Hans M. Hirschi, the author behind popular gay novels such as Willem of the Tafel and The Fallen Angels of Karnataka, released his latest book, Spanish Bay earlier this month. A feel-good novel about two young men who never give up despite having the odds stacked against them, Spanish Bay is available digitally and in paperback on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and selected local bookstores.
Chris, a Texas native recently moves to Carmel and rescues wheelchair-bound Neil from bullies and harassment. Neither question the love and bond that develops between them. However, their relationship will face an ultimate test and the two must overcome the obstacles that stand in their way if they want to be together. No matter where one may be, happiness will evolve.
Vital VOICE caught up with Hirschi to chat a little more in-depth about his latest work in addition to why he decided to take on the subject of disability. Hirschi is known to be a writer to examine social issues and big questions that affect humanity.
Without giving too much away, give us a little more as to what Spanish Bay is about.
It’s a story of two young men who find each other early on in life and fall in love. They are the unusual kind that never have to question their love for each other and the book is about the challenges they face as a couple, together, not what threatens their relationship. I wanted to write a story that gives hope to young people, particularly those with disabilities. I wish I would have had a story like this to read when I was a teen or young adult. Chris and Neil face the sort of challenge we all could face in life: family, disagreements with parents, loss, parenting, making ends meet, etc.
Tell us a little more about Chris and Neil.
Neil reminds me a lot about me. He trusts people easily, he’s smart and helpful. He loves Chris from the bottom of his heart and would do anything for him. I think that becomes very obvious throughout the story, as he puts his own plans on the back
burner. I say plans because it’s not a sacrifice for Neil. Being in a relationship with Chris is his dream, he’s happy, and just because his life didn’t pan out the way he’d planned before he met Chris doesn’t mean he isn’t perfectly alright with how things are going. He’s a great dad, calm and level-headed. He’s got a head for numbers and business, which he probably got from his mom.
Chris on the other hand is the perfect father, the protector. He’d do anything for the people he loves, and he’d sacrifice his own life and happiness to help others. I admire Chris greatly and in my own life, I aspire to be as much like Chris as I possibly can. Chris is more of a doer than a thinker. I wouldn’t say he’s intellectually challenged, but he’s not the intellectual type. School and studying just isn’t his thing, but he’s great with people, which is why he’s so good at running the cafe. He’s very empathic and senses how other people feel, making it easy for him to help.
Does this story have an antagonist?
Not really. The biggest antagonist isn’t really a person, it’s a state of mind, it’s our attitude to people with disabilities, it’s our fear of reaching the stars. There are so many examples of how we limit ourselves in what we believe we can do, what we can achieve, and there are plenty of examples in the book where Neil’s parents, as supportive as they may be, limit what they think he can do, just like parents often do, for the right reasons, with the wrong results. But then there’s also homophobia, although it’s not as pronounced here as it is in other books I’ve written – I’m getting tired of writing about it. The catalyst to Chris leaving Texas is based in it. But the book is otherwise meant to be hopeful, so even though some characters don’t understand Chris and Neil’s choices, they don’t stand in the way.
Is Spanish Bay part of that free anthology you mentioned to me the last time we spoke? To See About A Guy?
No, that was Nightmare, which is a short story about a Swedish family fleeing the country after Russia invades Sweden. Very different story [laughs].
Why was the title, Spanish Bay, chosen?
There are a couple of key scenes, including the final scene that play out on Spanish Bay, a beach/bay on the Monterrey peninsula in California. The name came to me as I did the research for the book, the first time the Horner family goes to Spanish Bay for lunch.
Is this your first story set in the USA?
No, there are elements of both Family Ties that play out in the U.S. and while I don’t mention specific places in Jonathan’s Hope and The Opera House, they are both set in the U.S. People have been scratching their names as to where they play out. I’m not telling! [Laughs].
Why did you decide to take on disability as the primary theme?
My books tend to deal with social issues, and I think our societies still have a tendency to marginalize people with disabilities, whether they are mental or physical. And the LGBT community isn’t exactly a shining beacon here, given our obsession with looks. I’ve spoken to several guys on and offline who confirm just how difficult it is to meet someone if you are, for example, in a chair. And since I also write gay fiction, I wanted to combine the town. Chris and Neil are just two average boys, they’re not super hot or super good looking, even though they love how the other one looks, but they are open minded enough to see past the limitations of the other. The story was born from a desire to write a collection of short stories centered around fringe phenomenons in our community, things I hadn’t written about before, from old age to trans stories, etc. Originally intended as a short story, Chris and Neil just wouldn’t stop talking – that’s how novels are born.
Do you feel that disability is a subject that needs more attention?
Absolutely. I had a reviewer call me out for Haakon, my hero in Fallen Angels, having “autistic tendencies,” as if that would have been a bad thing. I was really upset. So what if that were true? Haakon doesn’t have an official diagnosis, but when I studied psychology, our professor once said something very wise in a reply to the question about “who is mentally healthy?” He said that the only healthy people were those who hadn’t been diagnosed yet.
Mental disability is very different from being confined to a wheelchair. If you can’t use your legs, that’s a very defining thing, and it’s hard to hide. Mental disabilities can be so much more subtle and difficult to spot. People can live perfectly normal lives and nobody might know that they are suffering or hurting. We’ve added many new diagnosis in recent years that weren’t around twenty or thirty years ago. So you could have a mental illness and never know about it. It’s a two-edged sword. In today’s society you can only get help in school once you’ve been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD, etc., whereas one hundred years ago, that wouldn’t even have been an issue. Such kids would have ended working physical labor and would have lived fulfilled lives without ever knowing about their limitations. Today, that’s not as easy any more. As societies, we mean well, but on the other hand we ostracize and distance ourselves from people with mental disabilities. I think the fact that such disabilities are invisible make it even more difficult to relate to them.
Who or what were some of your inspiration for this book?
I met a young man from Brazil who suffers from the same disability that Neil suffers from. It helped me frame his condition to make it realistic. Other than that, my inspiration comes from many places. I visited Carmel a few years ago, so that helped, and as for Lubbock, that comes from a guy I met at a convention last year in Chicago. I guess my mind found the word “Lubbock” interesting enough to remember it, and to place Chris there when it needed to come up with a back story for him. Often enough I don’t know where the inspiration comes from. I’ve been around long enough to not always know where or how I learned something that might be used at some point in time.
Have you ever been with someone who had a disability?
Yes, both physical and mental. But those guys had disabilities that weren’t “visible.” One of them had an artificial heart-valve, and he’s tire easily, so there was only so much we could do, in terms of walking or shopping before he’d have to rest. On the other hand, I’ve never slept as well ever again. His loud thumping heart beat was the most soothing thing you can imagine in a quiet room at night. I guess my brain felt reminded of the womb. My biggest dating challenge was a boy who was deaf. Since I didn’t speak sign language, communicating was challenging, and he moved away before we got anywhere.
Do you want to write more stories involving disability?
Probably. I would like for my brain to incorporate all kinds of people in all of my books. But I don’t know if I’ll write another specific story on the topic.
What was the most challenging part about writing this book?
Keeping it suitable for young adults on the American market. Your country has so many hookups and limitations that make it very challenging to write for YA. It’s bad enough to write about gay kids – librarians really struggle to keep those books available – but when you can’t write about sex or how teens really are, that’s challenging, not to mention knowing how teens really are. There is a huge disconnect between the reality of teen and young adult life and what society wants to make believe. I had written this amazing sex scene for the boys, to show just how great and fulfilling the sex can be, even if you’re disabled. For Neil, even thinking about it was difficult, because the porn he watched never sported anyone in a wheelchair. So I wanted him to experience, and the readers along with him, how that would be. But alas, I had to hide that off page to avoid the “adult” label. I find that very frustrating, simply because it’s not how most kids and young adults live their lives. But who am I to take on American moral standards?
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
I hope they’ll have a good time, enjoy a great story, cry a few happy tears and feel really good about life when they are done. I hope that the might also reflect about how they treat others.
Has your husband Alex received the chance to read Spanish Bay yet? If so, what did he think?
Alex is a super busy executive in public service and it’s been a crazy time for him. So sadly, Spanish Bay is the first book he hasn’t read yet. I hope he gets around to it eventually.
What will we be seeing from you next?
My next novel is an erotic novel. And it’s not because I was frustrated with all the off the page sex in Spanish Bay [laughs]. It’s a long story actually, but the next novel is about an escort in Los Angeles who has met what coule be the love of his life and he begins to reflect on his life, his career and some of the people he’s met, who remind him of the man he’s dating. A very sexy book with a very happy ending, in every sense of the word. V
By Denny Patterson