Interview with M.A. Wardell for Teacher of the Year

In association with Hear Our Voices, I was given the opportunity to interview Wardell regarding his heartwarming romance debut.

M.A. Wardell enjoys writing steamy romantic comedies that are not only inclusive but depict real-life struggles and the healing powers of love.

The Interview

Debuting is absolutely exciting, so first of all: congrats! Of course, I have to ask: how long have you been writing, and how did you get started?

Thank you! It’s exciting, daunting, and overwhelming all at the same time! I’ve been writing for many years now. I write professional books for teachers. I wrote a memoir about being a male teacher many years ago. I’ve always been a storyteller, but writing fiction is relatively new. I started during lockdown. Reading about writing. Reading as many books in the genres I love (romance and rom-coms) and taking classes. So many Zoom classes. I read lots of steamy queer romances and not-so-steamy queer rom-coms. I wanted to write a steamy queer rom-com that was laugh-out-loud, funny, and super spicy. 

Everyone’s process is different, and learning about the author’s processes will forever fascinate many readers and fellow writers. Can you give us a glimpse into your process and your average writing day?

Sure! My process is evolving. As I work on Book 2, I’m pouring everything I learned from this book into it. I get up very early. Years of teaching have knocked that into me. I usually write for an hour before my husband and cats are up. Once they get up, I have breakfast and take a five-mile walk. During that walk, plot points come into focus, and problems with the story work out in my head. It’s truly a critical part of my process. Then, when I get home, I shower and dive into the rest of my day. I’m lucky I work for myself, so when I have downtime, I can write. Some days I can’t write at all, and others I get hours of writing in. It all depends on my workload.

For you, what comes first: the character or the plot? A little mix of the two?

It’s a little of both. With Teacher of the Year, I’d always thought, what would happen if a teacher actually DID something with a gorgeous, single parent? That’s where it started. I began with tropes in the second book, also about a teacher. I have some that are my absolute favorite – Grumpy/Sunshine, Fake Dating, Forced Proximity, Found Family – and I built my story around them. All of them! 

Teacher of the Year is an adorable romance and an appreciation for queer teachers. What inspired you to make Marvin a teacher, especially a kindergarten teacher?

With the recent attacks on teachers, queer teachers in particular, I wanted to write a love letter to them. I wanted to create a world where a gay male teacher was loved, accepted, and celebrated. He’s a man teaching small children. He’s nurturing, loving, and yes, he’s also allowed to be a human with his own needs and desires. Society expects a lot from teachers. Queer teachers are often expected to check their identities at the door. Santizie themselves. Teacher of the Year is my rebellion against that line of thinking.

Without giving out any spoilers, is there a section in TOY that you want readers to pay extra attention to? Maybe because it has an important theme you don’t want them to miss, or you’re simply extra proud of how it came out?

I’m really proud of the entire book, but I’m super proud of the spice. I worked hard to make those scenes realistic to the gay male experience. My hope is they show how sex can help you deepen a connection with someone, but more importantly, learn about yourself.

You have provided a top-notch playlist for your readers, including many of the songs Marvin utilises to help calm his nerves. What was the inspiration behind giving Marvin this unique but very real coping mechanism? Also, if you had to choose one song to encompass the vibes of Teacher of the Year, what song would you choose?

I’m a big music fan. There’s music playing in my house all the time. When I read. When I write. In the shower. Cooking. Always. Music calms me and settles my mind, and it felt like a natural method for Marvin to calm himself. Wow, one song? You’re killing me. I’ll go with Finally, by CeCe Peniston. It was the first song I wrote into the book, and it truly captures how Marvin feels about Olan. But if I could pick a second, I’d say Never Too Much by Luther Vandross because, after their first kiss, that song is the vibe for them as a couple.

You achieved your goal of creating diverse stories with realistically flawed characters, and as a result, a lot can be taken away from TOY. Of course, readers will come away with a smile and a warm heart, but is there any additional message you want to ensure your readers don’t leave behind? (Such as: being open about yourself or not letting fear get in the way of what you want.)

I love that readers will all take their own message away. For me, the overarching theme of Teacher of the Year (and the other two books in the series) is The Healing Power of Love. Love lifts us up, transforms us, and teaches us things we didn’t know about ourselves. But you have to be open to it and accept it for that to happen.


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