Today, I’m very excited to welcome Cathy Ostlere, author of Karma to Escape Through the Pages!
– Lost: A Memoir (2009)
– Karma (2011)
Karma is a beautifully written book, and you say on your website that it is written in verse because the style felt truer to Maya’s and Sandeep’s story. Did you find that writing in verse came easily, or did your writing ever slip into a narrative style?
I found writing Karma in verse very enjoyable – I’m not sure that’s the same thing as easy, though. Each of the over 300 poems was edited many many times until they achieved the rhythm and content I was after. I hoped that the short lines of prose, dialogue, imagery, and confessions would offer a glimpse into the thinking of two teenagers. And because of their age and the narrative device of the diary, this style of writing made Maya and Sandeep very real to me. Teenage diaries are often filled with half-thoughts, memories, laments, and emotional outpourings. The private written word can help a young person figure out who they are and what they think about the world. While writing Karma, I tried to avoid slipping into a traditional narrative style as I feared too many complete sentences would slow the book down. The brief phrases and absence of punctuation offers so much movement within the text – an almost stream-of-consciousness writing that carries the story along at a fast pace.
The story in Karma was first realized on your visit to India in the 80s. When you decided to sit down and write, what kinds of research was needed to create credible characters and setting?
My general research included Indian novels, non-fiction books, religious texts, news agencies, and blog sites where young Sikhs exchange conversation about their faith and their history. My setting of the scenes in India were mostly based on my own experiences – smells, sounds, colours, as well as my feelings of awe, fear, confusion, and anxiety. Maya and Sandeep were loosely modeled on a Sikh girl I attended elementary school with and a young man who came to my aid while I was travelling through Rajasthan in ’84. Maya is very much an outsider in India, even though she is of Indo-Canadian descent, so her character was easiest for me to explore. Other characters in the book may have been inspired by people I met in India but I never set out to make them specifically “Indian”. I was more interested in their personalities. Are they good? Are they afraid? Are they able to love and forgive? I believe that people from different cultures are more similar than not, and individuals under stress, or people who are angry, frustrated, confused or uneducated, exhibit behavior common to all humans.
The ending of Karma is very bittersweet, and leaves the opportunity for more to be written about Maya and Sandeep. Do you see yourself ever continuing their story, and why or why not?
I do imagine returning to Maya and Sandeep’s story one day. As well as Akbar’s. I am curious as to what happens to them! There is much more to learn about Sandeep’s origins. I want to know how Maya changes after the dramatic events in India. I wonder about the dreams for her life. And will Sandeep find her as he promises: Here. There. Somewhere in between here and there? But for the moment, Maya and Sandeep are resting.
You mention on your website that you’ve done a fair bit of traveling. If you could get on a plane right now and take off for any country/area of your choice, where would you go?
As I write this I am preparing to fly to Paris in a week. But if I could walk out the door right now I might choose to stop on the island of Malta first.
During this trip you can only fit one book in your luggage, which book would it be?
Well, if I don’t count Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, already loaded on my ipad, as well as every book of Jane Austen’s, I would take Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.
Thank you so much Cathy! Karma is a wonderful book. See my review here.