Interview with Mary Vensel White, Author of Starling

24 May 2022

What’s the story behind the story? What inspired you to write Starling?

Starling has many inspirations. I wanted to remember the sights and sounds of Chicago, a city I love. I wanted to explore the idea that the lives we live are very much a product of our minds; that is, we have the ability to write our own stories. And I was thinking about the many forms love can take and how each is important and unique.

I began the book with a film-inspired scene and wanted to keep that idea throughout the narrative. Like me, Gina has watched a lot of movies in her lifetime, and it affects the way she sees the world. One of my favorite films focuses on the love of a sister for her baby brother and I thought: what if the love of someone’s life is that particular, sibling love? Why do we focus so much on romantic love when other types are just as strong, or life-changing, or life-defining?

If you had to pick theme songs for the main characters of Starling, what would they be?

Along with movies, there are several songs mentioned in Starling already. I never thought about it, but they seem to nicely reflect some of the themes in the novel. They are “You Were Meant for Me” by Jewel, “Shall We Dance” from The King and I, and “Macarena” by Los Del Rio.

What’s your favorite genre to read? Is it the same as your favorite genre to write?

Yes, my favorite genre to read and write is literary fiction. I think it’s because what I love best is character—fully drawn, living and breathing, complicated and imperfect characters. I tend to like books in any genre as long as that aspect is present.

What books are on your TBR pile right now?

Well, I complete a summer reading project each year, based around a topic or theme. This year I decided to have a Summer of Faulkner and read four or five books by William Faulkner. That stack is next to my desk and is very daunting! I’m also reading several YA titles for possible inclusion in a writing class I’m teaching in the fall. A couple from that pile: “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan, and “Goodbye Days” by Jeff Zentmer.

What scene in your book was your favorite to write?

I still get choked up over the scene when Gina sees her niece for the first time. She couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have a baby in the family—and I think that incomprehensibility is something everyone who has met and immediately loved a baby can relate to. In Gina’s case, it opens up a part of herself she has tried very hard to keep locked up.

Do you have any quirky writing habits? (lucky mugs, cats on laps, etc.)

No! But I can be extremely creative in methods of procrastination.

Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?

Let it Be! I often fail at this, miserably, but I keep trying.

If you could choose one thing for readers to remember after reading your book, what would it be?

The backbone of this novel, I think, is the idea of love—the unique forms it can take, the way it lingers after someone is gone from our life, how it lights our way to an uncertain future. I hope readers find some recognition and solace in that message.


Mary Vensel White is the author of the new book Starling

Connect with Mary Vensel White

Author Site



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