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Entries in Cathy Day (2)


A Sleet Interview With Cathy Day

The Sleet Lady impersonating Jennie Dixianna doing the "Spin of Death."

I couldn’t shake the image for days: Caesar’s trunk groping the second story window frame of my mind like a “tongue licking the corners of a mouth.” I’d just heard Cathy Day read from her debut collection of short stories, The Circus in Winter (Harcourt, 2004) at the AWP conference in Chicago last spring. When I came back home to Minneapolis, I got the book right away and read it clear through in one long, delicious sitting.

Within the tight geographic setting of Lima, Indiana, Day carefully threads a tapestry of stories including generations of families who live and work in the Great Porter Circus and Menagerie. Story after story, time periods, characters, and tragedies layer one upon the other to create a mesmerizing and haunting portrayal of an era long past.

I’d been mulling over an interview I’d agreed to do a few months before, and now I knew just who I’d ask. Welcome as Day shares her thoughts on writing, developing “literary citizenship,” and suspending Barbie dolls from chandeliers.

Read the complete interview on!


AWP 2012 Chicago: 10,000 to 1

Sold out! Last weekend, 10,000 of us, writers from novices to multiple award-winning literary icons, came to Chicago to connect and reconnect at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) 2012 conference. In every salon, hallway, restaurant, and sidewalk— even under the roaring elevated trains—the energy from attendees, panelists, and publishers buzzed with excitement and discovery.

Three session highlights of my weekend included:

Midwest Gothic: Dark Fiction of the Heartland.  Cathy Day read from her haunting book, The Circus in Winter, in which a young mother witnesses the rising waters outside her bedroom window during the 1913 Winnesaw River flood. In the darkness she hears the screams from the circus animals that winter over in the barns on the banks of the river. A bull elephant’s trunk snakes through the open window and gropes the frame like a “tongue licking the corners of a mouth.” The river eventually swallows the elephant and most of the other circus animals, save the hippopotamus, in its deepening muddy currents. I discovered a name for the dark, eerie, secretive yet polite subjects that I’m drawn to: Midwest Gothic. I can’t wait to pick up my copy of The Circus in Winter and study a masterful rendering of a genre I want to emulate.

Reinventing Realism: The Craft of Alice Munro. With standing room only, five Munro experts shared their insights into Munro’s uncanny sense of transporting the reader without leaving any clues as to how she did it. Michael Byers, director of the MFA program at the University of Michigan, discussed how Munro uses the subjunctive to keep the reader guessing at exactly what the narrator thinks. Rarely is the narrator truly certain when Munro twists and turns through the temporal and relational with qualifiers such as always, usually, sometimes, rarely, and never. She Increases friction, tension and realism with the use of and, or, but, and however. Munro shows that the possibility of what the narrator tells us is true and steadfast is in constant flux, teetering on the edge between certainty and doubt, and gives us multiple possibilities of interpretation. I’ve got to try this magic, this multiple approach to give my characters more depth with their doubting human nature.

Four Over Forty. Daniel Libman, Zoe Zolbrod, Chris Fink, Goldie Goldbloom, and Francesca Abbate shared their humor, struggles, and wisdom regarding their experiences at publishing their first books after the age of forty. Goldbloom, author of Paperbark Shoe, impressed me profoundly with her deeply possessed wisdom about the mature writer, one who’s lived life, raised children into adulthood, and experienced the deaths of love ones. She said that as a teenage writer she could write, but that she just didn’t know what she wrote about. “Now we know,” said Zolbrod in her gentle, but firm Aussie accent. “And we conspire to say everything we couldn’t dare to say before.” Indeed, I cannot imagine my writing from 20-30 years ago ever reaching the poignant depths that it does now.

Besides the formal sessions, and in addition to the dinners, receptions, and other large social gatherings, the personal highlight for me came on Saturday night. While some of the younger writers sang pop tunes in a karaoke bar or drank whiskey at a Goth bar, I started the evening over a Fat Tire beer at Bennigan’s with another woman about my age, a friend from my Hamline MFA program. We punctuated the conversation with riotous laughter regarding the slaughter of the Amazon-sized cockroach in our 19th floor hotel bathroom earlier. We garnished more than a few stares in the restaurant as I dabbed my eyes with a paper napkin. It’d been a long time since I’d laughed so hard.

For the rest of the evening until 2 a.m. as we lay in our hotel room, we shared our experiences and thoughts about lovers, husbands, children, and the maturing sense of self that comes when choosing either to stay with or leave a partner after a quarter century of marriage. We spoke of memoirs written that remain in a basement box and those not yet completed. We agreed that our two twenty-something roommates wouldn’t fully comprehend the depth of our 50+ years of experience. But, someday they will.

And this is why I value growing as a writer: to bridge the gaps within my own understanding and with others who might or might not fully comprehend, but still share in the universal struggle to make sense from our experiences. Thanks to AWP, I’ve grown and become a part of a fuller, more meaningful community of writers, whether with 10,000 others from across the country or a single friend from across the room.