Today I welcome the lovely and talented Catherine Brady, author of The Mechanics of Falling and Other Stories (reviewed HERE). I wanted to find out more about her after reading her outstanding collection of short stories, and she thoughtfully answered all of my nosy questions for your reading pleasure.
BOTB: Where were you born and where did you grow up?
CB: I was born in Evanston, Illinois, and grew up in a suburb just a little further north from Chicago, Northbrook.
CB: I started to write just about as soon as I learned to read. I’m not sure that counts, though! I started to get serious about writing when I was in college, and then only because a writing teacher drew me aside and encouraged me to apply to a graduate writing program. I grew up in a working class, immigrant family, and it was hard for me to feel that I could dare to be a writer.
BOTB: Along with short stories, you’ve also written a biography. Which type of writing do you prefer? Which is more difficult?
CB: I prefer to write fiction, because I think it uses every resource you have. Writing about fictional characters is rooted in an effort to empathize—to try to see into someone else’s heart, to try to make sense of the mystery of other people. And then you have to strategize how to make a story both convincing and surprising, and you have to think about using language that is both precise and suggestive. It’s like playing a game where you can’t say what you actually want to say but have to give only clues, so that the reader is the one who says, ah, that’s what’s going on here. So you have to use your analytical mind, your creative mind, and your heart, which makes writing fiction the most completely satisfying.
That said, I really enjoyed writing the biography, because I had to learn so much in order to even attempt it. The book is about molecular biologist Elizabeth Blackburn, whose research has important implications for human health (including cancer treatment), so I had to attempt to understand the science. But what really captured my attention was how to find a dramatic arc for her life story, and I was so curious about how she has managed to succeed in such a competitive field when she is such a modest, deferential person. If you met her, you would not imagine what she has accomplished. On the other hand, if you talked to her about science, you’d quickly realize there is a steely mind underneath that sweet exterior. So writing the biography was something like writing a novel, with the difference that my main character was alive and well and fully able to contradict my assumptions or interpretations.
BOTB: Is there a novel in you waiting to come out?
CB: I am working on a novel right now, and I’m really enjoying it. I think that writing the biography has really helped me to think about a character’s life in terms of this longer arc.
BOTB: When you write your short stories, do you start with an idea about a character, an incident, a place, or something else?
CB: Different stories start with different triggers. Usually, a story comes from a glimmer in the corner of your eye. A detail that is just an aside in a story someone else tells you or an image that interests you for reasons you don’t understand. I began The Mechanics of Falling & Other Stories when I saw one of those flyers people post when they’re looking for a room-mate. This one had a spelling error: Looking for a Female Tenet (instead of “tenant”). That slip in language really interested me, and it was only after I wrote a story with that title and a few more stories in the book that I realized there was a thematic issue that really encompasses all the stories in the book. I’m fascinated by the mistakes people make, how much they reveal about what is at the core of a person, and I’m especially interested in the mistakes that we just refuse to admit are mistakes in the face of all kinds of pressure. What you won’t surrender to practicality or reality says so much about what you most need to believe.
BOTB: Do you think a short story collection would be a good choice for a book club, and if so, why?
CB: I think book groups are sometimes reluctant to tackle short story collections, for two reasons. One is that people worry that stories are going to be literary, difficult, and not deliver that basic satisfaction of storytelling and intimacy with a character that you can get from so many novels. But I think good short stories always deliver that, and anything literary is an extra that can intensify this sense of connection, even if you don’t particularly want to analyze it. The second reason that story collections are difficult for book groups is that it’s hard to discuss all the stories in a book at one meeting. Each one offers a whole different set of characters and different themes. But if you realize that you can “browse” a story collection, picking out just a few stories for longer discussion, instead of reading and discussing the book straight through the way that you would a novel, you can have a lot of fun reading story collections. If you discuss even a few of the stories in more depth, it gives you a sense of what’s working in the book as a whole, how these different life predicaments might be connected.
BOTB: Have you had the opportunity to talk with book clubs about The Mechanics of Falling? If so, what was that experience like? Were you surprised by any observations or comments made at a book club meeting?
CB: I haven’t spoken to book clubs about Mechanics, but I have done so with my previous book, Curled in the Bed of Love. It’s always fun to hear what other people saw in the stories; your readers bring their own experience to the book, so they are always adding something to the meaning –showing you something you couldn’t even have anticipated. My stories are largely concerned with the lives of women who juggle work and family, who aren’t so sure we’ve come a long way, baby, and aren’t so sure they’ve made the “right” compromises in their lives. So if I’m talking to a book club that is largely women in my own age range, we’re talking about ourselves, our lives.
BOTB: What do you like to do in your free time?
CB: Read. And hike.
BOTB: Read any good books lately? Anything you’d like to recommend?
I was just rereading Alice Munro’s story collection, The Love of a Good Woman. Like so many writers, I love her work. And I recently read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which is a wonderful novel, told in such an amazing vital voice.
For more information about Catherine and her work, please visit her website.
Many thanks to Trish at TLC Book Tours for coordinating this tour and another big THANK YOU to Catherine Brady!!
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