My mother passed away earlier this summer, and over the last couple of months, as my brothers and I sorted through her collection of photographs, old letters and the like, we cried and laughed as we remembered why she’d chosen to keep one item or another close to her. Clearing out her small bookcase was one of the latter times, sparsely filled as it was with a neat stack of coffee table books on travel, gardens, and dogs, a dozen well-read women’s fiction paperbacks, plus one nearly untouched copy of Undercover Alien by me, her daughter.
Her favorite book of all time was The Shell Seekers, by Rosamunde Pilcher. I know this not merely because it was on her “keeper” shelf, but because I, personally, have bought three copies for her over the last twenty years, to replace those which had been borrowed and not returned, or simply fallen apart. I mention this only because I know, though she never, ever, told me, that she secretly hoped her writer-daughter would one day be the author of something akin to Ms. Pilcher’s work.
About six months after I presented her with one of the first copies of Undercover Alien, she finally confessed that she hadn’t read very much of it. Now my mother rarely read romance and never read science-fiction, so I reassured her that I’d never expected her to read it at all and had only given it to her for the anticipated (and demanded) maternal bragging rights. But nevertheless, she felt she needed to justify her position by asking me why, instead of writing about real people like Ms. Pilcher, had I decided to write about aliens? Now my automatic response of “why not?” was out of the question – this was my mother, after all, and that dodge didn’t work forty years ago, either. I admit I’m not sure what I said at the time – but her question came back to me as I held her copy of my first published book and decided what to do with it.
Why do some of us choose aliens as our protagonists? When I was small, I dreamed of having super powers – the Good Witch Glinda variety rather than Superwoman, because, I confess, I was only five and liked the dress. I also had the traditional pre-teen fantasy that I had been left with my current family by fantastically intelligent extraterrestrials who were my real parents and would be coming back for me soon, because I couldn’t possibly be descended from these people. (I made the mistake of telling my mother about that one and she offered to help me pack for the trip – she really could call a bluff). The movie Starman came out in my romantic and impressionable twenties and I fell in love all over again with the idea of a being who understands more than we humans, and yet can see the wonders of our world we’ve stopped seeing ourselves. Then later, when the hero’s mentor in my very first finished book, a historical-time travel-western-Native American-psychic romance with way too many plot twists, turned out not to be human in the final chapter, I threw the nine-hundred plus pages into a box under the bed and decided extraterrestrials were the way to go. Looking through the eyes of an alien character frees me from the constraints of human behavior and expectations, while still allowing me to write about the things I think any intelligent species would want – acceptance, respect, friendship, and love.
There are scores of articles about the current fascination with aliens and UFOs, from those who think we’re simply the victims of mass hysteria to those who truly believe we’re not alone. Me, I don’t know – I’ve never met an alien or seen a UFO, but I’m keeping an open mind. When, or if, I do, maybe they’ll be unrecognizable and scary, or maybe they’ll be like me in some fundamental way – just another really different person.
Thanks, Romance Junkies, for letting me ramble, and if anyone has an answer to why we write, or read, alien romances, I’d love to hear from you. I’m sure my mom now knows why better than I do, but I may be asked the question again in a less forgiving setting and I probably should have an answer that doesn’t include references to the Good Witch Glinda.
For more stuff on me, I can be found at www.barbararomo.com. Gideon, my alien from Undercover Alien, rambles on his own subjects whenever I get a chance to type them at www.acuriousalien.blogspot.com. And Undercover Alien can be found with the wonderful people at www.CrescentMoonPress.com.
*Quote borrowed from Orson Scott Card, author of a fabulous craft of writing book called Characters & Viewpoint, as well as lots and lots of SF and other stories.