Rappahannock Review Nonfiction Editors: “Rush of Longing” addresses the tension inherent in not wanting children but wanting to be a mother. Was this subject what you had in mind when you initially started writing or did it develop during drafting?
Chelsea Catherine: I am not the type of writer who has a theme in mind when I start a nonfiction piece. Usually, I’ll begin with a moment – something that stuck out to me or, in this instance, one that bothered me. I take this moment and dive into it, explore it a little bit, and see if it takes me somewhere. A lot of times, it will reveal a larger emotion or issue I’m dealing with that I wasn’t aware of. Once I’ve had this “aha” moment, I can rework the piece with the theme or subject in mind. For me, this is the most natural and helpful way to approach my nonfiction.
I did not expect this theme to surface in this piece, although parenthood seems to be all around me right now as my friends start their own families. But as someone who identifies as queer and nonbinary, it’s less about parenthood and more about family. The children I’ve worked with have always felt like family to me, and now as I am (quickly) approaching thirty and am no longer working in education, I find myself longing for that again.
RR: This piece takes us through a few different jobs and times during your life and we meet some children who left a significant impact on you. What inspired you to write about these children in particular?
CC: Ingrid and Josie have always stuck out to me as being catalysts for growth. Josie, in particular, had a huge impact on me. When I worked with her 6-7 years ago, I believed my career would be in child development. I wanted to run my own nonprofit working with children. I was young and hopeful and very naïve. Working with her showed me that bad things can happen in this world and sometimes you can’t do anything about it. That was a really difficult lesson to learn, especially that way, with a little girl I loved so much.
I’m at a point in my life where that theme and the accompanying emotions are very present. There are many things about my life right now that I had imagined being different as a child. It’s tough to learn how to deal with – how to find the light when you’ve experienced sadness and disappointment – but it is also a necessary and normal part of growing up.
RR: How long did it take you to write “Rush of Longing?” Can you tell us a little about your process?
CC: It took me a week to write the first draft of this piece, which is usual for me with nonfiction. I push to get it done because my moods and emotions fluctuate so much, and I want to preserve the feeling I’m experiencing throughout the piece. After the first draft, I sit on the piece for at least a week before revising and then sending it to a reader. It usually takes between 2-3 weeks for me to integrate their suggestions and feel I’m at peace with the final product.
My goal with writing nonfiction is to gain insight into my life. I’ll write a scene in the heat of the moment to preserve the feeling but then go back later to insert the insight or lesson I was incapable of understanding in real time. Nonfiction helps me assign meaning to my experiences, especially the darker ones.
I hear the process question a lot, and all I can say about that is… I force myself to do the work. I sit down every night and force myself to write. Process, for me, is practice. It isn’t always pretty and it isn’t always fun, but writing has been the single most rewarding part of my life, so I try very hard to make time to put in the work.
RR: As someone who writes both fiction and nonfiction, can you tell us a little about how you approach working within different genres?
CC: I write with a very similar style for both. The biggest difference for me is the initial approach to a piece. With nonfiction, I start with a moment. It’s a question, really. It’s something I need to figure out, or look deeper into. I explore that question until I find the theme, and then I can rework the piece, strategically placing memories that help expose that theme. With fiction, I have a lot more leeway. Generally, scenes will come to me as part of a theme right away. I’m not limited by my history or lived experiences, so there’s a lot more freedom there.
That probably doesn’t make much sense, but to sum it up: when I write fiction, I already know the general theme I’m working with. Nonfiction is all about discovering the theme.
RR: We see you have a novel, Summer of the Cicadas, coming out next year–that’s very exciting! What’s next on the horizon?
CC: Yes! Red Hen Press has been so good to me. I’m looking forward to seeing that come out. What’s next? Hopefully a third and fourth book. I have a solid draft of a novel called Dogfight that I would like to get on the market in 2021. I’m also almost finished writing a fourth novel about a coven that’s been really fun and interesting.
In the future, I’d also like to focus more on teaching. While I do teach some locally (and recently had my first experience teaching at a writing conference), I have my heart set on eventually teaching at an MFA program or becoming conference faculty.
Beyond that, I’m really just hoping to continue sharing my stories with people. The sharing and connection part of writing – that’s what makes everything worth it.
Chelsea Catherine’s work in Issue 7.1: