By the time I was a teenager, I'd progressed through Charlotte's Web, Little Women, Wuthering Heights, and Topper, among others. Then I decided it was time to get serious. I learned about sex from D.H. Lawrence, Balzac, Zola, and Henry Miller. At least, I thought I did. Okay, there are a few things you can't learn from books.
I went to college. There, amid the twin scents of incense and patchouli oil, my reading became more earnest. As befitting a student of the late 60's, I read Hermann Hesse and Doris Lessing. I learned about feminism from Simone de Beauvoir and existentialism from her boyfriend, that Sartre guy. My major was in psychology, and there I read about the people I would be writing as characters years later. My art minor gave me the vision of structure and balance that any piece of literature needs. As far as political activism went... well, that turned out to be about like sex—there weren't any books to help me. But I kept reading fiction.
When I graduated from college, I went to work in a mental hospital at less salary than I'd been earning at my temp jobs through college. But I loved my patients. Mental patients are some of the most honest people in the world. And as I kept reading, my taste turned, not surprisingly, toward science fiction in the evening as I listened to the stories my patients told me during the day. "I was born as Cleopatra and found that the sun burned." "The Lord came to me and told me to drink lye." "I killed my husband by piercing him with the force of my third eye until he had a heart attack." "This is a great ocean liner. Where are the lifeboats?" "My sister‑in‑law put a curse on me, but I'm okay if I stand in the shadows and don't step on the electric grids." (I bought her rubber‑soled boots.) I loved their stories. And I understood them. There was at least one murderer among my patients, maybe two, if you believed the woman with the third eye. I did. Her husband had been thirty‑one years old with no previous heart condition when he'd collapsed and died during an argument with her. So I listened and learned. And I read myself to sleep at night under my thrift shop quilt.
And then there came a time when I could no longer work at the mental hospital. I perceived my patients as neglected, over-medicated, and ignored. I was angry. I went back to talk to one of my college professors and he said, "Psychology doesn't have any answers for your concerns. The law does. Why don't you become a lawyer?" And I believed him! I would have been better off believing that we were all on an ocean liner. But in time, I said goodbye to my patients, packed up my novels, and went to law school.
Law school was fun. We studied by the "case law" method. The cases we read were really cool stories even if they left out some of the important parts. For instance, I seem to remember the case of a man who was murdered by three people in the same day. The three were each found guilty since any of their actions would have eventually killed him, although only the last one actually did. As I remember, he was poisoned, shot, and then thrown out an office window. But don't take my word for it. Really. I'm a fiction writer, and when time blurs my memory, I just make something up. Anyway, I understood the point of law that made each of the defendants guilty. But what I really wanted to know is what this man did to make three separate people angry enough to kill him on the same day. What a mystery!
I met two very important people during law school, Greg Booi and Agatha Christie. The first night we met, Greg and I argued all the way through a loud evening into the quiet early morning hours over a science fiction story by James Tiptree, Jr. (AKA Alice B. Sheldon), "A Momentary Taste of Being." I fell in love. I had never met anyone before who cared as passionately about fiction as I did. We're still together, more than thirty years later. And we still haven't agreed on what the protagonist in "A Momentary Taste of Being" should have done. And Agatha. What can I say? I think it was my sister, Sheri, who gave me my first Agatha Christie. And I was hooked. I read everything she had written within months. The proprietor of my local book store suggested that I take slow reading lessons to save money. And then, I discovered Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, and John Dickson Carr. By the time I'd left law school, I'd made another important discovery: there were actually live authors writing wonderful mysteries, but there weren't enough of them.
Sustained by a heavy habit of murder mysteries and science fiction, I passed the bar and entered the practice of law. For a short time I worked for a criminal law firm. I sweated a lot there. Real criminals can be really scary. But that wasn't where I got my best material. I got my best material when I set up shop on my own as a "family law" attorney. Divorce, here's what it means to me: stories. Sad stories, unimaginable stories, funny stories. They were all there. It was during my law practice that I began to write short stories, both science fiction and mystery. And I began to gather rejection slips.
"But what happened to patients' rights?" you might be asking. Um, well... my psychology professor had been right. Psychology wouldn't help the abuses of the mental health system. But after a short stint in the conservatorship department of the Public Defenders Office, I was convinced that law wasn't the answer either. Mental health policy was a political issue. And as challenging as being an attorney was, I wasn't about to go into politics. And actually, I didn't remain an attorney for a lot longer either. The other shoe dropped when I took a career‑transition class. Attorney came up as the last thing I should ever consider as a profession. No kidding. Mortician cosmetologist scored higher, much higher.
So, did I write a novel when I left my law practice? No. I read a lot of novels, but I thought I'd never be able to write one. Instead, I started a greeting card company called "Jest Cards." I didn't ask anyone's advice about this. I just figured that writing funny puns and cartooning would be more marketable than "real writing." Heh‑heh. I doused myself in solvents each day and produced mass quantities of greeting cards. Then I sold them. It was amazing. I actually made something close to the minimum wage by my efforts. And I was exhausted. A few entrepreneurial attempts later, bolstered by my bookkeeping "day job" and my first years of tai chi training, I created Kate Jasper, who owned a gag gift company called "Jest Gifts" and practiced tai chi. My own life became a story. Only Kate Jasper stumbled over dead bodies. And I sold my first mystery novel.
Twelve Kate Jaspers later, I'm still reading mysteries, science fiction, and every other kind of fiction. And that sweet man who argued with me about "A Momentary Taste of Being" has an energetic healing practice.
For a while, I was Claire Daniels. And I wrote about Cally Lazar, a recovering attorney who did "cane‑fu" and had an energetic healing practice. I wonder where I got that character?
Years ago, a friend told me that once you find an occupation in which everything you've done before becomes useful, you've found your life's work. The evidence is in. I've found my life's work, writing novels. E-Reads has reissued my twelve Kate Jasper mysteries. And now, I'm writing a mainstream romantic comedy. Ah, mystery... ah, romance... ah, laughter.
Yours in Fiction,