Collaborative Writing Challenge

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much”
― Helen Keller

Author Spotlight: August 2015 
Virginia Carraway Stark

Every month I would like to shine the spotlight on one of our participating writers. This month, I would like to introduce Virginia Carraway Stark, who is an established writer from BC, Canada. Virginia has now contributed to all 3 CWC novels, and has signed up for project 4, which means there is more to come from this talented writer. Virginia has been one of our 'go to' writers, and has always managed to produce outstanding writing as an emergency back up. This is no easy task at all. Virginia's submission for the final chapter of The Concierge was also selected, and she graced our last page with a beautiful poem about collaborating. I have shared this poem at the end of the interview.



1. What made you start writing?


I've always written stories, even when I was very young and the stories were illustrated with stick figures. Before I could write I told stories. I saw things in my very young world and I would come up with explanations to explain my universe. Usually these explanations were fairly fanciful and based on the 'what ifs' of a small child's mind. For example what if the clouds were made of cotton like the cotton batting inside the lids of children's vitamins? I hypothesized that they looked similar so that made sense and all that cotton attracted a world of intelligent mice ruled the skies. My first time on an airplane when I was about six I watched avidly as we reached the clouds for the mice and their castles. From there on forward I always had an understanding of the 'what if' that seemed outside of the norm with a tendency towards the magical and the whimsical. When I got older I began to watch people around me more and learned about character development by seeing how people interacted and how they differed in their reactions to each other. My propensity for telling stories remained and it was through this that my stories were told and re-told to reach the ears of a movie producer who asked me to put some stories into screenplays. Three movies were made over a year long period, Blind Eye and The Mystical Adventures of Billy Owens and then a sequel to that as well. 


2. Do you use good old fashioned pen and paper or your computer? 


I use whatever is handy! My preference is to use my laptop for longer pieces but I have oodles of notebook and even napkins with stories on them as well. Lately I've taken to using the notepad function on my phone a lot because it's something that I always have with me. I'm the sort of person who will be out for a walk, at the mall or any place else and will be suddenly struck down by an inspiration. So a common sight had become me pecking away at my cellphone frantically while standing in the middle of the sidewalk or by a clothing rack trying desperately to get my idea/poem/scene down.


3. How did you feel when your writing was first acknowledged? 


The first time it was really acknowledged was for the screenplays. A friend of mine had shared some of the stories I had told her with her friends and one of those friends just happened to be a movie producer. He repeatedly asked me to turn some stories into screenplays for him. I laughed at first because I had never written a screenplay and had no clue how to do so. He was persistent and so I went to the library and spent an afternoon taking notes on 'how to write a screenplay'. He was forgiving about my beginner mistakes and I was shocked by how easy a screenplay was to write! That was the beginning of a three movie partnership and a budget that seemed to grow with more investors with every page I wrote! Is that an answer to how I felt? Hmmm, maybe not. I guess you could say that i felt slightly bemused and that predominantly I was just having a really fun time! My feelings could be summed up with: Wheeeeeee!!


4. What are you currently working on? 


I have quite a few projects on the go. This year my new year's resolution was to finish an older project for each new one I began so I've been working a lot on short stories started and never ended. I also have several book launches that I am to attend between now and October. There comes a point where promoting takes a lot of writing time up but that's all part of the purpose of getting our stuff out there. I am currently polishing Carnival Fun and Gendler's Landing. The second was written during Nanowrimo and has needed a lot of work polishing to get ready.

 

5. How did you find writing a chapter for CWC, was it what you expected?


Hmmm, hard question. The first chapter I wrote was the hardest. I felt like I was handling fine crystal that didn't belong to me and that I was scared I would drop it and break it! After the second chapter I had more confidence in not only my capability to handle the metaphorical crystal, but also that what I was handling was a lot more sturdy than I had originally thought. My biggest challenge was overcoming the idea that anyone owned the story any more than I myself had the potential to own my contributions to it. Once I stopped being quite so ecumenical it started to be just about the fun! 


6. Where is your favorite place to write, and why? 


My favourite place to write is this big huge lazy boy chair. I love to write in It because it's positioned so I can look out the window and watch the trees and the birds. I find that the perfect patterns of nature help my subconscious processes more than anything else. My chair is very wide and I can push it back, lie back, sit up, put my feet on the arm rests or use it as a jungle gym for writing in any number of other ways. It is made from soft soft material that is just cloth but feels like the softest suede and is coloured a tad like buckskin. The back has a sheepskin on it and I like to put my cheek against it while I think or look out the window. I put out bird feeders and in the summer bird baths as well so I have a lot of extremely colourful and cheerful companions when I write. I have it set up perfectly with my favourite stainglass lamp to cast cheerful pretty lights in the evening and a little table to hold coffee, wine or writer snackums and my notepad for supplementary note taking. I usually have an aromatherapy burner going or incense that I feel is evocative or inspirational or just pleasant. It is a simple workstation that brings me pleasures of all the senses. 


7. What do you consider your best work to date? Tell us a little about it? 


Best is subjective and hard to sort out from the feedback I've received. My favourite piece is 'Gendler's Landing'. It was published in the first 'Tales from Space' anthology from Starklight Press. I have read it to a few different audiences and there are always tears, laughter and at the end a lot of very satisfied applause. The aliens I invented for it are adorable (I want one of them as a stuffed animal soooooo much), intelligent and come from a galaxy without elemental calcium. This last piece about the Gendlers has been a lovely mind puzzle to write and develop and I'm proud of the job I did with them.

 

8. You have now had chapters selected for all three projects. Congratulations, how do you approach the task at hand, and which story did you enjoy working on most?  


Usually I read every note that is sent to me and then sit and stew about it for a couple of days before making my attempt. I find that a lot of my story creation happens on a deeply subconscious level so I have to have faith that my brain will hand me the right story before the deadline comes up. I essentially sit until the eureka miracle happens and then I put my fingers on the keyboard and see how it comes out. A lot of the time I ask for assistance with details of the characters or plots because of both the time lag between reading and writing and also because it's plain old an awful lot to take in, especially later on in the chapters. The people who do the collation of the stories are like gatekeepers who keep the integrity of the stories and characters in tact. There assistance is vital, especially since they are the only ones who have actually read all the chapters! 


9. If you could give just once piece of advice to upcoming writers, what would it be? 


Just one piece of advice is hard. Fundamentally you need to believe you are a writer. You need to need to write. You need to stop playing the games of doing absolutely anything to distract yourself from writing and just sit down and do it. If you don't believe that what you have to say is important enough to take the time out to say it, then why on earth should anyone else think it's important enough to to listen to you? I know it's only one piece of advice but I'm going to say a second anyway because it's too important not to say: love other writers. Share your love, and support with them and they will do the same for you. Read the writing of other authors. Leave reviews. Not everyone will repay the favour but many will. This will build you a support network of really good writing friends and I guarantee that finding your tribe will increase how much you write and how far your stories travel. 


10. What is your preferred Genre to read and write? 


My preferred genre is supernatural. That isn't really a genre so I usually say, 'speculative fiction'. Mundane stories are a little boring for me and my mind gusts into magic and supernatural with alarming abandon. I've enjoyed writing Ambition to let my flights of fancy get into the world of spies and intrigue. That's been a fun way to control my urge for extra supernatural to pervade my work.

 

11. Inspiration point: Write 100 - 300 words using this randomly generated word - Afterlife. 


There are so many times when I could have died. Not in a passing way, in a serious and intense way. I was in a coma from chicken pox that my parents were told I would never recover, I lived in sub -40 temperatures for several winters with nothing but the rudest of shelters, I had a miscarriage and nearly bled to death and just last month I was hit bang on by a taxi cab. The funny thing is that as a result of this, I am not afraid of the afterlife. I don't worry about a heaven or hell of reincarnation or about nothingness. Sometimes I think the world we live in is the afterlife. That we are all ghosts here, searching for meaning more in where we have come from than where we are going. Sometimes I wonder if the kiss of death is only to restore us to life. Whatever the case is, whatever the meaning of here is, whatever the meaning of the next life is: I know that the leaves rustle in the trees and that my heart continues to beat and will do so until it is my time to meet the next big adventure. What lies over the horizon of death? What sun will shine on us there? Perhaps it is the same question as where do stories come from? There are other places than here. When I listen to the heartbeat of the universe I hear the words: Have faith. So that's what I do, whatever is after life it is sure to be an enormous adventure and when the time comes for me to leap the penumbra of darkness to what is beyond, my soul will continue to sing.

 

12. What is your favorite book and why? 


This is such a hard question for a reader! It seems to constantly change according to what is happening in my mind and in my life. I go for comfort reading from the works of Stephen King, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and a few others. I can give you a favourite comfort read from each: Tolkien: The Hobbit. Stephen King: The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. C.S. Lewis: The Horse and His Boy (neck in neck with The Magician's Nephew)



COLLABORATION

By Virginia Carraway Stark


Where did you go

And what are you doing there?

It's a puzzle

It's a riddle

It's a pile of yarn

With loose ends flying

It's not for the faint of heart

Be brave, be bold

But most of all be clever and true

When the baton is passed to you.

All that is asked

Is that you rise to the challenge and do your best

Grab the story with both hands

And tell the truth

Of what you think

Happens next.



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