If you missed my review of K. Starling’s novel In Beauty’s Veins you can read it here.
In Beauty’s Veins is a novel about the journey of four women all united by a Healer named Daphne, who comes to the town of Halfawaise with the intentions of finding a lost neighbor and to become a healer there. But the town is immediately suspicious: is she really a Healer that the Legends talk about?
It doesn’t help that another legend follows her there, when Berri, one of the women who befriends Daphne, discovers someone who was attacked by a Vampyre. As Daphne tells her story to her new friends, suddenly the things that used to be legend aren’t legend anymore.
Miss Starling was able to take time out of her busy day to sit down with me and have a chat about her new novel, self-publishing and the writing process behind it:
Me: What was your inspiration for In Beauty’s Veins? When did you come up with the idea?
K.S: It’s kind of embarrassing actually. There was a melange of reasons. It started as a romantic fantasy in my head inspired by a how-to-draw Gothic Manga picture that I found really sexy. Then Twilight came out and I thought, “Oh, I could probably make money on this fantasy.” But then I cared too much about my characters, so I actually developed them. And I actually get annoyed by romance being the end-all of any story, so it pretty much died.
Me: I did notice there was some romantic element, but it was refreshing to see all the different themes, like woman’s rights, sexuality, forgiveness, self-worth….was there a particular reason you chose to write about such things?
K.S: It was in the forefront of my mind just then. Our culture is at an interesting point in which we’re really self-reflecting on how we view people based on differences and I felt like exploring some of my own experiences through this story. These are topics that make people uncomfortable, but I don’t want to be uncomfortable about them.
Me: Nice. How long did it take to write the novel?
K.S: From start to finish, about seven years, but bear in mind that the first three drafts were an almost utterly different story. Berri didn’t exist until maybe three years ago and then I was working full-time and took a hiatus. Once I actually outlined it properly and dealt with the addition of Halfawaise into the plot (cultural and language development) it took me about a year and a half.
Me: It’s funny how first time writers always think that writing a book is a quick thing. It definitely does take time to develop. Why the title that you chose? Was there some thought into it?
K.S: It’s meant to allude to the allegorical reference to Beauty and the Beast, but also the depth and grit of the story (so veins and not blood, which has almost become sexualized as a word). I didn’t want someone picking this up thinking it would be fluff.
Me: Going back to Halfawaise and the world that you’ve created…how did that come about?
K.S: I’m interested in cultural development. A lot of my studies have been deeply rooted in cultural identities, primarily Chinese and Celtic cultures. However, my interest definitely veered based on information I learned. I was curious what a Scandinavian Empire might have looked like had our continents drifted differently. I thought it would be interesting, too, to explore a pseudo-French Revolutionary culture that tends towards Communism and Atheism and how the cultures converse across borders.
Me: And the language that you created in the book? How did that come about? Was there some specific inspiration you used for that?
K.S: They’re purely derivative. I don’t really intend to do much expansion in the story, so I wasn’t going to spend a lot of time developing languages. (Laughs.) You’ve got Atwainsk, which is basically Scottish Gaelic plus some Germanic influence, and then Nordsk is just a combination of Germanic and Scandinavian languages. I did a little work on dealing with Middle versus Old versions of the languages (like Keltoig), but not a lot. The one Chinese expression, however, was made up. It’s Mandarin in meaning, but it’s not a real cheng-yu.
“Cao you bu hua” 草友不花 “Grass friends don’t flower” – it’s from the scroll Anwar shows Daphne. Chinese has a neat history of four character idioms (cheng-yu). I love them.
Me: On a different note, the story is told from different points of view…why did you choose to go that route?
K.S: It was originally a first-person sequential narrative, but I decided Daphne wouldn’t narrate first-person. That’s not the way she thinks. So I played with third-person before deciding that I wanted a different perspective on her story, so I introduced Berri, her polar opposite, to look at things with new eyes. But then Berri turned into such an interesting character that I wanted other characters to share their thoughts on her, so I expanded on Nade and Gerri, both of whom have their own slants. I just wanted to look at the different aspects of the landscape, to see what that felt like. Berri is just so ego-based that telling a story purely from her perspective would be exhausting, and Daphne is so conflicted and gentle that she wouldn’t be able to capture the facts.
Me: I think it was a good choice, the story felt more complete because of it. Is there any character that you identify with?
K.S: All of them to some extent. Although, I call Daphne my drunk self. She’s so determined to like everyone. But I have my Berri days for sure.
Me: Would you say Daphne is your favorite?
K.S: Daphne is the character I most admire, but I don’t think she is my favorite. I feel very protective of Rose, actually. I feel like I failed her as a writer sometimes. I wish I could have given her more screen time, in a manner of speaking. Her life was just so painful.
Me: I know you mentioned that you didn’t intend to continue the story, but can we look forward to a sequel, or another novel in this world?
K.S: I’m debating it. If I do, it would definitely be a different cast of characters, although I would take some time in Halfawaise. I haven’t decided. I have some ideas, but not enough to do much about it.
Me: One more thing on the novel: When I was reading it, I was toying with the idea that the four women really are parts of a whole, as each of the women have such different personalities…Berri having a darker side, Daphne optimistic, Gerri the nerdy type, Yolain who is concerned about her looks…combined into one, the four really do represent many of the issues that women struggle with in today’s world. Any thoughts on that?
K.S: With Daphne and Berri, I was definitely playing with polarity. Yolain and Gerri, who my writing group referred to as the Two Stooges, just sprung up for me. Gerri interests me for a lot of reasons, of course. She struggles with her sexuality, her desire to learn things, and to stay somewhat hidden to maintain that independence. Yolain projects confidence, but is very much living in constant fear of failure. Keep in mind she’s been carrying her experience of near-capture around with her for years. I think she understands better than anyone what it means to be a woman in the Skalda Domain.
***AND then we touched on the benefits of self-publishing…
Me: Why did you choose to self-publish? What are the benefits you think?
K.S: Frankly going the traditional route with this book never crossed my mind. It doesn’t fall neatly into any genre and is really hard to market. If a publisher picked it up, I can almost guarantee they’d want me to clean it up – remove the swearing, sexuality, and pump up the romance. They’d want the vampyres to be sexy, and that was against my philosophy.
Me: You mentioned that you had other projects you were working on…do you think you will self publish those as well?
K.S: That’s the plan. The next one takes place in Horseheads, NY, actually. It might have a place in traditional marketing, more than In Beauty, but it’s pretty brutal. I like maintaining creative control. I have no illusions that I can do this for money, and I don’t really want to. I like my day job and I enjoy my projects.
Me: Are there books that you might consider getting an agent, or publisher for, or no?
K.S. Probably not. I feel that I would remove part of the fun. I’m a project manager by day; I’m good at this stuff. I don’t need someone else putting a deadline on me. A lawyer, however, probably wouldn’t hurt. (Laughs).
Me: It is definitely a great ambition. And it says a lot that you are doing this for the fun of it, for yourself. How do you personally market your novel?
K.S: I’ve been really busy. Mostly I bought 50 copies and have persuaded some local businesses to carry them for me. I’m going to head over to B&N here in Madison and back in Elmira to let them know I’m local. I have a few book clubs I know of that have interest in it. Otherwise, I’m going to Johnny Appleseed it. I have some post-card style advertisements and I travel a LOT, so a few copies will find their way into international hostels and libraries.
Me: Did you hire an editor to proof read your novel at the end?
K.S: I did. It’s a bad idea for me to proof my own stuff.
Me: Is that the best way to go, you think? Also, getting someone to do the cover art?
K.S: I do. I would feel so horrible if my baby got out there and had a sloppy typo going on. My cousin has a friend in NYC who’s an illustrator who was looking for work and I know a local graphic designer. I wanted a nice-looking product, so I went big. Also, it’s a lot of fun to collaborate with other artists. I have a buddy in Brooklyn who did some costume sketches for me (on my website) and I’m so glad I hired her to do it. It really brought some of the scenes to life for me.
Me: I’ve always wanted to do that for some of my projects…it seems like such fun. What words of encouragement do you have for other writers out there who are trying to self publish?
K.S: It’s a serious investment of time. Pay attention to what you’re doing. Be ready to invest a little cash if you want a nice product, or else be ready to do a lot of legwork yourself. Know what your goal is with the project and balance that against what you can actually commit. I count myself lucky that I don’t need to do this for a living, because it’s a very competitive market and it’s almost entirely luck-based. If you’re not doing it because you love it, take a step back and find out why.
Me: I think all the outside views definitely make it hard to write what you want and for yourself, especially when you have others judging you. Did you struggle with writer’s fear at all? Writer’s Block?
K.S: I have moments to be sure. I try to just write piles of garbage until I get through whatever is in the way. I’ve actually started doing erotica on the side (under a pen name) just to keep writing so I can go crazy without fear of judgement. Fearlessness is critical when you’re expressing yourself, you know?
Me: Great words….How often do you write? Is there a specific time a day that works best for you? And did you have a regimen that you stuck to for writing In Beauty’s Veins?
K.S: I feel like every writer has their own mode of habit. With my job and hobbies, I can’t commit a lot of time to writing on a regular basis, so I try to mentally write (live in my head) when I’m waiting in lines or traffic to keep it going. When I travel, I write probably between 1 and 5 hours a day. With In Beauty, I hammered out 50,000 words when I was in Taiwan for 6.5 weeks. I have to make space away from obligations, so that means getting out of my house and away from people I know. I actually made a Ulysses Compact with myself for In Beauty… I wanted to finish it by a certain date, and I was having trouble motivating at the time, so I threatened to shave my head if I failed. I did not fail.
Me: (Laughs) Would you have really shaved your head?
K.S: Yes. You have to keep your word to yourself, you know?
Me: Oh, I know. What are some of your next projects, if you don’t mind me asking?
K.S: Sure! I’m working on a semi-apocalyptic piece in which magic is released again into the world (Unleashed), but it follows the paths of two sisters who hate each other, and who find very different ways to survive. I’m also writing a novel based on a film I made in college called Styx & Stones, which is about two college students who can interact with ghosts and how they cope. I’ve also got three others on the back burner that somewhat tie into the first two, but I haven’t decided to what extent yet.
Me: Do you have your own website/ blog where we can find updates?
Me: Do you have any writing quirks or habits that you want to share?
K.S: I always make soundtracks for my books before I write them. And then I listen all the time until the novel is done.
Me: That’s awesome. Is the soundtrack on your website?
K.S: It’s not, but you know, I’m thinking about it. I’m planning to update some content next week when I’m off work. That could be fun!
Me: For fun, last question: What is your favorite book? Your favorite author?
K.S: Favorite book is probably The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell. It was magnificent. But I go through phases. Favorite author is probably Lu Xun, because I admire him so much. He wrote short stories during the Chinese May 4th Era – mostly cultural criticisms. Absolutely stunning.
*****And that’s that! She was able to offer us some great insight into self-publishing… and how important it is to make sure that the product you have out there is the best that it can possibly be!
I like what she says about Writer’s Fear:
“Fearlessness is critical when you are expressing yourself.”
Happy Writing everyone!
K. Starling has a Bachelors degree in Comparitive Literature and a minor in Chinese from Binghamton University. She has studied at National Taiwan University and University of Nottingham. In her spare time, she likes traveling, guzzling tea, and is training to be a Yoga teacher. In Beauty’s Veins is her first novel.