With: Julie Miller
My first novel? To be honest, this is a really hard question for me because I was such a voracious reader growing up. Could it be THE TWENTY-ONE BALLOONS by William Pene DuBois? CHARLOTTE’S WEB by E.B. White? Maybe THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH by Norman Juster or KING OF THE WIND by Marguerite Henry? All those books and more blend together in my memories, and it’s hard to remember what was truly the first chapter book I read. But boy, do I remember reading.
We moved around a lot when I was a child (Dad was a Marine), and being terribly shy to begin with, I often entertained myself by reading books and making up stories in my head. I don’t ever remember being bored as a child, however. Eventually I would make friends—but reading was always my escape when the stress of trying to connect with someone new got to be too much, or when my big brother and his friends said they no longer needed a spy to play “army” with them (I couldn’t make the machine gun and explosion sounds, so I had to be the spy ;). I would retreat to my room or a makeshift fort made of chairs and blankets, and open a book. Any adventure I might be missing out on didn’t matter. With a good story, I lived thousands of adventures in my head.
My mom, being a teacher and a really smart lady who was probably way ahead of her time in dealing with the psychology of a shy child, always took me to the local library when we got to a new town, and my first friends were the new books I discovered there. I also loved ordering Scholastic Books at school (anyone else remember those order forms?). Even when money was tight, she and Dad let me buy at least one book. And when it arrived and the teacher gave it to me, it felt like a birthday or Christmas.
Books were a big part of my growing up—and still are. Like the books I write now for Harlequin Intrigue and NOIR, I was always drawn to romance and adventure. When I moved to Fulton, Missouri, the librarian introduced me to a wall of fairy tales and folk tales. And I read every last one. Many, more than once. I particularly liked Andrew Lang’s collections called The Blue Fairy Book, The Red Fairy Book, and so on. In those pages, I was introduced to Beauty & the Beast, The Snow Queen, Rumplestiltskin and more. And those are themes I still incorporate into my modern tales of romantic suspense, such as BEAUTY AND THE BADGE or ASSUMED IDENTITY, where a “beastly” cop with no hope for love meets up with a kind, brave woman who sees the noble hero inside him and falls in love with the real man the rest of the world might not see. My November NOIR book, titled BAD GIRL, is Beauty and the Beast in reverse—it’s my heroine, Doreen Riley, who has trouble seeing the good inside her.
One of the things readers say they love best about my Precinct books is the community of characters who appear in the different stories. In my August 2014 release, KCPD PROTECTOR, my hero, George Madigan is the deputy commissioner—the man in charge of all the precincts. He’s not the only cop in his family, either, so naturally, it made sense to populate George’s story with several familiar faces from previous Precinct stories—the detectives he orders to help protect his executive assistant when a stalker threatens her. Of course, he takes the front line. Who else would he entrust the safety of the most important woman in his life to? But it’s that team of detectives and CSIs and uniformed officers backing him up who help him get the job done. And, in KCPD PROTECTOR, I take that sense of community to the extreme when a tornado strikes KCPD headquarters. Has anyone seen a disaster movie? All kinds of stars show up in those—and many familiar characters from other Precinct books show up in this one, too.
I think I got that first taste of a community of characters working together to complete a journey or reach a goal in the Oz series of books by L. Frank Baum. Yes—series. Many people have read THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ, but there is more than one grand adventure that takes place over the rainbow. Another favorite involves a boy named Tip, Jack Pumpkinhead and a flying sofa. That’s THE MARVELOUS LAND OF OZ. And guess what, just like in my Precinct books, a couple of favorite characters make an appearance in the story—Scarecrow and the Tin Woodsman.
The Oz books truly spoke to my imagination, and to the characterizations and conflicts I use in my own writing today. Probably my first crush, even in second grade, was the Scarecrow in THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ. I guess I knew from a young age that I admired men of intelligence and loyalty and heart—those heroes who are going to do the right thing and try their hardest and help the people they care about, even when the journey is fraught with magical creatures and wicked witches. Doesn’t that sound like a gritty Harlequin Intrigue? Just substitute heroic cops for Dorothy and her friends, and stalkers, serial killers and rapists for lions, tigers and bears. Like the friends in the Oz books, I love when a character discovers a special talent or takes a personal risk or displays intense loyalty and courage. A lot of the heroes and heroines in my books make those discoveries about themselves and rise to the occasion when necessary, too.
I can’t choose just one first novel. But I’m grateful for my imagination and my mom and all the wonderful authors who made it so easy to fall in love with books!
What was the first novel you read? Do you remember those first chapter books that made an impression on you?
I’ll give away a copy of one of my books, a backlist title or my brand new release, KCPD PROTECTOR—print or digital format, winner’s choice—to one lucky poster!
Giveaway ends 11:59pm EST Aug. 2nd. Please supply your email in the post. You may use spaces or full text for security. (ex. jsmith at gmail dot com) If you do not wish to supply your email, or have trouble posting, please email email@example.com with a subject title of JRS GIVEAWAY to be entered in the current giveaway.