I’m so excited. My first novel-length work, At First Contact, had been published!

It’s been a long time coming, the culmination of more than two years’ work (oh, how the pandemic slowed everything down…). Each tale is its own story, independently created and designed to stand alone. And yet, now that they have been combined into a single book these romantic novellas weave together a volume with a broader overarching theme. 

The first story in At First Contact is an eponymous tale set in a science fiction universe. A world with androids, with space exploration, with the possibility of life on other planets… yet at its heart, it is a story about both isolation and connection. A story about how we are, under the surface, more similar than we are different. 

Reading it now, the thing that strikes me most about the story is how powerfully it resonates with a post-pandemic world – despite having been written before the pandemic. I never imagined, could never have imagined, that the main character’s fear and disgust of germs would be realized in the world around us so dramatically. I never dreamed that the idea of a person who would rather isolate themselves than expose themselves to potential infection would become reality, even a self-imposed duty, for so many of us. 

The phobia isn’t the point of the story, of course. It’s merely the thing that drives the protagonist into space, away from humanity. The true story is about finding human connection in the unlikely person of Jay, their android companion. It’s also about exploration and discovery, and about bravery in the face of one’s greatest fear. 

Ghosted is the second story in the volume. I loved talking about the California coast, with Leo’s explorations being based loosely on many of my own experiences on the beaches of San Diego county. When I began writing, it wasn’t yet clear to me how the story would end. Oh, there would be a happily ever after – that’s a given with romance – but how would the characters get there? In some ways, I discovered what had happened to Will along with Leo, only one step ahead of the characters. It’s amazing when that happens, when the characters tell you their story and you become a channel for their memories and voices. The paranormal spin was a fun and different kind of universe than I’d written before.

With A Touch of Magic, the idea of the world came to me first. I imagined a modern fantasy setting: a world like ours, but with a single minor difference. In this world, one could on rare occasions involuntarily infuse something (or someone) with magic. Sean and Lawrence were shaped by this world, so similar to our own that on the surface it might seem almost the same. But this small but important change from our own world ended up being terribly important to the two men and their future. 

I did not set out to write “stories about people with disabilities”. Indeed, I resist defining these three stories as such, preferring to speak of how the characters are alienated from the world around them or themselves in various ways. Yet I can’t escape the fact that, in bringing my characters to life, I often discovered that they had a phobia, or a mental hang up, or trauma, or even chronic pain, that was simply a part of who they were. Sometimes these were reflections of my own experiences or those of people I knew. Sometimes they were simply inherent to the character. They reflected the world around me, with all its uncertainty and instability, and my reactions to it. These tales aren’t dark or depressing. If anything, they’re bright with hope. But they don’t shy away from the idea that not everyone fits the default definition of ‘normal’ (or even of ‘human’) – and that love is possible even for those of us who do not, sometimes not despite our difficulties, but because of them. 

Writing the stories in At First Contact was a joy, and more than that, a lifeline during the pandemic: a chance to escape my own world and live in the worlds of Leo and Will or Sean and Lawrence. Inevitably, they were influenced by my feelings at the time, and it was a great comfort to watch as isolation, alienation, and loneliness became transmuted into connection, acceptance, and love. I hope that reading them brings you just as much joy.

by Janice L. Newman

Physical & Digital Editions also available at the following retailers:

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