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In the Limelight: Exploring the Creative Journey of Stephanie Feldman and Her Novel “Saturnalia”

In the futuristic version of Philadelphia during Saturnalia celebrations, we meet Stephanie Feldman’s character, Nina. She’s short on rent and decides to take up a seemingly simple task offered by her friend Max—to deliver a gift at a gathering. The task, however, turns out to be more complex than expected. Nina’s night unfolds through a series of opulent soirees, entangling her in mystical occurrences and forcing her to confront the ghosts of her past Saturnalias.

Spanning a single evening, “Saturnalia” knits together an adventure, a critique of societal ills, and a heart-pounding narrative.

Feldman shares insights with OurCulture on crafting a world infused with magic, the intricacies of high-stakes storytelling, and her creative process.

Firstly, congratulations on “Saturnalia”! What’s it like to publish your sophomore novel?

It’s incredibly rewarding! It took about seven to eight years of effort to reach this point, marking a journey of trial, error, and discovery. “Saturnalia” came to life as the ideal tale for its moment, making the return to the literary scene all the more gratifying.

I found the interplay of mystical elements and everyday struggles compelling—like using magic to tackle something as mundane as rent. What inspired this fusion in the Philadelphia of “Saturnalia”?

I’m deeply intrigued by reality—by the daily pressures we all face, be they financial, social, or environmental. Although set in an alternate Philadelphia, at its core the book reflects our contemporary challenges. The fantastical aspect adds a playful layer for readers to explore the familiar struggles of urban life in a fresh light.

Did your personal experiences in Philadelphia influence the setting of your narrative?

Philadelphia is my birthplace and my canvas, painted with memories and ongoing discoveries. While writing, I didn’t actively seek inspiration; rather, I recalled the city’s essence as I’ve known it. Eventually, this process led me to uncover more facets of Philadelphia, like its rich history and the less-traveled corners that shaped “Saturnalia’s” backdrop.

The relentless pace of the story is a fascinating choice. What drove the decision for the novel to unfold over such a compressed timeframe?

Partly out of defiance—I wanted to craft an indisputable page-turner in response to past criticisms about pacing. The one-night setting provided a focused scope to juggle the vast mythos without losing the protagonist’s personal trajectory.

There’s a touch of “The Great Gatsby” in your book, with its theme of a significant, transformative night. Would you agree?

Indeed, there’s a nod to the transient opulence captured by Fitzgerald. The inspiration also stemmed from Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death,” which, unintentionally, mirrors contemporary themes of escapism and privilege.

You delve into tarot, alchemy, and spirituality. What drew you to weave these mystical threads into the narrative?

These elements emerged from contemplating the uncertainty of the future, which resonates with many of us. The characters’ yearning for knowledge of the coming days mirrored my own curiosity, and alchemy provided a rich tapestry to enhance the storyline.

Do you envision further tales within this world, or will you return to more realistic storylines?

My stories often sit at the intersection of reality and speculation. While my current work also treads this blend, crafting “Saturnalia’s” world has been a delightful endeavor. Another venture of this sort isn’t off the table if inspiration strikes.

The shifting dynamics and Nina’s self-perception as a “secret society of one” are captivating. Do you identify with this sentiment?

The balance between solitude and social interaction is a dance I’m familiar with. Writing is a solo act, but it thrives on community—a duality that perhaps birthed Nina’s notion of herself as a singular entity.

Lastly, any new projects on the horizon?

I’m devotedly working on a new novel and several short stories, alongside my commitments to teaching and editing. The diversity in these pursuits ensures a rich and varied creative path.

“Saturnalia” is available for purchase now.

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