Christa Polkinhorn, originally from Switzerland, lives and works as a writer and translator in Santa Monica, California. In 2010 she published her first novel, Love of a Stonemason. The prequel to that book, An Uncommon Family, is newly out in the world.
There is a theory that joy fuels creativity. Do you agree?
That’s an interesting question. In my case, it is sometimes a sad occasion or a conflict that gets me to pick up the pen or open my laptop and write. However, the process of transforming the sad or problematic event into something new and hopeful is for me one of the joys of writing and creating.
How did you come to write Love of a Stonemason? Or to put it another way, why do you think that story chose you?
This kind of feeds into your first question. The initial trigger was the death of my mother at the end of 2005, when I found myself to be the sole survivor of our immediate family in Switzerland, my only sister and my father having passed away earlier. Death and its impact—the pain of loss and loneliness—play an important part in the life of Karla, the main character in the novel. I talked to a stonemason and sculptor about the tombstone on my parents’ grave. That gave me the idea for Andreas, the stonemason. My father was a painter as a young man and so is Karla. Some of my relatives live in the south of Switzerland, so the Vallemaggia in the canton Ticino became the central location of the story. My trips to Peru and Italy also found their way into the novel. The final product, however, was a completely fictional work. One of the most fascinating aspects of the creative process for me is the way consciousness and the unconscious work together to produce something new and unique.
What is An Uncommon Family about?
After writing Love of a Stonemason, I got so attached to Karla and her story that I decided to explore her past some more and see what she was like as a child and a young girl. I also wanted to find out more about her aunt, so I wrote a prequel to Love of a Stonemason. Here is a blurb:
A chance meeting between a middle-aged woman, a widower, and a semi-orphaned child in the city of Zurich, Switzerland, brings together three people who grapple with a past of loss and betrayal. Six-year-old Karla, whose mother died in a car crash, has a hard time accepting the loss. Anna, her aunt and guardian, struggles with her former husband’s deception and her shattered confidence in men, and Jonas, artist and teacher, mourns the death of his wife.
While trying to help Karla, a talented but troubled child, Anna and Jonas develop feelings for each other that go beyond friendship. The budding romance, however, hits a snag when Anna discovers a sinister secret in Jonas’s past. While the two adults have come to an impasse, young Karla takes matters into her own hands. Together with a friend, she develops a plan to bring the two uncooperative adults back together. The plan, however, creates havoc and as it begins to unravel, Karla is forced to learn some difficult lessons.
An Uncommon Family is a story about loss, lies, and betrayal but also about the healing power of love and forgiveness. It takes place in Switzerland, New York City, and Guadalajara, Mexico.
What were your most cherished books when you were growing up?
I had many favorites. Since I grew up in Switzerland, the authors and the books I read as a child are probably not known here, except perhaps for Heidi and The Swiss Family Robinson.
As an adult, do you return to any books over and over?
Not too long ago, when I was in Switzerland, I found a whole box of my children’s books and I reread them all. I had a wonderful time doing it. I do return to books again and again. I reread books I really love, often several times, and always discover something new and exciting. I enjoy reading just for content but with books I really like, I pay attention to the way the author structures a story and the kind of language he or she uses. In other words, I often read with an author’s mind.
What books are on your “to read” list right now?
I just started reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. This is an unusual novel. It doesn’t start with a “hook.” Rather it begins with a few pages of philosophy which you have to reread a few times to understand. I have to admit I love those kinds of more “difficult” or “time consuming” books. The language is beautiful, lyrical, and you have to read the novel slowly to appreciate the subtleties. This is the kind of book I probably end up rereading several times.
Other books on my “to read” list are The Opposite of Me by Sarah Pekkanen, Sky of Red Poppies by Zohreh Ghahremani, The Dante Club by Mathew Pearl, I Rode with Cullen Baker by RLB Hartmann. These are all authors I don’t know yet and found on Goodreads.
Three random facts that most people don’t know about you?
I am stubborn, I contradict myself often, and I’m mostly optimistic —well, people probably know that about me!
Do you listen to music while you write? Any power snacking?
I usually don’t listen to music when I write. I love music but I find it too distracting. However, I do get up frequently, wander into the kitchen, and grab a piece of chocolate, an apple, a cup of espresso. Aside from “snacking” I also noticed that walking or light jogging or any other kind of physical exercise really helps when I’m stuck with a story.
What is one of your favorite quotations?
The one by May Sarton in her book, Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing: ”Love opens the doors into everything, as far as I can see, including and perhaps most of all, the door into one’s own secret, and often terrible and frightening real self.”
This resonates with me and I guess one thing I do in my writing is explore the many facets of love.
Thanks, Lindsay, for granting me this interview!
Links to Christa Polkinhorn’s books
You can find out more about me on my website and blog: