Stephanie Cassatly

IMG_9726_crop_Second installment in my series of interviews with first place category winners in the 82nd Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition. (First interview, with Julia Byers, can be found here.) Finding Stephanie seems like a beautiful bit of serendipity. She’s a gorgeous writer, and she writes of her search for herself after she lost her mom, as well as her search for spirituality and the way her writing helps her with those discoveries. And she worked in advertising for years, so despite all evidence to the contrary, she must be as crazy as I am. So grateful for the wonderful connections and community I’ve found among writers all over the country. Please check out Stephanie’s blog after you read her interview.

1. Tell me about your winning story. Where did you get the idea? Is it part of a longer piece? What is your favorite thing about it? 

My story, “Camera Obscura,” derives from a chapter in my memoir (currently under construction), which tells the story of my mother’s death when I was eighteen years old and how I lost my sense of “home,” until years later when I became a mother myself. I got hooked on the idea of the old fashioned camera obscura, largely because it accurately symbolized and described my memory of the time around her murder; I felt like I was in a dark box looking through an artificial eye. Everything surrounding that time seemed like a series of fragmented and disconnected photographs. My favorite thing about this piece, and most of my writing, is that it acknowledges that, despite the sadness of her death, I have been gifted so many blessings in my life, including my family and my writing. Some of my writing can be found on my website below. I have not yet loaded this piece, but anyone interested in reading it can contact me and I will be honored to send it to them.

2. When did you decide you wanted to write, or that you were serious enough or good enough to call yourself a writer? What do you love about memoir (or essays) and how did you know that’s what you wanted to write?

My impetus to become a writer was another blessing and a story unto itself.  In a nutshell, twenty years after my mother’s death, I found her killer and forgave him, just before he died in prison. It was a transformative experience for me, a complete shift from victim to survivor. Following that, I decided I needed to document the story for my two young daughters. My career at that time was in advertising, but my personal story sparked my desire to become a better writer, so I started taking some local writing classes and began writing part-time for the local newspaper. Then, I learned about a low-residency MFA in writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts and applied.  It took me three years to complete the degree, but it was one of the richest gifts I have ever given myself.  When I entered the program, I did not immediately begin with the story of my mother’s death, but everything seemed to circle around it.  Finally, one of my brilliant author/advisors made me address my central life story. It was through my MFA that I began to call myself a writer. I love memoir because it can elevate life to art, which is both healing and creative at the same time.

3. What are your goals or current projects? Where are you on your path to being a published writer?

Truthfully, I cannot gauge where I am on my path as a writer. It sometimes feels like a blind spot. I know I am on “a” path, though.  I teach writing part-time at a local university (which I also love) and try to write in between. I am finally an empty nester, so I do have more time to devote to my writing.  I have been working on my memoir since I received my MFA and it is my goal to publish it. I am, however, struggling to complete it. I would say I am about 80% of the way there, but the sheer size, structure and intimacy of finishing a memoir seems overwhelming. Essays are so much easier for me to write. I have a great deal of support to try and publish my memoir, but I think I am looking for the right editor to lead me through to completion.  In the meantime, I just keep publishing essays.

4. Who we are and what we believe often comes through in our writing since it influences our world view. Does your faith play any part in what you write?

Most definitely. In my essays and memoir, I share that I was a passenger, not a driver, on my path to forgiving my mother’s killer. I am fascinated by the mystical and deeply trust in a power higher than myself. I was raised a Catholic, remain a Christian, but mostly consider myself to be a spiritual person. I love and subscribe heavily to the Latin term and plot device, “Deus ex Machina,” God in [my] machine.

5. My blog and book are about prayer, but focused more on creativity and about new ways of looking at things. Do you have any interesting or unusual approaches to writing and/or your writing process? Or anything to say about the connection between art or any of your other activities and writing? Or any advice for someone who has the desire to pursue this passion? Or would you like to share the best writing advice anyone gave you? (Or any other semi-related topic?)

The two best pearls I have discovered for my own writing are to write first thing in the morning and to show up everyday.  Even though I do not succeed in doing these all the time, I know these approaches work for me.  I am a clean slate in the morning.  Because I am middle-aged, I sometimes rise in the middle of the night or very early in the morning.  At these times I am almost in a dream state or at least very open, and my writing seems almost guided, fluid and pure. The second of the two pearls, showing up every day, is much harder, as life gets busy and I am a master procrastinator.

6. Quick — don’t stop and think about it — can you name five books you’ve read fairly recently that you loved and would recommend that others read?

Not all recent, but The Dovekeepers, The Red Tent, Motherless Daughters, The Confessions of St. Augustine and The Language of Flowers.  It’s funny that these are mostly all fiction. I love a good story.

7. Where can people find you online?
Website: www.stephaniecassatly.com
Facebook: Stephanie Marban Cassatly

One Response to “Stephanie Cassatly”

  1. Karen says:

    Even if I did not know and already love you, I’d want to hear more about you.
    XO K

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