Christa Polkinhorn has just published the third book in her Family Portrait series: EMILIA. The other two are LOVE OF A STONEMASON and AN UNCOMMON FAMILY. These novels—set in Switzerland, Italy, Peru, and France—trace the fortunes of artist Karla Bocelli as she grows up, finds her vocation, marries, and has children.
EMILIA begins with Karla discovering she is pregnant again at age forty-five. The birth of the little girl, Emilia, changes everything.
I asked Christa “Why do you write about families?” This is her answer:
I think the seeds of the topics we chose are in our own personal life, no matter how fictional the final story is going to be. How do we choose our subjects, or how do they choose us?
I have always enjoyed reading stories about family and relationships, love relationships, relationships between parents and children, or between friends. When I started to write, this topic kept coming up again and again. I often tried to write in a different genre but never got very far. Perhaps part of this has to do with my own history when it comes to family and relationships.
I was born late into my parents’ life—just like Emilia in the novel with the same title, although the circumstances in my family were very different from the family in the novel. My only sister was eighteen years older. She married and had children when I was still a child myself. Since my sister and my brother-in-law lived right next door, I lived both at their house as well as with my parents. I was an only child with my parents and had “siblings” at my sister’s. So I grew up in a slightly “uncommon family” (which also became the title of one of my books, although here again the family in the novel was nothing like my own family).
In the end, it was growing up in my parents’ house as an only child rather than in a larger family like my sister’s that made a more permanent mark on my character. I became independent, adventurous, and somewhat of a hermit. I moved across continents as a young woman and lived far away from my childhood family. I got married, got divorced, and didn’t have any children. This dichotomy of being my own person yet yearning for and appreciating “family”—the joys, the disappointments, the turmoil, the peaceful times—followed me all through life.
It was at a time of a crisis in my own family in Switzerland that got me started on the first novel I wrote, LOVE OF A STONEMASON, which eventually became the second book in the Family Portrait series. My mother died at the ripe old age of 102, and she was the last person in my immediate family to go, my sister and father having passed earlier. As many of us know, the death of the last member of one’s childhood family is a crucial, painful, and unsettling event. It makes us aware that we are the last surviving member and that we are most likely going to be next.
Another important event was a discussion with one of my nieces in Switzerland. She expressed a fairly negative view of relationships between couples, telling me that so many of her friends were separated and divorced. I couldn’t deny the fact that a lot of couples broke up and relationships were some of our biggest challenges. My own experience with marriage and relationships should be testimony enough for me to agree with her. But because I am an optimist by nature, this whole negative attitude just didn’t sit right with me. Wasn’t “relationships don’t work” just an excuse for our inability (or selfishness or whatever else) to make them work?
I thought about this over the following few days. I started thinking about couples and relationships in my own family and among my friends and I suddenly realized that for every broken one, there were quite a few that survived. My parents certainly didn’t have a marriage made in heaven, but they stuck with each other until “death does us part.” My sister and brother-in-law and many of my married friends stayed married and weathered all kinds of storms. So it was possible.
One of the reviewers of LOVE OF A STONEMASON wrote the following quotation she had found somewhere while trying to think of what to write about my novel: “I don’t pretend to know what love is for everyone, but I can tell you what it is for me; love is knowing all about someone, and still wanting to be with them more than any other person, love is trusting them enough to tell them everything about yourself, including the things you might be ashamed of, love is feeling comfortable and safe with someone, but still getting weak knees when they walk into a room and smile at you.” (Review by Misty Baker, Amazon.com)
I couldn’t have said it any better. I guess my novels are a way of exploring both the challenges and joys of relationships. Being close to someone can be dangerous; it makes us vulnerable, it scares the heck out of us, but without it, we live an impoverished existence, no matter how “rich” we are.
Links for Christa Polkinhorn
Author Page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Author.ChristaPolkinhorn
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/christa.polkinhorn
Goodreads page: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4202173.Christa_Polkinhorn