The Visit: A Conversation with Ana T. Kralj – curated by Kristina Marie Darling

Ana T. Kralj was born and grew up in Yugoslavia. She studied comparative literature. She writes in prose and in verse.  

Kristina Marie Darling:  Your novel, The Visit, moves effortlessly between prose and verse forms. What does this hybridity make possible for you as a storyteller?

It allows me to incarnate two very different states of mind, and with that, to tell two different stories. There are places one form can’t go to, and states of mind it can’t express, or can’t express well. Using these two forms, I am able to access different places in the mind of the character(s). And sometimes, the two forms communicate, the two stories touch. It happens spontaneously and it was very interesting to explore. And so sometimes, something in-between was born. I love writing about the in-between, I feel that’s where lots of interesting things happen. 

KMD:  How and why did this book project begin?  Can you tell us about the genesis of The Visit?  

It started about a decade ago, the day I left my job. I remember walking down the street, feeling immense freedom. The book grew out from that feeling. The novel begins with the character that has just cut all the ties, and feels free. But of course, it’s not that simple. Freedom is not that simple. There are many things that bind us. To others, to ourselves. So this is in a way a journey of discovering what binds us, and if there is a way of reconciling that with the freedom we crave. And as I was thinking of it, different characters walked in, started talking to me, started telling their stories. With their stories, other topics filtered in as well. The breakup of a country. The search for a place in the world. Meeting people, always meeting people, which also means leaving them behind... These themes started to pour in, coloring the narrative. And then, everything circles back to the question, what is freedom, and are we ever really free. And do we want to be. 

KMD:  The Visit presents a riveting coming-of-age story against a backdrop of political upheaval. As a reader, I appreciated the way personal histories become a doorway to larger questions about the individual in a global society. What tips can you offer other writers about engaging politically charged subject matter?  

I believe there are many different truths out there. Each of us has our own truth. In no way will a human be able to cover them all; we can only tell our own. So speak your mind, speak your truth. There will always be those who will appreciate your point of view, and those who won’t. There will be those who will want to hear the story from a different angle. Don’t write the story with them in mind. Stick to your truth, to your angle. And time will pass, between the writing and the publication. And time takes the edge off everything... even sensitive subjects.

KMD:  What advice do you have for writers who are hesitant to experiment with form?  Can you speak to the value of stylistic innovation and artistic risk?  

For me, the goal of experimenting is to find the right form for my story. When it flows, when it captures exactly what I wanted to convey – that’s the right form. There’s no better or worse form. It’s just how well a certain form suits a story. 

While writing The Visit, I never felt I was taking any risk. I was searching, subconsciously, for the right form to tell the story. The only risk was not finding that right form, in which case I’d feel I hadn’t done justice to the story. I think it’s a must for a writer to experiment until she finds that perfect form, until she manages to reflect on paper what she has in mind. If you don’t try, if you don’t experiment, that perfect form may never come. That being said, one may need to experiment more, or less, to find it. In my case, it came pretty quickly. I didn’t experiment much. Like it was just there, I only had to listen up, notice it, write it down. I’d say experimenting involves a lot of internal listening. 

KMD:  Will you share a writing prompt with us?

Think of someone who, at some stage in your life, inspired you. When you think of it, there are not many of those who inspire us. Sometimes only one or two people. Write about your interaction with that person. How did you first meet them? How did you feel, in that particular moment? What exactly was it about them that impressed you? Remember a conversation you had. Did something happen that you didn’t understand, or that you understood only later? Freewrite. And when you read it later, you’ll see that there’s more in there than what you were aware of. There’s always more in the story than what the writer thought to have put in. Because stuff just slips into our stories, without us being completely aware or in control of it... That’s the magic of writing. It exists, and we have to give it space. Often, that “involuntary” part becomes the essence of the story. 

KMD:  What else are you working on?  What can we look forward to? 

I am currently working on a couple of novels in verse, simultaneously. And in my drawer, I have a novel that’s waiting for me to pick up. It’s in a way a prequel to The Visit, in the sense of the setting. It takes place in the time before the breakup of Yugoslavia, in the 70s and 80s. When things were good. When things seemed good. But the characters are different people. I need to pick it up and see what’s next for this manuscript.