Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, Special Edition with Daniel Karasik

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Daniel Karasik

Daniel Karasik is the grand prize winner of this year's CBC Canada Writes competition. His story "Mine", wowed the jury composed of Peter Behrens, Alison Pick and Michael Winter and captured the top spot.

Daniel, 25, is an actor, playwright, poet and fiction writer whose work has appeared on stage around the world and in Undercurrents: New Voices in Canadian Poetry (Cormorant Books) and 5 Hot Plays (Playwrights Canada Press). He is also the author of The Crossing Guard and In Full Light, a two play volume. Cormorant is set to publish Daniel's first poetry collection in 2013.

Daniel talks with Open Book about his winning story, how he juggles multiple genres and what's up next.

Open Book:

Tell us about your winning story, "Mine".

Daniel Karasik:

It’s a story about fidelity and devotion and the nature of our intimate ties to one another. Plot-wise, it’s about a dying man who starts to address his wife as though she’s the woman with whom he had an affair many years earlier. It’s quite short, under 1500 words in its published version. I wrote the first drafts of it, and really the meat of it, in 2006, when I was 19.

OB:

Your narrator is a woman and much older than you. What were some of the challenges and pleasures in adapting to the voice of a character whose circumstances are different than yours?

DK:

Well, once I’d had the good fortune to discover her voice, I mostly just trusted and followed it. I don’t mean “discover her voice” in any pseudo-mystical sense, only that as I wrote my way into this story (i.e. produced pages of boring exposition that I soon scrapped) I gravitated to a certain tonal quality that felt “right” for the narrator, felt real and true. And then I did my best not to mess that up. It might sound odd, considering how internal and meditative “Mine” is, but I really was working “from the outside in,” as it were — trying to find the truth of the scene through the observed externals of voice and action.

OB:

How do you balance theatrical writing and fiction writing? Do you find that an idea inherently lends itself to one form or the other?

DK:

I’m a part-time student at U of T, finishing a BA of epic length, and I actually wrote a paper on this subject just last month ... and I still have no idea what the answer is. I think the division I make between my drama-writing and fiction-writing is largely arbitrary, since I look for many of the same literary elements in either form. I’m attracted to poetic verve and urgency. Philosophical depth, emotionally involving dramatic action. Judicious wit.

That said, I think certain ideas inherently don’t lend themselves to drama, at least contemporary drama under contemporary cultural conditions. A play with many characters, for example, is expensive and therefore difficult to produce. And I’ve developed a bit of a phobia of unproduced plays. An unpublished poem may have reached its fullest point of development — the rest is just reception — but an unproduced play often feels to me incomplete in itself, a roadmap to a fuller experience. So I guess I’m aware that I try to write “producible” plays more than I try to write “publishable” fiction. Maybe in a few years I’ll even be able to tell you what that means.

OB:

What makes a short story great, in your opinion? What do you look for in the short fiction you read and write?

DK:

I consider a short story great if it haunts me for a long time after I’ve read it. Such stories all seem to be laws unto themselves, but generally I hope for a balance of drama and poetic vision in any fiction, short or long. I think that’s a really hard balance to strike, pretty well impossible to strike consistently, and so I tend to love individual short stories more than story collections. Dubliners, say, is fantastic, but it’s fantastic in my opinion because of maybe four of its stories. That epiphanic-banal vision we associate with Joyce’s short fiction I find successful only occasionally, and that’s probably fitting, since what we’re really talking about is a kind of magic. And you can’t will that, only create the conditions for it to happen. You do the heavy lifting of craft and hope that somehow your effort coheres into something greater, something mysterious and lovely.

OB:

Were there any books or stories you read prior to or during the writing of "Mine" that you found inspiring?

DK:

I was very excited by J.M. Coetzee’s fiction around that time, though I’m not sure his shadow falls over this story; it does over some of my other writing. I’d been volunteering and studying abroad for about seven months when I wrote “Mine,” and often in places where English wasn’t the first language, so I didn’t have as much access to literature as I usually do. I read whatever I could get my hands on. I found Milan Kundera’s first novel The Joke, which is a total masterpiece, in a second-hand bookshop in Ghana. An Isaac Bashevis Singer novel, lots of Amos Oz, Nicole Krauss’s The History of Love. I was inspired in different ways by all of them.

OB:

What are you working on now?

DK:

I’ve just finished a third draft of what I call my “second” novel, not counting several semi-embarrassing adolescent attempts. Nothing at all like “Mine,” it’s an exuberant and (I hope!) funny picaresque about restless young people in Toronto, about friendship and ambition. My “first” novel, which lives much more in the thematic and atmospheric world of “Mine,” didn’t really work as a novel, but I’ve condensed it into what I think is a pretty interesting novella. It forms about half the manuscript of what I hope will be my first short story collection. Cormorant Books also plans to publish my first poetry collection next spring, so I’m at work on that too. And I’m producing at least one and maybe a couple of plays this year. First up is my play The Innocents at the Tarragon Theatre Studio, opening April 26 and running to May 13; this is the Toronto homecoming of a piece that’s been running in repertory in Mainz, Germany since September. I’m acting in the production too. It’s kind of an insanely busy time. Good busy, though!


Daniel Karasik is a playwright, poet, "fiction writer" and actor. He is the winner of the 2012 CBC Short Story Prize and The Malahat Review's 2012 Jack Hodgins Founders Award for Fiction, and his recently completed first novel received the Alta Lind Cook Prize and the Norma Epstein National Literary Award. His poetry, nominated for a National Magazine Award, is featured in Undercurrents: New Voices in Canadian Poetry, an anthology from Cormorant Books, which also plans to publish his first poetry collection in 2013. His plays are regularly produced in Germany, for some reason, and are published by Playwrights Canada Press, with The Crossing Guard and In Full Light in bookstores and The Remarkable Flight of Marnie McPhee, a play for children, due to arrive there in 2013. Catch Daniel's play The Innocents at Toronto's Tarragon Theatre this April-May — more info at the Tango Co. website.

For more information about "Mine" please visit the CBC Canada Writes website.

For more information about Undercurrents please visit the Cormorant Books website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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