Hello fellow Sunday Saloners – thanks for dropping by Blue Archipelago on this lovely Sunday. Today I bring you an interview with Carla Rieger – author of the wonderful book The Change Artist which I reviewed last month.
Clare: Hi Carla – thanks for taking the time out to answer some questions about your latest novel. Let’s start with a look at what inspired you to write The Change Artist.
Carla: I decided to write a book after my father died. When I was cleaning out his house I found a hidden box of photos, journals and artwork suggesting that he had changed his identity a couple of times in his life. My man I knew was in the world of finance and management, very quiet, a hermit and just seemed to work all the time. He didn’t ever do anything fun or creative. He also seemed to be a very troubled person who never talked about his past. This, of course, made me very curious. After researching the contents of the box it looked as if he’d been born into a family that owned a carnival on the Danube River near Vienna and that he had been a portrait artist.
Clare: Well that pretty much answers my next question which was going to be:did you base the characters of Fran and her father on anyone you know?
Carla: The character of Fran is loosely based on me and the father character is based on my father.
Clare: So how did you come up with the names for your characters?
I was intrigued by the myth of Persephone and Hades as an underlying theme. In Greek mythology the god of the underworld, Hades, is seen as the shadow side of the god at the upper world, Zeus. The meaning of the name Francesca is often the same meaning of the name Persephone: which means to be free. Since the theme of the book is about how to unshackle yourself from the past and from the mind sets that keep you trapped, I thought it would be interesting for the characters to have both the first and last names relating to the theme of being free (e.g. Freeman or the Germanic “Frei”). The names of George, Jorg & Jiri are all variants on the same name and having meanings of both being a saint or a devil. Like Hades and Zeus I was intrigued with the theme of a leader who can be both good or evil.
Clare: Wow – you really spend a lot of time thinking about those names and giving them real meaning. That’s very impressive! Let’s move on and talk a little about you and your reading habits. What was your favourite book as a child?
Carla: My favorite book as a child was Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time
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Clare: And what inspired you to become a writer?
Carla: I had been writing a plays and short stories since I was a child. I had always excelled in writing and received an award as 12 year old child for an essay I wrote. Journaling has always been a big part of my life as well and I grew up in a house that had books on every wall. So, writing and reading has always been a big part of my heritage.
Clare: Writing has been in your blood for a long time then. Is there a book in history that you wish you could have written and why?
Carla: I loved Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way because I think it was groundbreaking in terms of understanding the archetype of the artist within everyone and how to practice it on a daily basis. In terms of a fiction book I would have to say the Wizard of Oz or Alice in Wonderland. Both of those books featured a female protagonist on a quest. They were also both coming-of-age books that were symbolic of the quest to become more whole. There aren’t nearly as many female protagonist’s in the genre of the quest novel, so I very much appreciated those stories as a child growing up.
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Clare: Those are great choices. Now let’s just go back to The Change Artist for a minute – if it were to be made into a film who would you like to see cast as the main characters?
That is a great question. I thought of Kiera Knightley in the role of Fran and Armin Mueller Stahl as George as an old man. As a young man I thought of David Kross (The Reader). As Jasper I thought of Orlando Bloom. And as Sophia as a young woman I thought of Penelope Cruz.
Clare: I can really see those actors in the parts – I’m a big fan of Kiera! Now – final question and I’m going to put you on the spot for this one. If you could interview yourself what question would you ask and what would the answer be?
Carla: What is the major theme of this book?
I was always intrigued by the fact that Hitler was a failed artist and that he rounded up freethinkers, artists or anyone who had ideas that didn’t fit his “totalitarian mindset”. He even put on a Degenerate Art Exhibit of any artist’s work that he deemed a threat to Nazism. The fact that the father character as a boy gives up his identity as an artist and a Romani in order to feel more secure and to fit in is an intriguing theme. I think many people have an inner war between their own creative mindset and a totalitarian mindset that doesn’t want to threaten the status quo. The irony was that the father character ended up having to fight under a man who was exterminating his family.
People like to vilify the person, Hitler, but there is a kind of mindset that can enter human consciousness that is what I call a “totalitarian mindset” that squashes creativity. This is almost a default reaction that people are afraid. And yet the irony is that diversity of ideas and perspectives is exactly what you need when times are tough economically. When the old ways aren’t working anymore you need as many ideas as possible to break free of the old.
I think this theme is very relevant today. For most of history only a very few people in society were allowed to be creative and they were usually doing that creativity in service of a patron who had a specific agenda. Now people all over the world, regardless of economic background or culture can be contributing something creative to the world of through technology and the Internet. Yet, many people still have inherited memories of feeling being creative is dangerous. There seems to be a strong interest these days in people breaking free of that fear and finding their true voice.
Clare: That’s a great question, and it’s always good to learn more about the reason behind the books. After reading The Change Artist its obvious that you put heart and soul into communicating the message.
Thanks for joining us today Carla – and good luck with this novel and your future ventures.