Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Blog Touring: Spencer McKay

by Robison Wells

A lot has been said lately about blog tours, and, as you know, I’m a big fan. So, when I was approached by my good friend Spencer McKay, I leapt at the chance to interview him! (And the fact that he gave me an ARC of his new manuscript, WALKED, and Other Things Pioneer Children Did As They Sang, was just icing on the cake!)

Let me start by describing the book, and then we’ll get into the questions. First, the cover is absolutely gorgeous, as you can clearly see. The dust jacket is sturdy, perhaps #80 or #100 paper, and the book has a distinct aroma—sage and soil, like a the desert in August after a fleeting storm. The backliner reads “In this gripping tale of intrigue and humanity, Spencer McKay plumbs the depths of the Mormon experience, searching for authenticity and newness. He walks, like we have walked, in WALKED.”

I emailed Spencer some questions, and I’m quite impressed with his answers. I think he’s a real revolutionary in the field of LDS literature.

So, Spencer McKay, before we begin why don’t you introduce yourself?

Thanks. I’m Mormon and an artist. In fact, I’d say that I’m the first truly authentic Mormon artist, in the sense that I’m willing to plumb the depths of things. Depth-plumbing has always been a passion of mine, from the first moments that I touched a pencil to the instant I hit the period button at the end of this sentence. Right there. And this one. And one more. Plumb plumb plumb.

How did you get the idea for this book?

I could answer that in a few different ways. If you’re talking about where I got the idea for writing the first ever authentic Mormon novel, I’d say that it’s my role as an artist, and I just can’t deny it. However, if you’re talking about where I got the idea for the giant robot car wash, that came from watching TV. Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones was on, and just when Padme and Annakin are fighting on the big conveyor belt, the TV went to a commercial for a carwash. And I thought: whoa—am I really seeing this? Is this really happening? It’s like what they say about twist endings in books: surprising, yet inevitable. A giant robot carwash was surprising, but it just felt so right. I knew I was on to something.

One of the things that I find so fascinating about the book is how it takes a modern story and parallels church history. What gave you that idea?

Carl Jung used to talk about the collective unconscious—that we all have these symbols rumbling around inside ourselves, and that they appear in our art whether we intend for it to happen or not. That’s really where much of this story came from: I didn’t set out to fill it with symbolism—it just happened. When the townsfolk are rescued from a horde of space crickets by a flock of robot birds, I was just as surprised by the deep meanings as you were. I mean, seriously, talk about peeling back the layers of an onion.

I’m particularly intrigued by the character of Colonel Tally-Ho Penguino, and his inner conflicts. Could you talk a little about what must have been going through your mind when you were writing this amazing character?

Ah, yes. The Colonel, I like to think, is a little piece of each of us. We all have doubts from time to time—that’s what this frail human existence is all about: doubts. But, I think, deep inside of all of us we have the capacity to overcome, to believe. For us, it may be about returning to our roots, or relying on the strength of our family and friends. The Colonel overcame his doubts with a pair of matching cufflinks made from the scales of fire dragons. But it’s all the same thing. Tomato, tomato.

Walk me through the publishing process. I know that you’ve had some unconventional methods in the past, and I know that this manuscript in particular might be difficult for the average Mormon reader.

I think that’s a flaw with readers, mostly. I mean, the book is great, and if people don’t buy it then they’re stupid and wrong. But yes, the path to publishing has been a challenge. But I’ve had some really great editors along the way who have helped to focus my ideas and smooth the rough edges. For example—here’s a bit of trivia—the harmonica that Ramon travels with used to be his girlfriend, but there was a scene where they have to share a hotel room, and it was just easier to make her into a harmonica. As it is, I think it’s an interesting symbolic device: does Ramon love music just as much as his girlfriend? Will that music be an eternal companion of sorts?

One thing’s for sure: you’d be surprised how easy it is to change kissing scenes to harmonica scenes. It’s basically the same, except every time you mention him sighing, music plays.

I’m a bit confused by your tagline for this book: it’s the first truly authentic Mormon novel? I take it you’ve never read Charley? Chickens in the Headlights?

I know that I’m rubbing a few of the blue-noses the wrong way with my declaration, but I stand behind it. For too long, LDS fiction has languished in the mud of the masses, but my literature will make it break free! Whitney Awards here I come!

Before we conclude, is there any advice you’d give to aspiring writers?

Well, first I’d tell them that publishing is a difficult road, and it’s only going to get more difficult because I’ve just raised the ante and it’ll be hard for readers to go back to the same old genre crap they’ve been getting. But second, I’d also tell them that writing should be a labor of love, and if they’re succeeding then they probably aren’t writing well enough.

And third, I’d tell them to show, don’t tell, and to quit using adverbs all the time. I mean, honestly.

Well, many thanks to Spencer McKay for making us a stop on his blog tour. His book, WALKED, And Other Things Pioneer Children Did As They Sang, will be in stores soon. In the meantime, may I suggest you check out his other works, here, and here.


At 7/08/2008 2:49 AM, Blogger Kimberly said...

I think his publishers ought to grab hold of this interview and use it as a marketing technique.

I'm buying the book because no way am I missing out on the writing of someone with so deliciously twisted a sense of humour.

At 7/08/2008 10:55 AM, Blogger Tristi Pinkston said...

Wow, that was so deep. Thanks for plumbing the depths, man, I was moved.

At 7/08/2008 11:05 AM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

A Whitney? For sure! But I've long thought it was time an elder of Israel walked away with a Pulitzer or Nobel. If not Spencer McKay, then who?

Loved the interview, but the review was a little spotty. A word to the wise: Don't send Rob your ARCs. He doesn't read. Them, I mean. He might be able to read.

At 7/08/2008 11:14 AM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Wow. I feel a new day dawning in Mormon literature. Or indigestion. One or the other.

At 7/08/2008 12:09 PM, Blogger Annette Lyon said...

I think Rob's reached a new high (low?) with interviews. I agree with McKay on one thing--no more adverbs. Honestly. :D

At 7/08/2008 12:30 PM, Blogger Jennie said...

Spencer McKay, please don't send me your book to review. Fun review, Rob. I think you and I have more in common than I knew.

At 7/08/2008 6:55 PM, Blogger Matthew Buckley said...

You mentioned my book in the same sentence as Charley? I wasn't sure if I should be flattered or offended, and then realized you probably just turned to the 'ch' section of a Deseret Book catalog, and wrote down the first two books you came to.

So, all is forgiven.

At 7/09/2008 2:13 AM, Blogger Heather B. Moore said...

Welcome BACK, Rob.

At 7/09/2008 9:09 AM, Blogger Tamra Norton said...

Can we get Spencer to teach at the next LDStorymaker's Conference? That, or sub as MC whenever Rob needs a potty break.

Just brainstorming...

At 4/06/2011 1:33 PM, Blogger Michael Knudsen said...

I know this is an old post, but I read it for the first time today and blew Mt. Dew out both nostrils onto my monitor. Twice.


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