Justine Johnston Hemmestad, author of MacBeth’s Spinners

What inspires you to write?

Courageous but mysterious people from history draw me to write about them in order to understand them. Unanswered questions and mysteries inspire me to write, as does the scope of what is possible and impossible…the things that people in history attributed to supernatural forces. 

Do you have a special time to write, or how is your day structured to accommodate your writing?

I’m usually able to write in the mid-morning and evening, but my most sacred times to write are twilight and night. Something about the darkness of night feels empty, as though it desires to be filled with stories or understanding.

What have you written so far?

I’ve written about ten “practice” historical fiction books, but when I began writing fantasy, I found my niche. I combine history with fantasy, and I feel like writing in this way explains humanity more than outright history does. Before Macbeth’s Spinners, my published books include Visions of a Dream, which is a historical fantasy story structured on the career of Alexander the Great (I’ve called his spiritual inspiration ‘fantasy’, though I’ve endeavored to be very structured in historical truth and reasoning…Visions of a Dream is grounded in research), and Truth be Told (in which I also used spiritual inspiration to write about parts of Welsh history, though I structured the characters and the story itself in symbolic terms to explain my own recovery from a Traumatic Brain Injury. I’ve also written about my TBI in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Recovering from Traumatic Brain Injuries.

Can you share with readers a little bit about your latest book?

My new book is called Macbeth’s Spinners, which alludes to both Greek and Scottish legends. Shakespeare based the three witches in Macbeth on the Three Fates of ancient Greek lore, which I thought was the most intriguing aspect of his play, so I began my story with the question of who the three witches really were, and why they were half a world away from Greece. What was their motivation?

Tell us more about your main character.

What inspired you to develop this character? The main character in Macbeth’s Spinners is Clotho, the “present” sister of the Greek Fates trilogy (her sisters are Atropos – the past, and Lachesis – the future). Because she’s present of mind, she becomes more dominant than the future or the past, as the story unfolds in the present (which is 11th Century Scotland). The mystery of three old witches, having been based on the mythical Greek Fates, inspired me to uncover Shakespeare’s untold story, and in particular, Clotho’s story, since she does seem to be the most grounded of the sisters (for that reason, the supernatural elements of her story are commonplace to her).

Who is your favorite character in your book and why?

My favorite character in Macbeth’s Spinners is Apollo because he never tries to tame his power but rather, he flows with it. His motivations are hidden, and for that reason, it would be easy to assume he’s deceptive and a villain. I liked how he revealed himself to me as I wrote, and I liked how multidimensional he was. I liked how his past shaped his present.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

I enjoyed learning about Scottish medieval history – I really liked asking questions and receiving meaningful answers from The National Library of Scotland (they never seemed to think I was annoying at all but shared precise, historical information with me, which prominently accompanied my other research). I also loved trying to answer the question of why the Three Fates of ancient Greek lore were in Scotland…I wondered if something – or someone – chased them out of Greece, and under what circumstances. I also love that my publisher, Antimony and Elder Lace Press, is donating part of the profits from Macbeth’s Spinners to Laughing at my Nightmare, a charity that benefits muscular dystrophy (which is important to me because three of my seven children have an internal birth defect and I sustained and live with the consequences of a TBI).

What is your next project?

I’m already working on my next book, which is a story that takes place in colonial Roanoke. Not only did I ask what happened to the lost colony, but I wondered what was happening at the same time in the rest of the world and how these various occurrences might have intercepted to create a mystery. I’m also the chaplain of my Daughters of the American Revolution chapter, so I find American colonial history fascinating and I love delving deep into it. I love to see history from the perspective of the people who lived in the middle of it, rather than from an objective, scholarly perspective.

What role does research play in your writing?

Research plays one of the biggest roles in my writing. I love to find loopholes in history through factual research, where I might interject fantasy and speculation. I believe that intensive research for my books helped focus my mind in the years after my TBI and was therefore one of my main sources of rehabilitation.    

What one person from history would you like to meet and why?

The one person from history I would like to meet would be one of the ancient Hebrew prophets such as Jeremiah or Ezekiel because I like how much ‘on the edge’, or ‘in between’ they lived. I would also like to meet Alexander the Great, but I think he might be a scary person unless you were completely ‘in the zone’ with him. All of these greats seemed to have some sort of brain ‘tweak’ (injury or instability) that I can relate to (Alexander was cleaved on the head with an ax during one of his earlier battles and Jeremiah would probably be termed as clinically depressed, today). Or I would love to meet Murasaki Shikibu because she wrote the first novel in history (The Tale of Gingi, 11th Century – the same era as Macbeth’s Spinners takes place).

Want to learn more about the author and get the book?

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2 responses to “Justine Johnston Hemmestad, author of MacBeth’s Spinners”

  1. Ray, thank you for supporting Waking Writer! I personally feel like I learn something new from each interview. Very grateful to the readers and the writers who keep this little site interesting! 🙂


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