This week, it is my pleasure to present an interview with an amazing poet, author, and just an amazing person in general, Catherine Rankovic. Catherine, like many writers, wears many hats. She is a poet, professor, journalist, editor, and author. You never have to question where you stand with her and you can never have a bigger supporter in your corner for writers who want to make a living doing what we do.
Please grab a cup of coffee, or drink of your choice, and join me for a Coffee with David author interview.
David Alan Lucas: Why did you become a writer and poet? When did you know that was what you wanted to do?
Catherine Rankovic: I was born this way. I learned to read very early. I wrote my first poem when I was 5. Nothing has ever been able to break me of the habit.
DAL: What do you find the hardest part of writing?
CR: I enjoy the writing process, every bit. After age 45 I lost the desire to procrastinate. We each have only so much time on this earth. What I hate is the rigamarole surrounding publishing, which gets mixed up with money, taste, dumb luck and pride. I also don’t like neglecting friends and social life to keep writing as intensively as I feel I must.
DAL: Your writing always seems to try to make a point. What issues drive your writing?
CR: What is writing if it doesn’t make a point? The issue I am most conscious of is making the leap from blue-collar origins (my father was UAW) into the white-collar world of authordom and publishing. In this world I always feel like a foreigner and make a foreigner’s mistakes, and my modes of thought or expression sometimes seem far-fetched when I am just being myself. And to me, middle-class banter, indirection, irony and sarcasm are a fascinating foreign language I can use like Play-Doh. A professor once spent 30 minutes trying to tell me “no” without saying “no.” He wouldn’t have lasted two minutes on an assembly line. The classic rejection slip is another example of middle-class indirectness. Working-class people express themselves more directly, honestly, and vehemently. I sometimes think that middle-class people are just people who have never been beaten up.
DAL: How did you come up with the idea for Meet Me: Writers in St. Louis?
CR: In the introduction I explain that I thought these were amazing writers whose residence here showed St. Louis to be a literary center, and collecting the interviews into a book would prove that to posterity.
DAL: Was there anything that stands out as a surprise to you while interviewing for Meet Me?
CR: Yes. That the writers in St. Louis were so forthcoming, friendly, honest and polite, in contrast to Boston where I had lived and tried to join the literary scene. Reporters there were usually treated by interviewees as inconveniences or pests who might go away if we were bought off or barraged with public-relations material.
DAL: You are a veteran journalist. Do you approach your creative writing with a different mindset?
CR: Yes. A journalist starts with a question and seeks facts to build a case toward the answer. A creative writer starts with anything: a word, a title, an image, a fantasy, an impulse, and responds in a way that creates an answer out of thin air.
DAL: How easy was it to take the leap to become a serious writer?
CR: First, my experience with journalists, creative-writing students and clients who are new authors makes me believe that every writer is a serious writer.
I wanted to write literature, but studied journalism because my parents could understand what that was and I would learn a trade. It turned out to be the best possible education. I entered the news business just as mergers and buyouts and technology were changing and squeezing everything. I did not know how to manage office life either. At age 29 I was miserably writing fluff for some magazine on Commercial Wharf. I gladly left Boston for graduate school to study creative writing. I hadn’t known there were such programs. It was my good luck to find out.
I became a professor by accident. In graduate school we got free tuition and a stipend if we agreed to teach two classes of Freshman English each semester. I had no experience but discovered I liked the challenge. (I think free graduate tuition is now extinct.) Because I came from so far back in the pack I believe that anyone willing to try can gain skill and confidence as a creative writer. Some of them will become great. All of them are happier. I know I am. A teacher’s work, like a writer’s, echoes through eternity.
DAL: In your journalistic career, is there any story that stands out?
CR: Not really.
DAL: What was your biggest fear when you decided to first be published? Do you still have those fears?
CR: The most important thing I have ever learned is: If a writer knows the work is good there is no reason for fear.
DAL: If you could have coffee with four other writers, whom would you choose and why?
CR: Sylvia Plath, because she’s such a mystery and so important to me as an inspiration. She would probably be quite hard-shelled and reticent. F. Scott Fitzgerald, because I would like to know the person who wrote so many effervescent short stories that in my view put Hemingway’s to shame. I wonder if he talked as fabulously as he wrote. Dave Eggers, to tell him it’s not news that life is hard. And I really must have coffee with romance writer Bobbi Smith, to ask her how she has written 54 novels. Such creative power awes me. She has no co-writer and isn’t on Disney’s payroll. Bobbi I could actually call.
DAL: Why do you support self-publishing?
CR: Briefly, a writer wants love and money, but a publisher is the least likely source for either one. Along comes digital publishing and for the first time in history the writer has the power to determine publication and his or her own pay rate. What happens afterward depends on how carefully one prepares. Slap a novel together, be too proud to seek feedback, don’t proofread it, put a family picture on the cover, publish it on CreateSpace, and see how the world doesn’t beat a path to your door.
The problem with digital publishing is that somebody can pull the plug. Eventually somebody will. Then writers will secretly sell their work door-to-door like samizdat, and people will buy it.
DAL: How can people learn more about you?
CR: My writing is the best of me.