Interview: Karenza Grant on playing with polarity in her stories
Updated: Dec 21, 2022
Fantasy and paranormal are challenging genres to venture into. Bring into the mix a romance worth pledging your life to, and you have Karenza Grant's debut novel, The Piano Tuner's Song. I have been lucky enough to read and discuss her book in our writing group meetings for over a year. Few writers string words together like her (I do not exaggerate), bringing forth a compelling and elegant rhythm that services the plot and setting well.
And setting plays a crucial role in any story. It is one of the hardest acts to get right in writing, only next to point-of-view. But it has rarely been a bother for Karenza. Her love for South France is unmissable in the book, as she opens one of the scenes with serpentine roads lining the moody, picturesque valley of Sarrat. It's eerie but comforting. The romance is classical in its treatment yet refreshing and modern in impact. The duality is never lost, and it is a deliberate undertaking, she tells me. Opposition matters in a story, after all.
In this interview, Karenza opens up about the themes prevalent in her stories, her pet peeve as a reader, and more.
What would you say are your dominant inquiries as an artist? The questions you keep asking yourself and coming back to in your stories?
Time after time I’m compelled to consider the nature of opposites: male and female, light and dark, harmony and discord being examples that feature in The Piano Tuner’s Song. However, I rarely favour one extreme as more positive than the other. My work is an exploration of the interplay between these forces, which is why Violette and Remy’s relationship was so interesting to write. It seems all of us have a tangle of opposites within us that challenge us continually, causing tension and sometimes fireworks, and this is great fuel for characterisation. Taking a term from Jungian psychology, Remy is for Violette her animus figure—the opposite and unexplored aspect of herself, and the doorway to her own potential. The question then becomes, will she find her true self? And that is possibly the most fundamental question we all face. I love to play with polarity in more subtle ways, too. Often in descriptive narrative: hot and cold, rough and smooth, and more abstract concepts such as doubt and truth.
The question then becomes, will she find her true self? And that is possibly the most fundamental question we all face.
Would you say that loss is the scaffolding of The Piano Tuner’s Song? And how closely do love and loss interact in your world?
Love and loss are certainly key aspects of The Piano Tuner’s Song. But I would say that ultimately self-acceptance is the cornerstone—acceptance of loss as a key to finding love.
What came to you first — the characters or the plot?
For The Piano Tuner’s Song, the plot came first, originating in a few factors. I was inspired by the stunning and mysterious song, Lo Boièr, that originated in 12th C Occitania, France. This led me to look into the nature of music, and how it can influence the heart and mind. Other avenues opened, such as how music has developed over the years to its current form, and the fascinating experience of synaesthesia—the ability to see sound as colour. Once the bare bones of the plot were in place I asked myself what characters would be most suited to exploring these concepts. Ultimately, though, my characters developed over the course of writing as I got to know them.
What has writing this book taught you about yourself? Did you tap an unexplored side?
Writing is a profound love, something that feels right every moment I’m working on a story. I’ve had to find the inner resources to respect that about myself, and the outer resources, such as time, to make novel writing a reality in my life. That aside, my characters teach me all the time as I write. Each one has a lesson and it’s a continuous and fascinating learning process.
That aside, my characters teach me all the time as I write. Each one has a lesson and it’s a continuous and fascinating learning process.
What is your biggest pet peeve as a reader?
Either poorly developed plot or character. I’m a complete fan of a well-rounded ending. I love that circle of completion, be it subtle or explicit, I don’t mind, but please give me an ending of sorts. Other pet peeves are gratuitous violence and a constant build of tension without an exhalation.
What is the most beautiful book cover you have seen recently?
I’m definitely a fantasy-cover fan and can often be found goggling Bookstagram stagings. A particular design caught my eye recently—the French box set cover of Caroline Vermalle’s Sixtine series. I love the clearly communicated sense of mystery, suspense, death and fantasy, yet there is a timeless elegance too.
Any authors you take pointers from? Someone who inspires you?
I’m constantly inspired. I take away an idea or inspiration from most books I read. Of note recently would be Erin Morgenstern for her attention to detail in The Starless Sea, Caroline Vermalle for her pacing in the Sixtine series. But ultimately it would have to be Stephen King, for making every beat count. That is, for me, the art of storytelling.
Lastly, what was the last great book you read?
That would be Piranesi by Susanna Clarke. It is a seamless, compelling and utterly original fantasy. I also felt a personal link with the book through its homage to CS Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew, which was the first full-length novel I read as a child. It revealed to me that there could be worlds within worlds, not only in the sense of a fantasy narrative, but in the sense that to read a book is to enter another place entirely.
You can follow Karenza on Instagram @karenzagrantauthor and on Facebook as Karenza Grant. Her newsletter, The Folklore Chronicle, reflects the semi-fantastical setting of her stories, and carries recommendations, book reviews, and musings. To learn more about her work, visit her at www.karenzagrant.com.
Picture courtesy: Karenza Grant