By A.E. Santana
Charlie N. Holmberg is The Wallstreet Journal best-selling author of the Paper Magician series and the Amazon Charts best-selling Spellbreaker series. Her novel Followed by Frost is a 2016 RITA Award finalist for Young Adult Romance, and her novel The Fifth Doll won the 2017 Whitney Award for Speculative Fiction. Her latest novel, Star Mother, is a young adult fantasy romance that follows the adventures of Ceris, a young woman who sacrifices everything to be a Star Mother and finds herself navigating an unfamiliar future and the changes of her heart. Read Kelp Journal’s book review of Star Mother here.
Kelp Journal caught up with Charlie N. Holmberg to chat about Star Mother, her writing process, and her love for all things fantasy.
[Kelp Journal] When did your relationship with fantasy stories begin? How has it evolved?
[Charlie N. Holmberg] I think I always had a love for things fantastical. We used to have pictures of unicorns and pegasi on the walls of my family room. I was a massive X-Men geek. It really took off, I think, when I watched The Vision of Escaflowne at the age of thirteen. That was the moment I went from appreciating the fantastic to wanting to create it.
[KJ] Star Mother has multiple love stories involving main character Ceris. How did each of these stories develop? Which story came first?
[CNH] Ristriel was the first. I have a picture on my story inspiration board on Pinterest that portrays a sort of cloud-like boy stretching down from the sky toward a girl on a bridge, which gave me the idea of doing a romance with Ristriel’s identity (which I won’t name, because spoilers). However, I didn’t know how to turn that into a story until I got the initial idea for Star Mother after seeing the original cover of God of the Sun by Kimberly Loth.
[KJ] The world that Ceris lives in is filled with magical beings and fascinating lore and religion. What kind of research did you do to prepare for this novel?
[CNH] Passive research was a trip I took to France a few years ago—it ultimately inspired the setting and feel of Star Mother, especially the existence of cathedrals and Ceris’s tapestry skills.
One of the great things about high fantasy is you can make up a lot of things. The book requires some suspension of disbelief because a lot of the deities in the book (Sun, Moon, etc.) do not follow standard laws of physics. All of that, I created on my own.
[KJ] I’ve always found fantasy names fascinating. How did you select or create the names of your characters in Star Mother?
[CNH] It’s always tricky when I get asked these things because I don’t always remember! I keep a name list on my computer—anytime I make a typo or come up with something I like the sound of, I write it down on that paper. I often go to that document when getting names. I think Ceris probably subconsciously stemmed from Aerith (from Final Fantasy 7).
Saiyon’s name was made up on the spot, which is funny, since he gets his own book later. Ristriel’s name came from my elvish name! When I was a teen, my sister put my name into an elvish name generator, and it spit out “Rincristiel.” I tweaked it a bit to make it fit (and to be honest, I think elvish names sound very celestial).
[KJ] Connected to storytelling, what was the thought process around capitalizing Saiyon’s and Earth Mother’s names and pronouns? How does this connect to the lore you’ve created?
[CNH] In my own beliefs, it’s respectful to capitalize the names of deities and their pronouns, so I carried that over to this book. Initially, demigods were capitalized as well, but we changed that in edits. (Now they’re only capitalized if using their proper names.)
[KJ] I found Ceris and her mother’s strained relationship compelling. What made you decide to create that mother-daughter relationship, and how do you feel it compares to or complements Ceris’s relationship with Surril?
[CNH] I needed Ceris to have a familial connection to her village, but also a situation that would make it easier for her to sacrifice herself for a star. If she had intense ties with her family members, I would have had to spend a lot more time convincing her to go, and that risked making the story drag for the reader. But I think all of us crave family ties and family love—it’s part of our souls. That desire is what drives Ceris to seek out the Hereafter, to reach for Surril, and to seek out her sister’s descendants.
[KJ] When Ceris arrives back in Endwever, the people of her village are obsessed with her. With a story containing multiple themes of love (romantic, familial, friendship), how do you feel this fanaticism pairs with those themes?
[CNH] The fanaticism the villagers have for Ceris is born from love, but it twists into something else, something that foils the other themes mentioned. They truly do mean well, but they cannot see outside their own desires and don’t recognize what Ceris really needs, and that she’s still a person, not just a thing to be worshipped.
[KJ] Ristriel seems to favor Earth over the moon (although both are absent mothers in his life). How would you explain his fondness for one mother over the other?
[CNH] This question admittedly surprised me because I didn’t purposefully write any favoritism with his mothers. Earth Mother is definitely nicer, but Ristriel lacks a relationship with either of his creators.
[KJ] Was there a scene in Star Mother you found particularly difficult to write? If so, what was it? How did you finally get that scene to a place you were happy with?
[CNH] I had to comb through the scene with Agradaise a few times to make sure it had the impact needed for Ceris’s motivations. I mean, you’re trying to get someone to, in a sense, want to die, which goes against human instinct, in my opinion.
[KJ] What has been the most surprising thing you have learned in writing and publishing overall?
[CNH] You know, something that really struck me recently (courtesy of Dr. Jennifer Barnes) was that when we write to our most carnal desires and passions, our stories become more wildly gripping. That’s something authors lose when we start worrying about sales and outside opinions and writing to market. I think there’s a lot of truth to it, and I hope I remember to tap into my id.
A.E. Santana is a Southern California native who grew up in a farming community surrounded by the Sonoran Desert. A lover of horror and fantasy, her works can be found in Latinx Screams, Demonic Carnival III, and other horror anthologies. She is the managing editor for Kelp Books, the true horror editor for Kelp Journal, and the co-editor for The Coachella Review’s monthly column, Voice to Books. A.E. Santana is a member of the Horror Writers Association and a founding playwright for East Valley Repertory Theatre in Indio, California. She has been a moderator for several horror panels, including “No Longer the Scream Queen: Women’s Roles in Horror.” She received her MFA in fiction from the University of California, Riverside's low-residency program. Her perfect day consists of a cup of black tea and her cat, Flynn Kermit.