Friday, May 13, 2011

Author Interview: Cathy Ostlere

Cathy Ostlere was born in Portage La Prairie, Canada. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Literature from the University of Manitoba.

Her first book, Lost: A Memoir (2008), began as a series of poems but grew into creative non-fiction essays. Essays excerpted from Lost have been short-listed for the National Magazine Awards, Western Magazine Awards, and the CBC Literary Awards. Lost: A Memoir was a finalist for the 2009 Edna Staebler Creative Non-fiction Award. In 2010, she co-wrote the play, LOST: A Memoir, presented by Theatre Calgary. The production of LOST: A Memoir will tour Canada over the next two years.

Her first YA novel, Karma, a verse novel written for young adults, will be released in March 2011 by Penguin Group Canada/USA.

She lives in Calgary, Canada.
*Bio taken from Cathy's website
What were your first thoughts when you saw the cover for Karma?
I smiled!  I didn't have to think about it all -- the cover was just so pleasing to the eye. I love the golden swirls and the two faces.  And I adore the colour pink though I will say that the book is not a "pink" book inside -- Karma has many serious themes.
I'm not a big pink person, but there's something about this cover that is just so perfect, despite the fact that it has such serious themes.

Karma was a bit of a history lesson for me, but one that I was more than willing to sit through. When you began writing the book, was it always your intention to shine a light on the brutality that occurred after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s death and show others what the country and the people mean to you?
I knew at the beginning of the writing process that I would set Maya's story in Delhi during the riots that followed Indira Gandhi's murder.  But even I was astonished at the brutality that came to light in my research.  As a testament to those who suffered so cruelly I decided to let the harsh details stand.  India is intense and complicated and I wanted Karma to illustrate this reality as well as my deep affection for the country.
I'm still astonished at the brutality, but to tell it with anything but honesty would be a disservice to the country. Sure, that time was bad, but there are bad times in all countries and with all people. It's a part of history and to say it happened differently would dishonor those it affected. Even the most upsetting scenes in Karma have their mirror opposites - those that show the beauty of the country are there as well.
Karma is told in free verse and the poetry stunned me with its beauty. Have you always written poetry? What was it like telling Maya and Sandeep’s story this way?
Actually, I do not write poetry on a regular basis, though as a teenager I did. But I am drawn to descriptive prose and the simple phrase -- the sentence pared down to its emotional and evocative essence. But even saying that, Maya and Sandeep's story unfolding in this way was a bit of a surprise to me.  As the story grew, I found the free verse suited their voices -- the half- thoughts, strong emotions, confessions, and difficult unspoken truths, echoed a teenager's vivid intense inner world.
Having read the book, I don't see how Maya and Sandeep's story could have been told any more effectively than with free verse. Paring down the story to its emotional essence was what made me that much more devoted to the characters and I couldn't see it told in any other method.

I don’t cry often while reading books, but I cried while reading this one. Maya became a part of me and each of her losses felt like my own. Was it the same for you? Did you ever need to pause while writing because her suffering was too much for you to bear?
Absolutely.  And thank you for sharing your experience.  Maya is very real to me as well.  I worked on this novel for three years yet the poems still feel as raw as the first time the words hit the page.  Some days I was only able to work on one scene because it was so overwhelming.  And now if I'm preparing for a reading I am still moved as if I'm discovering the story for the first time.
Your welcome! Now, whenever I pick up the book, I feel exactly the same way. Each rereading is new and overwhelming and each time I'm unprepared for the emotional response I have to it.
What message would you like your readers to take away from Karma?
That young hearts and minds are powerful in their capacity for love, strength, intelligence, and forgiveness. 
Injustice must be met with strength -- a constant vigilance. 
Beware the frail heart, particularly one's own.
Wow, so well put. And so true.

Are there any books you read when you were a teen that affected you so much that they stuck with you long after closing the book? Are there any books that you find yourself recommending to others all the time?
There is one book I read when I was in Junior High called "On the Beach" -- it is set in Australia and tells the story about the aftermath of a nuclear war -- it terrified me and I never forgot it.  I  always recommend "To Kill a Mockingbird", "Anna Karenina", "Beloved", "Pride and Prejudice", and any short story by Alice Munro.
I've only read To Kill a Mockingbird (it's my fave book) but I've heard so much about the others. One day I will get around to reading all those books that people recommend and recommend. 
What is the craziest thing that has ever happened to you?
Yikes!  There are so many!  But I'll pick one: during a trip to Greece I was invited on board a 50 ft sailing ship for a glass of wine.  I ended up staying on the boat for three months sailing  to 13 of the Greek Islands and the coast of Turkey.
How do all these crazy awesome things happen to so many people, but never me?!
And to end on a lighter note: What is your favorite kind of cookie?
Peanut butter-chocolate chip!
I can almost taste them just by looking at the photo...yummy :)

Find Cathy Ostlere online:

Buy it online:


~The Book Pixie said...

I've read To Kill a Mockingbird and Pride and Prejudice. Both great books. And that is way too awesome about the sailing trip! Great interview! :D


Bere said...

Wonderful interview. I love the cover for Karma. You are not going to believe me but I hadn't notice the two faces until Cathy mentioned it here! By the way I'm not a pink person either hehe. Karma sounds incredibly intense. I will to get this one soon. I love the answer Cathy gave to your question about what message she wants the readers to take away from Karma. I'll definitely on the lookout for this one. Thanks, Nikki =D.

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