We are absolutely delighted to welcome Alexa Land to Sinfully today! This week, sees the release of Belonging, the eighth book in The Firsts & Forever Series, and our Alan is a huge fan. So you can imagine his excitement when he got the chance to sit down for a chat with with the lady herself… Check out what she has to say, have a nosy at his review and Alexa is also very generously gifting one lucky reader a $50 Amazon gift card… don’t miss it!
Alan Interviews Alexa Land
1. Your characters are so rich, unique and downright eccentric, it’s fairly obvious that they are not people you know in real life (they just couldn’t be real!), but do you use friends and family members as models to draw upon for your vivid characterizations?
I’ve never modeled a main character after anyone I know, though I will on rare occasion drop one of my friends into a story in a little cameo role, just because that’s ridiculously fun! For example, Marie the dog trainer in the new book is a dear friend, who started out as one of my readers. People often ask me where my characters come from, and the answer is simply: I make ‘em up! I have enough quirks and eccentricities to populate a small nation, so I just run with it!
2. So many of your characters are involved in the arts, in a variety of forms. The latest is Chance, whom you’ve cast as a fledgling photographer with a brilliant natural eye. As a sometimes professional photographer, myself, I can vouch that you have nailed it. Especially the bit about the jealous junior-college professor who demeans his work because it is so obviously better than his own. How and why did you get so involved in the arts in order to weave them, so successfully into your plots? Again, friends and family, or your own experience?
That’s all me. My first love was art. I was that kid who was drawing constantly, even in class when I should have been paying attention! I wanted to be a cartoonist, but didn’t think I was good enough, so I chose more “serious” majors in college and grad school. Finally, around the time I turned thirty, I found the confidence to pursue my passion. I was living in San Francisco at the time, and began studying animation. I was lucky to find work right away and got to do what I loved for several years. When I moved to Santa Cruz, it became a lot harder to land animation gigs, so I began studying graphic design and started my own design firm.
I kept doing that until I made the choice to become a parent, and when my son was older, I made yet another career change and became a full-time writer. I still love the visual arts, even though I no longer work in the field. Given my background, I guess my characters are a form of wish-fulfillment, in a way. They’re doing what I didn’t do back in my twenties by pursuing their art despite many insecurities. I don’t regret the extremely winding road I took instead, which ultimately led me to the best job I could imagine. But it’s still fun to live out the what-ifs with my characters.
3. Ms. Land, you’re one of the most inventive authors of gay fiction out there. Each book in the “Firsts and Forever” series is totally unique, yet bound together by the characters who appeared in the preceding books. Also, you introduce the characters in the next books, in the current one. I understand that it’s a great idea to give your readers something to pique their interest so they’ll anticipate the next book, but what you’ve done is a rather complex and ambitious architecture for an entire series. Was this planned from day one, or did this evolve over time?
Thank you for the compliment! I have to let you in on a little secret: I never plan anything. I don’t even know how a book will end up when I begin writing it! Part of the great joy of writing to me is coming up with a character and just allowing him to find his own path. When he makes a choice, it sets a chain of events in motion. I sit back and watch gleefully as the story unfolds, and quite often my characters surprise me. For example, in the new book, Zan delivers a big speech to Gianni when they’re fireside at a cabin, and as I was writing that scene, I was practically yelling at him, “No! It’s too soon! Shut up already!” But I was letting the character lead, and that’s where he went. Afterwards, I realized it was completely right. Sometimes the best stuff is that which we just blurt out, unplanned and unrehearsed. That speech ended up being my favorite moment in the book!
As for the way the series has evolved, that too has happened pretty organically. I wrote Way Off Plan with the vague idea of spinning off a minor character, but I had no idea it would snowball like this! I’m thrilled though, because I (and a lot of readers) love touching base with past characters. I like the fact that that history isn’t a mandatory component, though. The vast majority of my readers have jumped in randomly somewhere in the middle of the series as opposed to starting from the beginning, and the books stand alone as well. The backstory is there for those who want it, though.
4. I’ve got to know where Nana Dombruso came from. She is so over-the-top, hysterically funny, yet powerful, human and humane. She has enough energy and heart to encompass the entire San Francisco gay community. What demented part of your psyche gave birth to this wondrous character?
Nana is that little, rebellious part of all of us that’s just dying to get out! She’s my internal monologue, and every crazy idea I have that I stop myself from acting on. She’s not just the voice inside my head, she’s the one in everyone else’s, too. We’d all love to walk up to a bigot, get in his face and literally pull his hate-filled slogan t-shirt right off him, but we don’t because we fear the repercussions. Well, Nana’s past the point of fearing much of anything. Part of it is the cockiness of, “I’m a little old lady, what’re they gonna do to me?” In her mind, that’s given her a free pass to say and do whatever she wants.
Her humanity is what makes her endearing to so many people, though. She’s both the craziest and the best part of ourselves, the part that loves unconditionally and really, truly cares about others. I love the scene in Belonging where Nana and Gianni are baking in the middle of the night and she’s giving him advice, because we finally get to see the quieter side of her. That scene was a long time coming.
5. What differentiates your novels from so many others is that incredible balance you always maintain between humor, pathos and love-conquers-all. Each and every book leaves me smiling, laughing out loud and crying, all at the same time. I must admit that “Cockhenge”, and the dough stretcher with a world-famous rock star’s hair caught in it like the wringer on an old-fashioned washing machine, had me in stitches. How do you weigh this balance and how do you achieve it? I mean, in a previous book, you somehow combined a lead character dying of a brain tumor with an inadvertent wedding cake that bears an uncanny resemblance to a penis. That’s outrageous, but it all held together, just fine. It sometimes seems like magic to me. How do you do that magic? In my wildest dreams, none of that should ever work together, but it does, over and over again. There must be some special alchemy involved?
I have to tell you, I was nervous as hell when I was putting Against the Wall together. The scene with the phallic cake had to be there, it was just too priceless to leave out! But part of me was concerned, because the emotional pendulum swung to such extremes throughout that book. Here’s why I decided to go with it though, and why it works: because life is exactly like that! Things are never one hundred percent bleak and there are always reasons to smile if we allow ourselves to look for them. And really, when life is at its darkest, that’s when humor is most important. It gives us hope. Yes, my books are a crazy juggling act, but so is life. It’s emotional and messy and sometimes it’s flat-out hilarious. My books take that idea and amplify it. My readers tell me all the time: “One minute I was laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe, the next I was crying my eyes out!” And I have to say, I love that! Have a laugh, shed a tear, and when you get to the end of one of my books, see if you don’t feel a little lighter for having taken the journey.
Many thanks for taking the time to interview me!
Belonging by Alexa Land
Series ~ The Firsts & Forever Series
Published ~ 15th April 2015
Genre ~ Contemporary M/M Romance
Can two damaged men build a future together from the shattered pieces of their lives?
Gianni Dombruso’s life was altered forever at the age of four, when his parents were murdered and he and his brothers went to live with their grandmother, the irrepressible Nana Dombruso. Now almost thirty, Gianni has spent his life bouncing from relationship to relationship, seeking but never finding the security and stability he so desperately craves.
Alexzander Tillane was one of the biggest pop stars in the world when he walked away from it all in the middle of a concert in 2002. Almost destroyed by the pressure of fame, Zan retreated to a life of quiet solitude in an effort to heal. But the cure backfired, leaving him with more issues than answers.
Zan knows he can’t give Gianni the stability he’s looking for, not with all his problems. He can’t even imagine why the beautiful younger man would want to get involved with someone so damaged, but the heat between them can’t be ignored. Giving in to it could be a huge mistake. Or maybe both men might end up right where they belong.
There you go, another Alexa Land novel, the newest installment of her “Firsts and Forever” series. In fact, it’s not just the eighth book in the series, it’s eight in a row for Ms. Land – eight remarkable books, each of which is nothing less than amazing. That’s quite unusual. Often, writers experience a sophomore slump. And certainly, after seven wildly inventive and moving novels, it’s not unusual for the author and the series to just run out of steam. Not happening!
I don’t know where Ms. Land gets the creativity, the resources, or energy from, but she seems to have a bottomless well of imagination, humor and love. Her characters are so vivid, they tug at the reader’s heartstrings and charm with their offbeat lives. You can’t help but get swept up in them, even when they’re uproariously absurd and totally unpredictable.
And that’s where Ms. Land’s talent really lies: in her uncanny ability to wring both pathos and belly laughs out of any situation. There were more than a few times, when reading “Belonging”, that I found myself doubled over in laughter, with tears of both happiness and heartbreak running down my face.
She also brings back many of the characters from the previous books into each new one, so the reader gets to catch up on the lives they’ve already invested so much time and affection in. It’s like meeting up with old friends while making new ones, and getting caught up in their triumphs and challenges. And surprisingly, Ms. Land has maintained, throughout the entire series, a consistent quality, pace and flow that never disappoints.
All of the action revolves around an unlikely Deus-Ex-Machina, Nana Dombruso. The 80-year-old, gun-packing matriarch of a former Mafia family, she is the driving force behind some of the most outrageous moments in contemporary gay literature, and the surrogate mother to every alienated or lonely gay man in San Francisco. Wealthy as a legacy of the “family business”, she is also the producer and chef of a cable cooking show, which provides unlimited opportunities for things to go wrong, blow up, burn, fall and provoke all kinds of chaos – but always against the backdrop of hysterically funny, vaguely obscene double-entendre.
“Belonging” is the story of Zan (Alexander), a wealthy, world-famous rock star who disappeared from the stage in the middle of a concert thirteen years ago, and Gianni, Nana’s grandson, a man sorely lacking in self-confidence or any noteworthy ability to choose an appropriate partner. Gianni is a lonely young man, hoping for the “one”, but not doing much about it, drifting through a life that he can’t seem to quite get a handle on.
In the previous book in the “Firsts and Forever” series, Zan’s son, Christian, hired Gianni to care for his reclusive father. Zan hasn’t left his isolated house in years, so someone needs to do his shopping and take care of his property. Gianni, currently without direction or employment, and living at home with Nana, is happy to help out. He shows up two or three days a week to ensure the health, safety and groceries of the cranky older man (he’s 48). Zan will barely talk to him, and the beautiful, but feckless, Gianni is convinced that Zan hates him, and only tolerates his presence because, without him, he wouldn’t be able to survive.
Things come to a head when Gianni hooks up with a famous movie and TV star he meets at a party, and agrees to move to New York as his kept boy-toy. Zan finds out that he’s about to lose Gianni, and all hell breaks loose. For the first time in thirteen years, Zan finally ventures from his house to go save Gianni from his own disastrous decision-making. In typical Alexa Land fashion, this entails a long, slow trip to the nearest town on a riding lawnmower, the only transportation on Alexander’s property that still runs after thirteen years of neglect.
Well, this is a gay romance novel, so you’d be safe to assume that the two men “get together”. In an airport scene that will have you laughing and crying, Zan races to Gianni’s departure gate to save him from a fate worse than death, only to be surrounded by an aggressive, growing and adoring crowd of fans impeding his progress to rescue Gianni. Eventually, Gianni makes his way into Zan’s arms to the accompaniment of hundreds of smart phones photographing and video-recording the tender moment. Within hours, the resurrection of Zan (whom many thought dead) has more than a million hits on YouTube, and the paparazzi descend en masse.
Welcome to Zan’s world, and why he rejected it, thirteen years ago. The entire Dombruso clan, plus Zan, all their friends, and the new “puppy” Nana recently acquitted (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Sasquatch except for the whole eating-feet thing) are virtually held hostage, in Nana’s house, by an out-of-control press (helicopters included), hundreds of paparazzi and a growing mob of fans.
The rest of the book is dedicated to the growing love between the two men, dealing with their age difference, the overwhelming and relentless attention that Zan fears will ruin his beloved Gianni’s life, and a huge dose of humor that is typical Alexa Land and a delight to behold.
Early in the book, Nana decides she wanted to shape the tall bushes that border her property. They were basically square. She wanted them round. So, in a fit of over-the-top topiary, the combination of tall, cylindrical bushes with smaller, round, ground-hugging ones produces a totally unanticipated visual that comes to be called “Cockhenge”.
Shooting her cable show in her kitchen, the expected happens, and Tom Selleck (the Chewbacca dog) runs amok when trays of raw meat are placed on the counter, resulting in a veritable tornado of sausage and meatballs, again, with predictable (but hysterical) visual results – take one sausage together with two meat balls…
Nana’s instructions in kneading dough are priceless: “Don’t be afraid to wrap your hand around it and really squeeze it. Now work it! Up and down, up and down.”
One of the moments that, literally, had me rolling on the floor, was the attack of the paparazzi. Each question gets more and more absurd “it is true that you were just released from a Mexican prison?”, “Have you really been in rehab for thirteen years?”, “Is it true you’ve been running a goat farm in the middle of Idaho?” It is funny, but it’s also a stinging indictment of the press and its absurd obsession with the private lives of celebrities.
Nobody can assemble a great read from slapstick, tenderness and insight like Alexa Land does. And she does it over and over again. I always look forward to her next book, knowing that I will have a great time reading it, be moved to laughter and tears, and be left wanting more.
Alexa Land is one of the main reasons I read gay fiction. I can recommend every one of her books with absolute sincerity and heartfelt gratitude for the hours of reading pleasure she delivers, without fail, every time. Do yourself a favor, read “Belonging”. You won’t regret it, I promise you.
Meet Alexa Land
I write and independently publish M/M romances. I was born in Southern California, and have been on a gradual northern migration ever since, having lived in Santa Cruz, San Francisco, and now Oregon.
My best-selling Firsts and Forever series includes: Way Off Plan, All In, In Pieces, Gathering Storm, Salvation, Skye Blue, and Against the Wall.
I've also published Feral, a paranormal M/M romance, and The Tinder Chronicles, a paranormal trilogy.
Alexa is very generously gifting a $50 Amazon Gift Card. All you need to do is enter the Rafflecopter below for your chance to win.