Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Interview with short story writer Jessica M. Starr

I’m happy to welcome short story writer and poet Jessica M Starr today. We’re focused on her collection of short stories based in the real world with fantasy elements called, Waking Mama Luna.

Jessica M. Starr is a witch and her magic is stories (she’s great at spelling). She lives at the foot of a mountain in Wales, UK, with her musician husband and their two unschooled children. She serves her local community as a teacher, healer and doula: gathering the women; holding space and hands when babies are born; keeping the stories and passing them on.

Jessica writes poems and prose for those who know that magic is real and that stories hold the power to change the world. Her work has been featured in anthologies and magazines in the UK. Waking Mama Luna is her first solo publication. Her poetry anthology Maid, Mother, Crone, Other will be released Autumn 2016.

What do you enjoy most about writing short stories?
I love that you can capture and share a whole world, in a short story, in very limited space and time. I also love reading short stories. Since becoming a mother of young children I’ve found that they offer me a way, a lifeline really, that I can still get my story fix in and around the corners of our days.

Can you give us a little insight into a few of your short stories – perhaps some of your favorites?
There are five stories in Waking Mama Luna, each of them different but also linked in their connection to our experiences as women and girls, and to the natural world. Here’s a little insight into how each of the stories came about…
            I have long been fascinated with the moon. The way she waxes and wanes and how her ebb and flow affects us and our cycles as women. I love to take full moon walks and one autumn evening the moon was so huge and close I could feel her almost touching me. That night I had the dream” and “Waking Mama Luna”, the first story in the collection, flowed out very soon afterwards.
            In 2011 I miscarried our second child. A few weeks later it was a beautiful day and we went to Rest Bay in Porthcawl. I have always found being close to the ocean healing; the sand, the salty air. It sparked something and “The Call of the Sea”, was the bittersweet result. For me this story is about grief and loss and loving someone who is no longer here alongside us.
            I heard a story about a woman who could carry a cow. When she was asked how she managed it she said she had cared for the calf as a baby and carried it each day (I can’t remember why she needed to carry it). Each day it grew a tiny bit bigger and each day she continued to carry it, until it was full grown. Those tiny daily increases felt like nothing but they added up to something so powerful and surprising. This inspired “The Special Place”. Again, a powerful mother-daughter relationship weaves through this story.
            Iris’s Rainbow” is one of my favourite stories because I love Iris. I see her very much like my daughter Ella – though Ella is not as loud. This would make me her Mama, the one who dies. This story, for me, explores the motherline, that invisible thread which ties our generations together, grandmother, mother, daughter. It gives me faith that my children will be fine when I am no longer here to take care of them.
            Many moons ago I worked with GCSE English students. ‘Breaking the Surface’ came after a conversation with a student who was in a dark place at the time and feeling trapped. I understood those feelings. I knew them. I also knew the way out. ‘Breaking The Surface’ is my offer of hope.

What genre are you inspired to write in the most? Why?
Fantasy for sure, because I still feel that it’s more real than the real world in some ways.

What exciting story are you working on next?
I have started a longer piece which is essentially a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, but it is unrecognisable from the Disney version! I feel that we are moving into a place where women and girls’ voices are being heard and valued like never before, even when they are stepping out of what is a traditional story for female characters. It’s an exciting time!

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
In all honesty, I was more likely to call myself a writer when I was 11 years old and working on my own version of The Narnia Chronicles than I would be now. Like “artist” the title “writer” seems to be one that we wish others would confer upon us rather than claim for ourselves, though I like what Jeff Goins says, that you should call yourself a writer because “before others will believe what is true about you, you’ll have to first believe it yourself”.

How do you research markets for your work, perhaps as some advice for writers?
I know there are writers who are successfully writing to market ie. researching what is selling well right now (perhaps college zombie rom-coms) and then writing a book that delivers that, but I just can’t work that way around. For me the story idea comes first, usually from a dream, or perhaps while walking/ exercising, and then you write it and then you have to work out who would be interested in it and let those people know about it. It’s undeniably the harder way around but definitely possible. And it gets easier when you start connecting with like-minded people who enjoy what you write and want to help you spread the word. I am lucky to have a growing mailing list of amazing people who enjoy what I do.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Ha! I’m not sure I really have one. I do tend to write standing up, perhaps that’s a quirk, though I read the other day that Virginia Woolf also did this so I’m in good company.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A librarian or a bookshop owner. I also secretly dreamed of being a writer (hence the Narnia rewrite and numerous other scribblings, which I guess would be called fan-fiction today) but I “knew” that writers were people far more interesting and confident than me, so didn’t dare to dream aloud.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I’m working on an audiobook version of Waking Mama Luna which I’m going to share with my mailing list for free as soon as it’s ready. If you'd like it, I you can subscribe to my list at jessicamstarr.com.

Thank you for being here today, Jessica! 

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