Wednesday, August 31, 2016
Meet Cathy Day, Keynote Speaker for the 2016 Steel Pen Creative Writers' Conference
The Steel Pen Writers’ Conference Committee is please that Cathy Day has signed on as the Featured Speaker at this year’s event. It is always inspiring when a leader in the writing community shares their excitement. I had the honor of tapping into Cathy’s thoughts and ideas surrounding her creative process and commitment to the writing/reading community. I hope you enjoy what Cathy has to offer here, and you can hear her speak more on these subjects at the Steel Pen Writers’ Conference on November 12, 2016. Registration is ongoing and can be accessed through www.inwriters.org.
Julie Demoff-Larson: The Steel Pen Conference hosts a wide variety of attendees in various states of their writing career. What benefits do you feel emerging writers can gain from conferences/workshops?
Cathy Day: The chance to feel like a “real writer” for the day. Once you experience this, you’ll want to do whatever you can to keep that feeling with you when you go home. It inspires you to commit to a writing regimen, to become part of a writing community, and to send your work out into the world.
JDL: What will you be offering at the Steel Pen Conference this year?
CD: I’ll be delivering the keynote address about a subject that’s near and dear to my heart: literary citizenship. So many people come to conferences looking for an answer to the question: “What’s the secret to getting published?” I think that the answer is to worry a whole lot less about your own needs and to make the world a better place for books in general. We’re living in a historical moment when more and more people want to be writers but bookstores are closing and publishers can’t make ends meet. If we devoted even a little bit of our energy to addressing this, we’d all be better off.
JDL: Tell us about the genre you write in. How do you go about gathering research? What inspires you to pursue a specific topic or plot-line?
CD: Most of my fiction is based on truth. I call it fictional nonfiction. I’m usually inspired by Indiana subjects—the circus, the Colts, Cole Porter—and then I start reading and digging around. This phase of this process is about discovery. I don’t know what I’m looking for exactly, but some things just grab me. Then I ask myself why these things have traction. Usually, it’s because they touch on what really matters to me—as a human being and as a writer. I also look for what’s not there. Fiction is a great way to tell the untold story or to offer another explanation.
JDL: What was the path that led you to novel writing? Or was novel writing a natural fit and where you first started? How has your writing voice, style, and method changed over time?
CD: Honestly, I don’t consider myself a novelist yet. My first book was a collection of linked stories, what some call a novel in stories. My second book was a memoir. The book I’m working on now is a novel—so if it gets published, then I’ll be a novelist! I was taught to write using the short story as a model (something I've written about at length), and I’ve figured out how to write a novel by teaching the subject, by studying a lot of novels, and (honestly) by watching great television series like Mad Men, Friday Night Lights, Breaking Bad, and The Wire—which have become the great social novels of our time.
JDL: What are you working on right now? What did you do to prepare for this work?
CD: About nine years ago, I thought I’d write a novel about Cole Porter. He and I share a hometown. I got a research grant to visit his archives at Yale and visit his homes in New York and Williamstown, MA. But I quickly realized that I was more interested in Linda, his wife. She had a fascinating life long before she met Cole. I know that “The Famous Cole Porter” is what will bring readers to my book and to my character, but I’m trying to minimize his presence so that the reader can really see Linda.
JDL: What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
CD: Nobody—no degree-granting institution, no teacher, no editor, no association—grants you the status of writer. You don’t need anyone’s permission to be a writer. You have to give yourself permission. It’s an almost completely internal “switch” that you have to turn on and (this is harder) keep on.
Cathy Day teaches the craft of fiction and creative nonfiction. She’s the author of The Circus in Winter, a novel-in-stories, and Comeback Season, a memoir. She’s been teaching creative writing for over 20 years, most recently at Ball State University. She speaks on topics related to her historical research and teaches literary citizenship (how to advocate for books and writers in the digital age). She maintains numerous blogs related to her interests, which enjoy approximately 75,000 unique visitors a year. You can find her website at www.cathyday.com.