Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Why grief is a common theme in Kara Stanley's writing

The author of Ghost Warning answers eight questions from eight fellow authors.
Kara Stanley is the author of Ghost Warning. (Kara Stanley/Caitlin Press)

Kara Stanley's memoir, Fallen, is a heartfelt nonfiction narrative of the catastrophic brain and spinal cord injury her musician husband suffered after a fall and his road to recovery.

Her latest book is Ghost Warning, a novel that dramatically explores Toronto's underbelly of urban grime, crime and violence. It follows the story of Lou, a character who follows in her journalist father's footsteps to investigate a series of homicides.

Stanley takes the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A and answers eight questions from her eight fellow authors.

1. Lynn Coady asks, "What are the common themes (or settings, symbols, etc.) you always seem to come back to in your fiction (e.g. bears, wrestling and Vienna in John Irving novels)? Where do those elements come from and what makes them so tenacious?"

Grief has been a common theme in both my fiction and nonfiction. I am interested in the process of how we grieve, how we move through it or get stuck inside it. How, as an emotional state of being, it has the capacity to open us up to the world in new ways or to shut us down. That it remains so tenacious a theme means, I suppose, I still have work to do in processing and internalizing my own understanding of grief. Other common elements are water and stray dogs. Water is everywhere in all my writing!

Why? I'm not sure. Perhaps as an embedded metaphor for love or intuition: water purifies and nourishes. It seeps into and softens everything. It is an essential component of our biological makeup and is unpredictable, elemental. It is movement without restriction. And dogs? I don't know! I love dogs and somehow the various chapters of my life are linked by the strays I've met.

2. William Deverell asks, "How much faith do you put in bestseller lists?"

As a reader, I enjoy a wide range of material, everything from dense historical nonfiction to punchy, plot driven sci-fi and crime novels. In this context, I occasionally peruse bestseller lists for leads on new reading material, adding intriguing titles to my ongoing reading wish list. But my reading wish list is by no means comprised solely of bestseller titles.

3. Ian Brown asks, "Do you get dressed to write? Or do you get to the computer as fast as you can?"

Both! My best writing time is first thing in the morning. Somehow pulling on pants, firing up the kettle for a cup of tea and switching the computer on happens almost simultaneously and I get to writing straight away before too many to-do type thoughts start crowding my mind. 

But, if you mean dressed as in "decently presentable to the world," then no. Generally, when working, I am a cozy-clothed, unbrushed, unwashed mess until much later in the day.

4. Cynthia Flood asks, "If you weren't a writer, what work or profession would you choose?"

If I wasn't writing I think I would pursue a career in neuropsychology. Currently I toggle between my two vocational passions: writing and working as a movement teacher. I have a background in classical Pilates and have developed a small home practice working one-on-one with clients, often who are dealing with neurological issues that impact their ability to move with ease.

5. Anita Rau Badami asks, "What is your relationship with your characters: is it possible to separate yourself from them or do they always reflect some element of your own psyche?"

Yes and yes! It is clear in my mind that my characters are distinct and separate from me and exist in their own parallel fictional world. At the same time, as inventions of my imagination, how can they not be a part of the cast of characters, the confetti of selves, that are reflections of and reactions to various elements in my psyche?

The psychoanalyst Philip M. Bromberg writes in Standing in the Spaces that self-acceptance and creativity are directly connected to "the capacity to feel like one self while being many."

6. Jen Sookfong Lee asks, "What book do you wish you had written?"

Hmm. Tough question. If I had written the books I most loved I wouldn't have had the deep pleasure of reading them! But, off the top of my head, three books I wish I had the capacity to write would be Madeleine L'Engle's  A Wrinkle in Time, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Yuval Noah Harari's Sapiens.

A Wrinkle in Time because it was the book in my childhood that created the biggest paradigm shift and forever entwined the arts and sciences in my mind. Frankenstein because I believe Shelley created a profound and troubling metaphor for modernity that remains relevant up to the present day. And Sapiens because I am utterly compelled and impressed with the epic expansiveness of Harari's knowledge and insight.

7. Scaachi Koul asks, "Is there any piece of writing you wrote in your past that you now regret?"

I have never written anything with the intention of doing harm so, in that sense, I have no regrets. Have I written things that were foolish or unformed or poorly executed? Certainly. But we don't have to talk about that, do we?

8. Melanie Mah asks, "What are your daily rituals other than writing?"

An hour walking the dog at Smuggler's Cove, an hour of Pilates, an hour in a hot bath. Ideally these hour-long breaks, strategically placed, go a long way in extending the length of my writing day.


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