Eva Stachniak on blacklisted words and the dreams of the exiled

Whether she's re-imagining the rise of Catherine the Great or - in her latest novel, The Chosen Maiden - a gifted Russian ballet dancer, historical novelist Eva Stachniak is drawn to visionary women and how they challenge the status quo.

In the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A, Stachniak answers eight questions from eight of her fellow authors.


1. Steven Heighton asks, "Have you ever created a character with whom you'd never want - or dare - to be alone?"
When I write, I become each of my characters, good or bad. I immerse myself in all of them - and even if I may be glad to move on, none have been that frightening or despicable. Yet.

2. Elisabeth de Mariaffi asks, "Are you a dreamer? Do you remember your dreams - and if so, are they notions or vivid with detail? Do you have a recurring dream?"
I'm a dreamer. My dreams are always vivid with details, smells, textures. When I emigrated to Canada from Poland I had a recurring dream many refugees and exiles know only too well. I found myself back in my hometown unable to leave, wondering how I got there. The dream always involved an arrest and nightmarish interrogations during which I argued that I'm Canadian now and should be allowed to go back where I belong. A decade after I left Poland the dream began to fade, and then it disappeared altogether. 

3. Lazer Lederhendler asks, "Virginia Woolf said that some writers proceed by first building a house and then finding the furniture, while others start by collecting the furniture and then finding a house to put it in. Are you a house builder or a furniture collector? A bit of both? Neither?"
Definitely a furniture collector, although at the beginning of each writing project I have a generic concept of a house I'll seek to furnish. Then I begin my search for images, scraps of dialogue, objects that will inspire me, provide concrete background to my story, a process through which this generic house becomes a home.  

4. Ivan Coyote asks, "What is one story that is rattling ghosts around in your head, but for whatever reason, you haven't tackled it yet?"
There are a few stories from my childhood that haunt me, but I find them too intimate, too personal to turn into fiction. However, if I were ever tempted to write memoirs....

5. Xue Yiwei asks, "Would you, or do you, feel comfort with the success of your book translated into a language you have no knowledge of?"
The only translations I have any control over are into Polish, which is my mother tongue, and authorizing them has always been - no matter how good the translator - a long and daunting process. I am painfully aware that what is obvious in one culture demands an explanation in another. I know how easy it is to misread a sentence, give it the wrong emphasis, choose the incorrect meaning of a word, miss a step, err by being too literal. When I see my novel translated into a language I don't know, I imagine it full of such errors... even if they become bestsellers or gather praise. So, no, there is no comfort.

6. Kate Taylor asks, "To whom did you dedicate your last book and why?"
To my two twin grandsons, Hugh and Brady, who are growing up in North America, and who can only know the world I came from if they read about it. Since they were born when I was writing The Chosen Maiden, they made me rewrite every baby scene in the novel, and quite rightly so.

7. Emma Donoghue asks, "What quality or tic in your writing, or flaw or dearth in your works as a whole, makes you blush?"
Words and images I overuse. I've learnt to keep a list, search the final document for the culprits and exterminate them with a vengeance. But new ones always crop up...

8.  Louise Penny asks, "What do you know now that you wish you'd known when writing your first book?"
That it never gets any easier, that self-doubt is not a passing stage but any writer's constant companion. That writing will always be a struggle, but also the most exhilarating experience of my life. 
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