D.J. STARLING is a penname derived through a combination of a dream, an apparition, and fate. Instinct told Donna Joyce to embrace the moniker, and an author was born. Wisdom led her to recruit Marsha Fischer after they got acquainted in a writers’ workshop in Fort Lauderdale, and a productive partnership began. Relying on each other’s unique strengths as well as distinctive personalities, they’ve blended their literary voices to bring engaging characters to life in compelling stories that will have readers weighing the differences between coincidence and fate when considering the people who fill their lives.
For this interview, we’ve chosen to answer the questions as ourselves, and as D.J., who has developed her own personality and unique style, including the habit of speaking in song lyrics.
QUESTIONS & ANSWERS:
1) What made you decide to become an author?
Donna: I’ve loved writing for as long as I can remember. I was only ten-years-old when I tried writing my first novel, and while the desire never left me, it took years to develop the confidence to make a truly concerted effort to fulfill my dream.
Marsha: I have a fascination with the written word. I love the nuanced phrase and how just one word can change the meaning. I can’t draw worth a damn, but with words I can paint pictures that come alive in my reader’s mind.
D.J.: Born to be a paperback writer.
2) What books do you think might have influenced you when it came to becoming an author?
Donna: For me, it wasn’t a book, it was my fourth grade teacher, the first person who told me I had the potential to be a great writer because of the innate ability she recognized in me and the vivid imagination she noticed in my work. Since then, I’ve always been much more interested in writing a good story, rather than reading one. When I do read, I prefer mostly love stories and biographies.
Marsha: Gone with the Wind and Exodus both influenced me to become an author. I love the stories, the characters and the settings. They made me want to create stories that transport people to other times in history.
D.J.: The book of love.
3) How did you get the inspiration for both Déjà vu and Fantasyland?
Donna: My inspiration for FANTASYLAND came shortly after the tragic death of my most favorite teen idol, Dino Martin, Jr. Only 35 and a Captain in the California Air National Guard, Dino was killed when the jet he was piloting crashed during a routine training flight. I was a married mother of two then, but when I heard the news, long-forgotten memories of my many childhood fantasies came rushing back. Soon, the very personal recollections sparked a desire to create my own tribute to Dino, and that ignited my determination to finally make the effort to fulfill my dream of writing a very special love story. As for DÉJÀ VU, both Marsha and I were fascinated by the hypnotic theory of past-life regression and wanted to utilize the practice in a story. That idea matched up well with another storyline we were contemplating meant to show how the Holocaust affected an average, law-abiding, Jewish family in Eastern Europe.
Marsha: I wanted to tell a Holocaust story, but I wanted to show the difficult decisions people faced as the Nazis slowly ratcheted up the pressure on the Jews. Looking back at history, it is easy to claim what you might or might not have done in a particular situation. I wanted to show the choices European Jews faced as the horror took place. In addition, too many people don’t know that there were pockets of resistance and that the Jews did not go meekly into the gas chambers. Presenting it in connection with a modern day love story helps reach an audience who might not ordinarily read about this topic.
4) Is there a message in either of the works that you want your readers to take from it?
Donna, Marsha, & D.J.: In the simplest terms, love is all around. DÉJÀ VU illustrates how fate more than coincidence guides people into our lives, and everlasting love is a real possibility. We’d like to think readers will also gain a greater appreciation for all the positive things in their lives, and the people who mean the most to them. The theme in FANTASYLAND is that dreams that you dare to dream really do come true—if you work hard to achieve your goals and believe in yourself and the possibilities ahead. For us, those words are proven by the simple fact that FANTASYLAND by D.J. Starling is now a published novel garnering very favorable reviews, as is DÉJÀ VU.
5) Do you feel as though you have lived in a past life? If so, what do you think it was like?
Donna: Despite a failed attempt to be regressed, I believe I have had past lives, and from what I’ve learned through extensive research, I also have to believe that my deep love of music and animals, and even writing, is connected to past experiences. My passions are that strong.
Marsha: I was regressed twice and saw different lives in medieval Europe. Both times I saw reasons behind issues I have dealt with in this life. The regression felt very real and people who heard me speak said that my voice changed as I recounted events of the past life.
6) Which of your works do you like better, Déjà Vu or Fantasyland?
Donna: In my most honest opinion, DÉJÀ VU is a more interesting story overall, but I get more enjoyment when I let myself get lost in the story of FANTASYLAND. I’ve long believed there’s magic in the pages, and readers seem to be feeling it, too.
Marsha: I like Déjà Vu better. I love the past life connections and how Rivka and David try to take action and make a life for themselves in the most horrific situation.
D.J: Each one is a sweet child of mine and I love them all the same.
7) Do you think that Fantasyland would be the same if you didn't have all the song references?
Donna: The story remains the same without the colorful dialogue, but the song references add a distinctive flair to the story, the characters, and their relationships, while the lyrics help to create vivid imagery and greater appreciation for the beautiful music of our lives.
Marsha: The musical references help the characters show their personalities and put the sparkle in the story. The bones of the story are strong, but the musical references make the characters special. It still would be a great story without the musical references, but it wouldn’t be Fantasyland.
D.J.: The magic is in the music and the music’s in me. A good example: I knew the lyrics from Mac Davis’ song Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me were perfect for a scene, but I wasn’t sure if it had been released yet at the time in the book I wanted to use it. Because all of the chapters in my books take place on a specified date, I have to be precise with such info. Imagine my great and wonderful surprise when I learned that not only had the song been released, but was actually the #1 song in the country on the very date I wanted it to be heard, which had been dictated by the heroine’s fall semester schedule at college.
8) What do you think the most challenging part of being an author is?
Donna: Finding the new idea that will make my next book stand out from all others, then plotting it out so the storyline makes sense, flows easily, and holds the reader’s interest.
Marsha: The most challenging part of being an author is selling your work. Crafting the story is the most fun. Nothing is better than the feeling of satisfaction you get when you come up with just the right words to describe an especially emotional scene.
9) When you’re writing do you feel as though you are the character?
Donna: No, I’m not the character, but I do delve deep into their psyches, sometimes feeling I know them better than I know myself.
Marsha: I definitely feel like I am the main female protagonist when I am writing. It is fun molding the other characters into the people I would like to have in my life.
10) Are you working on anything right now that your readers should start getting excited about?
Donna, Marsha, & D.J.: Next book, TILL THERE WAS YOU, is currently being written. This novel will tell Michael’s love story, with a new group of characters joining friends and family from DÉJÀ VU and FANTASYLAND.
11) Do you have advice for other authors?
Donna: Work hard. Believe in yourself. Know your characters inside and out. Accept criticism with grace and learn from it. Don’t give up.
Marsha: Fall in love with your characters and don't be afraid to rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.
D.J.: Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative
12) 3 random facts about yourself?
Donna: 1) I grew up in Philadelphia, PA but have lived in South Florida since I began college. 2) I’m a sports fan (especially baseball & football). 3) I have 2 daughters, Lori & Lindsay.
Marsha: 1) I was born and raised in the Bronx (please note it is THE Bronx), 2) I have one son, Jonathan. 3) Most of the artwork in my home is needlework I created or drawings my son created.
D.J.: 1) I believe in magic, 2) I dance to the music, and 3) I keep a song in my heart.
Thank you so much for the interview! I know I definitely cannot wait to read the upcoming work you have in store for us. I hope you all enjoyed this interview as much as I did. Be sure to be on the lookout for more author interviews I have lined up for all of you.