We are kicking off a new week with another new interview, this time with Halli Starling, author of The Way We Wind. Don't forget to check out our Instagram to join our next giveaway, going live at 5 pm!
Tell us about your newest book, The Way We Wind, and what inspired you to write it.
It’s kind of a roundabout little story! I typically write high-heat or close to it romances, and I really wanted to try to write something closed door/fade-to-black. And I also wanted to write a story about siblings each finding “their one”. On top of that, I really wanted to write a story set in my adopted home state of Michigan, and I remembered that I had done some research for an episode of the podcast The Human Exception (which I cohost with three fabulous human beings) about ghost towns in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. So I kind of…smashed all that together and wound up with The Way We Wind.
Can you tell us a little bit about your characters? Which, if any, did you identify with most and why?
Bren and Clark are paternal twins and they have the kind of sibling bond I admittedly have always longed for. Bren runs the family greenhouse, something she wanted to do after their mother passed away in a car accident when they were nineteen. So she went to college and learned all she could about agriculture and business and used that to make her dream a reality. Clark came into his own a different way, especially after his mother’s passing. He was always bookish, the “old soul” between the two of them. (At one point in the novel, Bren thinks about how he’s always been an “old man” of sorts, puttering around in patterned housecoats with a book in his face.) They both speak to me in different ways, though Clark is more based on my personal experience as a public librarian and a bookish, quiet sort of person.
Did you come across any challenges while writing The Way We Wind? How did you overcome them?
Writing the dual POV between Clark and Bren was a bit of a challenge for me. Their POVs alternate chapter by chapter, so making sure I was moving both storylines along, and at a fairly even pace, was something I’d never attempted before. It was a lot of fun but I did get stuck a few times. It was also the book that kind of popped out of nowhere, so I put less pressure on myself to finish it by a self-inflicted deadline. Changing up my thinking on how and when I wrote it was what got me moving through the drafts.
You have many books ranging from contemporary romance to sci-fi and paranormal fantasy. Which one is your favourite to write and why?
OH NO do I have to answer? I’m kidding. Honestly, it’s less about genre for me and more about bending it. I won’t write in a genre that I can’t find a way to subvert or twist the conceits and conventions. Genres are fun, we should be willing to play with them more! But if I had to pick, I’d say fantasy. I grew up on sci-fi and fantasy books and my love of vampires and magic and spooky happenings grew out of a big imagination and a need to escape everyday life.
What are the most difficult challenges you stumbled upon when switching between genres?
Switching from fantasy to contemporary romance was where I expected to have issues, since compelling storylines in everyday romance usually rely on angst or some kind of drama. Fantasy gives us monsters and magic and all things in that regard which are natural catalysts for plot; romance set in our world, in our timeline? That was where I stumbled a little, trying to figure out why I was even writing the dang thing to begin with. But I went back to my initial ideas and remembered that my stories are, first and foremost, character-driven. That helped me switch gears a bit better.
What are your favourite tropes to write? Are they different from the ones you like to read?
So I started out MANY years ago as a fan writer. I probably have 750k words or so of fan writing just from the last five years, and that’s on top of what I did in the past. Some of those tropes from fan writing really work well in original writing, and they’ve been adopted into mainstream novels (“There was only one bed” and “Forced proximity” are great examples). And while tropes are fun in fan writing, I don’t like to force them into my books; if they show up (and they do), it’s always by accident. But for reading, by and large, I’m not a big trope fan; I really need to be in the mood for a book that hinges on a particular trope or tropes. I’d rather see an author bend a trope to their own purposes rather than use it straight out, and I think I do the same in my writing, too.
You write queer stories. Who are some of your favourite queer characters from other media, and is there any representation you’d like to see more of?
I think what Cat Sebastian and KJ Charles do in historical romance is brilliant. Pen from Charles’ book An Unsuitable Heir is firmly stuck in my mind forever, a truly wonderful character all around (honestly all of her characters are fabulous, but Pen really got to me in a good way). I tend to shy away from a lot of visual media with touted queer rep, only because we’ve been burned so much in the past. I grew up on shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and remember thinking, “Oh, Faith HAS to be queer, come on”, and instead getting a literal “kill your gays” storyline with Willow and Tara. What we will probably always need more of is authentic rep, written by people with lived experience, but I’d love love LOVE to see more Aro/Ace and Nonbinary rep in general.
We’d love a hint about any of your current projects! Are you working on anything that might please or even surprise your readers?
Oooo okay so… I’ve talked a tiny bit about it on IG, and posted a few snippets from the draft, but COUP DE COEUR is my big undertaking right now. It’s a historical fantasy/romance (M/M/M poly) novel set in New York City in 1899. I did a lot of research trying to understand the city at that time, but I was especially wanting to understand how queer people lived in NYC then. It turns out, NYC was pretty queer back then as well. It’s really important to me that I use proper terminology and ideas from the time around queerness. I knew that heterosexuality meant something quite different than it does now (it was largely used as an insult, meaning someone was having sex for pleasure instead of procreation, basically 19th century slut-shaming), and I wanted to understand the words used by gay people for themselves. Questions like “How did they find each other?” loomed large in my mind, and I was able to take what I learned and apply it to the novel. It’s going to be a rather long novel, I keep calling it my Donna Tartt experiment.
Tell us a little bit about your podcast, The Human Exception.
So a few years back, through a mutual friend in the tabletop gaming world, I met some lovely folks, Nathan and Cayla, and hit it off really quickly. I think it was Cayla’s idea to start up the podcast (and sorry if it wasn’t! It’s likely none of us actually remember how this came about lol), mostly due to the fact that we all have a lot of interests in common. True crime, cults, and then weird topics that wouldn’t even come up at trivia night. We mostly just wanted to research things that interested us and tell each other real stories. I love learning about weird history things like the question, “Was Shakespeare a woman?” or “Who really wrote the infamous fanfic ‘My Immortal’?” After a bit, we had Courtney join us, who also has similar interest and has been friends with Nathan and Cayla for some time…and here we are! We just passed 100 episodes, which seems completely bonkers.
If you could give any advice to authors set to make their debut, what would it be?
Don’t read reviews if you don’t want to be bummed out. Very few are immune to feelings of rejection or sadness when they see a 1 or 2-star review. Reviews are for readers, they’re not for you. Stick to “death of the author” and understand that your work will be read through dozens and hundreds of lenses and life experiences and no matter what you intended, it can and will be interpreted differently, and not always positively. Write for you, and don’t believe for a second that your work isn’t worth being put out into the world.
Have any shows, movies, books, or games influenced your own work at all?
Oh absolutely! I picked writing back up after running an almost 3-year D&D campaign for which I wrote hundreds of pages of plot, NPCs, notes, and so much more. So D&D, and shows like Critical Role, reminded me why I love stories and storytelling. I also lean on the writing and plot stylings of the old Bioware games, like Dragon Age and Mass Effect (I have a line from Mass Effect tattooed on my arm.) As far as books go, I’ve been heavily influenced in the past by authors like Robert Jackson Bennett and N.K. Jemisin, but I’ve found that really well-done, and well-researched, nonfiction helps me write more clearly when my head gets all muddled up with details.
Our podcast focuses on media we’re currently loving. Are there any books, shows, movies, games, or podcasts you’re enjoying this Pride month? Any recommendations for our audience?
Yes! I just finished up The Unbroken by CL Clark and it was incredible. I’ll be getting into the sequel, The Faithless, very soon. The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri is also high up on my TBR. And I’ve had it sitting in my podcast player forever, but I want to start the “Bad Gays” podcast.
Halli Starling is a queer librarian, reader, gamer, and author. Halli has always been involved with books, and her love of the written word inspired her to get her MLIS and continue her book career outside of public libraries. When not writing, she co-hosts The Human Exception podcast, plays D&D, and spends time in the beautiful outdoors of Michigan.