Author and USA Today HEA columnist Veronica Scott recently started a thread in a sci-fi romance Facebook group on what books first got folks interested in the genre. Having done blog tours for all of my SFR titles, I have probably answered that question a dozen times, and possibly in as many ways. It can be tricky gazing back, oh, 40 years, and retrieving data with any kind of accuracy.
The seed for me was definitely L'Engle's A WRINKLE IN TIME, my favorite book as an elementary schooler (a dozen reads, no lie). This book only had the hints of a romance, but with less than a decade under my belt, that was plenty for me. I read it around the same time as the release of the original STAR WARS film, which, as it did for so many, made a huge impact on me.
I also credit the first adult sci-fi novel I read, a Star Wars world book, which came out around the same time: SPLINTER OF THE MIND'S EYE, by Alan Dean Foster. MIND'S EYE featured a touch of romance between Luke and Leia, which clearly was a head-scratcher for me later, when RETURN OF THE JEDI was released. I've most likely discussed this book on this blog before, and certainly have on others, but one thing I don't think I ever mentioned was how the book came to my attention.
As I was responding to Veronica's thread, some old memories came back to me. When I was in fifth grade, I had a male friend. While I don't remember a lot of stuff from that time, I know that we must have been good friends, because I do remember going to his home for a playdate. (Back then we weren't quite so official about things. I think it was probably more like, "I go right by your house on my walk home from school so let's hang out.")
The other reason I know we were good friends is because I brought one of the stories I had written to school, so he could read it. Perhaps up to this point there's nothing too surprising here. But in this era of extreme misogynistic behavior in sci-fi communities (which, if unfamiliar to you, you can read about here and here, if you have the stomach for it) as well as in hookup culture, my memory of what happened next really got me thinking: He told me he thought my story was good (if memory serves, he actually said something like "you have a talent for this"), and he told me that if I liked sci-fi and STAR WARS, he thought I'd really like MIND'S EYE. (And I did—I read it three times.)
The memory of this strikingly respectful, emotionally intelligent, and inclusive response from a fifth-grade boy momentarily stunned me. And my sudden sense that I had experienced something rare was immediately reinforced by another author, who replied to my comment, saying that in her youth a male classmate had become physically violent with her when she took an interest in a book about dinosaurs, because those weren't for girls.
I myself had experienced bullying in this same time period—another boy in my class had very angrily told me one day out of the blue that I was ugly. Nearly 40 years later, I still remember the look on his face when he said it, the fear the verbal attack inspired, and how I had internalized his criticism, part of me continuing to believe it for many years. (Unfortunately it approximately corresponded with the time my well-meaning mother had managed to give me the single worst haircut of my life,)
After these memories resurfaced, I became intensely curious about what had happened to my friend, and I did what we all do from time-to-time in this day and age—I looked for him on Facebook. It didn't take long to find him, because he doesn't look a whole lot different from how he did then. Also he was friends with a couple of other alumni from my high school. When we were children he had a strong interest in music and drums in particular, and I saw from his photos that he'd continue to pursue those interests.
I probably don't need to point out how fraught this sort of thing can be. People become curious about old connections for many reasons, and the reasons we most often hear about involve marital dissatisfaction. Not only that, you don't need me to tell you that we're living in a very hot political climate, and plenty of this comes out in Facebook. So my dilemma was, do I risk contacting this guy—who might be nothing like he was as a child, who might in some way be offended by me, or who might reasonably think I'm crazy—to say thanks for being a good friend all those years ago?
Two things decided me. I have a daughter in fifth grade, and therefore this kind of behavior by a fifth-grade boy is doubly not taken for granted (does that grammar even work? not sure, but you get my drift). And second, my husband—a very kind and sensitive male in his own right—encouraged me. That settled it: My motives were pure, good deeds should be rewarded, and my husband had sanity-checked me.
Over the weekend I messaged my friend, deciding that was less invasive than friending. I know from personal experience that many people fail to notice FB Messenger notifications (um, guilty), and some people just don't use Messenger at all. That meant he might never see the message, but it also meant that if he was uncomfortable answering, he could ignore it without me thinking much of it.
To cut to the chase, I did indeed hear back from him. It was not at all awkward, and he remembered our friendship as fondly as I had. The kind and respectful boy grew into a kind and respectful man, and it's been fun to catch up on each other's lives. I imagine these nostalgic moments will be coming to me faster as I get older and those formative moments and meaningful exchanges become easier to recognize. There appears to be a strong connection between such revelations and my daughter's stages of development, which is perhaps not surprising.
I told my daughter this story. I told her I know boys can seem rowdy, strange, and sometimes awful (which made her laugh), but that I hoped she'd be lucky enough to have a friend like mine. I fear for her in the current climate of backlash against feminism. She's always been taught that she's smart enough and strong enough to do whatever she wants in life, but she's old enough now that she's beginning to see not everyone feels that way, and that for many girls and women, it's a hard and even perilous road.
Though it's not a child's film, I sat down with her and my stepdaughter, who is seven, and watched HIDDEN FIGURES. I had to give them a little history and cultural lesson first, and I was called upon to explain some science that is admittedly over my head, but my girls LOVED the movie. I was so proud to see their dawning understanding of what an accomplishment it was for these women to do what they did. The adversity they faced and the obstacles they had to overcome. (My girls had somewhat of a foundation, as we'd also recently watched THE EAGLE HUNTRESS, and the eldest is reading GOODNIGHT STORIES FOR REBEL GIRLS.)
I was also grateful to the film's creators (and I presume, the author of the book before that), for showing us men who, though they might have struggled at first to accept and understand women behaving in such nontraditional ways, recognized their value not just as women, but as human beings and full members of society, and provided the support they needed to do that awe-inspiring work.
Three cheers for boys whose mammas (and daddies) raised them right! Tell me about one you know in the comments . . .