After reading In a Perfect World, I had the chance to briefly interview the author, Laura Kasischke. She talks about writing, poetry vs. prose, and reading.
WordLily: I was really interested in reading your book because I’ve loved all the novels I’ve read that were written by poets. You said you start writing with a sensory image. How do you know whether this is a something that needs to be told in poetry or prose?
Laura Kasischke: The process of writing poetry and that of writing novels is very different for me. When I write a poem, it’s generally something that’s been coming on for a while — an idea, an image, an impulse. I need some free time and space to get a draft down. With novel writing, the process itself inspires the imagery, and everything else, that occurs. It’s while I’m following a narrative that the details of it come to me. I also work on novels for such a long period of time that they’re very much incorporated into my daily life, so that I might find myself writing at 10 o’clock after the kid’s in bed, etc. With a poem, I’ve got to find just the right opportunity, and it’s generally when I’ve got more energy than it takes to be rough-drafting a 300-plus page story.
WordLily: What is your favorite book you’ve read this year, and why?
Laura Kasischke: Dan Chaon’s Await Your Reply. It’s beautifully written, and scary.
WordLily: In In a Perfect World, the plague and the family seemed to follow inverse paths — as one situation degraded the other improved. Was this intentional? What does that mean to you? Or, what greater truth did you intend to communicate through this?
Laura Kasischke: I wanted Jiselle to rise to the occasion of being mother to these children. She is a fairy tale character (I hope readers realize that I don’t think there are actually a lot of women out there who are as perfect and beautiful as she is: She’s Cinderella!), and the novel is a fairy tale. She needed to face the challenges that protagonists in tales face, and pass their tests. Her challenges grow, and her ability to meet them does, too. I think this must be the inversion you’re speaking of.
WordLily: How are the processes of writing poetry and writing prose different for you?
Laura Kasischke: I think I addressed this in the first question, so I won’t belabor it, but writing poetry is a more instantaneous and high-energy in-the-moment experience. And it doesn’t happen that often. I can’t write a novel at a high level of inspiration all day every day (and have a life!), so that’s a bit more like the experience of a quilt — a long project, made of scraps, pieced together — although, unlike a quilt, it’s followed by years of revision!
WordLily: You said you “try to write every day,” but you were careful to distinguish this from actually writing every day. What does trying to write daily look like for you, and why do you place emphasis on the importance of trying, rather than on writing?
Laura Kasischke: I distinguished because to say I write every day would be a lie. I simply can’t. I have a son, a husband, a teaching job. Some days, no writing can get done. But those days, I know that I didn’t write. So, it’s like any ritual or practice, and I’m careful to cut myself some slack so that I never start thinking, “Oh, I didn’t write today, so I just won’t bother to write tomorrow either….”
WordLily: How do you sustain a love for what you do?
Laura Kasischke: I don’t know. I just love to write. I think reading is key to that: I get very inspired by my reading. It keeps the idea that there is a purpose to the writing fresh in my mind.
WordLily: Why do you write?
Laura Kasischke: I think it’s a great way to discover what I’m thinking, to process what I’m experiencing. For a while I think the impulse was to try to save parts of my life from annihilation — as, for instance, when loved ones died, and I felt that if I didn’t write about them they would be lost to me and the world. But then it became a habit. And, as I said, I just find it fun.
WordLily: How/when did you start writing?
Laura Kasischke: I was in elementary school. I started with poetry. I think I was inspired by my mother reading to me, and also by some good teachers I had. I was also an only child with some time on my hands.
WordLily: Thank you so much for your time! Anything else you want to say?
Laura Kasischke: Thank you!!