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Australian author Minnie Darke (a.k.a Danielle Wood) is a Gemini with a Virgo rising, which could have something to do with her love of Scrabble, books, and freshly sharpened pencils. This month, her long career as a writer and author is set to collide with the zeitgeist with the release of her first romantic-comedy novel, Star-Crossed

The novel opens with astrology skeptic Justine tampering with magazine horoscopes to influence her old friend Nick (Aquarius, struggling actor, and true believer). Of course, the predictions of the stars never turn out quite like you would expect. 

Darke, who drew on own her experience as a young journalist to create a world where horoscopes really do change lives, picked up her interest in star signs from her grandmother. “She kept two very well-thumbed and dog-eared books on a shelf near her favorite chair,” she says. “One was her crossword puzzle dictionary, and the other was a copy of Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs.”  

In this BUST interview, Darke gets real about why we’re all searching for answers in the stars.

How did the idea for Star-Crossed come about?

Because there were few staff at the newspaper where I worked, it was handy for everyone to be able to make changes to the paper right up until deadline. So I had a log-in that gave me access to the entire publication. 

I was working late one night when I had the idea that I could, if I wanted to, fiddle about with the astrology column. I thought I could make the entries spookily relevant to my friends’ lives, or perhaps take a hand, invisibly, in their decisions. I’m not saying I definitely ever did any of that, but it was a seductive idea. It was quite a while, decades in fact, before I actually sat down and wrote Star-Crossed

Your protagonist, Justine, is a Sagittarius, right?

Some of the stereotypical attributes of Sagittarius are that they are bold and impulsive, wear their hearts on their sleeve, love traveling, love ideas and philosophies, and tend to be unlikely to believe in astrology! So I wonder if Justine actually conforms more to her rising sign of Virgo… That might account for her pernickety behavior about spelling mistakes!

Do you have a theory about why people, young people especially, are suddenly so obsessed with astrology?

I’m going out on a limb here, but I’m thinking that there’s something about astrology that lends itself particularly well to the digital environment, because it’s an easy way to categorize people’s tastes and personality traits. To be grim for just a moment, it’s possible that astrology provides us with a momentary and fairly harmless distraction from a lot of the dire and terrible things that are going on in the world right now.

We humans are reliably interested in questions of fate. Are we living out a pre-ordained pattern? Or are we just drifting, bumbling along? We know that there are forces acting on us all the time, but are some of them as far away as the stars? Could these forces be known, and therefore harnessed in the service of our dreams? They’re all interesting questions. 

You’re a prolific author under multiple pen names. Was the process of writing Star-Crossed different from your previous work?

Star-Crossed is my first romantic comedy, so it’s different from my other work in terms of genre. But I invest all my writing with the same determination to get the words on the page to match, as best I can, with the images I can see in my mind. I like all different kinds of storytelling, and I hope always to be taking on new and different challenges. My next novel, for example, will be more of a romance and less of a comedy.

Traditionally, romance novels have been seen as exclusively a women’s interest and therefore somehow as less ‘literary.’ In your experience writing across different genres, do you think the perception of romance is changing? 

There’s no necessary disconnect between romantic comedy and ‘literature.’ After all, what was Jane Austen, if not the consummate writer of rom-com? Yes, there is probably a tendency for people to look down on romance as a genre, but the older I get, the less I worry about all that. 

Older me is less concerned than younger me about judgements; older me knows that it’s best just to be honest about what gives you pleasure (and I mean that about a lot of things!) 

If you really don’t like rom coms, fine, don’t read them. But if you secretly love a good sniffle at the cathartic end of a love story, then embrace it! I think there’s a big part to play, in the world right now, for joy. Along with hope, it’s the thing that keeps us going through the dark days.

Star-Crossed was released May 21, 2019.

 

Molly McLaughlin is a travel and culture writer currently based in Mexico City. Her work has appeared in publications including Lonely Planet, Refinery29 and Ms. Magazine. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram at @mollysgmcl.

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