Welcome to TRB Lounge. Today, I’d like to welcome author Catee Ryan, from Atmosphere Press, for an author interview with The Reading Bud.
About The Author
Catee Ryan retired in 2011 after 35 years as a marriage and family therapist. She has dedicated her life to writing since then. She spends her days in her home office in the Coachella Valley, down the street from her wife of 33 years. She enjoys strong coffee, expensive chocolate, and falling asleep on the couch to foreign language murder mysteries on Netflix. Catee’s book of short stories, Diving Home, was published in 2017.
You can find author Ryan here:
Welcome to TRB! Please give our readers a brief introduction about yourself before we begin.
My travels have deeply impacted my life and influenced my writing. I proudly claim the title: World Citizen.
I lived here for 20 months, attending Robert College, which overlooks the Bosphorus, and living in a dorm with Turkish girls who spoke English in their classes but Turkish in the dorms. I was lonely. I wandered the cobblestone streets of Istanbul alone and found my favorite places to get lamb sandwiches, baklava, and espresso. I learned that although many Turks did not like Americans, they did like me. I fell in love with the cobblestone streets. I elected to stay in Istanbul for another 9 months where I taught English to Turkish adults at a Turk-American Cultural Association. I loved my students. (In Diving Home, my book of linked short stories, you can read more about my Istanbul story in the Cathy section.)
Greenfield, New Hampshire
My first of three jobs teaching outdoor education to 5th and 6th graders in New England. My relationship with nature expanded. I fell in love with the trees, forests, bogs, swamps, lakes, rivers, birds of New England, and the constellations in the night sky. Being in nature is being home. (Diving Home, Maine section.)
Bahia de Culebras, Costa Rica
I was on an archeology dig. I drove from St. Louis to Costa Rica on the Pan American Highway with 5 other Beloit College students; explored numerous Mayan ruins; and had many border crossing experiences. For three months we ate rice and beans three times a day at the dig.
I visited my parents in Palmerston North; hiked the Routeburn Track; met life-long friends who owned a dairy farm in Waiuku and are orienteerers. I fell in love with the New Zealand land, trees, birds, people, and culture, and was impressed that every child received medical and dental care at their school. (In The Prisoner and The Executioner, NZ is a destination.)
Southwestern United States
I had my Soul Year with Animas Valley Institute in Durango, Colorado. (2009-2010) I started the Eco-Psychology Program where I began writing prolifically after our first of four sessions, often waking at 3:13 a.m. with story-poems pouring out of me. I call this year: The Year The Muse Came and I Listened. My #1 gift: I became a writer. (I made a 58-minute CD of my story poems.)
Please tell us something about your book other than what we have read in the blurb?
At some point my writing partner told me I had to choose the protagonist. This was a difficult choice for me. I wanted there to be two protagonists. Both Eliza and Emma were important to me. I chose Eliza and I gave Emma a large section because I wanted to honor each woman.
My Muse gives me stories and my job is to weave the pieces together. Sometimes this feels daunting. What a story is about is revealed to me over time. I write what I hear.
What is that one message that you’re trying to get across to the readers in this book?
Transformation is possible no matter what your circumstances are. In The Prisoner and The Executioner most of the characters transformed their lives. Eliza lived in a small underground cell for 3 years and 9 months. Initially she had hope that she would be released. When they condemned her to death, she lost hope. She went through Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief—denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Lydia/Emma, Nadia, Brian, Brenda, Celeste, and even MaryLou experienced the grief process and transformed their lives.
At some point in our lives all human beings come face-to-face with grief and loss. I want people to know that no matter what you have lost you can find a way to move through the grief process. You can create a life that you love.
Who is your favorite character in this book and why?
This time I do not have to choose: I love both Eliza and Emma. Both women have an amazing transformation process. Maiden—Mother—Crone. I love, appreciate, and relate to their struggles and their willingness to do the work it takes to create a life they want. I respect and admire their courage and willingness to show up and have difficult conversations.
What inspired you to write this book? An idea, some anecdote, a dream or something else?
My Muse began giving me pieces of this story. I said YES! I will take this story on. I had no idea where this story was going. I wrote to prompts which helped me move deeper into this story and its characters. Eventually I got what the story was about. Some of the prompts I wrote to: “If you believe you have it all mapped out…” (25 minutes), “I wonder how I’m going to…” (15 minutes), “When I saw the hanging lightbulb…” (19 minutes), “As I begin to make plans for my trip…” (10 minutes).
Writing to prompts is a great way for me to ignite my creative process.
How long did it take you to write this particular book?
Probably about a year, perhaps 13 months.
What are your writing ambitions? Where do you see yourself 5 years from today?
I have wanted to be on the New York Times bestseller list for a long time. I have wanted to be published by a New York Publishing House. Since getting published by Atmosphere Press, neither of these past ambitions seem to matter as much. I want to make an audiobook of The Prisoner and The Executioner, narrating it myself.
I am working on another novel. The current working title is ISLA. I am beginning to type in the handwritten pieces, which means I am beginning to edit.
I have another novel, Liberty, which is my first novel. I put it aside because I could not do the initial editing. I may want to go back to it.
I like trilogies; I have thought about writing one.
In five years, I see myself having published at least one other novel. More will be revealed as I continue to write daily and am open to getting stories.
Are you working on any other story presently?
I am working on ISLA, a novel. This is the third working title. I am combining two stories and My Muse has given me the connections to be able to do this. I am excited.
Why have you chosen this genre? Or do you write in multiple genres?
My Muse has brought me this genre. I choose to listen to her guidance.
When did you decide to become a writer? Was it easy for you follow your passion or did you have to make some sacrifices along the way?
After completing Session One of my Soul Year with Animas Valley Institute, Nicole, another Soul Year participant, and I spent the first night in Flagstaff, Arizona. Upon awakening I began getting what turned out to be a poem. Every morning I got more words. I had been a daily journal writer since high school and had been doing Julie Cameron’s Morning Pages for about 15 years. Now I began to get stories that My Muse was giving me at 3:13 a.m. Only one time early on in this process did I not get up and write down the words I was hearing. After that one refusal I was full on in. At some point in the year after I completed my Soul Year I claimed I was a writer. I had no idea what that exactly meant, and I knew it was a big claim. For the past 11 years I have dedicated myself to writing.
This poem came to me in the middle of my Soul Year. (15 April 2010)
It is like this when she wakes in the early morning darkness
Before dawn has shown her pretty little head and the first signs of life appear
This woman who comes every morning holding the hopes of this new day
With new possibilities and treasures in store
If you are only open to receiving them
Do your part
Respond to her call
Whatever time it comes
You do not get to pick when The Muse comes for a visit
She comes when she feels like it
This time her words are one two three, connect the dots
That’s what you get
And you can do it or not
She waits to see what you will do
She doesn’t care if you are tired
She wants to know if you have what it takes to follow the thread from the beginning
To see where it goes without judging if something is good or not
Because it doesn’t matter
What matters is your response to the call
Sometimes the deep and bitter response to the call
You prostrate yourself to the words
You commit yourself to the process
What is your writing ritual? How do you do it?
Upon awakening I do an hour of meditation followed by a 25-minute proprioceptive write (PW). In her book, Writing the Mind Alive, Linda Metcalf describes this process. This is the proprioceptive question that I ask periodically during this write: What do I mean by…? I pick a word or phrase from what I am hearing and writing and write into that. When the timer goes off at 25 minutes, I answer four questions: What am I feeling now? What did I hear and did not write? What is the larger story? What are possibilities for future writes? Sometimes in my PW I get story.
I am in two writing groups that meet weekly. We write to prompts in both groups and I get more story. We read our work out loud and people give feedback.
Weekly for the past 11 years, Grace, another Soul Year participant, and I read our PW writes to each other.
How do you prefer to write – computer/laptop, typewriter, dictation or longhand with a pen?
I write in 8½-by-11-inch hardbound journals with blank pages (no lines). I write with two different types of pens. Both have black ink. I prefer a quiet space in my home when I write and I can write anywhere. When I begin to type the handwritten pieces into the computer, I begin my first edit.
What are your 5 favourite books? (You can share 5 favourite authors too.)
Killing Commendatore, Haruki Murakami
1Q84, Haruki Murakami
Surfacing, Margaret Atwood
Carthage, Joyce Carol Oates
The Lying Game, Ruth Ware
My 5 favorite authors: Haruki Murakami, Joyce Carol Oates, Margaret Atwood, Elizabeth Strout, Tana French
How do you deal with Writer’s Block?
I do my PW daily.
I acknowledge I am stuck.
I write about being stuck.
I talk about my stuckness.
I ask My Muse for story.
What advice would you give to aspiring non-fiction writers?
Writers write. Sometimes we like what we write, sometimes we don’t. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that we write no matter how we feel.
Make a commitment to write. Be specific regarding where, when, how long, and what tools you need.
Get an accountability partner if you need one. It helps to have someone supporting us to do what we say we want to do.
Write whether you feel like writing or not.
Develop a writing practice.
Consider joining a writing group or taking a writing class.
Read your work out loud to yourself and eventually to others.
Read a lot of books and notice writing styles, characters, and dialogue that you like and don’t like.
As William Stafford says: When I write, I like to have an interval before me when I am not likely to be interrupted. For me this usually means the early morning, before others are awake. I get pen and paper, take a glance out the window (often it is dark out there), and wait. It is like fishing. But I do not wait very long for there is always a nibble—-and this is where receptivity comes in. To get started I will accept anything that occurs to me.
Thank you, author Ryan, for your honest and insightful answers!
About the Book
The Prisoner and The Executioner
Eliza Jacobs, a former midwife, high school counselor, and child advocate, is now a death row inmate. She was falsely accused and wrongly convicted of murdering Lydia Garth, a fifteen-year-old student. Today is Eliza’s execution day.
Brian Stafford, The Executioner and son of The Warden, is scheduled to execute Eliza. The Executioner knows The Prisoner is innocent and he will not be complicit in killing her.
Lydia Garth, now Emma Maxwell, is a nineteen-year-old sexual abuse survivor living in Santa Fe. When Emma becomes aware of Eliza’s imprisonment she ‘rises from the dead’ and contacts the FBI.
In The Prisoner and The Executioner by Catee Ryan, the reader is drawn into the horrors of injustice, the dark side of human nature, and the transformative power of love.
You can find The Prisoner and The Executioner here:
Amazon | Goodreads | Readers’ Favorite
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