Tali Spencer writes fantasy romances, both M/F and M/M, and is an active member of SFWA and RWA. Thanks to a restless father, she grew up as a bit of a nomad and has lived in more than a dozen U.S. states. Her vagabond youth lives on in a tendency to travel whenever she can. She and her husband reside in Pennsylvania, where she creates alternate worlds through which her characters can roam, brawl, and find themselves in each other’s arms. Learn more about her at her website Brilliant Disguise.
Tali has three ebooks just released or coming soon: Captive Heart, Sorcerer’s Knot and The Prince of Winds.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Upbringing, education, your writing before you became an author of erotic speculative fiction?
Though living on the East Coast is starting to corrupt me, I’m really pure Midwest because that’s where I spent most of my adult life. As a child, I was dragged from state to state by my father, who was a missile engineer, so you can imagine some of the places I’ve been: El Paso (yep, saw the atom bomb proving grounds at White Sands in New Mexico), Colorado (I’ve been under Cheyenne Mountain), California, Massachusetts (you’d be surprised), Virginia, New Jersey, Wisconsin… well, I can go on and on. I was in a new school every year, was always the kid with the funny accent and no friends. I’d eventually make a few friends, then move away. Books were more constant. My dad and mom were both great readers and our house always filled with everything from current magazines and novels to history books the size of Buicks. The fact is I started imagining stories just to create people and worlds I didn’t have to leave behind. I’d tell them to my sister at night (we shared a bed) and on our walks to and from school. It helped to have an audience.
I married at 19, and had children and things were good for a while. I spent a fair amount of time in South America, and wrote my first novel while raising three active boys. No one was more surprised than me when I sold it to DAW. It was science fiction and is now so far out of print I don’t even mention it as a writing credit. That book never led to anything else because I was young and knew absolutely nothing about what it takes to build a writing career. I had no support at all. My kids were little, I had no writer friends to turn to for advice, and my marriage was falling apart. I couldn’t even interpret my royalty statements. So I just let it go and went back to college, got my degree, and became an airport executive.
Why did you choose erotic fiction as your new direction. What is it about the genre that excites you?
My stories have always had sex in them, even the novel published by DAW. Sex is such a primal drive and I just love the power inherent in desire, so I have always explore it, though edited out the explicit parts before submitting my work. Maybe if I’d left in the sex, I could have sold that epic fantasy! Long story short, my books didn’t attract an agent—but my erotic fiction, which I’d begun posting on a free site, was attracting readers. Well, I love having readers! So I wrote more erotica, because I’m a writer, a storyteller, and soon I thought maybe I should try to, you know, publish those stories. Other people were. Why not me?
I still write what I love. I create alternate world fantasies with deep world-building, high stakes, and richly developed characters—except now the characters happen to enjoy their sex on the page and romance figures more heavily in the plots. Best of all has been finding readers who enjoy what I do and with whom I can share positive portrayals of (mostly) human sexuality.
Erotic romance is also a young, vital genre that’s enjoying great success in the eBook world. I’m not sure whether or not Fifty Shades of Grey represents a change in the mass market, but erotica is a huge seller in the eBook universe.
Your novel Captive Heart is a M/F fantasy romance. What can you tell us about the two main characters and obstacles they face?
Captive Heart is a sexy, sweet (R-rated) romance about Julissa, a sheltered princess who finds herself not altogether reluctantly in the arms of Gaspar, the man who conquered her country. Having hot steamy sex is only the beginning of their problems, because Gaspar carries Julissa and her very large family off to his country of Uttor, where even worse enemies await. It’s set in a world where firearms are newly invented and gods are still alive and kicking. Gaspar’s a far from perfect hero (he has a big nose and makes some dreadful mistakes in judgment) and Julissa is my response to reading one too many sword-wielding princesses. She’s not trying to kick over the traces or be a rebel. Her battles aren’t physical. She has to be strong in quite different ways if she’s to survive. I’m very much a feminist, and I think that includes the right to enjoy female characters that aren’t kick-ass. I don’t think the only positive role models for human beings are those who wield swords and display attitude. Pluck and kindness have their place in the world.
Sorcerer’s Knot, a novella, is a M/M secondary-world fantasy. Where did the idea for this story come from? The worldbuilding?
I had been kicking around an idea for a story about a sorcerer who gets powerful magic from a sea creature, but it never quite came into focus and I shelved it. Earlier this year, my friend and fellow M/M writer, MA Church, got in touch with me about this anthology that wanted tentacle stories and wouldn’t it be fun to be in it together. I thought, hey! I could make my sea creature into a tentacle monster! I enjoy anime, not to mention Lovecraft’s classic Cthulhu tales, so I was off and running. Now the story’s about an ambitious and unscrupulous young wizard who seeks out a spellbound, desolate island inhabited by shipwrecked humans and the mysterious sorcerer whose spell has trapped them there—along with something that threatens to destroy them all. Clearly the theme is “be careful what you wish for.” At the same time, it’s a love story, about two damaged men who find in each other what they most need. Both men change and grow.
The world-building gave me the title spell of the story. A sorcerer’s knot is a spell that cannot be broken. Or can it? I created a magic system that answered the question: how does one obtain power over the sea in this world? And the answer led me to a sorcerer who needed to imprison something terrible and the spell he used to do it is where the title came from. Everything in the story stems from that spell: the hostile environment of the island, the people trapped there, the sorcerer’s pain and the protagonist’s flawed ambition. Even the erotic content exists around that spell. The story was a hoot to write.
When the anthology changed from pay to no pay before we submitted our stories, I sent Sorcerer’s Knot to Dreamspinner Press instead, on the chance they’d be interested in a strange, poetic fantasy about wizards and tentacle monsters. To my delight, they picked it up and artist Anne Cain gave it a first-rate cover. I hope readers enjoy it. And M. sold her novella—Nighttime Wishes, about an alien with tentacles—to Romance First and it was also released as a book.
Your M/M romances are typically read by a female readership. What do you see as the attraction as to why women enjoy this type of fiction?
I can’t speak for all women readers of M/M romance, of course, and anything I say will be a generalization, but I think one of the attractions is related to a point I made earlier about a shift in M/F romance. I was talking just the other day with a woman, someone I barely know, who grinned ear to ear when I said I write M/M romance. She was completely on board with it. Being curious, I asked her why she read it, and she said, “I’m fed up with usual romances. The woman is always perfect. And they don’t seem to like men!”
Now that’s interesting, because romantic women tend to like men. I read romance, too, lots of it, and I can see where this woman could get the impression of heroines not liking men. Not so much in historicals or fantasy, which are my hunting ground, but I’ve seen quite a few stories in which the heroine is perpetually sharp-tongued and dismissive of the hero. And that impression intersects with talks I’ve had with various people (female and male alike) about the Lifetime (channel) equation: “Woman good, man bad.” So I’ve come to think female readers are responding to the positive portrayals of men in M/M romance. At least, to portrayals they consider positive.
There are other reasons, of course. Many. Women have long had front row seats when it comes to being disenfranchised members of society, and some read M/M romance as part of their sincere support of GLBT rights and making society more inclusive. That’s one of my reasons. And women love sex, make no mistake about that, so some read M/M because they enjoy hot manlove.
What’s the kinkiest scene you’ve gotten past an editor?
That would have to be the tentacle sex/torture scene in Sorcerer’s Knot. And I didn’t really get it past the editors, because they caught it, all of them. I think every editor at Dreamspinner read that story! <laugh>
Where would you like to see your career in five years?
I would love to have built a readership, because for me writing is all about creating worlds and characters and stories for readers to enjoy. Let’s see… in five years, I hope to have written and released all the Captive Heart/Uttor cycle of romances in two series, launched a new series I have in my head for the Prince of Winds universe, have a M/M series about pirates, and have moved readers into my Triempery universe. I hope to be making enough money I can be proud of adding my income onto the tax return. But mostly, I hope I will have readers who enjoy my work and look forward to the next book.