judith starkston Ahwatukee author poisoned pen book store

Judith Starkston

An Ahwatukee retired teacher who has written two acclaimed novels who has published two novels that mix fantasy, magic and ancient civilizations is one of featured authors at the KJZZ Arizona StoryFest & Authors Showcase this weekend.

Judith Starkston, who taught English, Latin and Humanities at Desert Vista, Mountain Pointe and Tempe high schools, has written two novels set in the ancient world of the Greeks and Hittites.

She will be one of the wordsmiths who will be on hand to meet at the event, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Mesa Convention Center.

Except for the optional $10 ticket to the Main Storyteller Stage, everything is free.

This event, Saturday, June 1, has something for all ages, from interactive and entertaining Children’s Storytelling Stage, co-sponsored with the South Mountain Community College’s Storytelling Institute, to the Author’s Workshop co-sponsored by the Arizona State University Piper Center.

Authors will be on hand to talk about their books — which range from illustrated children’s books to novels to inspirational and self-help tomes.

StoryFest & Authors Showcase is a community-service fundraising event with proceeds benefiting Sun Sounds of Arizona, which provides audio access to print publications for those unable to read due to disability.

This is the third StoryFest sponsored by KJZZ and its second Authors Showcase. KJZZ is a listener-supported public radio station, and NPR member station for the region.

Besides having their own showcases, some of the 80 authors will present readings of their work at the Authors Reading Stage from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.  

With two degrees in classics from the University of California, Santa Cruz and Cornell University, Starkson turned her love for myths and telling stories into two novels.

“Hand of Fire” was a semi-finalist for the M.M. Bennett’s Award for Historical Fiction and “Priestess of Ishana” won the San Diego State University Conference Choice Award.

“It won’t surprise my students that when I retired from teaching, I turned to writing fiction based in Greek mythology and history,” she said.

She said the impetus for “Hand of Fire” came from a desire “to give a voice to Briseis, one of the women in the legends surrounding the Trojan War.

“I also discovered another woman, an extraordinary queen who ruled for decades over the most powerful empire in the world at that time, the Bronze Age Hittites. She’d been lost to history until very recently and no one has captured her in fiction,” she said of “Priestess of Ishana,” the first in her Tesha series. She is currently writing the second.

When “Hand of Fire” was first published, a review from the Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale wrote that Starkson “pulled off a remarkable feat.”

“She has taken a briefly mentioned character from Homer’s ‘Iliad’ (whether she actually existed is debatable) and brought her to life. Impeccably researched, this fictional realization of the Bronze Age, in all its quotidian and cosmological aspects, ensnares the reader in a story that is both alluring in its strangeness and all too close to our own present day.”

The review praised Starkson for re-interpreting the Trojan War through the eyes of Briseis, and stated, “I felt the age come alive through Starkston’s subtle manipulation of her research and her narrative skill. These fully fleshed-out characters leap off the page and a time that is far away chronologically becomes all too real. This a wonderful introduction to both Homer and the late Bronze Age.  Any reader from teenager on up will find this both a fascinating history lesson and a thrilling novel.”

Another author who will be on hand Saturday is Sandra Marinella, who has written “The Story You Need to Tell” and encourages others to write, even if it is only in their own personal journals.

Although she began personal writing at 9 when her father presented her with a journal and continued in the writing field as both a high school and college writing teacher, a 2012 bout with breast cancer focused her work on writing as a form of healing and personal growth.

She said she’d seen the power of writing in classrooms and this inspired her desire to “take it to populations who would need it most.”

She began volunteering with cancer patients and veterans, helping them to write and, she said, even transform their personal narratives.

While researching her book, Marinella founded The Story You Need to Tell Project, through which she conducts workshops at hospitals and community venues locally and nationwide.

Author, speaker and self-described “hope coach,”  Evangeline Colbert, will feature her newest book, co-authored with Angela Williams, called “Borrowed Hope.”

It revisits infertility struggles as did her first book, “A Seed of Hope: God’s Promises of Fertility” that was drawn from Colbert’s personal experience.

“We’re inviting others to come so that they can discover great books that they may not easily find in local or online bookstores,” said Colbert.

“So many times, we as authors write wonderful content but just don’t get the exposure to our ideal reader. Hopefully, this event will give readers the opportunity to connect with their ideal author.”

Children’s authors are also well-represented at the KJZZ Arizona StoryFest & Authors Showcase.

Nan C. Cataldi of Chandler has authored three books.

Her first, “Rafie the Rattlesnake, Come Home!” was a well-received illustrated book for young children, but her last two, “The Lost Key of Being” and “The Hidden Portal to Wren” are fantasy chapter books recommended for the 7 - 12 set.

The two were prompted by her son, whom Cataldi raised with his sister as a single mother.

“The story itself is a fantasy, based on the timeless fight of good vs. evil.  The focal point of the story is around the delicate balance of Mother Nature, which inspired me to write this series,” she explained.

Kathy Peach published “The Tiniest Tumbleweed” and has had successful careers in banking and project management.

She wanted to write a children’s book to help children “believe in a life with limitless possibilities.”

Admission and parking Saturday are free at  Building C of the Mesa Convention Center, 201 North Center St.

“StoryFest and Author’s Showcase is a unique opportunity to celebrate the art of stories,” said Linda Pastori, general manager of KJZZ/K-BACH Development, Sun Sounds of Arizona and SPOT 127 Youth Media Center.

“We are delighted to support local authors and storytellers because it aligns perfectly with the interests of our public radio audiences,” Pastori added. “We hope our community will come out and enjoy the day.”

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