I’ve missed a couple of weeks. We’ve had a family emergency, with my younger daughter in the hospital for treatment of a chronic condition. That ground everything to a halt and, when she finally came home, it meant a huge backlog of writing. The good news is that the daughter is getting better every day.

The time spent with her in the hospital also provided a writing epiphany, especially related to my favorite children’s author, Walter Farley. More on that below.

Walter Farley

My copy of The Black Stallion & the Girl, cover copyright Random House

To cope with all this, I resorted to tea. Strong tea. Wake you up, tea. I drank a special morning blend of black orange pekoe tea. Basic black teas can be the hardest tea to get right. Too strong and they’re harsh and nasty (hello, Lipton), too weak and it’s like drinking hot water with a hint of flavor. This blend is perfect for me, provided I use one of my extra large mugs, two teaspoons of the loose tea, and steep for four minutes. Perfect.

Onto Walter Farley and one of my favorite books as a child: The Black Stallion and the Girl.

When we fall in love with books as children, we fall hard, and those stories and the people who wrote them become beloved in a way that’s everlasting.

Sometimes when revisiting our favorite stories as adults, we can be disappointed. I still see what I loved in my favorites but, as an adult, Tarzan‘s pulp adventures contain racist implications are undeniable. Robert Heinlein’s fast-paced galactic adventures reveal skewed views on women and sex.

But sometimes authors and books exceed our childhood memories and that’s the case with Farley and The Black Stallion and the Girl. Even more, sometimes behind a beloved story is another story, a true story that’s tragic and beautiful.

When my daughter was in the hospital, she wanted to read and disappear in her books. I’d brought her my favorite Black Stallion books, including this one, so I picked it off the pile while she read something else. The words quickly merged with my memories of childhood, and I was eight years old again, thrilled that a girl could do everything that the hero of the story, Alec Ramsey, could do. Pam, the girl of the title, did what she loved to do, despite everyone telling her that she couldn’t or shouldn’t do it. She knew differently and her quiet confidence and her kindness won them over.

There are debates in the book over what women should and could do and here Walter Farley is on the right side of history, allowing Alec to be on Pam’s side and allowing that women could be whatever they wanted and that Pam had just as much a right to love horses and work with them as anyone else.

This book was written in 1971, even before Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs. Farley was ahead of his time and his story back then was an inspiration to me.

However, I also remembered a later book, The Black Stallion Legend, written in 1983, where Pam dies off-screen in a car crash in Europe and that sent Alec into a dream-like tailspin. It was an odd book, full of raw grief. I wasn’t ready for it, and I put the entire series aside for other books.

What I didn’t know then was that Pam was based on Walter Farley’s own daughter, Pam, who died at the age of 20 in 1968 in a car crash in Europe.

The Black Stallion and the Girl is a love letter from Farley to his daughter.

Pam in the book is kind and warm and smart and funny and determined. She’s human, of course, and not perfect, though Walter Farley can be forgiven if perhaps she’s a bit idealized. (Alec, too, is idealized, as is the case with many lead characters in children’s books.) At the end of the story, Pam leaves to pursue her dreams, promising to stay in touch with Alec.

The book ends with this tribute:

A soft breeze swept his face, and his eyes turned to the star-lit heavens. Whenever he wasn’t with her, her fingers would be the wind and the wind her fingers, and all space would be the smile of her.

I can’t imagine what it took for Farley to write those words, only three years after his daughter’s untimely death. I’m in awe of the gift that allowed him to share his daughter with the world and reach out to me, someone he would never know, and inspire me in turn.

Stories matter. And storytellers matter. I’m glad that Pam is still out there, immortal, and that her father left the world such a gift.

Today is the day! Phoenix Rising is out in paperback!

I received my author copies a few weeks ago and took time to sit down and fondle them a bit. New book smell! Nothing else like it!

So, contest!!

Comment below about what you’re currently reading! That way we can talk about books and recommend them to each other too.

THREE PRIZES, THREE WINNERS, chosen by random number from the comments.

1. A print copy of Phoenix Rising.

2. Ecopies of Phoenix Legacy, the sequel coming on Nov. 11th. , Phoenix Rising,  and Luminous, the short story set in the same univers.

superhero novels, superhero romance, Phoenix Rising,

3. A $10 Amazon certificate.

I will close entries in one week, at midnight on October 9th. Make sure that there is a way I can reach you if you want a prize, preferably via email. I’ve found Facebook messages tend to get lost.

As I held my book in my hands, I started to think of all the different influences on the series, especially the first book. The first, obvious, one is my love of Marvel’s X-Men, as the heroes in my books are born with their powers, as are the mutant X-Men, and the eventual goal of those running the Phoenix Institute is to provide a safe haven for mutants and teach them how to use their abilities safely.

But that was the general concept. As it took shape, it became more my own idea. For one, I restricted all the abilities to ones that could be explained by psychic powers. That means telekinesis and telepathy.

Alec Farley, the hero of Phoenix Rising, is a telekinetic but also a firestarter, as starting fires is just another level of moving things around with the brain, albeit at a molecular level. There are many variations I can use. The hero of the upcoming Phoenix Legacy has TK but it’s limited to the ability to heal himself. He can literally order his body to repair damage I’m currently working on the third full book in the series and the heroine can walk through walls, which is due to her psychic ability to control the molecules of her body.

Telepathy, on the other hand, could also take many forms. There are: simple communication/ the ability to mentally order people around; to cast illusions by making someone see what isn’t real; and to make what is real invisible. (See Luminous.)

It would be boring to write such powerful people without giving them weaknesses, so each strength has an appropriate drawback. Alec’s fire can escape his control. My self-healer can’t solve blood loss. My telepath can only control so many people for a short period of time. My ghost walker can only carry something with if it’s smaller than her own body weight.

Something else I borrowed was part of the setting. I feel in love with one of Nora Roberts’ Harlequin stories involving one of her big families. I loved the story about a young artist who lived in a lighthouse in Maine, especially the setting. I had just visited Maine and it resonated. So I took that idea, “borrowed” a real house set up on a hill over looking the harbor in Maine, and put that in the book.

And Beth…the first stirrings of the character that became Beth, the heroine of Phoenix Rising, took place back in 2004 when I was talking to Karen Harbaugh at RWA National in Dallas. She talked about how few leads of Asian descent there were in romance stories. I said maybe people write what they know. And she said that was no excuse. If people could research Regencies and historicals, they could research a character’s background too.

I sat down to write Phoenix Rising and Beth took shape as a Japanese-American. It’s not that I said “I’ll write a minority lead,” it was more “I’m writing a very unique character and this background adds to it.” I saw her as just Beth, whose background I had to get right as I had to get Alec’s background just right. But I received a few comments about people happy to see a non-white lead in a book, so that was nice.

And, last but not least, I owe a debt to the great writers of books I devoured in my childhood. Alec Farley is my own tribute to the wonderful Walter Farley, who wrote the Black Stallion series. I keep and treasure those books to this day. Alec Ramsey is the hero of the series, so I just swapped his last name for the author’s last name.

I only hope, in some small way, that I can touch reachers a tenth as well as Walter Farley’s stories touched me.

Last week, I was asked a question about the one book that influenced my life. I had trouble narrowing it to just one.

So I started thinking about all the books I’ll  hold close to my heart and will have in my collection until I die.

And I made a list.  🙂

1. The Black Stallion by Walter Farley.

This is the first book I remember carrying around with me constantly.

My favorites passages are Alec’s first ride aboard the Black on the deserted island, Alec’s midnight ride on a real racetrack that becomes almost surreal, and, most especially, the climatic match race between The Black, Cyclone and Sun Raider.

When I needed a name for my superhero, I called him Alec. His last name isn’t a coincidence either. 🙂

2. Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey

When I was twelve, I got a subscription to the SF Book Club and got to choose five free books. This was included, along with a couple of Edgar Rice Burroughs books and Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber. I like Zelazny’s work a lot but it was this collection I read until the pages fell out. It still has orange stains from the Cheetos I ate while reading.

The book is likely a little dated now but the dragons in this series are still the best.

3. J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

I know some people think the narrative moves slow at the beginning but I was hooked right away with the descriptions of Bilbo’s birthday party. I just adore Tolkien’s narrative voice, rambling and all.

By the time Strider showed up in Bree, I was hopelessly in love with the story. Eowyn’s battle against the King of the Nazghul remains my favorite scene though Gandalf’s confrontation on the bridge in Moria is a close second.

4. DC: The New Frontier by Darwyn Cooke

I love any number of superhero stories but if I had to pick one story that distilled everything I love about superheroes, this would be it.

5. The Sherlock Homes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle

I’m the proud owner not only of the classic William S. Baring-Gould Annotated Sherlock Holmes but also of a new annotated edition published a couple of years ago. These stories are everything I love about mysteries and I’ve yet to find a detective I like more than Holmes.

But it’s Watson who really makes the stories to me. He’s flawed but intelligent and kind and adds the human touch that the stories need. The new movie with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law didn’t impress me much but it got Watson right, a big point in their favor.

6. Tell Me Lies by Jennifer Crusie

I normally steer away from contemporary stories–they’re too close to reality for me. But this is the book that really turned me on to romance stories. It’s sad, it’s funny, and everyone in it is so real. It’s a beautiful book.

7. The Plantagenet Chronicles by Thomas Costain

I think this four-volume set came through a mail-order book club too. It starts with Henry II and ends with the death of Richard III, the last of the English Plantagenet kings. It’s more of a collection of anecdotes spliced together than it is a linear history. Costain is a great storyteller.

And I’m still with him that Richard III may have been innocent of his nephews’ murder and that Richard II was a really lousy king. One of these days, I’m going to write the William Marshall story inspired by Costain.

8. Cordelia’s Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

This is the book that brought me back to SF after years of avoiding it because of cardboard characters. I’d been mostly reading fantasy until a friend insisted on read this. It’s now one of the most dog-eared books in my collection.

Aral. :sigh:

It’s…well, ostensibly it’s about a woman from a very liberal culture who falls in love with a man from a planet and a culture isolated for thousands of years from the rest of galactic civilization.

But that’s like saying the Sopranos is about mobsters. It’s true but there’s so much MORE.

9. The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart

The first novel in a series so good that other Arthurian fiction writers use it as a basis for their stories. Young Merlin is a bastard child in a court that would rather see him dead but his Gift of Sight ultimately protects him long enough to find his father, the Roman heir of Britain.

There is magic in these pages.

10. Hope’s Folly by Linnea Sinclair

My latest obsession. Adrenaline-fueled romantic SF with a pace that would please Robert Heinlein. It’s just sheer fun to read.

So what are your favorites?