Jennifer DiCamillo Interviews Cat Muldoon
Jennifer DiCamillo is a prolific author of numerous books (and blogs). She is a gifted poet, novelist, and motivational speaker dedicated to helping authors succeed. Find her website at http://JenniferDicCmillo.com/
This interview appears on her Writer’s Help blog at http://jenndicamillo.wordpress.com/
Jen: First, give us the basics. Who are you, personally? Got a family? Any deep dark secrets you’d like to share? Wanna tell us wear you hang your hat or pantyhose or something?
Cat: My name is Cat Muldoon. I have 2 children, both girls. They are wonderful felines. I’ve never been married but am open to the possibility. Currently, I’m living in the Ozarks, but I have lived various places. Ireland and Scotland are a couple of my favorite places to be, but I enjoy spending a good deal of my time in, shall we say, “other worlds.” If you ever hear that I’ve gone to Ireland and never returned, perhaps I found a Faerie hill and went inside.
Jen: Second, what do you write? And how do you do it? Spill it all. Are you a shower poet? Pet your cat while you type one handed? Get the name of your next character by what appears in your Alphabet soup or cereal?
Cat: I’ve never been one for alphabet soup, but I do like the idea of naming characters that way. Maybe I’ll try it sometime. Anyway, what I write is whatever comes to mind. Typically my stories are fantastical. I love wordplay and I love creating interesting “what if” scenarios. My characters are real to me in that I write dialogue by hearing them interact. Occasionally I have to break up fights or tell them they don’t get their own way. I had to change a character’s name in my novel Rue the Day, and he wasn’t at all happy about it. He wanted to be called Aiden, but that name too closely resembled the main character Aislinn, and her name had to stick. But he got used to Cian and liked its meaning well enough that he settled down quickly.
How do I name? It depends. For the Faerie folk Rue the Day, I chose the names carefully based on their meaning in Celtic traditions. Now for the Selkie, I made them up. Corlath simply had to be Corlath. It has no special meaning in any earthly language (a far as I know), but it expresses his essence well. If I am not sure what to name someone, I will use letters like YYY until I figure it out, then do a universal find/replace (because what word has YYY in it?). At one point I had too many B names and had to rename someone. The bard “won,” and her name changed from Brighid to Eliatha, which she likes better anyway. Sometimes I choose names based on meaning and sometimes on “feel.”
How do I write? Mainly by feel, but it is typically based on the interaction of characters rather than an idea. Oh, an idea may spark the story, but the characters are definitely in charge, and I do let them live their stories (with the occasional reigning in as necessary).
I think a writer should let things flow and not get in the way. So if I’m writing a scene and it’s 5 pages of dialogue at first, I don’t stop to put in gestures or bits of action or have someone order pizza. Flow is a beautiful thing and should never be interrupted to worry over a word or fuss over details. I spiral back through the story to fill in details or movements or whatever is missing. This means my scenes have bits of setting sprinkled through them, for the most part, and not in huge clumps. I like to let readers see through the eyes of the characters.
Spiraling…I adore spirals, and when I think of how Rue came together, I really did spiral my way through. I didn’t do “first draft,” “second draft” as such. I spiraled through to add or change as the needs came to me. BUT I did have a sense of where the plot was going at all times right from the moment I realized this was not a short story.
Suspense is one of my favorite features in a story, and there is a lot of suspense in Rue the Day, and in many of my stories. I was a bit surprised Wings ePress put the book as fantasy romance, because I had always thought of it as fantasy suspense, or maybe epic fantasy.
Which brings me to how this book came to be. It all started because of a misty Ozarks morning with fog so thick you lost the world in it. I thought of stories in which someone crossed through the mists into another realm, like Mists of Avalon and some of the faerie lore. I honestly did think I was writing a short story for a while with only 3 characters (one of them a cat named Bree). Then all sorts of interesting characters and situations came to me and I realized I needed to write a novel.
Funny thing is, there are so many people who dream of writing a novel, and I never did. Not that I’m opposed to it. But writing a novel never occurred to me until then, and here I was writing a complicated suspense story with a couple of suplots and minor characters who could easily hold their own in their own book.
Jen: Third, how long have you been writing professionally? Any cool stories about how you got started? Or mistakes you’ve made. Feel free to elaborate. Just paragraph in between, but, by all means, ENTERTAIN US.
Cat: In some ways, I don’t feel like a professional. I love writing and I do work at writing better and better all the time, but I really did fall into being a novelist. Now I am planning out the next in the series that took its first breath on a foggy morning.
Short stories are also fun for me, but I have to reign myself in so that I don’t add too many complications for a short piece.
Jen: Fourth, any cool stories about meeting other writers or industry professionals that have influenced or helped you? We like to hear the silly stuff. Ever stutter at an agent? (I have.) Ever sidestep an editor? Or have a margarita downing contest with one? (Pleading the fifth on that, myself.)
Cat: This isn’t really what you asked, but the margarita contest put me in mind of it. One time I was writing a story that’s a bit randy, and I had to drink a couple shots of Brendan’s before I could write it.
So for your question…
I had an opportunity to pitch a “big New York Agent.” Not a big person, just a well respected agency. Because I was there at the writer’s conference the night before the “real” event, I had the opportunity to spend a fair amount of time with this agent and another author in a hotel room. This is what’s interesting, and it is an important principle I want you to write down and maybe even tattoo on yourself somewhere.
This agent and I did not choose each other, but what I want to point out is that as I listened to her talk, I knew there was NO WAY I could work with her. It was not the right fit. Always follow your gut or your instinct or whatever you wish to call it on these things.
Another time I heard an agent speak at a conference (a different one), and I thought, “This person has all the energy of a slug on a slow day. She couldn’t work up a spark of passion if I lit her butt on fire.” So there again, I knew this was not someone I could work with. I’m not suggesting she’s a bad person or an ineffective agent, but I’m a focused person, and we’re not the right fit.
Now this is a funny story for you. One time I was pitching an editor and…well, let’s just say the hormones were alive and well that day with the particular editor in question. That was the most interesting pitch experience I have ever had. I did manage to stay focused, and I definitely was not nervous, but the hots added a whole new dimension.
Jen: Fifth, tell us about your first published work. What was it? When did it come out?
“Seal Skins” is a short story that takes place in ancient Kirkwaa (now called Kirkwall) in the Orkney Islands of Scotland and features the Selkie. Perhaps I should say that the Selkie are shape-shifters from Celtic mythology who, in the tales, can take off their seal skins and take on a human form. They tend to enjoy dalliance with humans. There are a number of stories in which a man hides the seal skin of a Selkie woman and forces her to marry him. The first scene ends with a human husband shooting at the Selkie who has tarred with his wife. This story is in a book called WomanScapes, available through Amazon. The other stories in the book are wonderful!
Jen: Got any awards to brag about?
Cat: Rue the Day was a semi-finalist in the ArcheBooks 2005 First Novel competition. One of my short stories took a door prize in the Writer’s Weekly 24-hour short story competition. That contest is fun because you have no way to prepare and no idea what you’re going to write. The judges do NOT appear to like anything fantastical, though, so I’ve actually had the challenge of writing something “normal.” This last time, I wrote something that seemed as if it might have fantasy or paranormal elements but did not.
Jen: Do you have any dreams as a writer? Go ahead, give us your best fantasy.
Cat: I want Rue the Day to become a movie. I’m putting it out there
right now. I think it would translate well to the screen.
Jen: What are you up to now, writing wise? Got any projects in the works? Please tell us it’s amazing and give us a short excerpt or something to make us HAVE to go and buy it. What makes it so great?
Cat: I have a couple of stories I’m playing with, and I’m working on an anthology.
Whether they are great is for readers to say, not for me, but I will say this. I love working with interesting characters and playing in other worlds. When you go to my website http://CatMuldoon.com, you will read and hear excerpts of Rue the Day, and when you sign up to receive excerpts in yor inbox, you’ll get more of Rue and also bits of 2 other stories that are published. You can also go to my page on Author’s Den http://www.authordeden/catmuldoon
Jen: Do you have any tidbits of help for other writers that you’d like to pass along? Please, by all means, inspire us. Point us in the write direction.
Cat: Follow writer’s guidelines and contest rules absolutely to the letter.
“Get attached” to the process of creation, not to the results. If something is rejected or doesn’t win, simply send it elsewhere and don’t take it personally.
Trust your own instincts. Yes, you want to improve your craft, but every writer works differently. You need to discover what works for YOU.
If you meet an agent or editor you can’t stand to be in the same room with, or who sets your teeth on edge, you will do well to look elsewhere.
Be careful of scams.. Be a wise consumer.
Talk to other writers.And finally, the only way for you to find your true writer’s voice is to WRITE WRITE WRITE! It’s not delivered by the stork. You have to put out a lot of words to find your own flow.
Jen: Do you have any suggestions as to what a writer should avoid? Any mistakes you made that you could give us fair warning on?
Cat: I think I’ll let my answer to the previous comment inspire you. I can’t think of a mistake, and rather than saying “don’t,” I prefer to teach you by saying, “do.”
Jen: Give us links to your websites, blogs, etc.?
Cat: My website is http://CatMuldoon.com my blog is http://blog.myspace.com/CatMuldoon and I’m on Author’s Den http://www.AuthorsDen.com/catmuldoon
Jen: Thanks for giving us your fifty cent interview. Come back and see what other authors and readers have to say. Send your friends this way, too. K?
Cat: Of course!, but this interview is worth $50 at least! Cat