Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to shine our spotlight on Catherine Zebrowski, who will be the featured reader of Worcester Storytellers this month on Friday, January 27. The open mic-featured reader event starts at 7:00 PM.
Catherine Zebrowski grew up in Central Massachusetts and, after graduating from Worcester State, lived in Dublin Ireland for a year studying literature and drama. She has had two chapbooks of poetry published through lulu and her poems have appeared in several journals. Her first novel, Sleepwalking Backwards, is coming out in 2017 through Touchpoint Press.
Thank you very much for joining us Catherine! Can you please tell us briefly a little about yourself and your writing?
Characters, characters everywhere, even in the poetry! I have written many poems, a few plays and two novels over the last several decades. Many of these characters are from my Celtic Heritage. My mother grew up on the west coast of Ireland and my paternal grandmother’s family came over from Brittainy. Lots of oral tradition was passed down and I often weave stories together in my narrative poems like the ghost story I recently read at Fiddler’s Green Pub in Worcester.
My latest novel, Sleepwalking Backwards, fits into a number of genres including mother –daughter, mystery, ghost story, and fantasy. I like weaving together genres but the story always remains character-driven.
For readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you write? What can readers expect from you?
My latest novel, Sleepwalking Backwards, which I will be reading from in January at the Worcester Storyteller’s at Annie’s, is a mother-daughter novel with a ghostly core. True to my love of soliloquy, one of the main characters in the 70s part of the story is mute for psychological reasons—so what the reader experiences is a soliloquy from the point of view of a woman who, because of trauma, cannot communicate verbally for several weeks. This is very hard because she has a one-year-old daughter who is learning to talk and needs to hear her mother’s voice. The other main character, the young woman all grown up two decades later, has some peculiar and unique ways of coping with her own feelings of somehow being “different,” which she grapples with through the imagination of a scientist and her obsession with astronomy. The book will be coming out in 2017 through TouchPoint Press. Here’s a hint of what the story is about:
Sometimes it takes a ghost to bridge the gap between a mother and a daughter. It is heading toward the millennium, and 23 year old Amanda, a gifted mathematician and amateur astronomer, cannot seem to move forward with her life. Her obsession with astronomy and the power of imagination break through boundaries to reveal a family secret her parents, unable to deal with, have never discussed…
What kind of research went into writing this book? What is your favorite research story? What cool facts and findings didn’t make it into the book, but you loved discovering?
I had to do a lot of research on the astronomers of the 1600s and had lots of interesting reading finding out how eccentric they actually were and the extent to which those odd behaviors went in order to satisfy their curious minds. In the book, I do include Newton’s faux pas of almost blinding himself by looking straight at the sun when he was trying to figure out the nature of light, but he actually experimented further by sticking a needle into his eye socket between the eyeball and the bone and noticed when he pressed it down he saw several light, dark and colored circles. When he held the eye and needle still the circles would fade. Rather than being alarmed that this might damage his eyesight, he pondered whether light was a manifestation of pressure.
In my reading about Kepler, I learned that he almost wrote the first science fiction novel before Mary Shelly came along with the beloved Frankenstein. Kepler’s story was just a fragment, more of a short story or what was called a dream vision at the time, that he made up to try to explain the surface of the moon and what would happen to “deamons” as they traveled through space. He had two characters on earth watching it all and giving descriptions. It’s called the somnium, and my main character is fascinated by it. Interestingly, enough his description of this voyage meshes quite well with the description of the “spaghetti effect” described in the book The Physics of Star Trek written in 1995 about 300 years later–just, WOW!!!
What was the inspiration for Sleepwalking Backwards? What were the steps you took to bring it from initial inspiration to the finished book?
Believe it or not, I wrote the first draft in 1999 because I wanted to write a book about the year 2000 before it occurred. One of the biggest influences was a book called The Sleepwalkers by Arthur Koestler, which is about the early astronomers in the 17th Century like Newton and especially Kepler and how eccentric they were in their genius minds. Koestler felt they often did not realize what they had actually discovered or the significance of their work, and he showed how their imagination and intellect worked together as they “stumbled around guided by uncanny instinct” thus the title The Sleepwalkers. He presented a lot of scientific information in a very entertaining way.
My first draft had only one main character, the young women Amanda. As I continued to revise, I felt compelled to write the earlier story about Amanda’s mother in the ’70s and how a family trauma can impact the next generation. Even though Amanda was a baby at that time of her mother’s trauma, her pre-verbal surroundings and later lack of information about what happened confused her sense of identity as she came into her own. At one point, the Gloria story was going to be a prequel to the Amanda story, but as I began to revise, I decided to merge the stories together so the mother’s and daughter’s stories are told in alternating chapters.
How important has the New England setting been to your writing?
The New England setting is important in my poetry with some poems actually taking place on the streets of Worcester. I always loved Worcester, except as a teenager, and for years wanted to write something like a social history of the area. However, as much as I like to present things as they really are, I always feel compelled to fictionalize them. Sleepwalking Backwards takes place in New England. The main characters live in Worcester and an unnamed place in Vermont. I even have some scenes in the old Tatnuck Bookseller and the restaurant that used to be called the Struck of Loke, then became just the Struck and now is a catering service with that name. I also have part of a scene at the Blue Plate in Holden, where my friends and I headed every weekend in the early ’70s to dance to the music of Zonakaraz.
Are there any groups, clubs, or organizations that you would recommend to other writers that have helped you in your career?
I think since writing is such a solitary endeavor it is very helpful to seek out workshops and readings for the fellowship and insight that others can offer. In the past, I have gone to several workshops including the Chenango Valley Writers Conference and the Colrain Poetry Manuscript Conference. More recently, I’ve attend many readings in Worcester County, and every year I go to the Monadnock Pastoral Poetry Retreat in Southern New Hampshire the first weekend in May. I also attend the Worcester Storytellers that meet at Annie’s Book Stop on the fourth Friday of every month.
Where can people find your work? (Besides ABSW ;)–though they should totally check here first!)
My poetry books are available through lulu.com, and I still have some available that you can purchase by getting in touch with me through my website catherinezebrowski.wordpress.com. My first novel, Sleepwalking Backwards, is coming out in 2017 and will be available through touchpointpress.com, Amazon.com, and I will also have some author copies.
How can we follow your work, share your awesomeness, or otherwise stalk you in a totally non-creepy way?
You can get in touch with me on facebook, or my website catherinezebrowski.wordpress.com. I often read my poetry at open mics that are mostly for musicians–there is definitely much about music in my poetry, which is why the musicians let me get away with it. On Wednesdays nights, I sometimes read at the Fitzwilliam Inn in Fitzwilliam N. H., and once a month or so, I’m at the Irish Music Sessions at the Fiddler’s Green Pub in Worcester. They are held every other Sunday from 5:00 to 8:00 PM.
Thank you very much for the interview, Catherine! We look forward to hearing you as the featured reader at Worcester Storytellers on Friday, January 27th at our 65 James Street book store!