I’m often asked how an airline pilot/ex-USAF jet jockey ended up writing romance. “Easy,” I say. “Too little time on the ground coupled with way too much time to think!” Trust me, nothing aids plot-hatching and character-developing like fifteen straight hours stuck in the cockpit with lukewarm coffee and a sky so black you can see every star in the Milky Way. I do six to eight Pacific crossings in a month. On any given day, you can find my body clock hovering somewhere between Tokyo and Sacramento. Ouch. Perpetual jet lag. But on the up side, the sights, smells, and tastes of the exotic locales I visit, and the conversations I have with people I’d never normally meet, provide the most amazing material to weave into my stories. With a little imagination, a dank high-walled alley in Taipei, ripe with the stench of sewage, garlic, and moped exhaust becomes the lower deck of an ill-maintained 19th century sailing ship. A Chinese restaurant where I nibble on pickled jelly fish, stir-fried fungus, and sautéed morning glory transforms into dinner-for-two on a distant planet.
Okay, so I’m a hopeless daydreamer. Only I don’t publicize that fact – I mean, the last thing air passengers want to hear is that their 747 pilot is “zoning out.” Not to worry, though: my imagination “runs” in the background like Norton Antivirus software. And, because I am, after all, a professional, I ensure that all musings cease during critical phases of flight. 🙂
When I’m not a jet-lagged zombie wandering around Sydney, Shanghai or Saigon, I’m a typical suburban mom, if there is such a creature. They’re teens in high school now, but when they were much younger I used to bring them (and the neighbor kid who somehow ended up eating all his meals at our house) to the local park. I remember one day when the boys ran off, each clutching a laundered-too-many-times Beanie Baby (the only two toys in the car), leaving my daughter empty-handed. “But, Mom,” she said, grief-stricken. “Now I have no one to be!”
Whoa. Simple words, but what a concept. My daughter, with the boundless, easily accessed imagination of a child, intended to be a Beanie Baby, slipping into the fluffy body of a kitten, or duck, or crocodile to live through its eyes. And, boy, did I understand her disappointment. That’s exactly how I feel when I open a book and can’t lose myself in it, when I’m unable, for some reason, to form that seamless emotional connection with the characters that allows me to live the story right along with them.
At that point I suppose I got that faraway look that so exasperates my family, because my daughter accepted my understanding hug and deserted me. I sat on a park bench, mentally shuffling through some of my many “keeper” books like One Perfect Rose by Mary Jo Putney, Elizabeth Vaughan’s Warprize, Primary Inversion and The Radiant Seas by Catherine Asaro. What linked them? A terminally ill duke, a woman forced to marry in order to secure peace for her people, a battle-weary futuristic soldier? Certainly at first glance the characters share little in common with each other, let alone me, yet I was equally swept away with each book.
Because the authors succeeded in giving me someone to be.
When I open a book, I yearn to be swept away to another place, another time, another body! I want a story that will completely engross me to the point of being totally unaware of my surroundings, so that when I look up I’m disoriented for a few seconds. I can identify with the situation and characters to the point of being totally immersed in a book and not realizing what time it is or even what century I’m in then the author has written a great book.
Although I’m not any closer to knowing the secret to why some books have the magic to sweep me away and others don’t, the question itself has always intrigued me. How about you? What makes a book sweep you away? What are some you’ve read lately that have worked this rare magic on you, where when you turned the last page you looked up blinking because you forgot who and where you were?
If you’d like to come along on some of my adventures, visit my blog: susangrant.blogspot.com. No luggage required! Oh, and for a peek at the stories these adventures have spawned over the years, stop by my website http://www.susangrant.com/ where I maintain a printable list of all my books and what series they belong to.