Thursday, June 2, 2011
Today I have a great interview with the awesome author Cathy Ostlere! We talk about her new YA book Karma, why she loves writing, and more.
Karma is a book in verse. Why did you decide to write it that way? Have you always been drawn to writing poetry? Did you find it difficult to craft a story in verse?
I am not a poet but I do love poetic prose. I love beauty in language - sounds and sight. I love the sound of individual words and the rhythms of a spoken poem. I love implied meaning and irony.
What I enjoyed most about writing a verse novel was the freedom that comes with entering uncharted territory (for myself). Karma's different form allowed more possibility, more narrative risk-taking. What if a character's thoughts appear as a list? What if one thought or one sentence takes up an entire page? What does the white space say to the reader? Is the reader uncomfortable or does the emptiness allow them to rest with the words? Is a verse novel more contemplative? Or is the reader caught in an accelerated pace because there are fewer words on each page?
I believe that a verse novel offers a kind of freedom to a reader as well. The mind is neither contained nor organized by complete sentences, paragraphs or conventional dialogue. The reader is invited to enter the poem in her own way. Will she choose to read the left column first, then the right? Or will she allow her eye to jump back and forth crisscrossing the page? And then, the question must be asked: how does the experience affect understanding? Are characters deepened because the reader must stay alert to the changing pattern of poems? Does new meaning emerge out of non-traditional narratives?
You really put a lot of thought into it! I would never have thought of all those variables but its so true. That's part of why I love books in verse so much. They are very open to interpretation.
Karma is your first young adult book. How was it different writing to a younger audience?
I actually don't think I did anything very different just because this book was aimed at young adults. This was the story I set out to tell. This was how I chose to write it. If anything, I think I knew Karma would have a more accepting audience with a young adult reader than with an older reader. That says something doesn't it? Young readers are more flexible and curious!
If I had geared this story towards adults only perhaps I would have delved a little deeper into the politics and religious issues of the era. And I may have explored Sandeep's and Maya's physical relationship in a different way but even as I write that statement I'm not sure. Their restraint in each other is very mature and wise (not something we see often in adult novels). I feel very strongly that my responsibility in writing for YA is greater than if I was writing solely for an adult audience. Every book a young person reads builds their knowledge and experience of the world. Everything in Karma had to be accurate and believable - the facts as well as the emotional lives of the characters. I believe YA readers are demanding in their desire for truth.
That is very true! I think that's a large reason why Dystopian novels are so popular right now, because they often delve into finding truth.
Why did you decide to write a novel about the Indian culture?
India is a passionate, complex, often corrupt, yet interesting country with a long history and an exciting future. The nation does not fall easily into labels: it is multi-cultural; it is forward thinking and frighteningly backward; it is rich in literature, art, architecture, and myth; it is religiously significant and layered. And it is a thrilling culture. Once you've visited, it beckons again.
Do you have a favorite character in Karma?
By and far, Maya. And who can't adore Sandeep? But also Maya's father, Amar, who struggles so much in this book - I admire him a great deal.
What inspired you to become a writer?
Beauty. I love to stumble upon 'the exquisite' in books, art, people, nature. My 'art' is writing so I try to show a reader what is beautiful in language, humanity, and our world stories.
Do you have any rituals that you have to do while you write like listening to certain music or drinking coffee?
One cup of coffee is the reward for sitting in my chair for two hours. No music, it's too distracting, and makes me want to dance. And though my cat is not a ritual, he has no pattern, Sam is like an extension of my writerly self. He's allowed to go out into the world and explore while I mist stay at my desk and work!
Your house is on fire and you only have time to save 5 books. Which 5 would you save?
Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient; Tolstoy's Anna Karenina; George Elliot Clarke's Whyla Falls, my memoir, Lost: A Memoir and finally a dictionary.
Wow, I would never think to bring a Dictionary but now that you say it that is such a smart idea!
Thanks so much Cathy for taking the time to answer my questions! I haven't been able to read Karma yet (my Library doesn't have it! Grrrr...) but I definitely want to. I LOVE books in verse and the whole Indian culture is very fascinating to me as well!
Have any of you guys read Karma? Did you enjoy it?