From The One-Way Rain

The backpack incident

Ever been smacked in the head by your own whiteness, assuming you are white?

I’m in the supermarket waiting to buy a pound of salmon when I realize someone is trying to get my attention. “Ma’am? Ma’am?” she says to me. She is a brown-skinned woman with her hair in a ponytail. “I was just admiring your”—here I assume she’s going to say “coat,” as I am wearing a truly awesome garnet-colored vintage bouclé coat—“backpack.”

The thing about my backpack is until recently it said “Black Lives Matter,” discreetly, in Sharpied letters on gray canvas. Last week I got a paint pen and operated on the letters until they were much more noticeable. Aha! I think. “Oh, thanks!” I say. Read more

On being a white novelist

I gave this talk last fall at Community Change. It has some points in common with another talk of mine, “How I Set Out to Write About the Revolution,” but it goes further and says more of what I’d really been wanting to say, for some time, about whiteness and writing fiction.

Hi, I’m Cathy and I’m white. I’m probably one of the whitest people you’ll ever meet. I grew up in an overwhelmingly white environment, in a place called Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and attended majority-white schools. My whole family is white. Until recently I worked exclusively for white organizations, and I still have mostly white friends.

I’m also a novelist. I began writing fiction when I was a little kid, and I’m currently midway through my ninth book. After many years of trying to get a traditional publisher, I published The One-Way Rain myself last year.

I didn’t set out to write about racial justice when I started The One-Way Rain. My original idea was to write a literary version of an action movie, with a kick-ass heroine. I assumed without even thinking about it that this heroine would be white. Around the same time I was also interested in the concept of a freedom fighter who was willing to die for her beliefs, and I ended up adding a second protagonist who was Black. Read more

One year later: Reflections on self-publishing

On August 16 of last year, a somewhat harassed man with a station wagon pulled up on the busy street in front of my house and unloaded eighteen cartons. They contained 1,000 copies of The One-Way Rain, the novel I had written and published. I was forty-two and had been writing books for roughly twenty-six years. I had a Master’s in creative writing from U.T. Austin and several files, both paper and electronic, filled with rejection letters from agents, journals and publishers. I knew my work was solid, and when a poet friend offered to help me publish under her imprint, I leapt at the chance.

In many ways, I was a little kid when I published this book. I’m an awesome writer, but a year ago I didn’t know shit about being an author. Now I’m a grown-up and, as grown-ups are, sadder, wiser, and slightly battered—but also more capable than a kid could ever be. Here are some of the lessons I learned this year. Read more

How I set out to write about the revolution, and how it changed me

Here’s the talk I gave at the Lucy Parsons Center on May 3. Thanks to everyone who came out!

For many years now, there’s been a picture hanging above my desk. It’s a picture from some publisher’s book catalog, and it shows a rocket pop, one of those red-white-and-blue popsicles, being held up against a sunny sky. Across the popsicle are written the words “PURE FICTION.” Read more

She hated publicity

I should get that tattooed on me instead of the David Foster Wallace quote (start, end) I’m actually going for. It’s from one of my unpublished novels, Melly Mockingbird:

Clyde Fortenay had lived within earshot of Fenway Park since he was four years old. The Boston papers made much of this when he was drafted, and also of his age at the time (seventeen). If she’d known the fuss it would cause, Bronwyn said, she never would have let him skip a grade. She hated publicity, although she had been involved with people who needed it, in one way or another, for as long as Clyde could remember.

Read more

On telling the truth

I’m working on a press release for local papers about my Frugal Bookstore reading (using tips from the Duolit ladies, an incredible source of smart, free advice). A lot has changed for me since I published The One-Way Rain—and not in the way I expected. I knew, of course, that an indie author has to promote herself relentlessly, but I didn’t know for sure how hard this would be for me. Yeah, I had an inkling. But I figured I’d cross that bridge when I came to it. And now I’m standing on it. Read more