Like the “monster” within its pages, the book Frankenstein had a legendary birth. Bored during a rainy summer visit to Geneva, Switzerland, Mary Shelley, her poet husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, her stepsister Claire Clairmont, the notorious Lord Byron, and their physician friend John Polidori, held a private contest to see who could write the best creepy story. Nineteen-year-old Mary ended up penning the world’s first science-fiction novel.

Mary Shelley, as painted in a miniature by Reginald Easton

When I first heard about that fateful summer, probably when I was in middle school, Mary’s life sounded like a teenage dream: her precocious success, her romantic marriage, her uber-creative social circle … (Only at a more-mature age did I focus on the tragedies of her young widowhood and the losses of three of her four children!)

Mary’s summer in Geneva is explored, kind of clumsily, in the Ken Russell cult film Gothic, which shows the literary friends indulging in opium-induced orgies. The movie is pure fiction, but some biographical details of the smart, young free-thinkers involved do hint that they walked a fine line between creative and craven.

My own fascination with that legendary summer spurred the idea for For the Love of Lila, in which a Regency-period writer travels to Paris to emulate her free-thinking older cousin. Lila has been shielded from the sordid side of her black-sheep cousin’s life, so when she reaches the City of Light, she gets more than she bargained for.

Because Lila lives out my teenage fantasy — experiencing both peaks and valleys — her story is close to my heart. If you’ve ever dreamed of a living creative-cum-craven lifestyle, I hope you’ll enjoy it, too. ; )

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