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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.


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    HBO’s charming series, Love Life, first premiered in May 2020 as a scripted anthology series, following one character’s quest for love in New York City. The show came at a perfect time during the quarantine, offering much needed levity. Season two shakes up the classic rom-com roles and may just be changing the entire genre.

    Season one followed the romantic entanglements of Anna Kendrick’s Darby. I enjoyed following Darby through her chaotic nights in New York City, awkward first dates, and messy debriefs with her roommates. While I related to Darby, the plot felt all too familiar: a 20-something white woman hopelessly looking for love.

    Last month season two dropped. This season used the same ‘romance-per-episode’ structure, but instead we follow a young Black man. Enter: Marcus Wadkins (William Jackson Harper.) If season one gave us predictable, bland tropes, season two was full of surprises at every turn that genuinely got me thinking about gender, race, and love. While the show is lighthearted, I admired its dedication to contending with the very real struggles of dating as a Black man.

    According to a 2020 study from National Research Group (NRG), two in three Black Americans feel that they don’t see their stories represented on the screen. While the study shows that there has been significant progress in Black representation in media since the 60s, it also shows that there are still many barriers to accurate representation of minorities in TV and movies. A 2017 report by Color of Change Hollywoodfound that only 4.8% of TV writers are Black.

    How can we have authentic depictions of Black characters without Black people writing the stories? On this season of Love Life, a Black writer, Rachelle Williams, was brought on to co show run with Sam Boyd and Bridget Bedard. 

    It is clear from the beginning of the season that Marcus is extremely aware of his Blackness in a yuppie, mostly white world. We first meet him in 2016 at Darby’s wedding reception where he and Mia Hines (Jessica Williams) are some of the only Black guests. They immediately bond, but when Marcus points out his white wife Emily (Maya Kazan) to Mia, he is left feeling judged and questioning his attraction to white women. Even with a light tone, the show begs us to ask serious questions about the role of race in relationships. 

    In the premiere, we see that Marcus’ marriage has fallen into an unexciting rut, but his encounter with Mia brings to light a bigger issue that he can no longer ignore – his white wife’s inability to understand him as a Black man. While he never physically cheats on Emily, Marcus’ emotional relationship with Mia quickly leads to his marriage imploding. 

    Soon enough, Marcus finds himself as a single ‘30-something’ propelled back into the cesspool of hook-up culture. It is in this chaotic whirlwind of hook-ups that we see Marcus for who he really is: a lost, unsure divorcee trying to find himself for the first time. 

    Marcus doesn’t fall into the stereotypical depictions of Black men on screen (aggressive, angry, emotionally unavailable.) Instead, Harper adds elements of his anxious, awkward, but charming character, Chidi Anagonye on The Good Place, to his portrayal of Marcus in Love Life

    It is clear that Marcus is not the smoothest guy in the room. He can be stubborn and hot-tempered. He makes some terrible decisions, but you root for him anyway because he is self-aware and he tries to be better. 

    Black rom-coms have been on the decline since the early 2000s. Love Life is also evolving the genre by focusing entirely on Black people. The few white people who do show up in this season are peripheral characters. 

    I’d argue that Mia (Williams) is the real star of the season, which is integral in changing not only our perception of race in rom-coms, but also our perception of gender. In 2020, less than 6% of Black female TV characters were shown in a romantic relationship. Black women are the least likely of any race to be shown as the love interest in a TV series. 

    Mia is not only depicted as Marcus’ object of desire, but she is also portrayed as a force herself. She is a tall, beautiful, NYC working woman who is clearly used to keeping men on their toes. In one episode it is revealed that she is dating the basketball player, Amar’e Stoudemire. 

    In the beginning of the series, Mia resists vulnerability. In one episode we find out that she is the daughter of a young mother and a largely absent father and has taken on the role of caretaker in her family. But over time she lets down her guard with Marcus.

    Mia and Marcus have clear chemistry from their first meeting. What starts as a flirty friendship blossoms into an authentic love story because of their willingness to be vulnerable with one another. 

    Because Marcus, a man, is the one searching for a love interest and Mia, a woman, is a full, complex character herself, their relationship feels real and whole. Mia is neither Marcus’ possession nor his savior. She is simply his shining counterpart which makes their love story a refreshing tale of two equals.

    header: screenshot from youtube