Today I’m going to talk about why I wrote the four books in my alien empath series, starting with Star Cruise: Stowaway, which was originally written for the first Pets in Space™ anthology (and is now available separately).
From the beginning I knew I was going to place my Pets story in the Sectors, an interstellar civilization where most of my scifi romances occur. What kind of pet would be logical in a spacefaring world? Of course – cats go anywhere, any time, right? Not to mention that my own Jake the Cat is a strong advocate for more feline presence in my stories LOL.
I also wanted to have an alien pet involved, just for fun.
At the time I was writing Star Cruise: Outbreak and had a scene take place in the cargo hold. It occurred to me that even on a spaceship there might well be vermin, so I gave Moby the white rescue cat to the Cargo Master, Owen Embersson. Since he had the pet, Officer Embersson would have to be the romantic hero of the short story. What kind of a woman could he naturally become involved with? How could I write a plot for them that involved more than just everybody enjoying cats, feeding cats and playing with cat toys? Owen wouldn’t normally interact with the Nebula Zephyr’s passengers and I felt I’d done enough ‘crew member falls in love with another crew member’ stories for now…but he’d be the first person to interact with a stowaway!
Once I knew Tyrelle the heroine was going to be a stowaway, the rest of the plot elements fell into place for me.
I was always fascinated by the Star Trek episode “The Empath,’ and although my story goes off in its own direction completely, that was the original moment when I started thinking about a heroine who had this set of abilities. The Urban Dictionary defines empath as “a person who is capable of feeling the emotions of others despite the fact that they themselves are not going through the same situation.” Of course Tyrelle can do so much more, including forcing unsuspecting people to act on feelings they may not even realize they harbor. But there’s a cost to her…
I also enjoy the way Nalini Singh writes and uses Empaths in her Psy-Changeling series – my favorite book in the series is Shield of Winter, where Ivy Jane and the other empaths play a large role in saving their civilization. (No spoilers.)
Plenty of room in the creative universe for each of us to write our own version of empathy as a gift/curse/power/temptation!
Star Cruise: Outbreak features an alien pet, Midorri, who is kind of a cross between a tribble and a red tailed panda (my favorite animal after cats). I decided to keep her on board the Nebula Zephyr after the events of Outbreak so she could be involved in this Stowaway adventure too, and then as pets and secondary characters often do, she kept becoming more and more integral to the plot and revealing new capabilities I didn’t know about before. I got really fond of my furry little green friend with the six legs!
I realized after I finished the Star Cruise: Stowaway novella that I wasn’t done with the subject of these beautiful, empathic women and their predicament with the Sectors’ organized crime syndicate. I decided to tell a much longer story for Miriell, who is the sister of the Stowaway heroine. For Danger in the Stars I put her in the heart of the Amarotu Combine operation, at the mercy of her violent ‘controller’, and when I asked myself who would be her hero, Conor Stewart appeared. (To be clear, Conor is not the controller.)
She sees good in him, well hidden under the façade of the dangerous hitman and crime boss. He goes out of his way to help her when he can and cautious attraction blossoms between them. Not to give spoilers but there’s much more to Conor than meets the eye. He is a hero!
I made great efforts to ensure I didn’t stray into Stockholm Syndrome territory – where a victim may start to feel affection or emotion toward the captors as a psychological survival strategy. I tried to ensure that both Miriell and Conor stayed clear headed and genuine at all times about what the situation was and that their emotion was trustworthy true love, not an outgrowth of her captivity. Miriell was a high ranking priestess on her own planet and remains pragmatic at all times about those who hold her prisoner, including Conor. But her powers tell her he’s keeping secrets and she can’t help but wonder if her god Thuun has sent him to help her.
It’s not my usual Sectors spaceships and blasters scifi story (although there certainly are some of both elements in the action scenes) but I was really intrigued with telling this tale and exploring a few things about both the empathic priestess (which brings in my element of mysticism that I always like to incorporate) and the stone cold mob hitman, who has to fight his deepest instincts to preserve and protect. When it comes to Miriell, he can’t stand by and let her remain a pawn of the Combine. This is a romance, so the Happily Ever After ending is guaranteed, even if perilous for my couple to attain.
For the next book, Two Against the Stars, I thought it would be interesting to write about one of these captive empaths who manages to get free of the crime syndicate on her own and then is on the run from them and the authorities. I wondered what she’d do if confronted with a situation that required her to risk her own hard-won freedom. Of course that begged the question what the dire situation could be, and it had to involve a hero in jeopardy, since I’m writing romance.
Here’s the description of the eventual story (more about why I wrote certain parts below):
Empathic priestess Carialle has escaped the evil Amarotu Combine, but she’s hardly out of danger. Not when she risks everything to rescue a drugged man from a crooked veterans’ clinic. By lulling the clinic staff to sleep, she reveals her powers. And once again, criminals are after her and her rescuer.
Marcus Valerian, a wounded Special Forces veteran, never expected to have his life threatened by the clinic that’s supposed to help ex-soldiers like him. But when he wakes from a drugged state to find a lovely woman urging him to run–he does. In his family’s remote fishing cabin, he suffers the agony of withdrawal, soothed only by her powers.
In their idyllic hideaway, the two also discover a nova-hot attraction flaring. But can they stay alive long enough for it to become more? Not if the Combine has anything to say–they are not giving up until Marcus is dead and Carialle is their weapon.
Notice in the description that eventually the couple flees to a cabin deep in the woods? When I was a kid, we lived in upstate New York and my family had a vacation place on a lake nearby. The cabin was built from scratch by my grandfather and some of my best childhood memories center around that cabin and the lake, fishing, boating, swimming and hiking. I can even remember bits and pieces of when there was no cabin or even a road at all on our land – we had to hike in through the forest and sleep in tents. (I was really little then.) So I decided to write a version of the cabin into the book, as a safe haven for Carialle and Marcus. The real family cabin was only accessible via a very rough, unpaved road added later, so I exaggerated that situation a bit for the book. And of course my grandfather wasn’t a Special Forces veteran. Actually he worked for Nestle International at that point in time as an executive and wow did he get great gift baskets at the holidays! Despite being in an office nine to five, he had mad skills as a builder and wilderness scout and all round capable guy.
But the cabin, Marcus’s memories and some of the events that transpire there are my tribute to a very happy part of my own childhood. Of course a lot of what’s in the book is purely fictional LOL. To my knowledge our cabin lacked an Artificial Intelligence, a force shield and any subterranean facilities!
When it was time to write the fourth book, The Fated Stars, I wanted a really unique situation. I always feel I owe it to my readers to write a different take on each novel, not just repeat the same setup every time. I started pondering what would have happened to a male empathic priest from their planet of Tulavarra if he’d been kidnapped and forced into working for the crime bosses. My daughters have been challenging me to write a female soldier for several years now and I thought this book was my golden opportunity to write a really kick ass woman mercenary.
Cover artist Fiona Jayde created an alien carnival for me, although you have to look closely to see it on the cover, but I thought that was a fun touch…when I was little we used to go to the county fair and the volunteer firemen’s field days and I especially loved the merry go round. I pulled on those memories a bit when writing about the place where Samell is held prisoner. Of course I never met any aliens – to my knowledge! – at any of the rural fairs I attended as a kid (we did bring home a live duck named Cleveland once but that’s another story), but it was a fun concept to translate to the far future and the rim worlds of civilized space. Very different than anything I’d ever written before.
Writing Larissa, the tough heroine, was exciting because up to that point my major military characters had always been guys. There’s a unique fight scene in the book where she takes on one of the alien Shemdylann in hand to hand combat – no spoilers – and that was a lot of creative fun to think through. I’ve made the Shemdylann so imposing and invulnerable (except to blasters) in all the Sectors novels that now I had the challenge of saying “yes, but Larissa can win this fight because…” and make it believable.
There’s also an interlude where she and Samell have an encounter with an ancient, sentient tree (and its pets, the Amusing Ones) and I drew a bit on how I felt many years ago when my late husband and I took a vacation amidst the giant Sequoias.
I don’t know if I’ll feel the call to write another empath novel but never say never. I do have a plot in mind thanks to my busy Muse…
For the full blurbs and all the buy links, here’s my blog page for the series
Note: Portions of this post appeared previously on the Whiskey With My Book Blog and Pauline Baird Jones’s blog.