My first featured author of 2018 is Shuly Cawood, whose memoir came out in late 2017. Shuly has North Carolina ties, and her book is one of the first titles out from Platypus Press. We went five questions and a bonus:
How did your book come about?
When I was 29, on a June Sunday morning in a hotel in Cincinnati, I said goodbye to my college friends at the end of my bridal shower weekend. I was standing in the lobby, and as each of my friends left to drive away and back to their own lives, I made my way to a payphone to call my fiancé—my own future life. That’s when I felt a panic wash over me. The feeling didn’t leave me for a couple of hours, but I chose to ignore it the entire time that it stained my mood and thoughts. It took me many years—and a wedding and a divorce—to understand what my body had been trying to tell me that I dismissed. (Back then, I was good at dismissing.) My memoir doesn’t really begin there, but that’s one of the first things I wrote down. Eventually, the memoir became much bigger than that part of my life, and it forced me to explore what I believed about love, destiny, fear, and faith and how those things had informed the many choices I made and shaped who I am today.
How long have you been writing and publishing and what brought you to it?
My father, a writer himself, introduced the idea of writing stories to me and my sister when we were very young. He would cut up pieces of blank paper into little squares and staple them together so we could write and draw our own “books.” That kept us busy for hours, probably to his great relief, although we often took over his home office desk for this task. In junior high, I became more intent on writing, and I cranked out short stories on my father’s blue Selectric typewriter. They were awful stories, but I still wish I had kept one or two. In high school, I published my poems for the first time in the school’s literary magazine and later in other journals, back when there was no Internet, no Submittable, and you had to use Writer’s Market to figure out where in the world to send things with your stack of SASEs. Then a gap of many years followed when I didn’t try to publish anything, but I never stopped writing. Writing is how I sorted out the world. Often I wouldn’t know how I felt about something until I let down my guard on the page and wrote it down. Sometimes that was the only place I allowed myself that kind of honesty.
You’ve written outside NonFiction, is there a genre you prefer? Why or why not?
I have no preference and love them all for different reasons: poetry comes easiest since I have the most experience in that genre; fiction is the most challenging, but it affords me the most freedom; and creative nonfiction/memoir lets me tell a story and puzzle over it to find the deeper meaning in my own life.
What is your next project, or what project is on your list to get done in the next 5 years or so?
I’ve just finished a novella, and I’m working on a short story collection that I keep thinking is done, but then the characters furiously wave their arms in the air to get my attention, to tell me they have more to say.
What writers inspire you?
I get inspired by individual pieces rather than by writers. Some of my greatest loves are Joan Didion’s essay “Goodbye to All That,” Mary Oliver’s poems, “Thirst” and “The Singular and Cheerful Life,” and Edith Wharton’s short story, “Roman Fever.”
BONUS: The most interesting place (and why) you’ve lived is …
This has to be Torreón, Mexico. I cover some of the stories from that time in my life in my memoir, but what I don’t really talk about in the book is my teaching experience, and how the culture and the country allowed me to see the United States (and therefore myself) in contrast. Families in Torreón live together much longer—at least back then and in a city of that size, if you were unmarried, you lived with your family until you did marry, regardless of whether you were male or female. There was also an innocence among my students that sometimes frustrated me but made me appreciate that they were able to remain younger, in some ways, for a greater length of time. While in Mexico, I learned more than a second language: I learned about the shape of families, and how women navigated power in their relationships, and ultimately that helped teach me how to navigate power in mine.
Shuly Xóchitl Cawood is the author of the memoir, The Going and Goodbye (Platypus Press, 2017), which is an examination of loss and leaving and the search for meaning in the memories that remain. Tracing a path through rural Ohio, the American south and small towns of Mexico, her stories breathe life into a marriage and its dissolution; find a voice that fears mortality then faces it; explore faith in the face of these losses; and ultimately reveal the power of love and letting go. Shuly has an MFA in fiction and creative nonfiction from Queens University, and her writing has been published in places such as The Rumpus, Zone 3, Fiction Southeast, Cider Press Review, Maine Review, and The Louisville Review. You can read more about her work at www.shulycawood.com.