Katherine Catmull is the author of Summer and Bird, which was on Booklist’s 2012 Top Ten First Novels for Youth and an IndieBound New Voices Pick. She is working on her second novel due out next year. Visit her website for more information.
Katherine is teaching a class for the Writers’ League on February 7, called “It’s the Little Things: Settings that Come Alive” at St. Edward’s University. Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.
Katherine Catmull: For me the worlds come bit by bit, in small, sharp sensory details. When I’m making a world in a story, I tend to become much more attuned to the sensory world around me than I usually am. Most of the time I’m one of those live-in-my-head people, and as my husband always says, I’d make a lousy detective, as an elephant could walk past and I’d miss it because I am “Thinking an Interesting Thought.”
But when I’m thinking about a new world I try to go on a lot of walks and actually be in the world, see the sidewalk cracks, smell the autumn leaves or the new spring shoots. Or notice the texture of the fur of the cat I’m petting. Or smell the garlic as it simmers in the oil. And any detail that feels right gets pulled into the world I’m making, and bit by bit it stops being a patchwork, and becomes a real world.
Scribe: Have you found that writing and acting compliment each other, or intersect to a certain degree?
KC: In some ways they’re different. I often say acting is more like reading than writing—you know how find yourself so caught up in a character and her story that you’re in tears with her, and laughing with her, or angry on her behalf? For me, basically, that’s what acting is like—you just hand yourself over to someone else’s character.
But they have one thing in common, which is that when you’re really deep into either a role or a piece of writing, they turn into a funnel, and all your daily experience pours into that funnel, and you find yourself thinking “oh wow, this song is EXACTLY what my character feels right now,” or “oh, this quarrel with my sister is JUST what I need for that one scene,” etc. I love more than anything when that starts to happen; I know it means I’m really working in the right way.
Scribe: How did you decide to write YA fiction, and is it difficult to switch between your YA voice and your journalistic voice when writing about the arts?
KC: Voice is very important to me, but my arts-writing voice is really just a trimmed and shined-up version of my own personal email/social media voice. Narrative voice for fiction is a much more mysterious and tricky thing—it’s almost like you have to grow a new person with each new novel or story.
Scribe: In your opinion, what’s the best part of writing?
KC: FINISHING is by far the best, aka “having written.” But I also like the bits where I just let go and write a jumble of nonsense and terrible stuff, absolutely unedited and unguided, then comb through it and find amid the garbage a few tiny, shining details that make me understand what I need to do next. I also like the sentence-polishing and do far too much of it when I ought to be moving forward with actual writing.
To register for Katherine’s class, click here.
For a full list of classes, click here.