When a loved one dies, is “closure” something we really want? Carys Cragg (pictured)—author of Dead Reckoning: How I Came To Meet the Man Who Murdered My Father—doesn’t think so, and says her relationship with her father, who was murdered when she was only eleven, continues to evolve 25 years after the crime. In Part 1 of our “Family Secrets” episode, host Mica Lemiski chats with Carys about why she decided to contact the man who killed her father, and what it means to finally share her own side of the story.
A podcast about Canadian literature, feminism, and everything in between. New episodes published on the 15th of every month. Hosted by Mica Lemiski.
Episode Four: Family Secrets, Part One (Guest: Carys Cragg)
When a loved one dies, is “closure” something we really want? Carys Cragg—author of Dead Reckoning: How I Came To Meet the Man Who Murdered My Father—doesn’t think so, and says her relationship with her father, who was murdered when she was only eleven, continues to evolve 25 years after the crime. In Part 1 of our “Family Secrets” episode, host Mica Lemiski chats with Carys about why she decided to contact the man who killed her father, and what it means to finally share her own side of the story.
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Mica Lemiski: Hello friends, and welcome to Part 1 of the Family Secrets episode of Fainting Couch Feminists. Yes, I did say Part 1, which naturally implies a Part 2, and that will be released on December 22nd and features Gurjinder Basran. So why are we doing this in two parts? Well, after re-listening to my interviews with Gurjinder and Carys Cragg, our feature author today, I really felt like these women deserved their own episodes. If I were to combine their interviews into a single thing, I’d have to cut way too much or else it would be way too long. Plus it’s the holidays, and don’t we all deserve a little Christmas bonus episode—or Hanukkah bonus, or Kwanzaa or Winter Solstice week episode? You get it: bonus stuff coming your way in a week! Woo! When our publisher, Meghan Bell, first suggested I do a Family Secrets episode, I said “Yes, juicy idea! Yes.” But then I got kind of nervous, because if I were going to do to a Family Secrets episode, that probably meant I was going to have to ask people to open up their proverbial closets and show me the bones. Bones are scary, and I wondered if, in asking to see them, record them, and upload them onto iTunes, I’d run the risk of being invasive or compromising someone’s privacy. I knew my interview would need to be done carefully. So I vowed to do my best to be an archaeologist, not a grave robber; I would uncover the remains with a delicate little brush, not a shovel. I wasn’t sure who to interview at first for this episode, but then on September 16, I got an email from a colleague. Just for your peace of mind, good-hearted listeners, the email sender as well as the person named in it, Carys Cragg, have both given me permission to share this with you. I have also edited the email slightly for the sake of clarity and anonymity.
Dear Mica, Have you considered interviewing Carys Cragg, who will be launching the book about her father’s murder? I posted a link to one of Carys’s interviews on Facebook, and a member of her extended family contacted me to tell me that she [Carys] did not have the full picture. I had never met this person—he was not a Facebook friend—so how did he even know that I posted something in support of Carys? I let Carys know about the post, as I felt it was important to do so. It made me very angry that a young woman was brave enough to tell a painful story, and then her own family was willing to undermine it. I can totally relate. Carys may or may not want to talk about how family members undermine our credibility when we tell our stories. I’ve had my own issues with family members on Facebook so cannot help but wonder, how has social media made things harder for those of us who want to share our stories? Much to do, so I better get going. J
After reading this email, I knew I wanted to talk to Carys and luckily, I got that chance only a week or so later, at a reading in East Vancouver. Carys read from the prologue of her memoir, Dead Reckoning: How I Came to Meet the Man Who Murdered My Father. And even though the subject matter of her memoir couldn’t be heavier or harder, it’s difficult to imagine a brighter, warmer person than Carys. When I introduced myself to her that night and asked if she’d like to be interviewed for the Fainting Couch, her response was an enthusiastic “Yes, definitely, yes.” I was then put in contact with her publisher, who sent me a copy of Carys’s memoir, which was and is absolutely fascinating. In it she tells the story of her father’s murder, which happened when she was only eleven years old, during a home invasion. The details she shares are heartbreaking but also complicated and at times confusing. She also includes letters sent back and forth between herself and the murderer, a man named Sheldon. The letters are fascinating, complex, and so, so sad. But remarkably, Carys herself is not a sad person—far from it. And the interview you are about to hear proves that.
Mica : Carys, welcome to the Fainting Couch!
Carys : Thank you so much for having me, and your curiosity for the story.
Mica: Well, I saw you read at Real Vancouver Writers’ Fest in . . . That was October, correct?
Carys: September, for their September Sizzler. It was a really great event.
Mica: Oh my gosh, I can’t believe how much time has passed.
Carys: I know!
Mica: It was a great night, in the Russian Hall. Cool space.
Carys: Yeah, they always get the very cool spaces. I look forward to hearing the readers, but I also look forward to seeing the spaces that they’re able to find.
Mica: It was eclectic, I think.
Carys: Yeah [laughs].
Mica: But before we get into your book, Dead Reckoning, I thought we could have just a bit more of a lighthearted chat. I understand you have a new baby boy.
Carys: I do! My little John. My little John is being babysat by my lovely cousin right now and in good hands. Apparently giggling quite a bit right now before bed, so that’s nice. He is 17 weeks—I guess I’m still going by weeks. I don’t know when I start describing in months; apparently that’s a thing that people do.
Mica: Okay, so 17 weeks.
Carys: Yes, so he’s four months next week. So yeah, he’s just growing, he’s getting a little personality. It’s really fun learning about him.
Mica: That’s so exciting. I grew up not being around many babies at all, but I work for this company and my boss works from home, and she has her baby there and he is about a year and a half now, and I swear every time I come in to work, there’s a new word he knows or a thing, and it blows my mind.
Carys: Yeah. Watching them develop—I’ve had little babies, little kids around me all my life, and right now there’s kind of an explosion of little babies in our immediate family, and so we’re just keen, eyes just watching them, exactly. A while back, with my little nephew, I remember I wouldn’t see him for two weeks because I was so busy with work. I’d come back, and he knew new words, could do new things with his body, and oh my gosh, so cute.
Mica: Okay, I’m also fascinated by just pregnancy in general and how different people react to actually growing a human. You’ll know someone who’ll be like, “Oh it was amazing, I was glowing and just ate chocolate croissants all the time,” and then others are like, “I felt like hell and so sick and depressed.” So, what was your experience like?
Carys: Oh, there was times when I felt fantastic. I’d say the second trimester, I was no longer nauseous, and I wasn’t yet having the aches and pains that came with just, you know, general inflammation, and um . . .
Mica: Carrying a load.
Carys: . . . exactly, and so I felt like, “I look so hip and cool pregnant and not uncomfortable yet, and just so happy.” So that was lovely. But the rest was, you know, a lot of discomfort and a lot of discomfort that occurred afterwards, too, where I’m like, “Okay, I’m trying to manage this brand new little guy who I’m trying to get to know and he’s getting to know me. Plus I’ve got all this pain all ever my body; oh my gosh, how am I going to do this?” But yeah, I liked being pregnant. You’re just growing this little alien inside you and he starts to flicker, and then he starts to move, and you’re just so excited to meet him, and so it was just . . . I’m so glad he’s here.
Mica: That’s so exciting. What’s his name?
Carys: His name’s John Geoffrey, and he’s named after my stepdad and then my dad, and then my last name.
Mica: Oh wow. Oh, that’s really special.
Mica: All right, let’s dive right in to your book. I think maybe a good way to start would be for you to provide a brief synopsis of your book for listeners who maybe aren’t familiar with it.
Carys: Yeah. Dead Reckoning: How I Came to Meet the Man Who Murdered My Father, is a story about the moment I decided to contact my father’s murderer 19 years after the crime, all the way to meeting him a year and a half later, and then finishing up our correspondence half a year later. That’s the main story, and all the trials and tribulations and emotional angst that goes along with that, plus all the joys and satisfactions. So it’s about that journey, but also it’s a story about my relationship with my younger self, trying to survive the aftermath of the crime. And it’s about the relationship with my father, and how that’s morphed over time, before death and after death. And it’s a story about facing the thing that you think you need to face at the time that you want to face it, so that you can like a life that feels more whole and more authentic. That’s the story.
Mica: And your father was killed when you were eleven. Now, I was fascinated by your Author’s Note, where you say very plainly and very up-front that you didn’t seek permission from the man who murdered your father to tell this story and to include letters that he actually wrote to you while in prison. You say it’s not his story to give permission to tell. There’s a quote from your book that goes, “In the end, there is just my story, my perspective of events. There are other positions and points of view, just not here in these pages. Those stories are held elsewhere. More than facts, memoir tells truth. Here is my truth.” So why was it important for you to preface your book with a statement about individual perspective? Was this a protective measure for yourself, or a bigger comment on the nature of memoir or truth?
Carys: It was a number of things. First off, it was this musing on memoir. I think people approach memoir in a couple of different ways and are sometimes confused about it as a genre or within the more autobiographical type of literature. Often, people will confuse it with autobiography or whatever. I wanted to talk about a number of different things within that Author’s Note, right off the bat, right before the story starts. I wanted to muse on these ideas of truth and memory and the fact that this is a highly subjective story through my account, my experience of the offender, my experience of my life, that involves a number of other people and of course it’s just my perspective and there are so many other people’s stories that could be told in other ways. And in fact, I should have also added something to the effect of, if I were to tell this story in ten years, it would be different.
Mica: Oh, that’s interesting.
Carys: Yeah. You know, I told it at this particular time because I just had to write it, but it would be different if I wrote it later. Speaking of the Author’s Note in particular, I wrote that version of it halfway through writing the main draft of this book. I find it so important, especially within non-fiction, to have some kind of note like that. You’ll see that everywhere, in some form or another—probably not as extensive—and it’s so important to have that reader–author contract as you enter in to a non-fiction book, especially a memoir, given that it’s somewhat problematic. And unlike fiction, where there’s this general agreed-upon entry into the text, where you are going to suspend your disbelief and be like “okay, take me into this world you’ve created for me.” Memoir is true—everything happened, everything happened in the order that it happened—but it’s important for me to say, “this is the way I interpreted everything.” About the offender, I was trying to plant a seed around the idea that victims of crime often don’t get authority over their stories and their experiences of the crime, or experience of offenders or the perpetrators. It was important to say that, but it was also important for me to include, in the rest of the book, places where we actually do agree to share stories in a wider way. Not specifically this book, but for example, he has shared elements of our interactions at parole hearings, which he’s not really supposed to do, and so there’s those pieces, so it’s a bit convoluted.
Mica: There are definitely several instances in the book where you’re conversing with him—”Are you comfortable with me sharing this information?” and “I’m sharing this,” so there is consent to give information back and forth. I found that so interesting and complicated, given this Author’s Note, but I thought it really worked.
Carys: Nice. Well, for me it was about trust with the reader, and wanting to make sure that they feel comfortable entering into the book.
Mica: Right. Yeah, definitely. And I’ve heard that, since this book has come out, it’s caused a little bit of turmoil within your own family.
Okay, here I’m referencing the email I read earlier in the episode. But at the time of this interview, Carys didn’t actually know that I had received this email, or that it was in part why I decided to contact her in the first place. I felt kind of weird about saying to Carys, “My friend emailed me and said that a family member of yours posted something hurtful about you on Facebook. Is that true? How did you feel? Please comment.” This felt like a gossipy way to approach things, but maybe it’s actually what I should have done. Being up-front about what motivated my “have you received any backlash?” question would have made for a much clearer and more honest conversation than parts of what is to follow. After all, J was totally okay with me sharing her email, and Carys ended up being okay with it, too. Anyway, all this to say that the next few minutes of the interview are a little roundabout, a little tiptoey, but thanks to Carys, I think we still end up in some pretty interesting conversational territory. Hang in there.
Mica: I think there was a comment about [you] not having the full picture. How did that happen, and do you feel comfortable talking about that a little bit?
Carys: Tell me more about what you’ve heard, so I know what you’re talking about.
Mica: I heard you had received a bit of backlash from your father’s side of the family. [Uh-huh.] It was in passing, through a colleague of mine saying, “I think Carys might have faced a little bit of . . . ” [Right.] Yeah.
Carys: So I haven’t received any backlash or any sort of contact at all from my extended family. I do know that there have been other people who have reposted different things about the story, not necessarily with the book but with the parole hearings and that kind of thing.
Mica: On social media?
Carys: Yeah. And you know, I was floored when I heard about that, and of course we all created our good emotional boundaries around being contacted about something you don’t really want to be contacted about. And I don’t know who’s going to contact me. I have to be ready for that, because it’s what I’ve put out into the world, and hopefully I’ve developed good emotional boundaries for that. Of course, my immediate family is so supportive of everything, all my writing and the ways that I want to share my experience. But it brings up the larger question within families of whose story gets to be told, and who gets to silence stories, and whose voices are louder than others, and what impact does that have on the quieter voices or the more divergent voice within the mainstream narrative of how victims should experience crime and the aftermath of crime. And past the moment of “oh my gosh, what happened,” I then started to think, isn’t that powerful that there could be people who want to suppress or silence or change someone’s story, because each person’s experience of all of this is entirely valid. I just decided to write a book about it.
Mica: Yeah, and whether or not someone said, “Carys is not seeing the full picture,” I don’t think you ever claimed to. I think you claimed, in the Author’s Note and in the book itself, “this is wholly from my perspective and yes, I’m considering other things outside and in a larger situational sense, but also, this is my personal truth.”
Carys: Yeah, and some people might say, “she doesn’t have the full picture because she was a kid at the time, she doesn’t know the real offender,” or whatever, and it really makes me curious because that’s right, I did not have that experience, I had a completely different experience, an entirely valid experience that I think needs to be shared, so that we listen to younger voices more. And listen to people who have like I keep developing and I keep on having new questions about what happened when I was young. I have new experiences, too, new curiosities about my father, for example. As I have a little boy, it brings a whole new set of questions, and so nothing ever ends and these complex families that we live in are just so… well, complicated.
Mica: Yeah. There’s no such thing as a simple family. It just doesn’t exist.
Carys: I’ve never heard of an uncomplicated family.
Mica: I’m really interested in the point where you decided that contacting your father’s murderer was the right choice. This is an important moment in the book, too; you’re in a coffee shop with your friend Shannon, and she plants the seed that this is something you might be interested in doing. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Carys: Yes, and that’s where the main action of the book starts; that’s where we enter into the story. I didn’t really know, where does the story start, because to some people, the story starts when my father died, but to me it really was that moment in time. I had a new friend, Shannon, at work, and we were becoming close and wanted to hang out and so we went to this coffee shop, and like all new friends at some juncture, they say “how did your father die?” And I recited, I say in the book, like errands: this is what happened to my father, he was murdered, I was at the home, all those details. And people react very differently, across the spectrum. Most are just shocked, because of course it’s shocking information.
Mica: Especially to have you relaying it so frankly, right?
Carys: Entirely, right? So the reflection that I do in the book is the reflection I was doing in that coffee shop: wow, this sounds really just like I’m reciting errands, that’s really fascinating. I ruminate on these random things, probably too much. But Shannon was the first—nineteen years of new friends, right, and she was the first friend who said, “Do you know anything about the offender?” And what that meant to me was that she was curious about this man, and she asked very curious, gentle questions. I offered the handful of things that I knew about him at the time. It was in that moment in time, all of these things were set up. I had heard stories of restorative justice in the past, and I was in this really fine place right now—I had a job, I had a safe home, I had close family, friends, I was in this good place of general wellness or general functioning, and she just happened to ask the right question at the right time that totally planted a seed. And it was very speedy between the point she asked me that and the point where I was, Okay let’s do this. I want to contact him in some kind of way. I don’t know how, but… Pretty soon after that, I was sitting with the restorative justice workers.
Mica: Wow. The wheels got in motion pretty quick.
Carys: Extremely fast, yep.
Mica: So at what point in this journey did you think, this is something I want to write about, or need to write about?
Carys: It’s funny because during the process I was writing, because I was writing to him. And I did a lot of journaling, a lot of writing on scraps of paper—okay I want to make sure I say this in the next letter—or just processing his words. There was a lot of words and writing happening.
Mica: The writing to him in prison.
Carys: Exactly, yes. But it wasn’t till after . . . I had written in academic circles and professional circles in my profession in child and youth care and teaching, and I think I was on some sort of Listserv that gave you writing prompts or calls for submissions, and there was a call for submission for travel stories. And I thought, I just went on a journey. It was just about going to Drumheller. That’s the prologue in the book: me waiting in the prison for twenty minutes and that journey to Drumheller as well as the journey within my mind.
Mica: Because Drumheller, that’s where your father’s murderer was being held.
Carys: That’s right, yeah. That’s where he was incarcerated. That was this one-off thing that I wrote, and I just did it—it came out very quickly—and it got published. And I thought, well that was cool, and then I just wanted to practice writing. By this time, the whole process with the offender was done, and I wrote a couple of stories the following year. One was a sailing-related story that appears in the book in a different form, and another one in a student anthology from one of the vignettes in there. And after I had done a couple of those, a writing mentor of mine said, “Where is the rest of the story? I want to hear what happens.” So I thought, oh yeah. By then I had developed enough momentum and power in the story and enough feedback from people [saying], “I want to know the rest of the story.” And then it was just this intersection of interest internally and externally that I [knew], yes, I need to write this story. But when I was with him, I had absolutely no interest in writing about it. I would probably [have been] too self-conscious or something. I would have written letters differently. [laughs]
Mica: Yeah. That’s so interesting. If you’d thought, this is something that’s going out into the world, you probably would have shaped those letters with that in mind. [Yeah.] So that’s actually very special that you weren’t thinking that at all. Because it can kind of—I don’t want to say taint things—
Carys: Oh, for sure. It would be more like a journalist going in, as opposed to memoir is essentially memories so we’re going back in time, but I probably wouldn’t have been as self-righteous in the letters, and I probably wouldn’t have been . . . it would have been something, so yeah.
Mica: And you mentioned before, Carys, about how through this whole journey and then writing about it, your relationship with you father, even though he’s been gone nineteen years at that point, has actually changed and developed a lot. I’m so interested in this idea of our relationships with people developing after they’ve died. [Yes!] I’m wondering if you could talk a bit about that.
Carys: Well, So, I have always been curious about this concept academically, socially, culturally, and now within literature. I was defiant, I would say, as a young person. I did everything I was supposed to do, everything looked fine, but I was a bit defiant about how people were dealing with the loss or judging us or telling us, either directly or indirectly, how we should deal with it. A lot of people, especially professionals, would use this idea of you must sever the relationship or you should cut it off and move on, move forward into this . . .
Mica: Right, closure or whatever.
Carys: All these hilarious —I say hilarious now, but I think they’re quite linguistically violent—a prof at UVic, Jennifer White, taught me that concept, linguistically violent.
Mica: That’s a good term.
Carys: Very good term. And for some reason, as a defiant teenager, I always knew, no, I miss my dad and I want him around, and yeah, he’s not here, but I’m still going to learn from him, he’s still going to take care of me. I’m still going to try and be in some kind of relationship with him. And for me, that happened through writing. So not even so much reflection, it was the writing. I would always write to my dad—To Daddy—or I would refer to him—okay, look away, I’m going to talk about boys now—you know, silly things like that, where I was literally imagining that this is who I’m writing to. And really, I’m not writing to him, I’m writing to myself and I’m writing for survival, but it was difficult and so I needed someone to be close to me. But then fast-forward to your question, in the process of contacting the offender, I had no idea that that one of the outcomes would be that I would feel closer to my dad. And it was one of the significant outcomes, and I was so overjoyed by that I can’t even describe it. And it sounds really weird to say “overjoyed” about something that’s so dark and so intense and so complicated, but if that’s the way it had to happen, then there you go. And I feel pretty connected to my dad, so . . . I just felt that by doing this, I felt more connected to him. And doing that as well as writing about it, I learned how much I am like my dad. That was actually probably the most significant. I think of all the things that we don’t have of his anymore around the house, his clothes or his cameras or whatever it is that have either been given away or just lost—these are the things that people lose after a death in different ways. And what I realized through doing this whole process and then kind of reminding myself at this extra level of writing about it, was that I do things like my dad, or I am like my dad, or I smile like my dad, or I like to talk to people like my dad, and I thought, oh my gosh I am never going to lose that, that’s in me, and so it felt really good.
Mica: That’s very cool. It’s almost like this idea of the immortal, you know? It sounds corny to say that people live on through us, but scientifically, biologically, they do. And I think that idea and fully realizing that can be very powerful.
Carys: Yeah, I’ll just say one more thing about that, because I think people live on through our stories. I think some of the psychological academic theory about cutting off relationships or closing those things and “moving on” is the exact opposite. And I think that sharing stories, living those stories, making new stories about your relationship with the person who you love who has died, that’s the way people live forward. And the way that you see them show up in the way that you move or the way that you talk to people, I think that’s lovely and I think that if you have to endure the loss of a significant person in your life, these are the things that we hang onto.
Mica: Stories are how we build life, I think.
Carys: Yes, exactly.
Mica: You talked briefly earlier about linguistics. You mentioned . . . what was the . . . ?
Carys: Linguistically violent,
Mica: Linguistically violent, okay yes. Well this may relate to a question I have about the news headlines used to talk about the case around your father. So I picked out a couple of these which are not from when he was killed, but rather when the man who murdered him, the offender, was released for parole. Here, I’ll read a couple of them. One is “At Peace With a Killer’s Freedom: Murder Victim’s Vancouver Daughter Ponders Parole.” Another one was, “Victim’s Daughter OK With Murderer’s Release.” These seem to do a bit of an emotional disservice. I’m fascinated by how these headlines encompass these stories that are so huge and messy and complicated and then reduce them to these identifiers. Which I know I guess has to be done—you can’t have a newspaper headline that is a book, which is what it would take to describe these relationships and situations—but I wonder about the emotional impact this kind of distillation in terms of labelling has on you.
Carys: You know you’re right, and I wish I knew more about the world of journalism and reporting. I only know it through a certain perspective and experience of it. I don’t know if I’d ever want to be in a room when editors are deciding the names of articles, because I don’t know what their purpose is, for clicks or to get someone to read the paper, which is awesome, that’s what you want. But of course, the way it’s described, as a person who’s not in the story it is always interesting, but then the person in the story, like I’m in that story, I voluntarily am being interviewed and that’s fine, but I’m taken aback. Now I read them, and I understand the purpose, I understand the words, I understand the choice between killer and murderer—that’s a decision the publisher and I had a conversation about.
Mica: Interesting. Can you talk a bit about that?
Carys: Sure. This definitely took a tangent. Because I’m so pleased with what we chose. But it was just a funny email exchange, because we were both on the side of using the word murderer, and we had to communicate the process about what’s the story about in the subtitle. And we wanted to mention the main characters, me, my father, and the murderer, so that readers would understand. But I articulated why I didn’t want to use the word killer and he totally agreed, but it came from my experience of reading newspaper article titles because they often use the word killer and I’m taken aback by it. I think it’s really harsh. I think it’s really vulgar, it’s very sensational . . .
Mica: I was going to say, it does feel movie-ish. Sensational is a good word.
Carys: And for me, that’s fine, I understand that academically, looping back to my earlier comments. I totally understand why they use that word, but it’s one thing to understand that through a theoretical lens or an adult’s lens. But as a young person, having part of your life narrated in the public sphere with some of these words is really hard to process. I would say that that’s part of the loss, part of the crime, that people don’t often acknowledge; this young person who is developing and needs to understand these words at eleven, at fifteen, at twenty, at thirty-five, thirty-six now. And that’s a process, something I had to attend to, that I had to exert emotional effort into understanding even within the articles the way that our family and loss was described. I can’t think of an example right now, but processing that, I thought wow. And I think that actually because I was a bit stubborn and defiant child but also quite hell-bent on my survival and wellness, that I [thought], No, that’s one way of storing what happened. That’s one way of articulating what happened within a very rigid box—the news media. And there have been some reporters and journalists who have entirely honored our story and privileged our victims’ voices rather than just being used as the token representation within the article. That feels like an assault, and it feels like the crime is further perpetrated on this surface level. Part of the reason I wanted to write the book was to be able to offer another story and say, “Hey, yes, that exists but here is also how we can describe crime and victims’ experiences.”
Mica: Definitely. I was on Google News looking for parts of the story, and there’s a huge disconnect between reading your book and reading these news headlines and stories. I almost have difficulty reconciling the two, because the language they’re written with, the perspective they’re from. I can’t even imagine, as a young person, seeing your life projected, especially if it feels distant from you.
Carys: And especially when you’re learning information through that, too. Everything about it is really complicated and I just want to hug my younger self to say, “This story doesn’t get to be privileged. You get to write your own story.”
Mica: Interestingly, in the book, you do narrate parts from the perspective of your younger self, but you do so in a third-person perspective, so you use the pronoun her, and it says “she went out with her family” and “she did this,” as opposed to “I”. I’m wondering what the motivation for that choice was.
Carys: Yeah, so for listeners who are [thinking] what do you mean? , the main story of me contacting the offender, and the beginning of that and the end of that, are the main chapters. And threaded between each chapter, there is a memory vignette [of my life] before and after my dad died. And they’re written in third person. They’re either a memory of me and my father or my family—more of those before he died—and these survival strategies afterwards. There are so many reasons why I did that that way. From a craft point of view, I think in memoir, one of the biggest barriers—not barrier, but something that’s in play—is that you’re seeing “I” a lot. And most of the time it just goes right past us. We realize we’re there, we’re along, we almost embody the character ourselves, hopefully. But I do think sometimes you need a break, and that offered just a physical break in the way we experience the point of view. [There were] a number of other reasons, and I’m so glad you’re asking this, because those are really my favourite part of the book. Another reason is that they’re one or two pages at most, and they are flashbacks, and I really wanted to honour the way I experience flashbacks or [the way] people experience memories from so long ago. I didn’t want those flashbacks being a heavy weight or a distraction or technique within the main text. I didn’t want to go back in time a lot, because I knew that would be distracting, so I separated them out. And they really are a flashback because I don’t know about you, but when I think about a memory, it’s often like I’m hovering the scene.
Mica: There’s that wavy air . . .
Carys: Typically, it’s just an image or a moment or a feeling; I know the people or some things or objects around. That’s how they’re described, and I really wanted to honour that authentic way we remember our younger selves. So that was a big piece that I wanted to make sure that it felt really true. But then the more philosophical response to your awesome question is that I think we’re in constant relationship with our younger self and our older self from our present-day self. Back then, I wondered about my older self and I hoped that life would be good, and wondered what I’d be doing, and hoped that I’d be out of this really dark space. Now as my “older self” thinking back to my younger self, I just want to hug her, and I just want to say, “you will get through this and life will be okay,” and not in a condescending way but in a caring, loving way. And so that relationship, I think of my older self now from my point of view now, and I think that’s an ongoing relationship that each of us has. And I wanted to honour that, because that was essential to my survival. I wanted to represent that in some kind of way and I hope that sits well for readers. Hopefully, maybe it sparks a conversation with their own younger self, as to how they survived very difficult conditions.
Mica: Well it definitely got me thinking about the way I think about my younger self and the relationship because you’re right, it does sometimes feel like there are almost two people or a multiplicity of selves that you’re always in dialogue with. So I guess that the book causes the reader to think about those things.
Carys: Nice. Lovely. Thank you.
Mica: My last question is a big question. Throughout your correspondence with Sheldon, the man who killed your father, and the people who helped facilitate your meeting, there is a lot of talk about “what do you want from this, what are you hoping to get from this interaction?” Throughout that process, did you ever really know, or do you know now? Tell me all about that.
Carys: Great question, because that has really morphed over time, and honestly, I feel like it will continue to do so. The comment I made earlier about if I wrote this book in ten years, I think it will mean something else, and I think that’s really cool, and I’ll look forward to finding out what I really wanted then. I joke with the word “real,” because I think we really need to honour whatever we need and want at whatever point in our life when we do things. In the book, I ruminate or purposefully reflect about that idea of “why am I doing this? What do I want?” And at some points, I felt like I had to justify what I was doing, because it’s generally controversial or I thought people would perceive it to be controversial—which is true—and so I needed to say aloud, give some words to why I wanted to do this, so I do a bit of that in the early chapters of the book. But sometimes we go into journeys thinking one thing and they turn out to be that and more, and that’s certainly this journey for sure. That really morphed because I was changed by the interaction, so my wants and needs and desires changed along with that. I could never ever have predicted the final outcome, the end of the story, at the beginning, and I’m kind of happy about that. Because it was a surprise to me, it was joyful, and it felt really good.
Mica: Is that how you would describe your final feelings about the interaction of meeting this man?
Carys: Yeah. I was asked a really good question along these lines the other day. One of the things I wanted, in and amongst the seemingly millions of things I wanted out of this, was to have questions answered. Information was, at the beginning, probably my primary goal: to get information from his perspective, and see if any gaps could be filled, knowing that it was coming from him, as opposed to the trial transcripts or the newspaper articles or my family or whatever. I got a lot of information: more than I ever could have imagined. In part because of the way I approached it and the way I asked him questions and the way I approached him. But someone asked me the other day, “did you get all of your questions answered?” And no, certainly not.
Mica: That sounds impossible.
Carys: Totally impossible, because of course I continued to have new questions. But even the questions I did have at the time, did all those questions get answered? No. Did most of them? Yes. And the ones that didn’t, I had to come to terms with them possibly never being answered. And that was the outcome. I had to go through the process that, even if I asked the question in the perfect way—in the most comfortable, respectful environment, approaching him in whatever way I had constructed, even if did that all exactly how I should—he might not answer it, or he might give me inconsistent information, or whatever. And I had to deal with that. I had to face that and come to some kind of strategy to say, “I can live with these questions not answered; how am I going to do that?” And I figured it out. And for me that was an unbelievably amazing outcome.
Mica: What is—do you mind answering, [what is] one of those questions that is unanswered?
Carys: Yeah. In the book, it’ll go into more detail about this main question. It’s still very uncertain as to why he came to our house, and in the book, I grapple with that. I ask that question, I ask it a number of times. It’s answered differently a number of times. And I honestly believe that I may never find out. I fifty-fifty believe that he doesn’t actually know, or part of me thinks he does know and he’s too full of shame to respond, or he was under the influence of too many substances to recall. But he recalls a lot of other details.
Mica: Right, there are a lot of details about that nights.
Carys: Yeah. And sometimes I get stuck, or I have been stuck on which is it? Or the newspapers, or friends or acquaintances, which is it? [Which version of the story is true or accurate?] And if I believe him, I’m naïve, and if I don’t believe him, then I can’t get over it. And I can’t win! I often feel, as a victim of crime and when I speak to close friends who have been victims of crime, that these questions about truth or what happened can be spoken of in really hurtful ways, and that can further perpetrate the crime. For me, one of the outcomes was to say, “No, that’s not my responsibility to figure out. It’s not my responsibility to ask the perfect question and get the accurate answer or figure it out; that’s his responsibility. If he’s not going to do that, that’s not my deal.” Letting go of that piece was huge, and in the story that’s one of the many things that I discuss and hopefully gives more detail than what I’m trying to explain here.
Mica: Right. Well, I would absolutely recommend your book to our listeners. [Thank you!] It’s fascinating, and there are a few twists in it too, that I did not see coming. [Okay!] I don’t want to spoil them, but it takes a few turns. It’s definitely not a straightforward story, and like we discussed before, you’ve broken up the book with these little vignettes and flashbacks and these types of things that makes it more of a dynamic read than a straightforward telling of something. Congratulations on the success of Dead Reckoning.
Carys: Thank you so much for your curiosity.
Mica: Absolutely. It’s been a joy having you on Fainting Couch Feminists.
Carys: Thank you for your questions!
Mica: See, now isn’t Carys just a ray of light? I really think so. Before I sign off, I just want to say that it was recently brought to my attention that the more reviews and ratings you get on iTunes, the more discoverable your podcast is on Apple and on iTunes. So, if you like the show and you are feeling in the holiday spirit and want to be generous and give us a rating or review, please do. We really appreciate your feedback, and we want to be known. So rate and review, subscribe—yes, that is the ultimate, thank you—happy holidays, and we’ll see you on December 22nd for the interview with Gurjinder Basran. Stay tuned!
Ooooooh (I forgot to say, my name is Mica Lemiski, I love you all! You can follow me on social media.)
Ooooooh No matter who, what, or how you identify, baby.
We’d like to intelligently discuss your point of view.
About the Host
Mica Lemiski is an MFA student at UBC and contributor to Room (“Tiny Parts,” Issue 39.2). Her thesis project is a combination of comedic personal essays and original music, which is being developed into a podcast series. She is the host of “Fainting Couch Feminists.” She is originally from Vernon, B.C. but is currently based in Vancouver.
Follow Mica on Twitter @MicaLemiski
Hosting, editing, and all music by Mica Lemiski
Produced by Room magazine and Mica Lemiski
Transcription by Wendy Barron