Interview with Katherine Catmull, Author of The Radiant Road
24 Mar 2016
It’s about a girl who returns to the Irish house where she was born, a stone house under a green hill with a yew tree growing inside it. Inside the tree she finds a connection to a world she’d known as a child and forgotten all about: a world of art and dreams. She also finds a boy named Finn; and she also finds great danger, to both his world and our own. It’s about dreaming, love, and making—art, poetry, invention, music—and what you have to do to keep them alive, even when it’s frightening, even when it’s painful. It’s about how scary and glorious it is to forget about staying safe.
If you had an extra hour each day, how would you spend it?
Reading. That’s sounds so boring! But I miss those hours of my childhood, and in college and grad school, where I’d just spend a whole afternoon lost in a book. I hardly ever do that anymore. These days I have to guard my reading time and literally schedule it: ONE HOUR FOR READING AFTER DINNER. It’s ridiculous.
You’re hosting a literary dinner party. Which three writers are invited?
Franz Kafka, Toni Morrison, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Holy smokes this is going to be an amazing dinner party—if we can persuade Kafka to do anything besides stare at his plate morosely.
Who was your childhood hero?
I don’t know that I had one, actually. I was strangely suspicious of heroes, and maybe I still am. No one is perfect, and I’m glad for that—imperfection is about a million times more interesting than perfection. We’re all just trying, and some succeeding more than others. I always had to lie in those school essays on “My Hero”! Glad I don’t have to now.
What are you currently craving?
Peace. Holidays, fun as they are, followed by book launch busy-ness, plus a big festival at my husband’s small theatre, where I also sometimes work, means my life has been all-chaos, all the time, for months now. I just want to crawl into my room and turn off everything and write and read.
What books do you find yourself returning to again and again?
100 Years of Solitude—my copy of that is in tatters. The His Dark Materials trilogy—I’ve read or listened to that over and over. Franny and Zooey, the book that got me through high school and college. A Wrinkle in Time. Little Men. Pale Fire. All the Lucia books by E. F. Benson (which are HILARIOUS). And many specific poems and poets.
What’s your favorite quote or scene from The Radiant Son?
My favorite scene probably changes all the time. But today it’s the scene in which she visits her father’s dream—she needs to find something out from him, and can’t reach him any other way, because SPOILERS. It has big feelings (he’s having a nightmare), and it shifts and changes and morphs in that way only a dream or a story can. It was a great pleasure to write, and when I re-read it I still like it—always a shock.
Do you have a motto, quote or philosophy you live by?
Not really? But I do have a little folder on my Mac desktop called “remember” with things that I want to . . well, remember. And one I come back to a lot is that Martha Graham quote, which probably most people have seen:
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.”
It’s so hard to do, and I fail every day, but it’s worth trying. Especially for a writer (or any kind of artist, I presume), I think that’s where the juice is. “You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work”—that’s so comforting to me.
Katherine Catmull is the author of the new book The Radiant Road.Buy The Book
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