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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Wednesday Spotlight: Teresa Noelle Roberts

Underlying Themes, or What Do Romances and Food Security have in Common?

What do romance novels and food security have in common? On the surface, not much. Romances novels are fun. The erotic ones I write are hot, sexy fun, often with a lot of magic. Food security—knowing where your next meal is coming from—is serious and not at all sexy. For someone like me, who earns part of her living from writing romances, the connection’s clearer, but hey, I have a day job for a reason and it’s not that I love accounting.

It’s funny, though, how a writer’s interests and concerns creep into her work without her quite planning it. I’m becoming more and more concerned with the issue of hunger in America and around the world. Did you know, for instance, that according to a recent USDA study, one in five American children—one in three in poorer areas—went hungry last year? And we’re lucky compared to much of the world. At least we have food banks. (Have you supported your local one recently? If not, please consider it. They’re strapped these days, and after the holidays many people forget them.)

I think food security is part of the impetus behind my gardening. I can’t feed the world, but I can feed my family and friends. We’re in no danger of going hungry, but as a younger and less steadily employed starving artist, there were times I would have been close to starving were it not for the garden. Some of my friends are living hand to mouth, and I like knowing I can deliver a big bag of veggies and some homemade bread, even if I can’t find them a job or otherwise make it all better.

Both agriculture and food security creep into my books, even when I “think” I’m writing about something else. In Lions’ Pride, it’s subtle. Elissa, the heroine, works for Cornell doing agricultural research, using her powerful green magic to feed people. We don’t see her on the job a lot because all hell breaks loose for her early in the book and she has to run away from the life she knows, but still, she’s a witch who uses her magic to feed the hungry. In the sequel, currently in progress, we’ll see more of that side of her.

My Phaze series, Seasons of Sorania, is all about agricultural magic. (Currently available titles are Lady Sun Has Risen and Rain at Midsummer. I bet you can figure out the gist of the magic in each.) The imaginary Soranian empire depends on abundant local harvests for survival. It’s a pagan society on about a tech level with the Roman Empire, but all the details are up to me. Since I get to invent the agricultural magic, it’s sex-based. Basically, people are religiously obligated to be fruitful and multiply—or at least go through the motions—to encourage the crops to do the same. This, of course, gives plenty of plot opportunities. But it also underlines how critically important the harvest is: their whole religion centers on securing their food supply.

Mind you, the gardening and food-security obsession doesn’t explain the vampires in my writing. Or the pirates. Or the shape-shifters. Or the blind Japanese bondage master. But it does explain a few things.

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