Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Diwali -- Festival of Lights

October 26-30, 2011

Tomorrow is the start of the five-day Indian festival – Diwali – the Festival of Lights, a time to rejoice in the Inner Light, the uplifting out of spiritual darkness, and the triumph of good over evil. Homes are decorated with lights; sweets and gifts are distributed between family members and friends; fireworks often light up the sky. Deepavali is an official holiday in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Mauritius, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, Suriname, Malaysia, Singapore, and Fiji.

For a list of Canadian celebrations:


For a list of American celebrations:


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Wordfest - Calgary Oct 11-16, 2011

In the last two days I've spoken to three wonderful groups of high school students about Karma. Many thanks to W.G. Murdoch High School, Strathmore High SChool, and Lord Beaverbrook High school for being such amazing audiences. Students were attentive, engaged, and from what I can tell, didn't move a muscle while I spoke!

What I read to the students: Pages 146 - 158 of Karma.

Funniest question I was asked by a student: Do you have a tattoo?
    Me: No. Should I?
    Student: Yes. Lots.
    Me: What should I have a tattoo of?
    Student: The word Karma.

Thanks to the girls from W.G. Murdoch who didn't think I was nervous!

Thanks to Ella at Lord Beaverbrook who conducted a great interview afterward.

Thanks to Wordfest, Jodi Green, Anne Logan, Patti Pon, Dale Wallace, Kevin Peterson and Sheila O'Brien.

Check out this wonderful Calgary based book blog:  Kevin from Canada

Friday, August 12, 2011

First Novels Club: The Verse Novel Experiment

One of the best things about writing Karma has been the steady stream of mail from readers who say Karma has made them verse-novel lovers!  From the first moment I read "Out of the Dust" by Karen Hesse, I think I knew that one day I would try my hand at this unique genre. Here's a review below of Karma from First Novels Club.

- Cathy

From First Novels Club:

The verse novel experiment: KARMA (Cathy Ostlere) and IDENTICAL (Ellen Hopkins)

Guys, I've been converted.

Somewhere along the way in my YA readership experience, I decided that I "didn't like" verse novels. To be fair, that may have been in high school, after I was assigned to read a really depressing, slow-moving, and semi-boring verse novel, and I decided that ALL verse novels must be depressing, slow-moving, and semi-boring.

Forgive my ignorance.

Way back in April, the delightful Cathy Ostlere wrote an excellent guest post on writing novels in verse, and I read an excerpt from her novel, KARMA ... and loved it.

The imagery! The lyricism! The emotion! The gorgeous, gorgeous details!

I knew I had to break my verse novel embargo. And when I do something, I do it right. So I doubled up on the verse novel awesomesauce with an audiobook of Ellen Hopkins' IDENTICAL.

I loved them both for very different reasons and highly recommend them. 

Without further ado...

KARMA by Cathy Ostlere

KARMA just didn't let me go. I was unfamiliar with the backstory -- 1984 India, and the riots and political instability after Indira Gandhi's assassination -- but what drew me in were the characters and the writing.

One of my all-time
favorite covers.
Ostlere's words just flow along the page, and free verse was the perfect choice to highlight the urgency of the story. It's by no means a short book, but I flew through the pages, mesmerized by Maya's journey.

I love Maya. She's multicultural -- of Indian heritage, born and raised in Canada, half-Hindu and half-Sikh -- but she's a multidimensional, fully realized 15-year-old girl whose multiculturalism is just a part of who she is. She has crushes on boys, she's betrayed by her best friend, she wrestles with her parents' expectations, and she struggles to discover who she is in a ridiculously confusing and contradictory world. I connected with her immediately.

Her mother commits suicide, and she must bring her ashes to India with her grieving father. And then riots break out, and she's separated from her father in a foreign, dangerous place. Her traumas have only just begun.

Then we meet Sandeep, the other narrator, who speaks when Maya can't. I love Sandeep. He's impulsive and funny, charming, loyal, and desperate to prove himself. His family dynamics leap off the page, and his parts of the dual narration expose another layer of Indian culture and tradition, giving the reader a nuanced view of life in India during such a bloody, complicated, and divided time in its history.

Ostlere paints a vivid portrait of Maya and Sandeep's struggle to reunite Maya with her father and the development of their tentative love for one another in the midst of turmoil. 

Do yourself a favor, and read this gorgeous, epic novel.

To read the review of Ellen Hopkins' IDENTICAL please visit First Novels Club.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

YA Books Make Great Reads for Adults

In the last decade, booksellers and readers have delighted in the crossover book: either the adult book that teenagers find on their parent’s bedside table or the YA novel that daughters and mothers are fighting over for the first read.  Great examples of this are: The Book Thief, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, the Harry Potter books, the Twilight series, and more recently The Hunger Games.

Last week, the NPR (National Public Radio) website featured Karma as one of five new YA books that have great appeal for adult readers.

The writer of the article, Julianna Baggott, says this about teen novels:

 A good novel doesn't just transcend the boundaries of its target market — it knows nothing about target markets. Young readers have always reached above their reading level to get to meatier stories, and lately we've seen adult readers reaching into the world of teen fiction in search of the same thing — no-holds-barred storytelling. But the attraction isn't just related to the fact that young adult novels tend to have faster-paced narratives. Many of these crossover "teen" novels are satisfying to adult readers because they tap into ageless themes, namely the sense that each of us longs to know who we really are in a strange, confusing and sometimes otherworldly world. As it turns out, the search for self is a lifelong one.”

About Karma she writes:

Karma is a rich historical novel by Cathy Ostlere that's wild and unpredictable. Set in 1984, it begins with the poetic diary entries of 15-year-old Maya, whose more-or-less typical high school life in Canada is shattered when her mother commits suicide. Maya, who is half-Hindu and half-Sikh, flies to India with her father and her mother's ashes. Caught up in the violent aftermath of Indira Gandhi's assassination, the two are separated, and Maya is cast into the streets alone. Sandeep — an ebullient, charming, fiery young man — shares the narration. Epic and almost surreal in scope, a love story emerges. Ostlere divulges secret after secret. Depicted as a "novel-in-verse," the language is beautiful, the pages turn quickly and the story becomes a fast-paced whirlwind of startling images, action and heartfelt emotion.”

Check out the other four books featured:

Flip by Martyn Bedford   

Delirium by Lauren Oliver 

Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O'Roark

Trapped by Michael Northrop 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

MakeShift Bookmark Reviews Karma: "SO FULL OF WIN"

Since Karma was released in late March I have been fortunate enough to receive a steady flow of positive reviews, and a lot of them have been from bloggers.  When announcing a new review on Facebook I have stated a couple of times that "this is the best review yet!" And here I am happy to announce (again) that this one too is the best review yet!

Jen of MakeShift Bookmark has written a wonderful post about how Karma has turned her into a reader who now loves historical fiction as well as verse.  I am always delighted to hear how reluctant readers of verse novels are made into fans of the genre by Maya and Sandeep's touching story.  With quotes like "This book blew my freaking mind." it is hard not to brand it as the best review yet!

"This book is perfectly written, evocative, emotional, and will totally make a historical fiction fan out of those of us who typically couldn't care less. Cathy Ostlere has made a fan out of me. And this will DEFINITELY not be my last book told in verse."

BIG thanks to Jen, to read her full review please visit MakeShift Bookmak.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

So Many Exciting Announcements!

Vancouver journalist Gurpreet Singh writes about Karma in the Georgia Straight

From June 3-6, Sikhs around the world commemorated those who died in the 1984 violence due to Indira Gandhi's Operation Bluestar and her subsequent assassination. Although fiction, Karma is set historically accurate in the middle of these political and tragic events.  Reader's comments at the end of the article illustrate that 27 years later, the demand for justice remains passionate. Read the article here: Georgia Straight.

FFWD The Best of Calgary
I was voted Best Local Poet or Author by Fast Forward Weekly readers in the 2011 Best of Calgary reader's poll. Thank you Calgary!

The Play's The Thing! I am finally happy to announce that yes, Lost: A Memoir will be travelling!

Lost: A Memoir is travelling with Jan Alexandra Smith

Halifax -- Neptune Theatre
October 18 - Nov. 6, 2011

Winnipeg -- Praire Theatre Exchange
January 19 - February 5, 2011

Lost will also be featured at the Indianapolis Repertory Theatre's Going Solo3
A Festival of Intimate Stories Brought to Life
Indianapolis -- Indianapolis Repertory Theatre
Starring Constance Macy
September 22 - October 23

- Cathy Ostlere

Monday, May 9, 2011

How Travelling Through India Shaped Karma

       On October 31, 1984 the Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, was shot 32 times by her trusted Sikh bodyguards.  The city of Delhi as well as other parts of the country erupted in chaos as gangs of marauding men stalked and killed Sikh families, burning homes and businesses.  The final number of murdered victims is still debated.  I believe that 3,000 is generally accepted as an estimate.

       I was not in India during the riots but I was in the neighboring country of Nepal.  While I sat in a coffee shop on Freak Street, travellers crossing the border brought stories of what was happening in India.  This was during a time when there was no internet so much of our news came from English newspapers and real life accounts.

       The stories of brutality were shocking and frightening.  I was filled with fear and resisted going back to India.  But a week later, I crossed the border, and ran into no difficulties for the next six weeks of travelling.  When I returned to Canada I wrote long passages about some of my experiences.  Over the years, I added to the file and eventually had about 30,000 words of what can only be called – freefall writing.  There was no punctuation, no capitals, and no paragraph breaks.  There was also no narrative line but there were the beginnings of two characters:  a girl and a boy who were falling in love; she was from Canada and he was Indian.

      It was out of this very raw material that the story of Karma had its seeds.  Because it was initially written with no intention of being anything more than drivel – random thoughts and memories in a computer file – the language was free-flowing, the descriptions were over the top, and the emotions between the two characters were raw, passionate, romantic.  Looking back, I think this is a great way to create material for a novel.  Diaries are good because they often record details and facts but freefall writing allows all parts of the brain to become engaged:  truth and fiction merge, a single image becomes dominant for a page or two, and even our own personal longings are allowed complete unedited freedom. Of course, I also think it’s a good idea to put away such writing so when it comes out again, it’s a surprise, a gift from one’s younger self.  My Indian freefall writing lay dormant for over twenty years and when I uncovered it, it practically flew off the page screaming what took you so long to write this story?

      Karma is very much my love story to India.  But it’s also my love story to a younger not-yet-writer who in a flurry of writing, put her impressions down and allowed herself to be wild.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The search for mementos

The man spies something
Gripped in the giant steel claw
Waves his arms and points
They scramble the wreckage for
What remains -- a son’s backpack.

April 22 Tanka

The widening circle

Earthquake, tsunami,
Ionized radiation
Silent decorum
Inspires the compassion
Butterflies fluttering wings

Friday, April 15, 2011

The remembering month

April 11th
Time 2:46 p.m.
The sirens wailed out
Survivors wept their sorrow
Again.  The spawned tsunami.

In the hamlet of Aneyoshi

Six hundred years old
The markers dot the coastline
Ancient stone tablets:
“High dwellings are the peace and
harmony of our people.”

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Matsuko Ito/7.1

The world feels strange now.
Even the way the clouds move.
Something has changed, is not right.
There's no getting used to it:
awakened by the shaking.

Car owners search in huge 'graveyards'

His car, black Nissan
Couldn’t outrun the tsunami
Abandoned, with keys
Parking ticket and wallet
Dangling Shinto good luck charm

Monday, April 4, 2011

Coast Guard rescue

A little brown dog
Trots on a half-submerged house
Afloat for three weeks
Emptied of heart, voice, and child
The sea is a rocking hand.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Cool fan made KARMA video!

Love the idea of "Where will you take KARMA?" 
Pass the book on! KARMA is meant to be shared!

- Cathy

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Libraries after the Japan quake and tsunami (emmdeeaych in reply to CH)

A lost library
is a heartbreaking end too
of what is nearly
a temple to man’s highest
quality -- understanding.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Seiko Taira in Ayukawahama

Forage for firewood
Lug water from the marshes
Claim a flotsam pot
Is it looting? she wonders
Or gaman – her endurance. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

“Our vegetables are no good anymore,” said a 64-year-old farmer before he hanged himself.

Under the wasteland
The invisible made known
A farmer and iodine
Half-lives hanging in balance.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Numbers Game

The sea is poisoned
Plutonium trace
Radiation-taint water
Time clicking, a Geiger beat.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The survivors of Odachi

The three houses stand
A village’s last remains
Men scavenge the ruins
Women cook on open fires
Lay the futons head to toe.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Injured Coast

On white stone islands
Reikyo called paradise
Shore of purest land
Sanriku’s sacred beauty
Where valleys channel the sea.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Wins and losses

Japan is old news
Libya and Ottawa
Jerusalem’s woes
And Elizabeth Taylor
Whispering yes more than no.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The wrongful burial

Not enough coffins
Or fuel for the cremations
So sheets and ditches
Bodies back to the dark earth
Instead of ash into air.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Wabi sabi

There is a beauty
Without the need of splendor
Longings and hauntings
Melancholia of soul
Impermanent and fragile.

National Post Headline

Grandmother and teen
Rescued from rubble, day nine.
Number nine brings hope
And counts the missing: twelve thou/
sand, nine hundred, thirty-one.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

March 20th Tanka

I know something of
How the sea keeps for itself
Our love's flesh and heart.
Pleading, dragging the shoreline
We salt the water with tears.

Based on the words of Prime Minister Naoto Kan in his address to the nation on March 18, 2011

We do not have room
To be pessimistic, nor
Discouraged, for we
Will create Japan again
From scratch, out of ash, rising.

Another Tanka for Japan

The photographs lie
Under crushed rubble and fear
Dare us to remind
Life is a moment, a breath
Falling like snow falls like tears

Friday, March 18, 2011

Here is today’s tanka:

Tanka literally means “short poem” and consists of 31 syllables in a pattern of five lines (5 -7 - 5 - 7 – 7).  The Tanka was the dominant form of classic Japanese poetry from the seventh to twentieth century. – according to Elements of Japanese Design by Boye Lafayette De Mente.
Here is today’s tanka:
The men have no names
Only Fukushima fifty
Suited, gloved by threes
Canaries in a cage-match
Gamma heroes, radiate

Thursday, March 17, 2011


I am going to try and write a Japanese tanka poem every day.  My way of honouring the very beautiful people of Japan.

The quiet beauty
Soft serene and rippled blue
We heard the waking, Spring’s dream
Mountain quivering silver
No, the sea biting our land.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Research Trip to Yale and Major Celebrity Sighting!

I have no idea how many letters have passed through my hands in the last two days.  Hundreds and hundreds of pages – ink: fountain of course, blue, black, red, even aqua, and pencil too – paper: all types ranging from thick cardstock to linen, to sketching paper cut into long ribbons, and miniscule squares with bird-like scratches made with a sharpened pencil.  And the penmanship is outrageous – perhaps because they are written by artistic hands unable to keep up with ideas and emotions, rivers of domestic details like the state of one’s dinner or one’s health, and the landscape – the luminescence of the moon, the bite of a wind, the fear, uncertainty, longing, teasing and flirtation.  I finally had to quit at five pm; the personalities of Georgia O’Keeffe and her husband Alfred Stieglitz were starting to swirl in my head, become real, and because I was reading them in chronological order, I felt like I knew what was going to happen to them and they didn’t, their letters expressing their innocence of the great upheaval that was to come in their relationship, the pain and sorrow, and abandonment.  Finally, I picked up the box I was going through and carried it back to the librarian, asking her to keep it for me until morning.  “It’s too much,” I said.  “I’m exhausted by their lives.”
           I arrived yesterday morning in New Haven.  An early train and cab brought me to Yale.  And it is very beautiful.  Every structure is brick, stone, carved, curved, rooflines are peaked, windows are stained glass or diamond crosses, the church bells ring and chime delicate, surprisingly sweet melodies, iron gates open into courtyards, pathways are large, trees too.  It is so historical it almost shouldn’t be allowed to accommodate the young except maybe history majors.  During the day I am at the Beinecke Library, a building built in 1963, its exterior supported by four points, and its interior shaft housing 160,000 rare books and manuscripts including a Gutenberg Bible.  It’s a bold building, windowless, quite daunting actually.  There are a lot of rules once you’re registered to use the materials.  No pens, water, coats, cell phones though laptops are allowed.  No notebooks with coils but pads of paper are okay.  Today I took off a shawl that I had draped across my shoulders because I was getting too hot and I was told I have to wear it or put in my locker.  Another time I was holding one of the letters in my hand and I was told that the papers were to be kept flat in their folder and I was to touch it minimally.  Of course, it made sense, hand oils and such, but I was gone so far into the contents that I lifted it up, angled it for my eyes as if it was written to me.
           All of the correspondence of Georgia O’Keeffe and her husband, business and personal, is kept here, I believe it’s over 200 boxes and each box could easily hold 100 letters.  I am most interested in the letters that Miss O’Keeffe wrote so I have been concentrating on hers.  It is astounding how many, often seven a day she said, and often at least two of them to the man who would become her husband.  Though, if we compare daily output of emails today perhaps this is not so unusual and a keyboard is much easier on the hand than a pen.  Her handwriting is almost illegible to me but interestingly she uses the page like a poet:  lots of white space and dashes; even her thoughts are like glimpses, the briefest of scenes.  She bounces all over seemingly with no thread to tie it all together for the reader but somehow it is tied together by her own personality. I find that she reaches forward, almost off the page, looking for answers to her life.  She is stirred, restless, uncertain, bold, daring, insulting, truthful, angry, apologetic, flirtatious.  She is often cold, mostly her hands.  She has trouble sleeping or trouble waking up.  She says often she has nothing to say or she writes she is feeling alive.  She knows she is different from other people, thinks they are stupid, and wonders what they think about.  She is lonely yet loves her aloneness.  She is depressed or feels brand new.  What she feels surprises her.  The discovery of herself is her greatest joy and she is self-absorbed.  She writes in fragments, on scraps, on folded scrolls, on letterhead and there is such an energy I wonder why the paper didn’t catch on fire.
           I am falling deeply for this artist I plan to fictionalize, even though she hits children across the face when they displease her.  And though, I’m not a great admirer of her work, I am an admirer of the woman and the landscape of her vision.
           Last story.  A man walked into the library this morning with a few friends. Not sure what they were doing there; they didn’t seem to go through the rigorous id check that I did.  It seemed like they might have been looking for a particular young woman who was leafing through a medieval text of some sort.  The four of them huddled around the priceless book, whispering.  The man was asking questions about it and the dark haired woman was answering.  When a security guard approached the man and instructed him to keep his ipad on the table not on his lap, he smiled and agreed.  It was James Franco!

- Cathy

Sunday, February 13, 2011