Interviewed by Sarah Starr Murphy
Read Kiran Kaur Saini’s fiction piece, More Than a Lion
Sarah: Sisters can be a closed circuit, impenetrable to outsiders. Do you find writing about characters who know each other so well to be an advantage or a challenge?
Kiran: I think it could be difficult to write characters in a closed circuit because in real life, people who are close often communicate with a shorthand known only to themselves. So if you write true to that tendency, there could be a danger that the reader may be left out. In this case, since the story is effectively about one character trying to understand and enter the experience of the other, she functions as a stand-in for the reader and the reader gets to tag along on that effort.
There are people who seem to bring magic with them wherever they go, like Indu. What’s their secret? Are you one of those people?
I’m definitely not one of those people. If I knew their secret, I wouldn’t have to write about them! I’m definitely inspired by people who do carry any kind of magic with them (I generally don’t, as far as I know,) and you could say that this story is, among, other things, an homage to them.
The sisters are deceitfully protective: Indu puts off sharing her diagnosis, the narrator conceals her disappointment in the wolf. While drafting, how do you go about fleshing out a character, getting to their heart?
I write mostly out of instinct and life observation. I think most of us go through life sharing only a portion of what is in our minds, and I generally write characters who do the same. I think other people are, to a great extent, unknowable, and part of writing is the search to understand other people, and all character development comes out of that.
The story hits a turn when Indu tries to go through the wall. It’s the first hint of loss. Did you have this image in mind from the beginning, or did it emerge as you wrote?
Part of what intrigued me in this story is how far belief can carry us. Despite all our technological progress there are a lot of things in life we can’t explain. Cancers occasionally recede without medical intervention, cavities seal themselves up. Do we have any control over those phenomena or is it just wishful thinking on our part? The idea of being able to walk through a wall because of the space within molecules was something someone mentioned to me a long time ago and it’s always stuck with me. I was glad to find a place for it in one of my stories.
What are you reading at the moment? Or, what was the last book you read that you really loved?
I have been reading Jesse Ball’s novels recently. For me, a primary pleasure of reading is getting to experience the workings of someone else’s mind, and that is enjoyable to me when their thoughts present an utterly uncharted way of looking at or moving through something. Jesse’s novels deal with serious, real world issues from a perspective that is both easy to apprehend and aggressively singular, and that’s a balance I find supremely admirable. I appreciate that he doesn’t close all his loops. The fact that we don’t and can’t understand everything in life is what makes us strive, create, and achieve. His books truly embody that true-to-life open-endedness and ambiguity.
Thanks so much for doing this interview and congratulations!