We'll be going back into time, so look about for the seat belts. They tend to go missing. While you're doing that, Space Rep and I'll ask Catherine a few questions.
Space Rep: I'll start. Why did you write Natural Attraction?
I’ve been a chemist for over thirty years and it’s stimulating and often amusing. I must admit however, that, like Clementine in Natural Attraction, I’ve frequently imagined that things would have gone more smoothly had I been a man. I also thought it would be fun to give a scientist a romantic link with a preacher in the post Darwin days to let them explore what they had in common.
Space Rep: It’s historical. Why?
I chose to set Natural Attraction in 1871 because it was a time of great social change. The theory of evolution and the discovery of sperm and egg cells were quietly ushering in ideas of social equality. I wanted to compare the past with today to show what has changed and what hasn’t for women.
Liza: Okay, I'm taking over the questions. How is this novel different from others in this genre?
Besides the historical aspect, it has a friendly seven-pound rodent as a character. And cowboys are bad guys.
Liza: Why did you make those choices?
I wanted to include some light-hearted discoveries into Natural Attraction since science is playful. My family’s had a succession of pet rats and guinea pigs. I guess you could say that I’m used to handling rodents. Cowboys weren’t viewed as romantic until Wild West Shows became popular. Natural Attraction is set before that time so I wanted the cowboys to be troublemakers.
Space Rep: What’s your most common reader question about Natural Attraction? Some want to know if Clementine/Calvin is trans-gender. I don’t see her that way. She simply enjoys the privileges of being a man in her society.
Liza: What challenges do you see facing you as a writer?
I’m not the first to say this but getting romance readers to see science as something accessible to them and getting scientists to appreciate the craftsmanship found in a romance.
Clementine dreams of being a naturalist—a career that leaves no time for romance. To sneak on an adventurous prospecting expedition, Clementine will have to convince everyone she’s a man. A mysterious tonic offers her just that disguise.
But “Calvin,” as she calls herself now, had no idea what she was giving up. When Wesley, the expedition’s gentle preacher, catches her eye, she can’t get him out of her head; not his lush lips, wide brown eyes…or broad chest. Dare she reveal her secret to him? Can she keep her career if she does?
Among run-ins with cowboys, natural disasters, and traveling shows, Wesley’s most fascinating adventure is meeting Calvin. Though Wesley’s betrothed to another, the cute, clever naturalist threatens to make him fall into temptation…
I was beginning to doubt this notion of me posing as a man.
We had arrived at the decision easily enough. It was to be an experiment in biological mimicry—a harmless insect posing as a poisonous one to avoid being eaten—a form of evolution that Alburtus had observed while classifying butterflies in the Amazon with British naturalist Henry Walter Bates. Alburtus, my natural history tutor had set up the internship: I would be a naturalist traveling with the Malachite Overland Mining Company, a position open only to a young, healthy male. His chemist friend, Theophrastus, had made the tonic. Granny had stitched the trousers. She’d taken scissors to my pale hair that morning. I’d tried not to look at the floor as the strands fell like spider silk. In Spookstad, we were matter of fact. Neither falling hair nor tonics rattled us.
A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, Catherine Haustein is a chemistry and English professor at Central College in Iowa. She studies chemicals found in plants and is writing a sustainable lab manual. Her ancestors lived in the famous ghost town of Singapore on the shores of Lake Michigan. Natural Attraction is her first novel.