Alexandra Delancey’s novellas Always Her and Me and Her chronicle the love story between newly-out Elise and ultra-cool tomboy Jack. I caught up with Alexandra recently to talk with her about her characters, her craft, and the business of publishing in the age of e-books.
Your characters are well-drawn and idiosyncratic, especially some of the more minor ones like Tatiana, Christie, and Alyssa. How did your own experience of the lesbian scene inform these characters?
That’s really nice to hear. I didn’t base any of them on individual people that I know, but I wanted to reflect the experience of being in your early twenties and being gay, or thinking that you might be gay, and the insecurities and preconceptions that sometimes accompany it. I spent my twenties discovering the lesbian scenes of several countries, and they all have their own norms and cliques. They can be frustrating at times, but they’re a lot of fun too. What I’ve always loved about the scene is that it gives you an opportunity to meet a much broader cross section of people than you otherwise might, so I tried to make my characters diverse in order to reflect that.
Tell me more about how the characters of Jack and Elise evolved.
I like writing tomboyish characters. I fall more to the feminine side of the spectrum myself, so I think it gives me an opportunity to explore the more masculine side of me that usually remains hidden. Jack has some dubious ideas about the world, including her perennial fear that her feminine girlfriends are going to cheat on her with men, but, again, I wanted to reflect authentic insecurities. I wanted to make both characters good-hearted, as bitching, backstabbing and two-timing is so clichéd. Elise evolved from me thinking about what the idealised pretty, blonde straight girl would be like if she secretly wasn’t straight. Elise’s experience of making the decision to defy the expectations that her father had of her and prioritise her own happiness is something I enjoyed writing, as a few of my friends and my girlfriend have been through something similar.
In addition to your fiction, you write for a living commercially. How do you carve out the time for your more creative pursuits?
I used to write commercially, but I now write fiction full time, which I absolutely love! It used to be very difficult finding time to write creatively; when you’ve been writing in the office all day it’s not easy to come home and open your laptop. So it took a while to get to the point where I was able to publish and promote my books.
By its very nature your novel’s world is almost entirely focused on women. Do you consider yourself a feminist?
I definitely consider myself a feminist. It’s sad that the word still has negative connotations for young women (and men) today. To be a woman and to say that you don’t believe that women are of equal value and should have equal rights to men is absolutely mind-boggling to me. Feminist activists have done a lot of good work, but there’s still sexism going on everywhere you look. The Everyday Sexism Project is a great source of anecdotes for people who believe otherwise. I wish ‘feminist’ could stop being such a contentious word, and become part of everyone’s vocabulary.
Your book touches on the issue of sexual identity and the journey toward self-acceptance. At one point Jack contemplates many of the women she’s dated at school who identify as queer. She describes them as having “tattoos, stretched earlobes, red lipstick, and activist politics… and… eventually husbands.” By contrast, Elise has just come to terms with her attraction to Jack after years of dating men. Jack has a history of unwavering attraction toward women. What do these different kinds of experience have to say about lesbian identity? Is one more legitimate than the others?
I think what I was trying to say is that lesbian identity is multiplicitous, and is often affected and directed by external environments. Jack always had the freedom to discover who she was, so she has the most relaxed identity of all the characters of the book, while Elise’s father’s casual homophobia caused her to repress her feelings and hide behind a stereotypical, girly-girl façade. Christie, Jack’s hipster girlfriend, is portrayed as possibly having the least authentic sexuality – she apparently felt that she was gay since her teens, but for her the concept is so bound up with coolness and rebellion that Jack finds it impossible to trust her identity. In terms of legitimacy, I’ve observed that legitimacy is an issue that often plagues lesbians, leading them to police and denounce the sexuality of their peers. It’s something I find endlessly fascinating, as I haven’t seen it paralleled in male gay society.
Why did you choose to place this novel in an American college town rather than one in your native UK?
I love to travel, and I like to set my books in different countries. I tend not to set my books in the UK, as the sun rarely shines, which can make everything a little grey. I picked the US, as I wanted to look at the huge financial pressure faced by US students, and how it affects their experience of going to school. UK students have big pressures too, but it’s so much worse in the US.
What led you to choose Amazon as a publishing platform? What has your experience been like with the company? Do you have any words of wisdom for authors considering publishing through Amazon?
I really like the opportunities provided by Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited. It allows readers who’ve never heard of you to sample your work without any financial risk, and in turn helps new authors to build an audience. I’d advise doing plenty of research on marketing strategies before you hit publish, as the more prominent you are, the more Amazon promotes your books for you. It’s a virtuous circle.
What sorts of strategies did you use to find your audience and get the word out about your novel?
I promote myself in Facebook groups, do some paid advertising, and get interviewed by people like you! Thanks very much for this opportunity!
What would you want to tell any women considering coming out of the closet?
If your sexuality is strong enough for you to consider coming out, then it’s too strong to be hidden. Coming out may be scary, but it’s totally worth it, and you won’t have to spend your life thinking what if. If your parents love you, then they will accept your sexuality as part of you. They may have ingrained prejudices to overcome, but hopefully they’ll be able to understand that loving the person that they’ve created is the most important thing they can do. There’s a lot of help and advice on the internet, as well as some really cute, inspiring videos of parents coming to terms with their kids’ sexuality.
Do you have any new projects coming up?
I have a novel that’s with an agent at the moment, and I’m currently working on another short lesbian romance, which I’m planning to publish on Amazon soon.