(Mitch) We know each other from your day job, which is...
(Tristra) I work as Chief Strategy Officer for Rock Paper Scissors. Makes me sound very fancy — break out the power suit! (laughs). But basically it just means I run the PR team.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Lee's Summit, Missouri. Now it's a western suburb of Kansas City. But at that time, it was like a little dying railroad town. Very monocultural. I watched Sesame Street and was like, "wow, there's all sorts of different kinds of people, that must be really cool!" (laughs)
When did you come here?
I came here for grad school in 2000. (for a phD in Central Eurasian Studies). Today I live in Harrodsburg, a small bedroom community, around 700 people. People are super nice. Many have lived there for generations. I love that I can walk out my door and get to to a beautiful natural spot easily. In fact, most of my book was written in my head as I was doing that, getting up at 5 am to walk Slava, my giant dog.
What inspired you to write Starfall?
If yo go to New Harmony, you'll see all sorts of odd things and think. A labyrinth out on the edge of town....the Working Men's Institute, with a gallery of original Renaissance paintings by Italian masters.... the room next door, full of giant river fish skeletons and rocks...people like Robert Dale Owen, a social reformer who managed New Harmony, and Frances Wright, one of the first American feminists.
I thought, "Why is this here, in this little Indiana town? What is going on here? How come I had never heard of these people?"
How long did it take you write it?
I was doing research for years, everything I could get my hands on. There's a lot of great scholarly works and novels about about New Harmony. But it wasn't until the pandemic that I really started to begin writing.
During the pandemic, my creative sprit was totally crushed. I was at home with my two children, while working full-time, alone — my husband was an essential worker. By the end of the day ...
One day in February 2021, I took a trip to New Harmony. It was icy, frozen and cold. Nobody was there. I thought, "I've got to do it." I started walking like ten miles a day, and wrote like eight to ten hours a day. And that kickstarted it.
You're self-publishing, correct?
It's such an interesting time in publishing. I know I shouldn't say this to someone from an independent bookstore, but it's not a particularly commercial book, it's never going to sell a million copies —
Hey, we're Morgenstern's, it's possible!
(Laughs) I think it's a book for very specific people who really love it. So in that regard, I'd rather have control of my IP, and be able to write whatever I wanted. I guess I'm a little bit of a control freak, Mitch! (laughs)
See, I didn't want to just write a historical fiction novel. Now, I totally love that genre. I've written a historical novel. But for this subject — "We're going to create utopia!" — it would be so cheesy. I couldn't do it.
So I thought: what if I tried to tell a story that would draw people into the same dilemmas, vibe and spirit, but for cynical modern people who really have a hard time with utopia, which is completely understandable.
"A story for cynical modern people who have a hard time with utopia" — that's a great phrase.
Yeah, so I needed the Sci-Fi thing there. And I was thinking that, with climate change coming, there are going to be more and more openings for other attempts to create a community.
And so it felt really appropriate to try to imagine such an experiment, on the same footprint as New Harmony. And the cool thing about writing a tale in two eras is you can have them talk to each other. Because the past and our present, and our understanding of the future, are all talking to each other.
It sounds like it could be a television or streaming series...
From your lips to my ears!
We will continue the conversation in-person at the bookstore on Nov 10, 6:30 pm. T. will also have photo/slides to share from her excursions to New Harmony.