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.

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