters.
And yes, he became my favorite because of that scene where we see him in his most vulnerable – he was immensely fun to read as his unapologetic villainous self, but that scene added another layer of complexity.
Milord in control is great, but Milord stripped and unraveled is beautiful.
Great post, it’s nice knowing how he came to life. 🙂
One of the reasons I quite enjoy ensemble casts is that my favourite tends to be whoever I’m writing at the time, but I will confess to a certain fondness for Milord. Although when I was writing Cloudy, Byron Kae won me over a bit 🙂
I guess I think characters like Milord (and Ash too) are kind of … weird high-wire acts, trying to get that balance of humanity and individuality, vulnerability and selfishness right so you don’t topple into a graceless mess of implausible and unforgivable … but then that’s such a subjective judgement.
Milord works for me, and I’m glad he works for other people 🙂
Oh, this makes my heart ache. I’m not going to write all over the place for a change. That’s just so beautiful & so true. That very last thing you said “love isn’t something you have to deserve”. That is the core story at the heart of *everything* & one you have a special gift for writing so we can *feel* it, hurt & joy & everything between. I’ll never get tired of listening to all the different, beautiful ways you tell it. Because it’s *your* core story too, and mine, and so many people’s, and we can never be reminded too much.
Hehehe, let’s have this conversation again three-four books down the line 😉
But, yes, it’s a very important theme to me – it’s something that’s been meaningful in my life, and a story I want to tell. Though hopefully it intersects with a lot other things – class and freedom and loss and queerness – so that the things I keep coming back, the things I keep wanting to talk about, get told in different way 🙂
Oh – you 😛 How did I know you were going to say that ? Well, OK, perhaps I’m premature, but I will make you a bet I won’t be changing my mind down the line 😉 And of course it *does* intersect with all those other things & so far, there’s no question of your telling any story the same way twice 😀 I think if it ever came down to that it probably wouldn’t even be a story you’d be interested in writing anyway. I don’t see you getting boring anytime soon 😉
I liked Milord and have a lot of respect for his commitment to his own principles, but I’m fascinated by Ash. Maybe it’s because the whole story comes from inside his head, but to make me root for someone who’s so unlikeable is a pretty good trick.
I look forward to reading other variations on your theme as you create them.
I think Milord and Ash embody similar themes, but Milord is kind of … turned up to eleven because you can do that sort of thing in genre fiction. Milord is literally a murder, but Ash is just … messed up and cruel and selfish and lost. So, yeah, probably fair to say Ash is quite a bit more nuanced 😛 But I guess for me, there’s a sort of catharsis in writing somebody as OTT as Milord … but villainy is always a little bit glamorous anyway. With Ash, as you say, the trick was to make some humanly and undramatically unlikeable (in some ways). And, thank you, I look forward to writing.
Milord is a delicious villain and often there’s no logic in why and whom we love. Prosperity was a wonderful reading experience and it left me with a bad case of book hangover. A Georgette Heyer Audiobook helped me recover, pfft. I’m very happy there will be more of the Prosperity universe next year 🙂
Definitely. I mean you can sit down and list reasons why you like person x but why you *love* them is such a grander and more abstract thing. At least for me. And I feel that’s kind of the right way round: love doesn’t necessarily need reasons to be valid.
Thank you for the kind words about Prosperity.
And a Georgette Heyer audiobook sounds absolutely perfect. I remember hearing a dramatised Heyer on the radio once – I wish I’d found a way to save / record it, because it was wildly charming
I LOVED Milord so hard! Great post–love the ideas you’ve given us here about core stories. <3
He was honestly a pleasure to write. Cathartic in some ways, as well as entertaining. I’m glad people like the character. Possibly I’m a wuss but I felt like I was taking him close to lines I didn’t want to cross sometimes.
It’s a very thought-provoking concept…after all, who are we to say who is worthy of love?
Thank you – it’s a pretty important theme for me, one which I am honestly probably over-exploring 🙂
I think I’m a bit like you in that prospect. Showing emotions like that is hard for me and I believe it’s especially hard when it involves love.
Yes, that’s me all over me 🙂 I feel people who are rubbish at love (though I’m sure you aren’t) need romances 🙂
Thank you – as ever – for hosting me, JJ 🙂
Always a pleasure Alexis!
Went to enter but the giveaway was over 🙁
Great guest post, can’t wait to read Prosperity!