In Concord, Massachusetts, I checked out Walden Pond and the houses of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Louisa May Alcott, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Then, for good measure, I went to the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery to visit their graves. I particularly loved Emerson’s grave. It’s just a boulder with a plaque on it, which is so perfectly Emerson. I also went to the other, bigger, more famous Sleepy Hollow cemetery in Tarrytown, New York. The Washington Irving one. Besides gravestones that have the names of characters from Sleepy Hollow, Irving is buried there, too.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
When I first started writing, I considered a pseudonym or using my initials since, as a female writer, I know I’m at a disadvantage right off the bat. It’s a pretty well proven fact that male writers have a bit of an edge in the literary world. However, I decided not to go that way because, for one thing, I think those days are fading into the past, and for another thing, hiding the fact that I’m a woman just did not sit right with me. I touch on aspects of feminism in all my books, and those ideas wouldn’t come across the same if people thought they were coming from a man.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
I should probably blather on about one of Dostoyevsky’s lesser-known books right now, but I’m going to go with the pirate books by Gideon Defoe. He has five. The Pirates! in an Adventure with Scientists is the first one. They’re perfectly, amazingly, beautifully funny. They’re like Monty Python but in book form and about pirates. The humor is just so right in ways you’d have to read it to understand, so you should probably go ahead and buy all five of them. Right now. You’re welcome.
The pirates all have names like the pirate with a scarf, the pirate with the Brooklyn accent, and the albino pirate. There are running gags about ham, and funny footnotes, and in each book the pirates have lovely, historically inaccurate adventures with the likes of Ahab and Charles Darwin and Lord Byron. They’re written in a casual style that reminds me of The Princess Bride in a way but is also uniquely its own; as a writer who values creativity, humor, pushing boundaries of the established rules of writing, and the use of one’s own true voice, I could gush about these books forever, but I’ll try to restrain myself and end it here. Done.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
It’s something that I’m mindful of. There’s a balance—a “literary sweet spot,” if you will— that you need fall into.
First, I feel you need to acknowledge that there are things that you absolutely do not and will not understand of the opposite sex. Just come to terms with that. Rest your head on a pillow at night and don’t let it haunt your dreams. Trying to solve everything that makes one “male” or makes one “female” (and even locking it to within those binaries) is something that writers have been exploring for decades, though very few—if any—have the lifespan to fully answer. So I say: don’t. Be aware of the differences, write responsibly, and pen your characters based on who they are and not what they are expected to be.
Since most of my writing focuses on social constructs and cultural habits, I usually define my characters, male or female, by what their adversity looks like and how they are able to cope. I write on the train and I see it all the time. Trust me: the NYC transit system teaches you a great deal about gender norms and sexuality.
You can easily sidestep tropes of writing the opposite sex by keeping in mind how a character would react in stressful situations. A male or female character saying nothing and doing nothing are primarily the same. There’s no pressure to be who they are, no approaching threat to challenge them. But a woman going to buy milk at a supermarket experiences the event completely different from a man. Even if it’s the same time of day, same supermarket, same carton of milk—the nuances and micro aggressions bombarding them as they push through this dimension attempting to satisfy their dairy quotient are worlds apart. For instance, of the six or seven characters I’ve developed in And Then There Were Crows, each one would react differently to, say, almost getting hit by a bike messenger when crossing a street or finding a finger in their hotdog. Then, factor in not just gender, but also age, race, values, experiences…and it gets even more complicated. My motto is that if you know the string of decisions that have led a character to this given point in time, and you truly understand their stressors, then you can build credible experiences and—even in worlds of the fantasy or absurd, believable characters. Treat every character on their own merit. What song would she listen to? What would be her social media post for today? Once you have this in mind, always know that it’s not enough to write a female character different from a male character. You also need to make sure that you’re writing her different from all of your other female characters. You have to be mindful of each character’s story.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
Wait, people don’t believe in writer’s block? I do, absolutely. Stephen King had a really great philosophy about writing while creating the Dark Tower series in that writers look through “doors” into other dimensions. Sometimes the door is wide open and we can see/hear/smell/sense everything in that world and connect with it. Sometimes it’s barely open. Sometimes it’s shut. I’ve always thought that writer’s block is the act of a writer banging their knuckles bloody on a door that might open tomorrow, fifteen years from now, or never.
I feel like it’s possible to search for another door until the one you want reopens. Last year, I published over twenty pieces [of writing] both online and in print. I wrote four to six hours per day. I hopped genres and styles: poetry, non-fic, fiction, horror, satire, politics. I wrote without breaks for nine months and never stopped chasing a new narrative. This is what we in writing, both in culturally creative circles as well as in the foundations of academia, unaimously dub “maniac.”
Writer’s block most definitely exists, but if you know yourself and put your energy into your strengths, it doesn’t have to put out the fire in your gut.
Preorder Alcy's upcoming book here.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
The Shades of Hell Series, Book One:
About the Author
Alcy Leyva is a Bronx-born writer, teacher, and pizza enthusiast. He graduated with a B.A. in English and an MFA in Fiction from The New School. His personal essays, poetry, short fiction, book reviews, and film analysis have been published in Popmatters, The Rumpus, Entropy Mag, and Quiet Lunch Magazine. Follow Alcy on Twitter, and Instagram.
ISBN (print): 978-09997423-2-7
ISBN (ebook): 978-0-9997423-3-4
Pre-order And Then There Were Crows today from Black Spot Books or on Amazon.
ADVANCE REVIEW COPIES OF AND THEN THERE WERE CROWS AVAILABLE ON REQUEST AND ALSO ON NETGALLEY.
The Terribly Serious Darkness, Book One:
Peril in the Old Country
Will the events put in motion by a ghastly financial report end in Sloot's grisly death? Almost definitely. Is that the worst thing that could happen? Almost definitely not.
No one in the Old Country follows the rules half as well as Sloot, who has never so much as given alms to a beggar without getting a certified receipt. He has his entire life worked out to the very end and is looking forward to making as faint a mark on the world as possible. Everything is going according to plan. Of course, "everything going according to plan" is perhaps the single most precarious state of affairs available. Nowhere to go from there but down. There you are, safe as houses, and then boom. Things don't just end in disaster, they take up with other disasters, get matching leather jackets, and start harassing old ladies walking home from the market.
In Sam Hooker’s sophomore humorous dark fantasy novel, Peril in the Old Country [Black Spot Books, June 5 2018], Sloot’s utter ruination takes root when he is asked to correct the worst financial report ever written. While his corrections avert a global economic crisis, had he known what he was setting in motion, he might have instead bought economic crisis a drink to see if there was anything there.
Things turn from bad to worse when Sloot finds out that he might not be the true and loyal citizen of the Old Country he’d always thought he was. His newest acquaintance will draw him into a web of intrigue, and everyone knows that accountants don’t do intrigue. It never fits into the ledgers properly. Sloot will have to set aside his affinity for the rules and go up against underworld kingpins, secret societies, the undead, bloodthirsty cannibals from Carpathia, and even the ruthless Vlad the Invader! If that weren't enough, the steely gaze of Mrs. Knife follows him wherever he goes. Does she really want to murder him, or does she just have one of those faces?
At least Sloot's misadventures bring Myrtle into his life. She has the sort of smile that makes him want to stand up straighter and invest in some cologne. He's not even bothered by the fact that she's possessed by the laziest philosopher ever to have died.
When it turns out that all of his loyalties oppose each other, Sloot will have to match wits with everyone from Vikings to ogres with advanced legal degrees to sort out the madness. He’ll navigate the impossible queues of Central Bureaucracy, strike deals with the most devious denizens of the black market, and evade the massive warhammers of savage librarians, all in the name of balancing the ledgers at the end of the day.
Peril in the Old Country is a farcical tale of a dystopian fantasy, where its hero will have to traverse dungeons, brush up on his Carpathian invasion theory, and fathom why anyone would ever need a box filled with tentacles of doom if he’s to survive, which he probably won’t.
“The tricky part [of humorous dark fantasy] is finding spots where unspeakable evil is ticklish,” says Hooker. “In Peril in the Old Country, I invite readers to traipse through the darkness with me via Sloot Peril. He is the safe route personified—the answer to having asked ‘why risk it?’ dozens, maybe hundreds of times in a single life, and never coming up with a satisfactory answer. None of us are Sloot because all of us have thought ‘oh, what the heck’ at least once in our lives.”
“It’s those moments of courage, the little risks we take that prepare us all for real bravery, should we ever hear the call. When unspeakable evil steps out of the shadows and the only person to hear the call is Sloot, you get Peril in the Old Country.”
About the Author
Sam Hooker writes darkly humorous fantasy novels about things like tyrannical despots and the masked scoundrels who tickle them without mercy. He knows all the best swear words, though he refuses to repeat them because he doesn't want to attract goblins. He lives in California with his wife and son, who renew their tolerance for his absurdity on a per-novel basis. Sam’s previous work includes the self-published novel The Winter Riddle (2016). Learn more about Sam at shooker.co, and follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
ISBN (print): 978-0-9997423-0-3
ISBN (ebook): 978-0-9997423-1-0
Pre-order Peril in the Old Country today from Black Spot Books or on Amazon.
ADVANCE REVIEW COPIES OF PERIL IN THE OLD COUNTRY AVAILABLE ON REQUEST