This is a little tricky since there are a three coming out in 2013-2014, but Cutting Loose will be out next spring and so that is probably the one I should talk about. It is the 4th in my Cat Rising Series. In this one, the main characters from the earlier books, (Cat Rising, Girls With Hammers, and Babies, Bikes, and Broads) Cat Hood and Lily Cameron, are ten years older than they were at the end of Babies, Bikes, and Broads, and the “babies” (McKay, Stryker and Rosie) are now teenagers, one whom, McKay is a POV character in this new one.
2. How did your main character(s) come to you?
This story came like a freight train, actually. In fact, I was pretty far into another story, Mama Cracked, and I had also resolved that there were no more “Cat Rising” stories to write, when one day last summer, as per my usual process, I was walking my dogs and working out a scene in my head, when all of a sudden the opening scene for Cutting Loose pushed out the one I’d been working on, and the entire story (the one I didn’t believe I had) blew through me. I put Mama Cracked in a drawer and wrote CL in less than a year. I’ve described the experience as taking dictation. I felt a little like Stevie Wonder at the keyboard, just closed my eyes and played…
3. Why did you write this book?
I think we write different stories at different times in our lives for different reasons. For example, I wrote Angels & Manners, which is a story about struggling single mothers and their kids, because I know lots of struggling single mothers and their kids. It’s a timely story ground in a time (contemporary) but eternal in theme: Men leave and women are left holding everything together. In addition, I wanted to somehow to give voice to the experience of the children, in this case, through the POV of Casper, a teenaged boy. To me, this book was more “considered” than my others; meaning, I deliberated a lot about the intentions of the narrative, its structure, voice, POV, character representations etc.
I, however, wrote Cutting Loose because I had no choice; Cat came roaring back in a flash, she bossed me, nagged, urged me to the page in between stirs of spaghetti sauce on the stove while cooking dinner. Never before have I written a story so effortlessly.
A thanks for the title As The Table Turns goes to my clever friend, Dawn McCann, who was kind enough to read the story and discovered the reference for the title and in turn theme.
Cat Rising‘s original working-titled was “The Carpenter Stories” because they began as stories about a couple of women carpenters (duh); however, once morphed into a novel, I had big concern for all the obvious reasons from boring to associations with Jesus, Bob Vila, and a bevy of how-to books. I needed something to show Cat (main character) rising from her past-junk, and there she stood on a boulder overlooking a gorge… Cat Rising kind of whispered by… I don’t know how beyond that one… I just knew I had the title. Interestingly, I think it works better as The Cat Rising Series than it does as a single title, but I didn’t know that back then. The others are also mine, but are less mystical, more intentionally marketable and specific–shelf-yankers–as we say in the trade: Girls With Hammers & Babies, Bikes, and Broads most especially.
5. Where do your ideas come from?
Oh, this could take pages; I’ll try to control myself. The simple answer is everywhere. Dreams, fantasies, people, histories, mysteries, situations, fears, confusions, hopes, vengeance, strange behaviors that drive curiosities and these go on and on… and there are lots of everywheres at different times of our lives, aren’t there?
I would say Cat Rising is probably my most self-reflective story. It’s a Series so it continues through many years, primarily following the life of a woman, Cat Hood, a lesbian writer like myself who lives in a place very much like my home, and yet it is not auto-biographical, as some of my readers seem to like to imagine;) it is, to me, more a reflection of what kinds of responses, reactions, ways in which women, lesbian and straight, figure out who we are, when we are, and what we aspire to—that is why there are two POVs: Cat & Lily Cameron, who, while Cat sort of fights her way through situations, Lily is more positive, happy swimming downstream with it all—and there are these kinds of approaches and responses and reactions that women have/had/will have in the world. What I like about #4 in the Series (Cutting Loose due Spring 2013) is that the next-generation characters emerge—McKay Hood who was five at the end of Babies, Bikes, and Broads is now a sixteen year old musician just starting to sing and play in public, and she has lots to say.
I was on a summer national book tour with Girls With Hammers which sent me all over the country from Atlanta to New Orleans, Houston L.A, Chicago, NYC and Maine. During this same time I’d begun envisioning Angels & Manners (originally titled The Flying Sperm Donors which I still like better). I met and spoke with so many random strangers at conferences, festivals, bookstores, airport bars and on and on, and upon mentioning my next book project about two single mothers and their teenage kids, more often than not, the next story I heard was either my companion’s own experience or one belonging to a mother, sisters, daughters, aunts, girlfriends and on and on, and that’s when I knew that this story was much bigger than my own specific version of it.
As The Table Turns came to me when, one summer while working on a different book, I was trapped for weeks in my home by a bunch of bad-news-bears for painters who did crazy things to my house. I’m also a bit of a Civil War buff, thanks to my dad, and hold a masters in Southern literature, so I’ve studied a lot of history. I enjoyed setting it in the Shenandoah Valley in VA, I gave the family loose ties to JEB Stuart and Robert E. Lee, and through my research I discovered a woman confederate spy Antonia Ford who I managed to work into my story.
6. What’s the story behind your other creative outlet — painting?
Painting is probably the most pure artistic joy I experience. I sometimes find myself grinning uncontrollably while I do it. Actually, there’s a great story here. Around twelve years ago, my friend, graphic designer and cover-artist, Julie Felton was visiting me one winter and brought her painting gear. At some point, she handed me a paintbrush and said “Here, paint something.” To which I balked, resisted, backed away from the brush nearly repulsed and replied: “I can’t, I’m a writer, I don’t know anything about painting,” and nearly panicked by the prospects. “I don’t know what to paint.” She pointed to my little diorama snow village set up for the holidays: tiny little houses all lighted up and blanketed by white cotton snow, and so I painted one—and who knew? I loved the colors, the squish of the paint, the way I didn’t have to think…and from that moment onward I’ve painted….check ‘em out:www.nappingporchpress.com
7. How much plotting do you do?
What usually happens is that I often have all or most of the story; meaning, I don’t usually sit down to write until I’ve spent a few months or even years thinking through the—“and then what happened?”—stuff, so by the time I sit down, I’m mostly filling in the details….I usually read the chapter before the one I’m about to write, I tweak along the way so by the time the book is finished it’s been through a couple of drafts. Before I’m ready to write, I’ll take a walk, imagine the chapter, and then I usually write in a day or two.
8. Describe your writing space.
I have a cozy office in my home, surrounded by all the things I love from books to artwork (my own and others) to pictures to memory-making artifacts from my childhood and beyond. I write at a big old old oak school teacher’s desk I bought at an auction for $25 over twenty years ago. My habit of writing is that I do it. I don’t believe in writer’s block. I don’t believe in “the rising muse”. I am grateful that I don’t have to go “away” to colony or the beach to write. I am grateful I have a mate who encourages, supports, and loves that I write. I do believe that in order to write you have to sit down and write. I do believe in inspiration and seek it always everywhere. I love stories and it makes me happy that I can tell them with both a pen and a brush.
9. Tell us about where you live — we love to travel.
My home is “settled into the bowl of a spoon shaped valley whose blue ridges rise and stretch into the silhouette of a woman lying on her back.” (p 22 Cat Rising) (didn’t want to plagiarize myself;) While it may be Cat’s view from her porch, I do confess it is also mine.
10. Who’s your favorite southern character?
That’s easy and I am no different than all others who fell in love with Scout in Harper Lee’s To Kill a MockingBird, Bone from Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina, Lee Smith’s Ivy Rowe from Fair & Tender Ladies, Ferroll Sam’s Porter Osbourne jr. in Run with the Horseman, Idgie Threadgood from Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at The Whistle Stop Café, and any character in any O’Connor ever written….I could go on. “Bless it.” is my favorite southernism—it is so versatile. And who doesn’t love fried chicken?
11. We love animals, do you have any pets?
We have two dogs Arlo my old German Shepherd who I have had since he was seven weeks old, and will be eleven in January. His entire existence and happiness has always been and continues to be chasing the ball from the porch into the yard and bringing it back; so, while his hearing is shot, and his body is getting bony, he can still haul ass across the grass, not as fast and not as often but he’s a tough old cowboy. Seamus is our Weimereiner came to us through a family member who could not care for him due to health issues. He’s been with us for four years, and we feel blessed to have him. He is very intuitive and sensitive—I did have an extra-ordinary experience with him when he first arrived. He was sound asleep across the living room curled up on the couch. I was having lunch at the kitchen table. I took a bite of my sandwich and it got stuck in my throat; I mean, Heimlich-maneuver-kind-of-stuck—I was alone in the house. I reached for my mostly empty water glass, but before I got to it, Seamus suddenly awoke from his deep sleep and leapt from the couch, he BARKED once loudly which made me turn my head and swallow the blockage. He was immediately at my knee. I’m convinced he saved my life.
12. What’s next in your writing life?
Well, now that I am both writing and publishing, I am striving to maintain the same high industry standards as I have experienced with all my traditional publishers, and so my upcoming novel releases Cutting Loose 2013 and Then Came Jake 2014, as well as a collection of stories and essays Where I Live Folks Know How to Act Right slated for 2014 are each now at different stages. One is with a copy editor, another with a concept editor, and another slated for typesetting and digital formatting, all of which is done out of house by professionals who know way more about that stuff than I do.
I guess I am moving a little away from the notion of having a “writing life” and more sculpting a creative life which includes my mate, my paintings, reading, family and friends, and to better appreciate every creative day.
Maggie, Thank you for this opportunity. Thank you for this venue. It’s so important to give all writers and readers a place to talk about the process and the art. I very much appreciate your dedication.
Here is a recent article with my bio and pic: http://www.thegreatsmokiesreview.org/2012/interview/cynn-chadwick/