More and more I’ve been wanting to introduce readers to writers they may never have heard of in a million years – writers from different genres, different neighbourhoods, different means of publication. I spend a surprising amount of time actively looking for writers who seem like awesome people who just need a little help reaching a wider audience.
That’s why I’ve been spending so much more time on interviews lately: it’s because I want to sell the author.
And then there are times when all my worlds come together into one interview: independent publishing, emerging authors, and Muskoka Novel Marathoners.
If you’ve been reading past issues of my blog, you’ll know that I’m a big supporter of YMCA Literacy Programs in the Muskoka Region, and that as part of an annual fund-raising event, I drive out to Huntsville, sit down and write for 72-hours in a room full of like-minded individuals who are also creating like crazy during those 72-hours.
Cathy Olliffe-Webster is an alumnis of the Muskoka Novel Marathon experience, and I was happy to see that she’s released not just one, but two big projects this year, and she did it her way.
Her first answer is a bit long, but I really want you to stick through the whole thing, because once you read it, you’re going to drop everything and go buy her book(s).
Oh heck, even if you don’t read the first answer, go buy her stuff anyhow.
Ah, quit the babbling, Flewwelling, and get on with the interview.
9 Day Wonder: You’re a gal who’s been there, done that, been kicked down and came back swinging. And if I recall correctly, you even had a touch-and-go moment when you almost – *almost* – gave up on writing altogether. Then you deliver us “Green Eggs and Weezie”. What gets you back on your feet?
Cathy Olliffe-Webster: I swear to God I’m bi-polar when it comes to writing. On any given day I can either be thinking I’m GREAT or I SUCK. Usually it’s the latter and it comes with a strong compulsion to hang myself from the nearest lamp post. Fortunately I’m not the only one who regularly measures my neck in the Home Hardware rope aisle – as a group, writers are the biggest bunch of confidence-lackers I know. Who can blame us, though? We put our innermost feelings on a page and then thrust them into a coldhearted world where they are either ignored or picked apart. Everyone’s a freaking critic. As broad as my shoulders are in a physical sense, they’re soft and narrow in my heart of hearts. You’d think I would have hardened up after a career as a writer in the newspaper business, but getting ripped to shreds on a regular basis never got easier for me.
Writing “Weezie” was the hardest thing I ever did. It took me years to finish that book – not because of the actual writing, but because of the time I spent fretting about it. I had some truly great confidence boosters along the way (including you, Pat, thank you, and the fabulous ladies in my writing circle), but then one day I got the gift of some scorchingly critical comments and, yeah, they were helpful in some ways, but mostly I felt like I had been beaten up. It took me months to recover from that and I almost didn’t. I felt like a no-talent bum, a wanna-be. The one thing I’m afraid of is thinking I’ve got some talent in the writing department when I actually don’t. I fear being that truly bad writer who pens absolute crap but is convinced he or she is Hemingway.
So I put Weezie in a drawer and walked away. I couldn’t even bear to think about her. I stopped writing, slowed down on blogging and pretty much forgot about the whole frigging thing.
Then we moved to Alberta. My husband landed a dream job, good enough to support us both. Suddenly I had the luxury of not going to work every day. I thought, maybe I could use this time to turn back to writing. Maybe I could give it one more shot.
And then I remembered why I wrote Weezie in the first place. I wrote her because I thought she had something important to say. I wanted women like myself, who never dreamed their marriages would end, to have tools to protect themselves. In some respects, Weezie is me. Like her, I thought I was happily married – almost 19 years and two kids under my belt. Then one day (and there’s always a “then one day” in life), I found out my husband was in love with another woman and didn’t want me anymore. One thing led to another and I whacked him with a Dr. Seuss book that was sitting on the coffee table. When I called the police to have him removed from the house, they removed me instead and charged me with assault. With that criminal record I suddenly lost everything I held most dear: my children. My husband had no history of violence and my lawyer told me I could spend years and $50,000 or more and never win custody of my boys. Not that I had $50,000. As a newly separated woman with a pathetic-paying newspaper job and no real credit history of my own, I didn’t have a pot to pee in. The judge issued a peace bond so I wasn’t allowed near my own house. For a while I stayed with my parents. Forty-four years old. Desperately depressed. I was as lost as lost could be.
My big surprise in all this was sitting in courtrooms and meeting other middle-aged women in exactly the same boat as me. These were respected members of the community – women, like me, who had never been in trouble in their lives. And because of their husband’s infidelity and ugly ensuing fights, there they were. Tissuing away tears amidst drug dealers on hard courtroom benches.
I was stunned. I wanted to warn other women. Don’t call the police unless it’s truly an emergency. Never hit anyone, not even in jest, because it can come back to bite you. Have your own credit rating and don’t share all your money with your husband in a joint account – because when the bank finds out you’re separated, they will freeze your money until a separation agreement is signed (which can take months).
Divorce rates are skyrocketing and the vast majority of men will have affairs at some point in their lives but still we women go into marriage with blinders on. I certainly did. I truly believed my husband would never leave me. We were best friends. He wasn’t a flirty kind of guy. Hell, he wasn’t even that good looking! (Neither was I, though… sigh…) Yes, I was naive, but so are most women. I’m not advocating avoiding marriage (I have since remarried), and I’m certainly not telling women not to love or trust. But when a break-up happens, get some physical distance between you and your husband. It’s too easy to get into a rip-roaring fight when you’re under the same roof, even if you never fight. Get some space. Get some breathing room. Don’t tell me you can’t afford to live somewhere else, because that’s why my husband was still in the house when I smacked him with the book. Emotions are raw in that situation. Yes, it might have cost me money for an apartment, but it wouldn’t have cost me custody of my children.
Just so you know, I now have an excellent relationship with my ex. I see the kids whenever I want. We never talk badly about each other in front of the kids. I wish I saw them more often, however. They’re now teenagers and spent their formative years living with Dad, seeing me on weekends. So now, even though they love me (and I know they do), their home is with him. And besides… they’re almost grown up. One has a job and a girlfriend. The other is hooked on video games. They’d pretty much do anything else other than spend time with mom OR dad. So I didn’t feel too terrible about moving to Alberta – but I try not to think about them too much because I only wind up in bed, sobbing my heart out.
God this is depressing. I’m sorry. You asked how I wound up publishing Weezie? Well, I finally remembered why I wrote her in the first place. To help other women.
I had never started Weezie thinking I’d get published in a traditional sense. I honestly didn’t think I was good enough for that. But thanks to encouragement from friends I decided to shop it around, see what happened. Sure enough, I had 50 or so agent rejections. Surprisingly I didn’t take that personally. I knew the publishing business was in trouble. Bookstores were closing. Publishing houses were going bankrupt. Agents and publishers were getting choosier about who they took on. So I went back to self-publishing, because from what I read you sell just as many books that way and whatever money you make is your own.
Anyway, long story short, one day I got my shit together, formatted my manuscript, hired a graphic artist to do the cover, and launched it. I finally realized there are a helluva lot worse writers than me on Amazon and if they can do it, goddamnit, so can I.
9DW: Even in the short blurb you’ve posted, you can hear the dark humour. How much of *your* humour is *Weezie*’s humour?
The same, I guess. I like to think I’m sort of funny. It’s what happens when you’re a fat chick. You can’t be thin so you might as well be funny. I’ve started another novel that’s really dark, hopefully in a funny way. It’s about a band of mothers getting together like the mafia to straighten out obnoxious children. It’s really, really bad. If I ever get it published, there will be parents who want to kill me!
9DW: Some of the reviews have lauded your honesty. How do you hope the honesty in this book will help others?
Cathy: Honesty is the most important thing to me, not just in writing, but in life. Sometimes being too honest has gotten me in trouble, especially in the corporate world where management is SO full of shit, but I don’t care. Someone needs to speak from their heart. Not in a way that hurts people, because I would never tell you your ass looks fat in those jeans (that’s just mean and I value niceness almost as much as honesty). When you speak your own truth, people respond with truth of their own. It’s the only way to live.
9DW: I have a soft spot in my heart for independent authors. But now that you’re getting some (great!) reviews, have you considered approaching publishing houses to see if they would be interested in picking it up?
Cathy: Oh no. Been there. Done that. Never again. I just read a book called Indiestructible: Inspiring Stories From The Publishing Jungle and I truly did find it inspiring. It’s full of essays from all sorts of different authors who have approached the publishing business in all sorts of ways. I highly recommend it for anyone who is waffling on the idea of indie publishing. I truly believe the days of needing a traditional publisher are gone and, unless you’re Jodi Picoult or Stephen King, you might as well not even bother trying.
9DW: And because of those great reviews, have you considered submitting to any literary contests?
Cathy: I have entered a few short story contests in the past and have done fairly well, but honestly the whole idea of contests and judging gives me the heebie-jeebies. My only wish is that somebody, somewhere picks up one of my books and smiles and enjoys it.
9DW: You’re a regular blogger too, and you’re an amazingly open person. How important to authors everywhere do you think it is, keeping a blog?
Cathy: I think it’s the best thing you can do but I think it’s a mistake to start a blog to support a book. Blogs are becoming less popular for a whole bunch of reasons, but I think one of the reasons they’re in trouble is the content. People don’t want to hear you flogging your book. They turn away in droves. I started my blog in 2009 because I was doing graphic work for newspapers instead of reporting and I missed writing. My blog became my own “newspaper column” and I wrote whatever I felt like. It was fun, it polished my writing skills, introduced me to a world of new friends and, most of all, hooked me up to Friday Flash, an online writing community that encouraged me to start writing fiction. I met some of the best people in the world, soul mates, through Friday Flash. You can find out more about it at FridayFlash.org. Once I started writing short fiction, I gathered up enough cojones to write something longer. So yeah, my blog changed my life. All writers should blog – just write from your heart, and your blog will be great.
9DW: You’ve also *just* released a compilation of flash fiction stories called Friday Girls, available as an eBook. It’s good to see you’ve got some momentum going! What’s next for you? Another book? More short stories?
Cathy: That horribly dark humoured book about torturing children is next. (Cue evil laugh.)
(9DW note: she’s not talking about *actual* torture, folks. Just the kind of squirm-inducing, embarrassing kind of revenge some mothers are really, really good at.)
And keeping up with my blog. And, who knows. I’ve written so many short stories that they’re on the back burner now. I write at least one every week for a year and a half. I’m kinda saturated on the short story front!
9DW: You know me: Queen of Many Words, Fast. But I’ve never mastered the art of short-anything. What’s the key for writing flash fiction?
Cathy: Get in. Get out. Don’t waste time on unnecessary details. Go for the jugular, right from the start, and stop when you need to – you’ll know when it’s time. Usually I get a little hitch in my throat, an emotional hitch, and I know the story is done. Pick one idea, one small moment in time, and write about that. A story can be written about the smallest of things. Some of my best stories were like that. Some of my worst were too convoluted. Think small, crawl inside your head like it’s the tiniest of closets, and camp out there, in your short story fort. I had a lot of practice writing “small” because of my newspaper experience. But short story writing, like anything, is a muscle that needs to be worked. I highly recommend you try Friday Flash. The stories have to be 1,000 words or less and sitting down every week and coming out with short stories is good exercise. (It never helped with the size of my ass, however.)
9DW: You recently moved from the Muskokas, Ontario (COLD!) to Cold Lake, Alberta (COLDER!). That’s a huge move. But since then, you’ve been releasing a lot of pent-up fiction. Do you think the change of scenery had something to do with that?
Cathy: I have less distraction, here, that’s for sure. But mostly I have time. I did a lot of writing when I had a full-time job and this is so much easier. I highly recommend everyone find themselves a sugar daddy so they can write in their pajamas.
And yeah, it’s freaking COLD out here. -26C as I’m writing this at 9:41 a.m. But as all Albertans say, it’s a drrrrryyyyyyyyyyy cold. So there’s no mucous in your schnoz to freeze your nostrils together. That’s a good thing.
Cathy’s Blog: http://muskokariver.blogspot.ca/
Green Eggs & Weezie: http://www.amazon.ca/dp/B00FL7Y27O
Friday Girls: http://www.amazon.ca/dp/B00GI293M0