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If We Are What We Eat, Are We What We Read?

And am I what I write? Scary thought!

It’s kind of scary thought on many levels. And, even scarier,  could I be what I write? How did I mix up the odd stew that is my muse? Where did it come from?

I don’t know any authors who weren’t readers first. Ask most authors and you’ll find that in the past, we often got into trouble for reading under the covers with a flashlight. Or got into trouble for reading a novel in class using the textbook for cover. And don’t get us started on our walking-while-reading-disaster stories. That’s a lot of getting in trouble and yet we all kept reading and trying to read when we shouldn’t because we loved to read that much.

But wanting to read that much doesn’t always turn someone from reader to writer. Many of us would still be readers, but something happened on the way to our reading.

For some, the characters in a book wouldn’t leave after “the end” and they found themselves penning fan fiction. For others, characters just showed up and demanded to be written into stories “like the one you’re reading.” And for many, they were reading too fast for the publishing world to keep up, or not finding quite the book they liked to read. And there’s always the huge sigh, followed by, “I could write better than this,” when one has finished the clunker book.

I am “all of the above” in how I became an author. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I tried a fan fiction of a Georgette Heyer book when it ended too soon for my liking. I stumbled across that piece of early writing when we were in the process of moving and it wasn’t half bad. Of course, it wasn’t half good either. (grin) But considering I was thirteen…

No question my early attempt was aided by how vividly Georgette Heyer wrote her characters, so when I decided to write my own fiction, my goal was to create characters as vivid and well drawn as Heyer’s, characters that wouldn’t go away at the end, characters you believed still existed somewhere out there.

Based on my early fan fiction, you’d think I would be writing Regency instead of science fiction romance and steampunk, but I had eclectic reading tastes right from the start. I can remember this totally cool YA novel called Jade by Sally Watson about a girl who becomes a pirate and found true love. Of course, Nancy Drew was in there, too, but it didn’t take me long to shift to adult novels.

I discovered Mary Stewart watching Haley Mills in The Moonspinners. The title grabbed my young imagination and when I realized there was a book? I was there. I thought the book was so much better—though I still feel the Haley Mills love—and I quickly inhaled her backlist (Isn’t that the best? Finding a new author with a backlist?). Other authors that helped to shape my muse are Elizabeth Cadell (long list of fun books, but Brimstone in the Garden was great and quirky!) and Alastair Maclean (action adventure author of Guns of Navarone and Where Eagles Dare). And of course, A Wrinkle in Time sparked my love of all things time travel. Throw in some Lord of the Rings and you’ve got a rather odd stew going on inside my head. It’s not a perfect explanation, but the only one I have.

When I made the shift from reader to reader/author, I didn’t start out writing science fiction romance. I spent some years writing romantic suspense. I think I was trying to be Mary Stewart. It took me a few books to realize I was trending toward action adventure romance, which wasn’t the direction romantic suspense was heading in the 1990’s. Because I publish with a small press, I can follow my muse into diverse places without getting dumped, so when I left the romantic suspense path and wrote a time travel to WWII called Out of Time, my publisher didn’t blink. I wish I could explain why my muse took me from WWII to outer space, but I can’t (other than referring you to my odd stew) and by pointing out that space is the ultimate action adventure background because, hello, it’s space.

I can tell you that some books start with a “what if” and some start with a character who shows up in my head and says, “Write my story.” The Key, my first science fiction romance novel, started like that. I literally had this character tapping her toe inside my head and I had one scene: she wakes in a cave and hears breathing. That was all I knew. I certainly didn’t know she was in a distant galaxy and that the heavy breather was an alien.

When I finished that book, readers asked me what happens next, so I took the question to the muse and four years later, I have what I call a connected series—books set in the same story world, but with different main characters in each book.

So the series that started with The Key now includes a science fiction romance novel called Girl Gone Nova, the science fiction-steampunk mash up-novella, Tangled in Time, and Steamrolled, another SFR/steampunk mash-up novel that released last April and Kicking Ashe, which will complete the series for now. There are also two short stories that fit into the series: Men in Jeans and Steam Time. You can find both in Project Enterprise: The Shorts.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it (and donuts and chocolate and good books…)

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