Thursday, June 2, 2011

Christa Polkinhorn: The IAN Interview

Christa Polkinhorn, originally from Switzerland, lives and works as writer and translator in Santa Monica, California. She divides her time between the United States and Switzerland and has strong ties to both countries. Her poems have appeared in various poetry magazines. She is the author of Path of Fire, a collection of poems published by Finishing Line Press and of the novel Love of a Stonemason, which is a sequel to An Uncommon Family.

IAN. Welcome Christa. I understand you've had a very recent book release. Please tell us a bit about it.

CP. 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 places in Switzerland, New York City, and Guadalajara, Mexico.

IAN. How long did it take to write the book?

CP. I wrote a first draft of a similar novel several years ago, then abandoned it. After finishing my debut novel Love of a Stonemason, I picked it up again and completely changed it. The actual writing of the second draft took about a year.

IAN. What inspired you to write the An Uncommon Family?

CP. The seeds to this novel can be found in a former manuscript I mentioned above and in my earlier novel Love of a Stonemason. After writing about Karla, the young painter, I couldn’t get her out of my mind. I wanted to find out more about her life as a child and a young girl. I also wanted to get to know her aunt who raised her and her first painting teacher and close friend who became an important presence in her life. And so a new story began to take shape.

IAN. Tell us about your writing process. Do you write at night or in the morning?

CP. My favorite time is the early morning. In a way though I write all the time. I think about stories and characters while taking a shower, going for a walk or sitting together with my friends. That’s why I often look a little absent-minded.

IAN. Did you use an outline or do you just wing the first draft?

CP. I do both. I normally just sit down and write. Then after a while, I do some outlining, then go back to writing and the outline changes. Since the plot in my novels usually stretches over several years, I have to be careful about the timing. The real challenge in An Uncommon Family was the fact that I went back in time and wrote a prequel to Love of a Stonemason. In this case, I had to come up with a timeline that was realistic enough, since the events took place before Love of a Stonemason.

IAN. How is your book different from others in your genre?

CP. Both my novels, An Uncommon Family and Love of a Stonemason cross genres. They are part general fiction, part romantic fiction. They are love stories but they go beyond the more formulaic romance in that they deal with marriage, family life, as well as art and creativity.

IAN. Is your book published in print, e-book or both?

CP. As of now, An Uncommon Family is available as e-book only but will be available in print in the future.

IAN. What do you hope your readers come away with after reading your book?

CP. I hope readers will like the characters and be able to relate to them, no matter how flawed they are. I also hope they will enjoy the international flavor of the story, which takes place in Switzerland, New York, and Guadalajara, Mexico.

IAN. Where can we go to buy your book?

CP. E-book for Kindle on Amazon

E-book for the Nook on Barnes&Noble

Different e-book versions on Smashwords

The book can also be ordered from My Website

IAN. Tell us about your next book or a work in progress. Is it a sequel or a stand alone?

CP. I’m working on a possible third book in this Family Portrait series. I am also in the process of translating my novels into German, so they would be available for readers in the German speaking world.

IAN. Any other links or info you'd like to share?

CP. Yes, I would love my readers to drop by my website as well as my blog (and click the Follow button on my blog!)

An Uncommon Family by Christa Polkinhorn

Page count: abt. 200 pages

General fiction/Love Story

Bookworm Press

Excerpt from book

Chapter 1

Karla licked the crispy cone, trying to catch the sliding droplets before they hit the ground. The raspberry ice cream was a dark purple, her favorite color. She wrinkled her nose as she caught another whiff of exhaust from the busy street along the Limmat River in the city of Zurich. It was August and hot in Switzerland. The six-year-old girl scanned the scenery in front of her with dreamy eyes.

A longish canoe was sliding by a tourist boat on the river. People with funny-looking sun hats and dark glasses sat on the benches of the boat. Along the river on the other side, the built-together stone houses looked like a row of uneven different-colored teeth, gray, yellow, white, and some with a tint of orange. Behind the houses, on top of the hill, the linden trees at the park shimmered in their pale-green foliage and a curtain of dark-green ivy hid part of the gray granite wall.

Karla took another lick from her ice-cream cone, then turned around and peered through the window of the art shop, where her aunt picked up two framed pictures. When she looked back at the sidewalk, her breath caught.

“Mama?” she whispered.

She saw the woman only from behind, but the bounce in her step, the long, reddish-blond hair flowing down her back, swaying left and right, the tall, slender figure—it must be her mother. She tossed the rest of the ice cream into the trash can, got up, and ran after the woman.

“Mama!” she called as the woman got ready to cross the street. The light turned from blinking red to solid red, just as the woman reached the other side. Karla rushed after her, barely aware of the honking around her or of the shrill warning bell of the blue-and-white streetcar. She heard someone yell at her but by then she had arrived at the other side. The woman was walking along the river toward the Lake of Zurich.

“Mama, wait!” Karla bumped into someone.

“Watch it, kiddo.” A man stepped aside.

“Mama . . .”

The woman finally turned around and looked back, scanning the people behind her, then walked on. Karla stopped dumbfounded. It was the face of a stranger.

A wave of despair washed over her. Not believing that she could have been so wrong, she started to run again. She didn’t see the slight indentation in the pavement. As she fell, she barely noticed the searing pain in her knees; the disappointment hurt more. She covered her face with her hands and sobbed. Mama would have helped her. Mama would have picked her up, hugged her, and even sang a little tune to her to make her feel better. But her mother was gone.

“Are you hurt, honey?” a dark voice said. Karla felt a hand on her back. “Come on, let me see.”

A pair of strong arms lifted her up. She looked into a face with a gray-white beard and kind, blue eyes below thick tufts of eyebrows. The man was tall and sturdy. He had wildish white hair. He reminded her of Saint Nicholas. But it was summer and Saint Nicholas only appeared in December.

“Are you here alone?” he asked. “Where’s your mother?”

The question brought a new flood of tears. “I thought it was Mama,” Karla managed to say, her chest heaving with sobs.

“Karla, what happened? Why did you run away?” Aunt Anna came rushing toward her, clutching her purse and a large package. “I thought I’d lost you. Jesus, what happened to your knees?” She bent down, put the package on the concrete and examined Karla’s legs. Brushing a strand of wavy brown hair out of her face, she peered at the man with gray-blue eyes, the color of ice. “What’s going on here?”

“I just happened to walk by when she fell,” he explained. “She said something about looking for her mother. Are you her mother?”

Anna shook her head. “No, I’m her aunt. Her mother . . . died half a year ago.”

“I’m so sorry.” The old man gently touched Karla’s cheek. “But she thought she saw her mother.”

Anna sighed. “She still hasn’t accepted the truth.” She turned to Karla. “Tell me what happened, sweetie?”

Karla told her between sobs that a woman had walked by who looked exactly like her mama.

“But you know that’s not possible, don’t you?” Aunt Anna hugged her. Karla leaned her face against Anna’s chest and poured her sorrow into her sweater. It was soft but didn’t smell like her mama’s. Anna waited for her to calm down. “We have to take care of your knees.”

“There’s a pharmacy right over there. I’m sure they have something to clean the wound and some bandages. May I?” Saint Nicholas gave Anna an inquiring look.

Anna nodded and the man lifted Karla up. His thick hair tickled her cheek. Karla wrinkled her nose. He gave off a faint whiff of smoke, which reminded her of Anna’s woodstove. It felt a little comforting.

At the pharmacy, a friendly lady took care of Karla’s knees. She wiped them clean, trying not to hurt Karla, who flinched and gave an occasional sob. “Sorry, hon, but we don’t want it to get infected.”

While the woman bandaged Karla’s legs, Anna unwrapped the package she had been carrying. She handed Karla one of the pictures and held the other one up for her to see. “Don’t they look beautiful?”

Karla nodded with a weak smile. They did look nice. She barely recognized them again behind the glass and surrounded by a fine wooden frame. One of them showed a woman, sitting on a chair and holding a little girl in her arm. The woman had long reddish-brown hair and the girl’s hair was black. They were sitting in front of a house. The stones in the wall had an irregular shape; they looked a little bit like cobblestones. It had taken Karla a while to make them look right. The other picture showed a tree with large purple and cream-colored blossoms. It was the chestnut tree in front of Karla’s old home. She had painted the pictures with her favorite pastel pens.

“They’re gorgeous,” Saint Nicholas said in his deep voice. “Who painted those?”

“Karla did,” Aunt Anna said.

Saint Nicholas stared at her, then at the pictures, then at Karla. “How old is she?”

“Six,” Karla said, brushing the last tears off her face. Anna handed her a Kleenex.

“And she painted those by herself, without help?” The man squinted as he scanned the pictures. The wrinkles on his forehead and around his eyes deepened. He truly did look like Saint Nicholas.

“Yes,” Anna said.

“This child is very talented. Does she get any instruction?”

“I’m actually looking for a teacher for her. She loves to draw and paint. If it was up to her, she’d do it all day long. And it seems to help her with . . . you know, the loss.”

“Amazing.” Saint Nicholas shook his head and continued to scan the pictures. “Well, I happen to be a painter myself. I also teach a few children.” He looked at Karla and Anna with a serious face. “I’d love to have her as a student.”

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