Today’s interview features the ever-enthralling Virginia Carraway Stark, who had the task of bringing Cadence Colton to life for The Irregulars. Cadence is a teenager who witnessed her mother’s murder at her father’s hand, and was forced to take to the streets with her younger brother, Jeremy, to keep themselves safe. Virginia talks to StarkLight Press about her process, the characters, and the challenges of writing a girl who can disappear into the crowd.
SLP: What is your experience as a writer?
I have been writing my whole life. My first published works were screenplays. You can get a look at my complete bio at www.virginiastark.wordpress.com
It’s been diverse in the extreme. I’ve written in many anthologies, poetry anthologies, guest blogs, my own blogs, monthly columns for local newspapers, science articles, novels as well as collaborations like this one. I’ve also written non-fiction short stories, biographical and autobiographical works as wells as plays. I like to explore and write in many genres and use whatever medium works best to express myself in.
SLP: What if any experience do you have as a writer working with other authors in a collaborations?
I’ve been involved with quite a few collaborations, I believe this is my tenth one but I would have to count to be sure. I work with other authors in groups of two or three in addition to the larger collaborations. I’m not a fan of working in groups larger than 8-10 at most. I find that more authors than that make a committee-esque manuscript that is less than satisfying. I found that I didn’t feel a sense of ownership over the writing and that when it came to working on it I was less connected than with any other writing I have ever done.
The round robin of 8 or ideally less was enough time to get a strong story line going with lot of input from the other authors to help steer it in new and challenging places without the story becoming removed from me on a personal level.
SLP: Who was your character in The Irregulars. Tell us a bit about them.
I wrote for Cadence Colton. Cadence and Jeremy Colton were the only two of the eight children who were biologically related. Unfortunately for Cadence, she witnessed her father murder her mother. Cadence assumed that her father was mentally unbalanced but she doesn’t seem to know the actual motivation for the murder. Cadence testified against her father at the trial and holds herself responsible for the loss of her father in addition to the violent death of her mother. She developed PTSD from witnessing her mother’s murder and was treated by psychiatrists and doctors for awhile after her mother’s death and developed an addiction to barbituates. When she and Jeremy were sent to stay with an abusive aunt and uncle the two decided to run away and ended up on the streets with their family withholding their trust fund and other support from them.
Jeremy has a lot of the traits of his father and of his abusive Uncle. Although this isn’t touched on much in the story he becomes increasingly unstable and it is a simple conclusion that Jeremy has inherited his father’s demented temperament. Cadence is repeatedly abused by him as he grows from a loving child into an angry and hate-filled adolescent until she finally shuts down towards him.
- Cadence has the gift of not being seen. While she isn’t invisible she goes unnoticed whenever she chooses to. In fact, in many ways, it seems that Cadence has to work to be seen more than she has to work to be unseen. Because of this talent she frequently is the one who gathers supplies, food and medication for the others. She bears a lot of responsibility and is hard on herself any time anything goes wrong. Jeremy works hard to augment this trait in her and blames her harshly for anything he perceives as being, ‘unfair’.
At the age of 16, Cadence is only now old enough to file for emancipation and to try to retrieve her inheritance for herself and the other seven children as well. One of the largest struggles they all face is that they have a lack of faith in humanity as a whole and are unwilling to trust anyone who might have been able to help them in their situation. This mistrust is often validated by the way people and the world treat them.
SLP: What was the most challenging part about writing your character?
The idea for The Irregulars was my idea but the characters themselves were sketched out first with Jason Pere and then with the individual authors who were selected to work with us on the story.
Cadence was one of the characters that was entirely my idea and I didn’t realize when I designed her how much of myself I put into her. I was dealing with the first onset of PTSD after being struck by a car. This caused a cascade of childhood memories of trauma in addition to dealing with the much more immediate trauma.
I ran away from home when I was 15 and had a little brother who I left behind. The results for my little brother were catastrophic. I myself dealt with the trauma and went on to university and then to travel the world. Because I had moved on so much from my childhood and being a runaway myself, I had to acknowledge this for the first time in myself. Although rationally I was aware of the fact that I left home and was emancipated due to the abuse I suffered I didn’t realize how much this had shaped my personality and how many advantages in life I didn’t have because of my poor family life.
Writing about the effects of running away on Cadence opened my eyes to the complications I had to deal with. At the time, each thing was an obstacle to overcome and once I had overcome it I put it behind me. Seeing that these obstacles were common to all runaways put myself into a more objective light. I realized that what I had been through wasn’t particularly unique and neither were my PTSD symptoms. Writing about those symptoms in an open matter was a challenge as well.
SLP: How did you most relate to your character?
Subconsciously, when I developed Cadence I was really writing myself. I felt foolish when I realized that I had put so much of myself into her without consciously realizing it. Dealing with therapists in the present and applying the grounding techniques I’ve learned to a child version of myself was an interesting experience and, I think, a healing one.
Unlike Cadence, I was able to shed my old life from me like a snake shedding an old, dead skin. For me, there was little left of the evils I had been subjected to in my youth and in moving on unencumbered I was able to create a new self that was free from that baggage. I was able to deal with my traumas when I was ready to and on my own terms. Cadence, however, was forced to deal with her trauma every day. Jeremy was incredibly self-absorbed and constantly rubbed the past in Cadence’s face. His hatred and blame was a burden that she could only escape by shutting her heart to him.
This was another way I related to Cadence in that when I reconnected with my family they did everything they could to blame me and acted with hatred towards me. When they asked for forgiveness and I was happy to give it to them and move on they reacted with anger and even more hatred towards me. This aspect of my family reminded me a lot of Jeremy and indicated to me that he was fundamentally mentally unhealthy.
SLP: Tell us about your take of the world of The Irregulars. What is happening? What would interest readers about it most?
The Irregulars is about eight children who each ended up on the street for various reasons and who were attracted to each other through essentially a sixth sense that the others were special in ways like themselves.
No two of them are the same in their abilities but they are all the same in the fact that they have a lot of baggage. Some of them are affected mentally and other physically or more likely, both. They have a lot of fear of the world and trepidation about anyone who doesn’t have the special feel to them as well as inherently mistrusting adults. This puts them into a more vulnerable position than they necessarily would have had to be in. There are quite a few ways that I, as an outsider looking in, could have seen to get help for the children that they were blind to.
I think this is quite common when people are in a dire situation to not think rationally, all the more so because they are children.
They are being hunted by a group that goes by the shortened name, ‘M.A.C.’ who has learned that psychics can be used for military applications and works to hunt them down. They are lead by a woman named Dr. Glenn Portsmith who Milton and Bruce, two of the children, have had interactions with in the past. They were held captive and tortured and their experience is enough to send all the children into a panic run away from the danger they find themselves in.
SLP: How long do you take to write a book independently of a collaborative? How long would this compare to writing with other authors?
It varies a lot. Some collaborations go really quickly but require extensive editing and others just go quickly. A lot of writing in a group comes down to group dynamics and to enthusiasm about the work. It becomes evident early on who wants to promote the story as a whole and who is in it to write whatever they want in an echo chamber that robs the other writer’s of their voices. This is, of course, a situation that makes a story biased in one characters direction while the other characters/writers spend all their time cleaning up after those messes. In situations like this writing a collaborations can become a tiresome affair. It is intensely important that each author carefully consider the previous writer’s writing and integrate it into their own. It is important that story threads are picked up and woven into the largely story. I’ve seen too often a writer leave a hint/prompt in their section only to see the next author ignore it and go off in another direction, ignoring what the other writers are processing.
I think of this a lot like when you have a conversation with someone who is clearly not listening and is only waiting for you to stop talking so that they can say something on their mind.
When I write on my own the process for writing a novel can be very quick (weeks) or very long (years). The good thing about a collaborative is that you know other people are relying on you to write your part and you don’t want the story to lose the story’s momentum so this works as impetus to get going and to write your section in a timely matter. This is, I think, the key feature that makes collaborative work move more quickly than independent work.
SLP: How do you incorporate the noise around you into the story you are writing at the moment?
If I’m distracted I find that the music I’m listening to or voices around me penetrate into the mood and timber of my writing style. Once I get into the flow of the story I find that nothing gets through to me. Not even the phone ringing or an alarm going off really gets through to me. I find that people often have to ask me a question several times before I even start to hear them. I’m highly immersive.
SLP: Do you prefer being intoxicated to write? Or would you rather write sober? Do you do anything
to alter your mental state when you write?
I have written drunk before. It’s an interesting experience. It’s kind of fun in a sloppy sort of way! The biggest thing is that I get really sleepy when I drink so I pretty much would have few coolers or a couple of glasses of wine and then go to bed after only a few pages.
I don’t think it particularly affected the quality of my writing although poetry written while drinking or being really tired is often much more in tune with the subconscious. I do poetry marathons every year and I find that as the hours progress (24 poems in 24 hours) that my poetry gets increasingly deep. Sometimes this touches on old hurts or pain and other times it comes out in the form of stories that are somewhat surreal but beautiful.
SLP: What is that dream goal you want to achieve before you die?
I’m still trying to figure that out. I have decided that I definitely want a brick of gold Bullion but I haven’t really worked out a life plan or goal. I got hit by a car just when I started to really get a life plan in place and that kind of changed everything. Priorities shift when suddenly you are faced with death staring you in the face and the mental alterations of post concussion syndrome, life long nerve damage and PTSD.
My life took on a new trajectory after that event and I still don’t know what that means for me. I think a lot of that is sorrow at the losses that I am still processing where life goes from here. I know I have a lot of stories in me that I want to write and other than that I’m still putting one foot in front of the other and that’s the best I can do.
SLP: Do you think translating books into languages other than their origin forces the intended essence away?
Not at all if done by a competent translator, I think that it forces a lot of the original manuscript to try on a new wardrobe.
SLP: Do you blog? If so, what do you blog about and where can other people find it?
I have a couple of blogs, one is my writer blog where I blog on whatever comes to mind. The other one is a blog where I have been working on my memoirs. My writer blog is highly eclectic and you can find it at www.virginiastark.wordpress.com my memoir blog is www.ihavememory.wordpress.com
SLP: How active are you on social media? And how do you think it affects the way you write? Please share the platforms you’re active on and how people can find you there.
I’m pretty active on Facebook and my blogs. I’m not as as active on my author page as I am on my personal page but you can find it at https://www.facebook.com/Virginiacarrawaystark/?fref=ts you can also find me on twitter @tweetsbyvc
I have an instagram account that is underused. Other than that I’m frequently interviewed or on guest blogs and you can find me by googling me in a wide range of places.
SLP: Do you enjoy theater? Would you ever like one of your stories to be turned into a play? Would you prefer to see The Irregulars as a movie, a play, neither or both?
I have seen Carnival Fun, turned into a play. It was originally a short story that was developed into a world so the first play was a lot different from the re-vamped version of it that I’m working on now.
I don’t think The Irregulars would make the best play as it stands now. It would have to be re-written a lot as a lot of the characters are too introverted to be captured on the stage. I think with a lot of rewrites it could make a compelling play.
I think The Irregulars would actually make a much better movie than a play but I’m wary of trusting manuscripts into the hands of random strangers and would want to have a lot of say in casting and directing etc. I’ve seen too many stories mangled beyond all recognition.
Thanks to Virginia Carraway Stark for taking the time to answer our questions about Cadence, and about her experience writing for The Irregulars!
The Irregulars will be available later this autumn from StarkLight Press.