Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Debut Novelist Judith Starkston Talks About Her Unique Setting of Ancient Troy

Judith Starkston writes historical fiction and mysteries set in Troy and the Hittite Empire. Ms. Starkston is a classicist (B.A. University of California, Santa Cruz, M.A. Cornell University) who fell under the spell of Greek history, mythology and especially Homer as an undergraduate. She taught high school English, Latin and humanities. She and her husband have two grown children and live in Arizona with their golden retriever Socrates. Hand of Fire is her debut novel.

Welcome, Judith! Tell us a little about your road to publication.

I made a place for myself in the world of historical fiction first as a reviewer for Historical Novels Review, New York Journal of Books, The Poisoned Pen Review and my own website. That gave me opportunities to study trends in historical fiction styles and get to know writers and readers both. That has been a very helpful base as I moved toward publication.

My debut novel, Hand of Fire, has just been published by Fireship Press. Fireship is a small press that specializes in historical fiction. I sent the manuscript out to many agents and enjoyed the advice and criticism that came back to me. I used it to make improvements over time. Eventually I opted for a small press because agents indicated they thought it would be hard to sell my manuscript to a major house given Hand of Fire’s setting in the ancient world of Troy, which they consider “niche.” I would, of course, love lots of readers to pick up Hand of Fire and prove that the iconic Trojan War still intrigues us. So far, the response has been phenomenal, so maybe I’m right and I’ll hear again from some of those agents. I’m very glad my small press has an open mind about what historical periods people want to read. The readers I hear from agree!

When you first entered the publishing world, what surprised you the most? Was there any aspect of the business that caught you off guard?

I knew selling a book to a major publisher would be hard. That part didn’t surprise me. What did catch me off guard is how supportive other writers, bloggers, editors and readers are. I’ve found plenty of people whose advice I trust and ask for regularly. The road to publishing, while long, turned out to be a lot of fun with great friends along the journey.

Why historical fiction?

I loved ancient history and literature as a student while I earned my Classics degrees. That is the base that trained me.

Many years ago, I walked through the British Museum with my toddler son on my shoulders. I was retelling the myths painted on the Greek vases in front of us. We were happily lost in our imaginative world. I turned to go to another display case and discovered a crowd behind me listening in. So I think I’ve been “writing” historical tales for a long time.

What are you working on now that you’d like us to know about?

Lately part of my daily work is promoting Hand of Fire. This is a brief intro to my debut: The Trojan War threatens Troy’s allies and the Greek supply raids spread. A young healing priestess, designated as future queen, must defend her city against both divine anger and invading Greeks. She finds strength in visions of a handsome warrior god. Will that be enough when the half-immortal Achilles attacks? Hand of Fire, a tale of resilience and hope, blends history and legend in the untold story of Achilles’s famous captive, Briseis.

When I get to write, I’m in the middle of a historical mystery featuring the Hittite Queen Puduhepa as “sleuth.” She would be as famous as Cleopatra if she hadn’t been buried by the sands of time. Her seal is on the first extant peace treaty in history next to her foe, Pharaoh Ramses II. Now that she’s been dug out, I’ve taken her remarkable personality, which seems perfectly suited for solving mysteries, and I am writing a series.

I’m also outlining a sequel to Hand of Fire—and Briseis may just make a major move to Cyprus. But as readers of Hand of Fire will realize, Briseis has some business to take care of nearer to home before she can travel so far away.

Do you have a favorite historical novel?

Come back tomorrow for the answer and part two of the interview with debut novelist Judith Starkston.

In the meantime, leave a comment with your email address by this Friday at 8AM EDT (name at domain name dot com) and your answer to the following question to be entered to win a copy of Judith's Hand of Fire.

Question for drawing: 
Which moment in history would you love to be magically present to observe?


Peter Leavell said...

Judith, your novel looks amazing! I love this time period. I can't wait to read it! I love this time period!

I'd love to go back to meet Constantine, to see what he really was like. (My current novel project) prleavell@gmail.com

Judith Starkston said...

Hi Peter, meeting Constantine sounds like a great moment to choose. May I join you in the time machine? Glad you think Hand of Fire sounds like a good read. You'll have to let me know what you think. Pretty different world than the East had become under Constantine but the same exotic landscape!

nrlymrtl said...

The battle of Cunaxa in 401 BC where Cyrus was killed. I would find it very interesting to see what the Persians thought of the battle, since many fought on both sides (along with the invading Greeks, and against them). If I could stay around just a tad longer, I would love to see that moment when the remaining Greek army realizes they are stranded without leadership in hostile Mesopotamia and they have a very hard march in front of them. Thanks for the interview! nrlymrtl [at] gmail [dot] com

Alison Morton said...

Mine is such a classic - the Spear of Fate. Emperor Julian (the Apostate) was campaigning in the east in AD 363 when a spear pierced him in the side and he died of the wound.

Now, if he'd lived, would he have been able to roll back Christianity as he intended? I would love to have been present (in full protective armour, of course) and prevented that, just to see what happened next.

Alison Morton said...

Oops! Forgot the email...

Caroline said...

Loved it! Though I know little about this time period the book sounds fantastic! Would love to read it.

traveler said...

World War 11 in Britain with the patriotic fervor, Stay Calm and Carry on and the hardworking citizens who believed in freedom.

Judith Starkston said...

I love the choices of moments in history. What different slices of the past appeal to each of us!