Monday, April 6, 2020

TBR: Starling Days by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe! 

Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?

Mina is staring over the edge of the George Washington Bridge when a patrol car drives up. She tries to convince the officers she’s not about to jump but they don’t believe her. Her husband, Oscar is called to pick her up—the book is about what happens next.

Which character did you most enjoy creating?

Phoebe—The woman who Mina meets in London and begins to develop feelings for.


The book fairly closely follows Mina and Oscar’s points of view. They see Phoebe quite differently. To Mina Phoebe is new and shining, artistic, and tempting. To Oscar she is a childhood crush who he is no longer impressed by. Seeing her from both points of view allowed her to be a full person.

And, which character gave you the most trouble, and why?

Oscar. I always knew the sort of man he was—hardworking, loves his wife, but often trying to shut down or look away from his own emotions. In early drafts, only his strength came through. It was hard to show the fear and vulnerability of a man who was doing so much to try to hide those qualities. In the end, I found the best way to do it was to show his attempts to overcome or to bury those feelings.

Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.

This book was part of a two-book deal in the UK so I knew it would have a home somewhere in the world. But I didn’t realize how hard writing it would be.

In between this book and my first novel, Harmless Like You, I wrote an entirely different novel. And it just wasn’t working. I sent it to friends, I edited it, I moved pieces around. Finally, I realized that it wasn’t ever going to be right. So, I tore it up and began again.

I thought about what questions were most important to me, what pressed on my mind and wouldn’t let go. From this, Starling Days and its questions about how to best to love someone who is sick, how to repair a life, and how to hold onto one another in the hardest times emerged.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

Find what interests you. If you find something boring or stale, then so will the reader. Write towards what excites, interests, confuses, or angers you. Write to where your energy is. 

My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?

I was surprised by how much technology became part of the book. I realized that because we can always be connected it makes disconnection a dramatic act in and of itself. Oscar and Mina could theoretically always be in touch and know everything about each other. Towards this goal Oscar makes Mina download a tracking app onto her phone. I’d often been told that phones reduced dramatic tension e.g. Romeo could just have texted Juliet. But I found that by adding a form of communication I was also adding a means of miscommunication—of silences, secrets, and half-truths.

How did you find the title of your book?

The title Starling Days came to me from a particular moment in the book: one when Mina is looking up into the sky and imaging a new future. But it also symbolizes the struggle of both characters.

Ancient Roman augurs (religious officials) looked to the flight of birds as one of the ways to determine what the future might be. Both Mina and Oscar are both desperately trying to understand what their futures might hold. Each, in their own way, is looking for signs. Oscar looks to business plans and to family history. Mina tries to understand moment by moment, day by day what her brain is doing and to understand this she goes to medicine, love, and because she is a classicist, she looks to Greek and Roman legends.

Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?)

An incomplete list of things consumed in Starling Days:

Toast with French butter
Hot water and lemon
Ginger tea
Endive Salad

A recipe:

Almond Milk Matcha Latte

1/3 teaspoon matcha powder
½ teaspoon honey
40ml boiling water (1.35 fl oz)
10ml cold water (0.35 fl oz)
250 ml almond milk (8.5 fl oz)

Microwave or stovetop
Milk frother (helpful but not required)

1.     In a large mug or small bowl combine waters so that they are hot but not boiling.
2.     Add honey and matcha to the water. Whisk until you can no longer see clumps of green.
3.     Heat almond milk until it’s bubbling on the stove or for 40 secs on high in the microwave.
4.     Then froth. I use this milk frother: (You can skip this step for a smoother less fluffy drink.)
5.     Combine.





DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.