Virginia Carraway Stark has a diverse portfolio and has many publications. Getting an early start on writing, Virginia has had a gift for communication, oration and storytelling from an early age. Over the years she has developed this into a wide range of products from screenplays to novels to articles to blogging to travel journalism. She has been published by many presses from grassroots to Simon and Schuster for her contribution to ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Possible’ as seen on ABC. She has been an honorable mention at Cannes Film Festival for her screenplay, “Blind Eye” and was nominated for an Aurora Award.
She has written short stories in well over twenty anthologies as well as magazines, novels, poetry, poetry anthologies, blogs, journals and many other venues. She is Editor-in-Chief at StarkLight Press as well as for Outermost: Journal of the Paranormal. She formerly worked writing medical papers into language for the lay person and worked on scientific papers for numerous platforms and did professional editing as well.
Hi, Virginia, thanks for spending some time sharing insights into your writing today. The Great Ladies Anthology was impacting for everyone who worked on it, how did it impact you?
I ended up writing several stories for this anthology. A lot of people had a hard time with it as an assignment so I ended up with the whole spectrum of what could be considered, ‘great’. Great is a word we throw around without thinking about it much and when it is aptly applied to people, particularly historical people, it is a word with a lot of power to it. “Great Ladies” aren’t often very ‘nice’ ladies and that’s part of how they worked to become great. They had the will and the determination to manifest their light into a world that was predominantly ruled by men. That wasn’t an easy job and nice girls need not apply.
Some of the great ladies were truly great in their time, but Hitler was truly ‘great’ during his time too. He made a HUGE impact on the world and as we counted the toll after the war his ‘greatness’ grew and grew. He caused great horror, great death and great trauma. Nevertheless, he was still ‘great’.
Queen Isabella of Spain was the great lady that I wrote that impacted me the most. She was strikingly like Adolph Hitler in how dogmatic, brutal, bloody and racist she was, and yet we owe much of the modern world to her impact on it. She shaped the world in her image and that is in the end greatness whether we want to admit it or not. Great also doesn’t mean likeable, politically correct or ethical.
Greatness is also influenced by the fashions and beliefs of the era. Isabella is the perfect example of this. She was following the ethics and morality of the Catholic Church and she obeyed the Pope in everything he told her to do. She came to the throne at a morally degenerate stage in Spain’s history. The country was in anarchy and her half brother had been weak willed but worse yet, far worse by Isabella and the Church’s standards, her half brother had also been gay.
Isabella honestly believed that she had to do anything the Church told her to save her brother’s soul and she didn’t care who she had to kill, invade or exile to do so. She invented the Spanish Inquisition, overran the largely peaceful area of Grenada that had been home to Muslims, killed or exiled all the Jews and then started in on heretics and witches.
But it gets worse.
Unlike Adolph Hitler’s Nazi Regime, there was a clear-cut beginning and an end to the horrors he caused. There was an end to the death and to his political power. Isabella, on the other hand, not only had a long and bloody rule but her standards for the Inquisition continued for HUNDREDS of years after her death. Isabella was buried and people were still being tortured, maimed, hunted and killed for their religion, their beliefs or just on the accusations of people who were afraid themselves of being burned at the stake and tortured. Or maybe having a finger pointed at you because someone, somewhere, doesn’t like you.
This is another area where Isabella’s ‘greatness’ smacked me hard in the face. She didn’t look for a way to kill millions as painlessly and efficiently as possible, she looked for ways to torture the human body to its utter limit to make the pain last as long as possible.
As I researched her I realized that she was great, but not in the way I had thought. Not in that way at all. She was a great killer and the most terrifying thing is that I’m positive she died believing she had done the will of God and would go to her reward in the afterlife for how incredibly great she was. Even now when we describe history’s greatest monsters I have never once heard Isabella of Spain referenced even though I’m sure she earned the title.
So, I guess to answer your question, the impact on me of Great Ladies was that first of all, I was thoroughly educated in the history of many women that I had a less than complete understanding of and second of all, I had to completely re-evaluate my concept of what the word ‘great’ was. I had to do this without being reactive and disgusted. I had to think about things from Isabella’s perspective and I had to most of all, not judge her, but be her. It was a queasy feeling but I think it made me a legitimately bigger person to learn and understand these less than desirable qualities of greatness.
What Ladies did you end up writing about?
Great Ladies was an invitation only event and we had a lot of people who just couldn’t do the job and so they dropped out. Some people found the lady that they had been given wasn’t a good match for them. If I could find a good match for the lady I would replace the person but the ones that were ‘lost’ I adopted and took onto myself to write. We also had a few people who had last minute problems and so I had to re-write stories after the fact to make up for this.
The Great Lady that I actually drew was Aphra Behn. I had never heard of her before. I had looked up names of great ladies on the internet and wrote down their names, usually based off of how often they were listed. Aphra Behn was mentioned repeatedly and was a compatriot of Charles the Second of England. I was surprised I had never heard of her since this is a period in history that I have researched relatively thoroughly. She was truly amazing and after learning about her she became a hero to me. She was fearless, creative, beautiful and utterly loyal. I enjoyed the definition of ‘great’ much more in reference to Aphra Behn than I did to Isabella of Spain!
Isabella, I have, of course mentions, I also wrote Eva Peron, Catherine the Great and we will be editing in a new version of Joan of Arc that I will write for the second edition of this collection. If I have time I may also include Elizabeth Woodville. We lost both of those stories, one to plagiarism and one to grumpiness of the writer involved.
How did you deal with those last minute re-writes?
Everyone was shocked to find the original author for Elizabeth Woodville had plagiarized her story. When it was run through a plagiarism checker it came up as 99% plagiarized! I think the one percent that wasn’t was probably just the author putting her own name on the story. The author denied the accusations vehemently even when she was shown the results of the checker and an interview that clearly states what Phillipa Gregory made up and what was on the historical record. The author had just read Gregory’s novel and counted it as historic research and claimed fictional thing from Ms. Gregory as her own creation.
We were mortified! We had trusted the woman involved and when we ran her other stories through checkers the worst came up as 15% plagiarized so, she could write, she just decided that she liked Phillipa Gregory’s story so much that she would take it for herself. How she thought she would get away with it? I have no clue. Pure delusion is the only conclusion I can come to. Gregory’s book The White Queen (which I had read and lead to us running it for plagiarism), is being turned into a mini-series so stealing from it was beyond self destructive. The fact that she thought she wouldn’t get caught out when it was not only from an extremely well known and respected historical novelist but also a mini-series suggested to me that their may have been some mental instability involved.
As for the Joan of Arc story, the author of that one made it plain that he wasn’t happy and then demanded free books and I think was looking for a position as an editor. It was unpleasant and rude and that’s why my husband started a press, so we wouldn’t have to work with jerks. So we cut his story from the second edition and my story will be made available instead.
We don’t like people who undermine and make power grabs at our press. When it comes down to it I would rather help a new writer blossom than a more experienced writer whine and moan at me about every little thing. There comes a point where if you are that critical of the people you work with, then you should spare everyone (including yourself) and just go somewhere else where hopefully you can be happy. Some people, however are happiest when they are miserable lol!
What are your thoughts on doing a sequel to Great Ladies? Who would you pick?
I would definitely like to be involved in a sequel. As for who I would pick for a great lady this time around, I have no clue. There are so many women who are largely unacknowledged or who were in the firs anthology and such a small slice of their life was written about that it would be great to write more about them.
Women come from an angle in history that is totally different from men. There are these huge hurdles that come up before they even get to the meat of the problems of life. With men there is a problem and they can either attain success or not. With women, there is this whole other aspect to things where you have to prove that you even belong on the chessboard before you can start to play.
How did this contrast with the ‘Game Changers Anthology’ due to come out for Labor Day?
I answered some of this one earlier, of course. When writing about men you can kind of cut right to the chase but with women there is always the ‘proving’ stage. It’s kind of assumed that men belong while with women, in nearly any situation you have to make room for yourself.
I chose Leonardo Da Vinci for the Game Changer’s anthology. He’s a fascinating historical figure and had a lot of ideas that seemed to be utterly out of time and space. He was like a time traveler to the era. I think that’s why I chose him, in a way, he starts out of place like a woman does. He had ideas that couldn’t be enacted because they just didn’t have the technology to measure up to what he believed was possible. He was a dreamer and he was out of phase with the rest of the world.
In this way, I find my choice for Game Changers similar to the Great Ladies Anthology because unlike most men, he didn’t fit in with the other men around him. The way he thought, the way he acted and his beliefs in the impossible made him an outsider who had to bend himself out of shape to play by the established rules of the time.
As a mother’s day gift, how do you think ‘Great Ladies’ measured up?
I think that it’s a pretty cool mother’s day gift. It’s hard to express to our mothers how deeply they impact us for good and ill in our lives. Even if a mother dies during childbirth or if a child is given up for adoption, ever action their mother takes is ‘great’. They are our creators and for all the amazing things they do they can mess us up too.
This anthology, as an actual mother’s day gift makes a statement that is deeply profound and possibly, just a little bit insulting but mainly aggrandizing. It is a way to say to our mothers that they are everything to us, their actions affect us on a cellular level from the very start and they can be queens, commoners, monsters or a combination of all three. They can be any thing to us and accepting our mothers as human beings that are capable of evil as well as good is both a high compliment and acknowledgment as well as a realization that they are human and capable of destroying us more than anything else.
Any closing thoughts to share?
This was to date the most challenging of all the anthologies I have been involved with. Other than novels, I have never had to bend my mind around so many corners to understand the essence of people. The histories of these women, their childhoods alone were remarkable. The heights that they rose to were astounding and doing it in the past, where the world was even more of a ‘man’s world’ than it is today makes everything they accomplished exponentially remarkable.
I still think about what I learned from writing about these women frequently even still and I think for everyone involved that these women moved into our heads in a lot of ways.