Sunday, 22 November 2015

Interview With Author Julia Starling

Today I have an interview with author Julia Starling, who stops by to chat about her writing and her debut book, Against the Oaks of Bashan, a literary science fiction novel. Enjoy.

An Interview with Julia Starling

Why don’t you begin by sharing a little about yourself.

I was born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and started my adult life as a medical student there. When I met my husband Alex in Europe I moved to Cambridge, UK, and then London, where I finished my medical studies. We moved to California after five very formative years in the UK. Disappointed with the medical system in the US, I went back to school and became a psychotherapist. Right before I graduated, our home burnt down in the 2007 wildfires. It took years to reconstruct our lives. I had always written, but I started writing much more after the trauma of the total loss. We moved to the Santa Fe area in 2012 and I opened a small (but busy) private practice from my home. I kept writing whenever I could. In 2014 I was forced to take a leave of absence from work due to health reasons, and it is then that my creative life really took off. I started writing intensely every day, and painting my dreams. Against the Oaks of Bashan came from an intensive year and a half of soul searching. I have found my true passion in fiction and can’t wait to get started on the next project. 

Could you tell us a bit about your latest book?

It’s set in Buenos Aires, between the 1970’s and the 1990’s. It follows the story of two brilliant young scientists, Vera in the 70’s and Frances in the 90’s, in their struggle to find themselves, breaking free from other people’s agendas and what the world expects from them.
The narrator takes different characters’ points of view and motivations, making for a very rich exploration of psychological profiles. The whole story is infused with an Argentine flavor, and there are even some Argentine Spanish words inserted, in context, throughout the text, for added cultural enjoyment.
There is a strong social commentary that runs across the book, and a philosophical base for the science fiction elements. While rich in literary gems, it moves fast and has the quality of a thriller, keeping people frequently at the edge of their seats.

How long have you been writing, and how many books have you published to date?

I’ve been writing since I was a child, mainly personal reflections and poetry. As an adult, I wrote countless essays for med school and psychology school, and, whenever I would have time (even in the subway on my way to the hospital) I would write snippets of my perceptions and observations of the society around me. Having lived and worked in so many countries and settings, I was privileged to have lots of material to write about. When I finally had real time on my hands, on my leave of absence, I started to take writing to another level. I was surprised to find how easy the fiction genres worked for my style, and how compatible I was with this whole field. I actually wrote Against the Oaks of Bashan in less than a year, after a few months of gathering notes and structuring plot and characters. This is my first novel and I am absolutely positive that many more will come in the near future.

Why did you decide to write in the Science Fiction genre?

It came as a spontaneous process. My style is generally literary, so I set out to write a literary fiction piece. And when it came to drafting plot and characters, I found myself creating worlds that fit the sci-fi category. I am pleased with how this genre allows me to let my mind soar with no restrictions and how it is amenable to transmitting symbolic and philosophical material in a way that is engaging and moves fast.

What did you find most challenging about writing your book?

Perhaps the editing process: it was hard to go from 80,000 words to around 68,000. My literary style had to be adapted to fit the plot and overall flavor of the novel. I had to make sure that everything flowed smoothly and that the plot was not sacrificed to the literary elements. That was hard. But I think I succeeded in making an easy-read that also has substance and literary merit.
And of course, I had to trust myself when it came to writing my first novel in English, which is not my mother tongue. I think the second-guessing was harder than the reality of the finished work. I prefer to write in English because I have been thinking, speaking and writing in English since I was 21.

Did anything surprise you about the process of writing your book?

Yes, the action scenes: I had no idea I would be writing involved action and exciting car chases. It was really fun.

When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

I think I was always a writer. I wrote on my free time every since I can remember. But the decision to fully dedicate to writing and make it a full time career came after I begun writing Against the Oaks of Bashan. I knew at that point that this is what I am truly meant to be doing with my time.

Can you tell us about your writing process? Where do your ideas originate? Do you have a certain writing routine?

I start with notes and observations, and character development, on my typewriter at my north-facing studio (which has direct views of a field with the Sangre de Cristo mountains in the back). This is the idea/ conceptual stage. Once I have enough material, I go to cafes (I need to get out of the house for this, for some reason) and begin plot development. Once I have the plot and general structure, I gather all my materials and start typing the novel on my computer. That is the easiest part: I tend to finish this within a few months. Then, the grueling editing process begins. That is the hardest part. But after that, I have a full manuscript ready to send to professional editing, interior design and publishing.

Do you have a favourite author, or writing inspiration?

I am a little bit unusual in that I mostly enjoy classical novels and authors. I really like Goethe, Hesse, Huxley, Nietzsche, Dante, and some Sturgeon, Sloane and Stapledon.  And many ancient religious texts, like the Bhagavad-Gita, the Upanishads, and the Dhammapada.

Are you working on another book?

Yes, I have just got started with the preliminary stages. I can’t wait to sink my teeth into it. 

Against the Oaks of Bashan

The best way to rule a populace is from behind the scenes. Let people think they control their opinions and actions, and you can lead them anywhere.

So believes Professor Litvac, who dreams of engineering the “perfect consumer,” creating a populace living a life of mediocrity, anxiety, and malleable opinions. And in the turbulent political climate of 1970s Buenos Aries, he’s got plenty of opportunity to experiment. Any young adults who disappear are assumed to be the victims of ongoing political unrest.

Trapped in one of Litvac’s torture camps are Lucas and Vera Freund. Brilliant scientists, the Freunds hold the key to Litvac’s success, but they’re not talking. With the backing of a powerful Catholic sect, Litvac puts a plan in motion that will transcend generations. He’ll have what he wants—no matter the cost.

Julia Starling is a medical doctor and psychotherapist born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

You can find Against the Oaks of Bashan on Amazon.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Drabble Wednesday: Hidden Things

In today’s Drabble Wednesday, I delve under the surface of reality, to find the secrets…


Such a delicate thing. Its wings fluttered on the winds, their white-tipped, crimson pattern vivid against the sunlit afternoon. It danced against the clouds, before settling on a shaded branch of an oak tree.
There it waited, its insect antennae twitching.
Golden hair, and a sunshine smile, the woman passed beneath its tree. She laughed as it landed on silky skin. For a moment, it perched, wings outstretched. She gasped in awe.
It quivered. Minuscule fangs punctured skin, injecting poison into her bloodstream.
Ow!” One breath, before she convulsed and died.
Such a delicate thing, such a deadly touch.


The Long Path

“Only a fool begins the long path. Only Death will end it.”
That is the saying among my people. If any remained alive they would call me a fool.
A thousand years I walked this road, past war, past famine, past all I loved. The summer rains have drenched me, the winter snows have chilled my bones.
Yet, I walked.
I was your name whispered on the wind, that shadow on the wall, the ghost in the graveyard. I have strode the path between worlds, and I am at its end.
I stand in the grove of night awaiting Death.


First Kind

I am the last of my kind. Eons ago we swarmed the skies, the earth, the seas, and fed on the giants that lived here. Then the giants died, and we turned on each other. Only I survived, hibernating all these long years.
I am the last of my kind.
Or I was, until I met the human. This new breed that inherited our domain. Puny, but he served his purpose.
Now my eggs are buried deep under his decaying skin and tissues, feeding off his corpse. Soon they will hatch, and we will feast on more of his race.

© A. F. Stewart 2015 All Rights Reserved 

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Festival of Drabbles: Discord and Harmony

And we come to our farewell post for this wondrous Festival of Drabbles. I shall play you out with a bit of a dark melody…

Rime and Season

The frost wind swirled down from the mountain, and the icicles hanging from the trees chimed with its passing. It blew down the cobblestone streets, and around the corners and cracks of brick and mortar. It rattled the wooden shutters and howled down the chimneys. It churned the snow drifts and swooshed about the settled grime.
Nothing else moved in the quiet, solemn town.
Nothing else would ever move in this place again.
They occupied each house, every structure. While the wind howled, while the snow blew, the dead remained. Frozen, lifeless, forever locked in an eternal world of ice.


Desert Song

Across the sands, beyond the dunes, when the Mother of Moons rises in the night sky, you can hear their song on the sirocco winds. A velvet melody vibrating through the amber radiance, twirling in the light of the desert moon. They sing arias, of roses blooming in the paradise oasis, of the first raindrop and its petrichor echo. Their chorus shivers the firmament that binds the universe, and soothes the disquieted fires of the soul.
They serenade of all things sacred, but beware, listen too long…
…and the Night Sisters will sing you to your final place of dreams.


Just An Old Tune

The guitar sits in the corner, weather-beaten, with dust gathering across its worn down varnish and strings. It has some scratches and some blackened streaks; it has survived much. Countless hands have plucked it chords—old and young--through wars, through blistering summers, and long cold winters. It has strummed many a tune, and captured the vivacity of spirits in the melodies it harmonized.
Spirits it never let go.
Sorry souls that bled their happiness into the hungry maw of a demon instrument. And now… well that guitar, it’s waiting to be played.
By the next servant of the devil.

© A. F. Stewart 2015 All Rights Reserved

And today’s the last day to downloaded my book Passing Fancies for free on Smashwords:

Friday, 13 November 2015

Festival of Drabbles: Bad Luck

Welcome my minions to this Festival of Drabbles post upon the infamous Friday the 13th!
In celebration of this ominous date on the calendar, I bring three drabbles telling of ill fortune and the worst of luck…

Black Cat

The hearth fire does not warm the chill in my bones. The barricaded door will not keep me safe. Fate comes to claim me. Last evening the black cat crossed my path.
A silly superstition, you say. Not in my family.
That cat is our curse, one triggered by my own folly and arrogance. I truly thought I could get away with my evil deed. Get away with murder. But no.
Some part of me wishes to believe otherwise, that my precautions are for peace of mind, not born of helpless futility.
Yet… is that a meow outside the window?


Turn of a Card

I can feel a bead of sweat sliding down the back of my neck. It’s just the two of us left in this game of Faro, Lefty Mason and me. All the rest lost their stake to the dealer.
It’s the last bet, the “calling of the turn”, and I went all in to the bank. Stupid maybe, knowing I can’t afford to lose my wager, but I’m feeling lucky.
She deals three cards. My jaw drops.
“I lost.”
“Yes, sir. Time to settle your bet. Hand over your soul, please.”
The devil imp grins, and I know it’s over.


Ill Omens

Such a modern world. Progress, technology and busy people on the go. Very few would believe the world of superstition underneath it all. That their life could change on the whim of fate. Black cats, unlucky numbers, spilled salt, it all seems quaint to the contemporary person.
Until they meet me.
I’m the nightmare, the walking, talking harbinger of ill fortune and bad luck. A touch of my hand, a whisper in your ear, and dark clouds will follow your days. Forever. And no lucky clover or horseshoe will ever change it.
So sleep well, and don’t piss me off.

© A. F. Stewart 2015 All Rights Reserved

And don't forget my book Passing Fancies, can be downloaded for free on Smashwords until the 15th:

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Drabble Wednesday: Festival of Drabbles

On today’s edition of Drabble Wednesday, I have another post for the Festival of Drabbles. So, I thought I’d revisit where Drabble Wednesday started, with the cyber adventures of Frankie and Joni. I have some new tales from our wacky duo, and you can also check out their first adventures here:

I now present…

More Virtual Adventures with Frankie and Joni


“It needs more mice.”
I paused in taking a bite of my sandwich and placed the sardine roll back on my plate. I took a breath and asked, “What are you blathering about, Frankie?”
“The holiday program. It needs more mice. In little red elf hats. Maybe singing carols. But definitely not baking.”
I sighed, controlling my exasperation. “Okay. Supposing we do need mice, and that’s not a given, why can’t they be baking?”
“Because of the poem.”
“‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. Not a mouse was stirring, remember.”
I face planted into the table, right next the sardines.

For the Birds

“Who shot the robin? Not I.”
“Shhh, they’ll hear you.” I nudged Frankie and peeked out from behind the virtual bushes. No sign of them. “What possessed you to arm a flock of robot chickadees?”
“Not I, said me. Programmed the wren, not the chickadee.”
“Then who—uh, oh.” I remembered.
“It was you! You shot the robin, uh, chickadee, whatever.” Frankie grinned. “You screwed up the program. You screwed up the program.”
“Shut up. I just downloaded a game on the same server. Maybe they got mixed together.”
Oh, I get it. Now it’s angry and armed birds.”

Game Over

I stared at sparks flying off the shorted vid wall. Frankie shouted and cackled beside me.
“Hoo wheee! Pop goes the weasel, baby!” He laughed manically. “Fireworks!”
“That was the memory chip, wasn’t it?”
“Yep. And the hi-res holo function. So much for the new interactive Space Marines scenario.”
“Is there anything we can salvage? Or do we start over?”
“Hmmm. You know…”
“What?” Hope bloomed. “Did you think of a way to fix it?”
“Oh no. The game is toast. It’s just—well, this place would look better with puppets.”
It took everything I had not to smack him.

Puppets, or What?

“You’re telling me the puppets got up, and walked away?”
Frankie nodded his head with all the vigour of bartender shaking a martini. “They’re alive! Alive!”
“You’re crazy. Puppets just don’t—” I stopped talking, staring at the guilty look on Frankie’s face. An angry flush crept up the back of my neck. “What did you do to the puppets!”
“Well, I sort of implanted a robotics chip in them. I wanted to see them dance.”
“You… you...”
“But the weirdest thing isn’t that they left. It’s that they took my suit with them.”
Oh, I have to lie down.

© A. F. Stewart 2015 All Rights Reserved

And don't forget my book Passing Fancies, can be downloaded for free on Smashwords until the 15th:

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