Alexis Hall writes frothy, wildly popular LGTBQ+ romance novels — yet remains a complete enigma
If you've read the heartrending angst of A Lady for a Duke, been charmed by the witty banter of Something Fabulous, or laughed out loud at the outrageous, cheeky storytelling of Boyfriend Material, you've fallen under the spell of writer Alexis Hall.
You might have even found yourself wondering what type of person could master the distinctive voices of these standout LGBTQ+ romance novels and produce such consistently scintillating work. But Alexis Hall isn't going to give readers many answers.
The author fiercely guards his privacy, not sharing an author photo in his books, using a pen name, and appearing at few in-person author events. Even his social media handles and website are inscrutable, using the Latin phrase Quicunque Vult, which roughly translates to "whoever wants to," leaving Hall's books open to, well, whoever wants them.
"Firstly, I really like my day job," Hall explains on audio-only Zoom of his relative anonymity. "Secondly, it's partly a literary thing. I'm a huge believer in death of the author. I like to keep myself out of the conversation as much as possible. It's really important for my books to be the thing — and to let them speak for themselves. I see myself as someone whose job it is to write books, not someone whose job it is to be a personality."
But as much as Hall might prefer there be distance between his work and who he is, one can't help but hear traces of his characters in his cadence and thoughts. He talks a mile a minute, his marvelously witty brain moving at least three times faster than his mouth. He's wry and exceedingly apologetic in a delectably British way. In short, talking to him feels like reading one of his books.
Hall is one of a new crop of authors making waves (and hitting bestseller lists) with LGBTQ+ romance novels, love stories once exclusively the domain of small presses and self-publishing. But he was once a lower-profile author with quieter successes like 2013's Glitterland, which is getting a 2023 re-release with some new artwork and minor tweaks to the language in what he calls a "slightly tidied-up version."
He became a prominent voice in the genre with the success of 2020's Boyfriend Material, an unabashedly joyous and warm queer ode to '90s Hugh Grant rom-coms (he calls the forthcoming sequel, August's Husband Material, his riff on Four Weddings and a Funeral).
Now, he's hot off the publication of A Lady For a Duke, a critically adored historical romance novel about a trans woman who reunites with the Duke and best friend she's always loved. He's in the midst of three ongoing series — the Boyfriend Material universe, the Winner Bakes All baking-themed novels, and historical jaunts with the Something Fabulous books.
Hall is nothing if not humble, though, refusing to credit his success as helping to kickstart a space for LGBTQ+ fiction in traditionally published romance. "It would be churlish and wrong not to point out that Red, White & Royal Blue really blew the doors off in a lot of ways," he explains of Casey McQuinston's best-selling romance. "It did make publishers, particularly within the romance end of the spectrum pay attention to LGBTQ+ fiction as a thing they can make money off. As much as we will all love books, as much as we love reading, as much we will love literature, ultimately, what earns bank is the thing."
Hall's books are drawing attention — and presumably bank — regularly hitting year-end Top 10 lists (including our own). To him that success in genre fiction is particularly notable for the queer community. "It's important for multiple people to be straightforwardly included in genre stuff in books that are, when you get right down to it, just about creating an enjoyable read and aren't necessarily issue focused or 'a very special episode"' literary fiction," he notes. "What I focus on is writing commercial, enjoyable fiction in what I hope is as inclusive a way as possible."
That includes writing historical romance that centers on queer characters, a move that's part of a broader push within romance (Bridgerton, anyone?) to make historical love stories more inclusive. Still, Hall stresses that no one should read his books as historical truth. In his eyes, it's creating space for queer characters in our past while still adhering to a modern context. "It's not supposed to be an exploration of queer history," he says of titles such as A Lady For a Duke and Something Fabulous. "It is supposed to be an inclusion of queer people in a modern fiction genre that has a historical setting."
But where does Hall fall on thornier issues facing publishing? He demurs when asked about what it's like being one of the few prominent male-identifying authors in a genre often designated as a space for women. "There are conversations that women in romance need to have with each other about that framing of the genre," he reflects. "It's complex. I'm never going to say that it's not important for women to feel that they have spaces where they are valued. Or where their voices are heard and respected. That's really important. On the other hand, there are complexities that need to be addressed. But this is really not an area that I feel qualified to weigh in on."
Perhaps even more pressing in this area of romance fiction is the problematic issue of #OwnVoices and the pressure on authors to be publicly out to somehow justify their storytelling. It's an issue Red, White & Royal Blue author Casey McQuiston recently raised on Instagram.
Where does Hall stand? He's characteristically diplomatic, but as one might imagine with his own preference for privacy, he sees it as a personal choice.
"There is absolutely value in people who are writing LGBTQ+ fiction owning their identities if they want to and if that is something that is important to them, but we've seen some quite stark examples of situations where that pressure to be explicit about your personal identity has genuinely harmed people," he reflects. "I don't think anything is blanket-ly toxic. It is okay to celebrate and value those people who choose to be very open and proud about their identity. There's a reason that out and proud is still an important thing. But there are many, many reasons why a person might not be open to their identity or might not want to make their identity a big part of how their work is consumed. And it's also important to respect that."
That paradox and sense of personal choice is also a hallmark of Hall's writing. In A Lady for a Duke, Viola fears exposure as a trans woman on multiple levels because of the very real threat of social censure (or worse). Boyfriend Material and Glitterland grapple with heavy issues, including substance abuse, depression, self-loathing, and familial estrangement. But all of this — and his characters's varying abilities to be "loud and proud" — is couched in screamingly funny and enchanting prose.
There are some undeniable truths about Hall — that he writes happily-ever-afters that demand and make space for queer characters (and readers), that his writing is brashly witty and often reads like a contemporary Oscar Wilde, and that he's utterly circumspect as he tries to both celebrate the romance genre and pull at the threads of its complexities.
As a person, he's an enigma. But as an author, everything one could possibly need to know is right there on the page — a rainbow of fizzy banter, swoony love stories, and a celebration of living life on one's own terms. Whatever those may be.