From the Stars to the Pages | Guest Post: Carson McKenna on the Use of Astrology in Literature

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I've got a serious treat for you guys today! Carson McKenna, the highly engaging and talented author of Misercordias, has graciously stopped by Booked J to discuss her use of astrology in writing. Each writer has a wit and process of their own, and McKenna masters hers beautifully--every word she pens sparkles against the page like the very stars she looks to. (Yes, Misercordias will be making my best of 2019 list come December.)

If you've yet to discover this gem of a novel for yourself, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Misercordias to experience it immediately. Carson McKenna has a voice that demands to be heard. Finding McKenna on Instagram was one of the highlights of my year in both reading and blogging--and I do mean that genuinely.

But, back to the topic at hand: her guest post.

As an obscenely curious person, I've always found that the best way to understand a person creatively is to simply ask. Or to wait a moment and listen as they speak. Er, write. As writers, we all have our own processes and sources of inspiration. It's what makes our prose as individual as our personalities. In the case of Carson McKenna, her biggest strength is in crafting a world that is as whole and lively as the one off page--this is, of course, due primarily to sheer talent and the use of astrology to better understand her characters.

With all that being said, I'm ecstatic to introduce to you Carson McKenna! 

My name is Carson McKenna, and I'm a Cancer and a writer. Both labels speak so deeply to the heart of who I am that I'm trotting them out in my introductory sentence. "Writer" speaks to my dearest intention on earth, and "Cancer" describes how I go about executing that intention. I write emotionally, about families, and my narrative is often seeped in history and nostalgia. I'm a textbook Cancer, really.

Astrology is the language through which I understand my world. I always say you can spot a Cancer because they'll bring up their mother in the first ten minutes. Well, my mom taught me about astrology. We use the stars to explain the unlikely compatibility of two souls ("they've both got that Aquarius moon...") or as a commentary on someone's charmed loved life ("she's got Venus in Libra, don't forget."). People are tricky, and multi-faceted. Astrology is a form of typology that allows me to spot patterns in the chaos.

It also provides a wonderful tool-shed for character development.

I don't think I'm the first writer to do this. I heard a rumor around the Pottermore mill that J.K. Rowling is into astrology. It makes sense, if you examine the evidence. Hermione is born in September, and she's a brainy, bibliophile Virgo if there ever was one. Harry is a Leo, and he's courageous, strong, and unyielding in his principles. Fred and George are twin Aries, and they are puckish, playful pranksters with a stream of daring. (And Lord Voldy's a Capricorn, but I think he's the dark side of the goat.)

I read it somewhere that Gone with the Wind is based on twelve signs of the astrological wheel. Margaret Mitchell kept the name of Ashley Wilkes' plantation as Twelve Oaks after the twelve zodiac signs. Scarlet is an impetuous, selfish Aries and Rhett is a romantic, devoted Leo. The other signs are all represented in Mitchell's timeless masterpiece.

After I christen my characters, I need to pick their zodiac signs. Knowing their sign will grant color and cartilage to their being. It will help to inform everything from their appearance to their job down to the type of partner they'll choose. Is she a Taurus? Then she probably has a garden, and a penchant for cooking. Is he a Sagittarius? Then I may picture him as a freedom-loving philosopher who loves to travel. Each of the twelve signs have their ruling houses: the Aries is the house of self, Taurus is the house of material possessions, Gemini is the house of communication, and so on. The circle describes our cycle of life, our sphere of earthly passages, the sum of all our desires and evolution. It is powerful and archetypal.

In my debut book, Misercordias, I have a family of fifteen cousins. Without even knowing it, I represented all the signs of the zodiac. Killian, the oldest, is a Cancer, and his path has never deviated from the family's bourbon. Oscar is a Libra, a lawyer, the scales always trying to bring about equilibrium. Conor is an Aries, a cop, the enforcer of authority and a lover of brute force. Patrick is a Pisces, willing to sacrifice his well-being to please Blaise and appease her father. And Blaise, my soulmate of a character, whose name is a tribute to her fiery nature, is at the heart of a storyline so passionate and excoriating, she could only be a Scorpio.

Writing with astrology helps me to make my writing universal. The characters resonate with you because you already know them. You've met them at work, you've seen slivers of them in movies, you recognize them from high school, you dated someone who does the same things they do. Their stories is yours as well.

It's the most human thing that this Cancer crab can do.

About the Author: 

Carson McKenna began writing 'Misercordias' on her 28th birthday, though the story had been distilling for a long time. When she did the Kentucky Bourbon Trail in 2015, she was inspired by the personal legends that each distillery held. This bourbon elixir had a rich, textured history that ran a curious parallel to American history. She began to imagine two rival distilleries who had the misfortune of being neighbors. Obviously, the question of how they became enemies was very quickly begged. The first thing Carson knew was that they were Irish (as is she). The next thing she knew was that they had once been friends. Their rich history and soured nostalgia would make for a wound that never properly scabbed. When she threw in a Romeo-Juliet story, things got really interesting!

Carson has known she was a writer since she was little, though at various points in her life it was an inconvenient truth. In her twenties, she tried a bunch of different jobs (chiefly in sales, though she did have a gig as an office assistant that resulted in her untimely firing). She has lived most of her life in New York, apart from her 24th year, which was spent in southeastern France. She retains a decent command of French ("near-native fluency" according to her LinkedIn), which is threaded throughout 'Misercordias.'

When drafting the story, Carson did not always know where Jack's famous treasure was buried. One day, it came to her as she sat at a café drinking cold brew and worrying about the rent. She was so excited, she called her sister-in-law, Lila, who remains one of three people on Earth who knows where X marks the spot. Lila, ever the clever lass, encouraged her to make 'Misercordias' into a series, and to not give the entire treasure away up front. Very soon, the secondary plots began flowing in. Carson realized that each of the Foleys and Walshes had a storyline very much worth shining a light on. She conceptualized a quadrilogy with dovetailing and interwoven narratives, on a timeline of past and present. The series will follow Jack, Clara, Deirdre, Ulysses, Wilkie and Sully, though the predominant storylines will belong to their more youthful descendants. She fiercely adores her characters, because each of them has the soul of someone she loves. She imagines this series will be her magnum opus, and keep her busy for the next ten years.

"Everyone who has read it so far has asked when it's going to be made into a movie!" she laughs, "Though I'm not sure which actress could embody Blaise's fire and femininity. It needs to be just the right fit." She adds that Blaise and Johnny aren't as much in Book 2, Domini. "Domini will be her cousin Zabana and Aunt Kennedy's story. And two Walshes will spring to the forefront."

Carson is currently writing 'Domini' at her mother's home in upstate New York. She takes semi-hourly breaks for coffee refills and Instagram scrolling, but endeavors to get it written in a year.
You can follow Carson McKenna on Goodreads and Instagram.  
 About the Novel: 

Welcome to Kentucky, where bourbon is king and old rivalries die hard. The Foleys and the Walshes are famous foes whose bourbon distilleries sit next door to each other on the Kentucky Bourbon trail. Their feud dates back to the 1960s, when Wilkie Walsh sued Sullivan Foley in what was later deemed "the Trial of the Century." Lines were drawn, bridges burned, and 12 FT high hedges were erected to separate the aristocratic Foleys from the wild Walshes. If any Walsh crosses the property line, Mr. Foley reserves the right to shoot him. This is how it's been for 50 years. Blaise, the Foley heiress, has inherited more than aged bourbon and old money. By birthright, she despises the family next door-with all the passion and fire befitting her red hair. When Patrick Walsh ruins Blaise's 21st birthday with a stunt that gets him shot by her Daddy, Blaise wonders why he won't just leave her alone. As time goes on and Blaise slowly allows Pat beyond the hedges, she accepts that he couldn't do that if he tried. And neither can she...Misercordias is a Romeo and Juliet story, if Romeo drank 110 proof bourbon instead of poison, and Juliet conspired to stab her father rather than herself. It's the first book in a quadrilogy about the Foleys and Walshes, two dynastic Irish families whose histories are deeply interwoven-whether they like it or not. Though the flagship story is told in 2014, it pivots back in time to 1920 and 1930, describing how Black-Jack Walsh came to America during Prohibition to traffic the Foley's bourbon. Jack became the era's most notorious bootlegger, earning a massive treasure that's been missing since his murder in 1948 (though his descendants, including Pat, never lose hope on finding it...). This story contains a landmine of secrets, a cemetary of skeletons, and a trove of buried treasure...and we're only in Book 1.

Misercordias is available to purchase on Amazon

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