Fay debuts with Calamity (Bramble, Nov.), an enemies-to-lovers romance set aboard a scrappy scouting ship in space.

What initially inspired you to write this story?

Part of it is there in the title: I’ve always been fascinated by the story of Calamity Jane, one of the western scouts, and this mythos she built about herself. I thought it would be neat to do Calamity Jane in space, with kissing. I grew up in Arizona, and I live in Colorado now; the West has always been a part of me. I wanted to bring that to the sci-fi aspect as well—to have the feeling of the unexplored frontier, just a different frontier. Instead of scouting new territories on Earth, it’s scouting new territories in space. What sort of person would be driven to do that?

What drew you to sci-fi romance?

I’ve pretty much only written fantasy and science fiction before. Maybe there were romantic elements, but I never outright intended to write romance. I read a lot of it, I love romance, but for some reason I just didn’t think it was for me to write. When I initially thought of Calamity, it was a science fiction book that had romance in it. As it went along, it turned into one that I hope is fairly equally balanced between the genres. I’ve always deeply loved science fiction, but it’s not the most female-friendly genre. I wanted to put my stamp on it and see what we could have if Indiana Jones was a lady who also got to fall in love.

The heroine, Temperance, is banished from her powerful family before the start of the book. How did you approach this backstory?

I think one of the things we don’t talk enough about is messing up. A lot of times, especially with—and I say this with quotes around it—“strong female characters,” they have to be good, and noble in both intention and action. I wanted to write someone who, despite her best intentions, faced consequences for her actions and didn’t disagree with them.

Temperance’s crew feels so fully realized. What went into their characterization?

I started with the question of, if you had a group of people scouting planets, who would you need? You need a biologist because you need someone who understands the horticulture of the planet. You need an engineer because you always need an engineer. (I may be saying that just because my background is in optical engineering. I think everyone needs an engineer! But especially on a spaceship.) You would need a medic because who knows what’s gonna happen. You’d probably need security people. I started with these backgrounds and then I thought of what someone from that background might have as an interesting twist and built it from there. The idea was to make everyone as real as possible. And that means damaged, flawed, funny, hopeful—everything that equates to real, not just one cookie-cutter thing.