My Favorite Bit: Janice L. Newman Talks About AT FIRST CONTACT

Janice L. Newman is joining us today to talk about her series of novella, At First Contact. Here’s the publisher’s description:

The Fantastical Romances You’ve Been Craving

Hugo Finalist Janice L. Newman presents a touching trio of romances in a speculative vein. From the edge of space, to the shadows of the paranormal, to the marvels of the mystical:

At First Contact: A germaphobe and an android are assigned a mission to survey a planet together. Will they discover new life or a new love?

Ghosted: Leo is searching for the soul that used to haunt his grandmother’s house. Did Will ghost him?

A Touch of Magic: What if love could alter the fabric of existence? A fraught romance between two teachers just might be helped along by a touch of magic.

What’s Janice’s favorite bit?

JANICE L. NEWMAN

What is My Favorite Bit from At First Contact? That’s a tricky question, because the book isn’t just one story. Contained in its pages are three separate romance novellas, all more or less queer, each set in a different kind of world: one a futuristic sci-fi universe, one where paranormal activity is possible, and one with a small magical twist that differentiates it from ours.

My favorite bit from the first story, the eponymous “At First Contact”, is Jay. Writing an android was a special kind of challenge. He needed to be human enough, or at least to have qualities that made him loveable to the main character (and the reader), or the story could never have worked. At the same time, he also had to have a fundamentally alien origin and outlook. That required some real thought: Would androids grow and learn, or simply be programmed in advance? Structurally, what would set them apart from us? Which parts would be necessary for their existence, and which would simply be there for human comfort, rather than their own? I loved figuring out what had shaped Jay into the person he is.

My favorite bit from the second story, “Ghosted”, isn’t something I can talk about! But I can discuss my second-favorite bit, which is the environment. Ghosted was written during the height of the pandemic. My family and I had decided to isolate ourselves very strictly, interacting with two similarly-isolated friends only once every two weeks. We had our groceries delivered, went out very little, and wore a mask when we did go out, as the W.H.O. had not yet determined that masks need not be worn in the open air.

I missed seeing people fiercely, and I missed walking on the beach. I’m lucky to live in Southern California, and before the pandemic taking a walk down the beach was something I did at least weekly, sometimes even several times a week. There’s something head-clearing about feeling the constant breeze off the ocean, the sun bright in your eyes. The pandemic turned that into a nerve-wracking and uncomfortable experience, dodging people and finding it hard to breathe in my mask. I wanted to recapture with Leo’s explorations a little of the freedom and joy I remembered in the beforetimes. The places he goes and the things he sees are not exact analogues of real life places, but they are drawn from and modeled on my own experiences or experiences of people I care about. My longing and loneliness transmuted into Leo’s longing to find Will, and I shared, a little, in the peace he found in walking next to the ocean.

And then there’s the third story, “A Touch of Magic”. Rather than a character or location, my favorite bit from this one was the magic itself, even if I struggled a little to figure out how it worked. I started with the concept of a world where one could affect others with a surge of strong emotion, “cursing” them with a wound that would never close or “healing” them from an incurable condition. This couldn’t, I immediately realized, be a common occurrence. The world I was envisioning was still basically our world, which meant that this magic couldn’t be something that happened easily or every day, or the whole shape of our society would be different. Early on I also came to the conclusion that this rare happening could affect not just people, but objects, art, food, even music. So it shaped our world a little differently, but not so much as to be unrecognizable to modern readers…just enough to give everyday life the barest possibility of a touch of magic. Exploring how this magic affected the lives of Sean and Lawrence was its own kind of magic — as writing always is when the idea in one’s head is transformed into words on a page, not always as one initially envisions it, but in the end richer and more fully realized.

My favorite bit from each of the three stories is different: a character, a place, a piece of worldbuilding. But my favorite bit about the collection as a whole is this: All three of the stories in At First Contact resonate with similar themes of isolation and loneliness, but all three also imagine worlds where love, acceptance, and hope are possible for everyone.

LINKS:

At First Contact Universal Book Link

Publisher Website

Twitter

BIO:

Janice L. Newman has come a long way from her college days as a music and Japanese major. A talented writer, she has contributed to Rediscovery: Science Fiction by Women and is currently working on more thrilling SFF romances. Janice’s experience as a corporate controller makes her invaluable as the backbone for Journey Press and 3x Hugo Finalist Galactic Journey. She resides in San Diego with her writer husband, artist/writer/musician daughter, a gopher-eating cat, and a lump of a snake.

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