We’re kicking off June in style here at Novak Tower and what better way to start than with the fabulous Spencer Spears. He’s here to talk about his brand new book Wild Heart, and that cover alone has me ridiculously excited!
1. What inspired you to write Wild Heart? Can you tell us a little more about the story?
At first, I just wanted to write a light and fluffy series set on an island. The books were supposed to be short and sweet, and not really have any angst. But as I got to know my characters, I realized that Mal had a lot of darkness in his past, and Deacon was dealing with a lot of sorrow and guilt. Which probably makes the book sound super depressing, and I swear, it’s not! There’s surfing and kittens and lots of kissing. But as I got into writing the book, I realized I really wanted to explore some of the issues that come up around living in a small town, dealing with bigoted family members, the weight of the past that we all carry around with us, and how we find hope and love despite all that. So a lot of the world-building things that come up in Wild Heart – the way the island is changing, and Deacon’s family history – are going to continue to unfold in the next two books.
2. Can you share something with us about the book that isn’t in the blurb?
Hmm… well, as I alluded to in question #1, both of Deacon’s brothers, Emory and Connor, are getting books of their own. Oh–and Mal is a Cancer . Someone asked me that the other day, since Deacon mentions that he’s a Virgo. Mal’s birthday actually happens during Wild Heart, but he doesn’t mention it to Deacon because he’s learned not to make a big deal about it. God, I’ve spent way too much time thinking about Mal’s past. Maybe someday it’ll actually make it into some kind of book or something!
3. What was the hardest scene to write?
Oh man, the scene on the steps of the guest house in Chapter 9, where Mal misinterprets what Deacon wants. I wrote that scene over and over again, starting from scratch each time. From a storytelling perspective, I knew I needed an “almost-but-not-quite” beat, where they got a little closer, then pulled back. But from a character perspective, I could only write something that felt true to Mal and Deacon. And I couldn’t see either of them confidently coming onto the other one, or even being brave enough to just say what they wanted. Not at that point in the story. They were both too hesitant, too unsure. It finally clicked when I realized that was the crux of the scene – that uncertainty, the miscommunication that arose from them both wanting the other, but not feeling comfortable saying it, and being really insecure about how the other person saw them. Mal’s got this awful history with guys who’ve used him, and when I realized that that would inform how he saw Deacon, and what his expectations would be, then everything came together.
4. What did you edit out of this book? Or really want to include but it just didn’t fit?
I had this scene where Deacon teaches Mal how to swim. It was so clear to me what it would look like – the weather, the light, all the sensory details, the feelings of fear and trust, the hopes that they each had for the future, but were too afraid to say out loud. But it just didn’t fit with the pacing of the book – I couldn’t make it work. So I ended up pulling it out, and I’m toying with the idea of rewriting it as a short story for them in the future, because I still just love it so much.
5. What came first with Wild Heart, the characters or the plot? Is that the same for all your books?
Characters, 100%. That’s how it always is, for me. Even if I know I want to write a book with a certain trope, it won’t come together until I have a handle on the characters. I’ve got lots of story ideas in my head that are still waiting for a character to jump out and say, “That’s MY story, write it about me!” Conversely, I’ve got “story” ideas in my head that are really just snippets of scenes between two characters, where I have no idea what’s going on in the book around them. For Wild Heart, I had this image of someone jumping out the bathroom window of a roadside motel, and Mal sprang to life for me from that. And Deacon became real for me once I saw the scene of him going to Mal’s room at night to protect him, his heart beating out of his chest because he thinks he’s lost him. Everything else rippled out from there.
6. If we made Wild Heart into a movie, who would be your dream casting for Mal and Deacon?
I’m pretty sure I’d be so thrilled Wild Heart was becoming a movie that I’d say yes to it being acted out by sock puppets. But I was just saying in my Facebook group that Henry Cavill gives me really strong Deacon vibes, when he’s rocking a beard. He’s a bit older than Deacon would be, and I know he’s British, but… Sigh. That face. And for Mal? It’d have to be someone who captures that vulnerability and determination. I’m open to suggestions!
7. What inspired you to start writing?
I have two answers for this–a practical one, and an emotional one.
The practical one is that I started writing as a just-for-kicks hobby. Ages ago, I’d read this article about people who published dinosaur erotica on Amazon, and a few years later, I thought, “Huh. I wonder if I could do that.” Obviously, my writing doesn’t involve dinosaurs, but I was curious to see if I could even write a full-length novel, and it turned out that a) yes, I could, and b) I really, really liked writing.
The emotional answer is that I’d always been someone who told stories to myself. I lived in my own little world inside my head and would work on these long, angsty epics that I thought about before I fell asleep, or when I commuted to work, or pretty much any time I had downtime. I never thought that I could actually do anything with that habit. It always seemed like more of a defense mechanism than anything else–a way of processing a world that I felt ill-equipped for, with all my too-many-feelings and being-too-sensitive. I thought “real” writers had some kind of magic ability that let them take the mundane prose inside their heads and turn it into something breathtaking on the page. But once I gave myself permission to try writing “just as a hobby,” I realized that there’s no magic. There’s hard work and practice and skill, but that’s it. And that was such an exciting, freeing thing to realize, because suddenly I had an outlet for all the stories I’d stored up in my head for the past 30-some years I’ve spent on this planet.
8. What or who (or both) has influenced you most as a writer?
Obviously, what I read has a huge influence. Other authors in the m/m genre constantly inspire me to push myself in my writing. And some of the best m/m writing I’ve ever read has been fanfiction, so I have to mention that as well. And to be honest? I watched a lot of teen dramas on TV when I was in middle and high school (and, uh, maybe into my 20s, haha), and that had a pretty formative influence on how I think about storytelling, character development, handling large casts and interlocking stories, and just building worlds that people can sink into and lose themselves in. It’s something I think about any time I set out to start a new series – who am I writing about, why should people care, and what makes the characters – and the place they live – special?
9. As an experienced author, do you have any advice or tips for new authors who are just starting out?
1) Don’t write the book you care about most first. Save that for your second book, where you know what you’re doing a little better.
2) Learn from other authors, but don’t compare yourself to them. Comparison takes all the joy out of writing. Run your own race.
3) Relatedly, learn from other authors, but don’t feel that you have to do exactly what they do in order to be “successful” or “a real author” or whatever standard you’re trying to meet. Different people plan differently, outline differently, write differently, release differently, interact with readers differently, do everything differently. An author you admire might religiously write 5k a day with a green glitter gel pen in a pristine Moleskine notebook while burning patchouli and listening to BTS, and that’s great for them, but that doesn’t mean you have to do the same thing. Experiment, find what works for you, and do that.
10. What is your favourite childhood book?
Oooh, this is a super hard question! I read A LOT as a kid. When I was really little, it was definitely Scuppers, The Sailor Dog, which got me obsessed with travel, shipwrecks, and the ocean. And dogs, obviously. I bought a copy for myself as an adult, because I’m a sentimental sop. When I got a bit older, it was probably The Secret Garden, because what kid doesn’t want to go live in a giant, spooky country manor and discover a private wilderness all their own? Dickon was probably my first literary crush, and an aged-up m/m version where Dickon and Colin fall in love is for sure on my list of “books I really want to write if I ever get the time.”
11. What do you like to do when you’re not writing? Do you have a secret passion or hobby that we don’t know about?
I try to spend as much time outside as I can. My goal is to make it to all the US National Parks, and all the state parks in Minnesota, but even just a run around my neighborhood is guaranteed to lift my spirits. As far as secret passions, most people probably don’t know that I worked in linguistics for 10 years before switching to writing. It’s what I studied in undergrad and grad school as well, and if you’re not careful, I’ll corner you at a party and talk your ear off about Jespersen’s cycle or the links between Malagasy, Maori, and Hawaiian.
12. Finally, what’s your favourite dinosaur?
Brontosaurus, definitely. Specifically Sally the Brontosaurus, a stuffed animal I had as a kid who now keeps me company at my writing desk.
Thank you Spencer for giving such great answers and sharing such a cute picture of Sally too! I’m can’t wait to dive into Mal and Deacon’s book.
Wild Heart is out now.
You can find Spencer on Amazon, Goodreads, Bookbub, Instagram, Tumblr as well as his website. You can also sign up for his newsletter and join his Facebook Group, Spencer’s Space or follow his author Facebook Page.