"You know, like a lot of guys, I’ve always wanted to live two lives.” So says Scott Spencer, author of 10 novels and a National Book Award nominee who, with his latest work, will finally get his wish. The latest, Breed (Mulholland Books), is a paranormal thriller/horror tale about a pair of wealthy Manhattan parents who, desperate to get pregnant, submit to a frightening procedure that leaves them with a set of healthy twins, but also unsettlingly changed. The book, by Chase Novak, will be Spencer’s 11th piece of fiction, and his first under a pseudonym. PW recently sat down to talk to him about genre tags, the writing life, and the joys of becoming someone else.
When did you start writing Breed?
Maybe two years ago.... It usually takes me three or four years to write a novel. This came quicker, largely because it was being propelled by story.
Why write it under a pseudonym?
I had this idea, but it didn’t really go along with the body of work I’m building. It was an outlier, but I was intrigued by it. Actually, the idea for it was something that I visited and revisited a few times over three or four years... but I didn’t know what to do with it, really. I didn’t know until I said, “Well, I’ll just write it. And I’ll just make up this different writing persona to do it.” Writing as Scott Spencer I’m consciously building blocks to make a certain whole when I’m done; it will all stand as a piece. I didn’t see how I could squeeze this into that.
As different as Breed is from your other work, it does feel as if it’s part of a whole. In your other novels, there is often an ominous undertone. When I think of Endless Love, for example, the best way I have to describe it is that it’s a love story that winds up feeling more like a horror novel.
Well, it might be like when your dad dresses up as Santa Claus—he doesn’t think anybody can recognize him and everyone says, “Dad, why do you have that beard on?” So to me this was very different; Endless Love is driven by language, Breed, I think, is driven more by story.
So did you sit down and say to yourself that you wanted to write a different kind of book? Or did you realize you had a different kind of book after you finished writing?
I think it was a little bit of both. I knew what really interested me about Breed was telling that story. When I first conceived of the book, it was quite a bit shorter than it turned out to be, and I wanted readers to experience it like they would experience a movie. Unfortunately, most horror movies aren’t that good anymore. So I wanted to write one that was like one of those good ones. I thought I could write this so you could read it in one or two sittings. It turned out to be a little bit longer than that, but not too much longer.
So what’s next for Chase Novak?
Well, he’s already signed up to do another book. Breed is primarily about the parents. The next book will largely be about the kids, and it’s called Brood.
And you’re working on that now?
I’m setting it up now, and I’ve done some of the writing.
What about Scott Spencer—is he working on anything?
Yes. I don’t have a title for the book yet. I’ve been working on the first chapter for the last eight months.
That sounds difficult.
With writing you really have to have faith. You have to have some sort of confidence that if you keep at it you will get where you need to go, because there are so many points where a rational person would quit. You have to tell yourself: I know there is something beautiful and true here and, if I just keep doing this over and over, I believe it will come out.
Since you’ve been an author for a while—you’ve been publishing since the mid-1970s—do you feel that the business has changed dramatically? Do you think that different demands are put on you now, as opposed to when you got started?
I don’t see that, in terms of the demands. Maybe I’m not listening... but here’s the difference that I see, and it doesn’t really affect me much, personally, at this point. When I wrote my first novel my agent at the time was a woman named Martha Winston, who worked at Curtis Brown, and she sent it to 14 or 15 publishers. So it was a world in which Houghton Mifflin was the 15th choice. Today, more than half of those publishers don’t exist. I think that makes it very difficult for a new writer.