Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Risah Salazar is talking with N.R. Alexander, author of Go To Hell.
FQ: As a writer, what was your aim in writing this book? Did you want your readers to consider a different interpretation of Heaven and Hell?
ALEXANDER: A friend once told me that the coolest thing about me is the way I get other people to think. I want people to challenge their own beliefs and really test their boundaries. When you do that, you naturally become more creative. Heaven and Hell were obvious targets for this exercise because those concepts are so ingrained in our culture, yet we can’t definitively say what they are actually like. My aim was also to push other boundaries. What is funny? What is offensive? What is both?
FQ: I love the title of your book, Go To Hell. It's definitely an attention-getter. Were you ever worried that some potential readers might be put off by the title or were you planning on the opposite, that readers would be drawn to the book because of the title?
ALEXANDER: Worried is an understatement. Go To Hell was a working title as I wrote the book and I soon realized that it was the perfect name. But when it was time to publish, I spent a good week or two agonizing over it. I loved the title but also wondered if Amazon would ban it or if potential readers would be offended. I decided the answer to both questions was probably. But Go To Hell is the book’s identity! It would be the equivalent of taping a tail on my cat before guests come over. Sure, he’d look like a normal, run-of-the-mill cat. But that’s not who he is. He’s a tailless cat with a droopy butt and he’s proud of that! Go To Hell likely appeals to a niche audience and I want that to be clear from the beginning.
FQ: Why make the devil a woman? It was an interesting twist on a figure that has been portrayed through time as a man.
ALEXANDER: Women are so powerful. All of the best leaders and mentors in my life are/were women. Men are often in positions of power, but oftentimes they shouldn’t be. If the devil were a man, Hell would probably go bankrupt. Lucy challenges Alex (and readers) to look at Hell with an open mind and to see it with a competent, multifaceted ruler.
FQ: If you were Alex, would you have taken the deal? Would you do anything differently?
ALEXANDER: Oh hell no, I would not have made a deal with the devil. But that’s because I am boring. I’d have been like “What? The devil wants to make a deal with me? Sounds too complicated. I have to go home and walk my dog anyway.” I would have done everything possible to make sure nothing interesting happened. That’s why the book is about Alex, not me.
FQ: Speaking of Alex, did you pattern him after yourself? I read that you're also a marketing consultant, and your pen name, N.R. Alexander, is similar to the protagonist's name. How similar are you to Alex?
ALEXANDER: Was it that obvious? We do have similar career experiences and have dealt with some similar relationship struggles. Alex is probably some variant of me in the multiverse who split off in like 2015. Since then, he and I have made totally different decisions. We have different motives and passions. But even though we have a similar origin and both share a love of sweet potatoes, his name actually is not related to my pen name. I had made a list of 25 names for my main character. None of the others felt right. He is 100% an Alex.
FQ: There is a lot of humor in your book, and it kept the mood upbeat (as much as a story about Hell could be upbeat!) and the story moving. How hard was it to get that humor in there, and do you think without it, the story would have gotten too dark?
ALEXANDER: I’m glad you thought it was funny. I need validation often because I worry people just think I’m some kind of deranged weirdo. The humor was actually pretty easy to fit in. Sometimes, a funny concept would pop into my mind and simply knew that I had to get it into the book so I’d write a chapter or change part of the plot to help get the story there. It sounds like putting the cart before the horse, but isn’t it all about the cart anyway? The dark parts actually came easily too. Maybe too easily (see the ‘deranged weirdo’ comment above). I’m so glad the book has both though because if there was no humor, this story would have been a gruesome downer. I’m currently working on another story that is more serious so I’ll probably tone down the gore to make sure it doesn’t get too dark. Humor, darkness, gore, etc. are all just dials that have to be carefully calibrated. If you crank them all up all the time, the result is just a lot of noise.
FQ: If you could make your own version of Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory, how would they look?
ALEXANDER: I’d painstakingly map them all out in spreadsheets and flowcharts but here is the summary version:
1. Hell would be that party your friend dragged you to when you were in your twenties. You don’t know anybody there so you get really drunk and then you want to leave but your friend keeps saying “in a bit.” You never leave.
2. Heaven would be a cocktail reception where all of your extended family talks about the shows they’ve been watching. Oh my god, you haven’t seen Yellowstone yet?
3. Purgatory would be a hot and stuffy subway platform in New York City at 2AM. You’re dead tired but you can’t go to sleep yet. You look at the sign and it says “Next C train in 20 mins.” Then you look at it ten minutes later and it says “Next C train in 30 mins.”
...As you might guess, I don’t want to go to any of these places. I like being alive on Earth.
FQ: Given the statement on the front page of your website, "Waste time with social media," I take it you're not a fan of social media. Would you advise other authors to skip the madness that is being pushed (Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, etc.) and instead focus on writing?
ALEXANDER: This is a tough one. If I could get in with a trending Book Tok or Bookstagrammer, then it’d be different. Or maybe if I could just get that one post that goes viral...It’s unlikely so I do very minimal social media. I even have a timer on all of my apps to make sure I don’t get sucked in. If it takes me more than five minutes to post, my app locks down and I can’t get back in until the next day. This helps me make sure I spend time writing and working instead of scrolling. If I had to give advice, I’d say “know exactly what you want to do before you open Instagram/TikTok. Then do that thing and only that thing. Then do something else that is important in your life.”
FQ: Might we ever see a children's book about your paleontologist cat? Perhaps more sophisticated than the crayon version you once penned, but it sounds like it could be a fun book.
ALEXANDER: Oh boy, I think that ship has sailed. Writing a children’s book would be really fun but I’ve actually heard that it’s much more difficult than writing a book for adults. Also, when I was a kid, I got carried away with the illustrations. Crayons were certainly be a part of it, but I also used to tape chicken bones to the pages to make it a multisensory picture book! I just don’t think parents would appreciate that though.
FQ: Is there going to be a sequel to Go To Hell? The ending was a good start to what could be a whole new plot.
ALEXANDER: Absolutely. Get ready for some thrillers where Alex and Nat pursue hellishly gifted villains and solve paranormal mysteries. You might even see some stories that exist in the same universe but with totally different characters and of totally different genres. Aaaand, Alex might actually publish his book someday under his name...You can get all those juicy details from my website.