Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Catherine Gilbert Murdock

I grew up in small-town Connecticut, on a tiny farm with honeybees, two adventurous goats, and a mess of Christmas trees. My sister claims we didn’t have a television, but we did, sometimes – only it was ancient, received exactly two channels, and had to be turned off after 45 minutes to cool down or else the screen would go all fuzzy. Watching (or rather, “watching”) Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds was quite the experience, because it’s hard to tell a flock of vicious crows from a field of very active static; this might be why I still can’t stand horror movies, to this day.My sister Liz, who is now a Very Famous Writer with a large stack of books, was my primary companion, even though she was extremely cautious – she wouldn’t even try to jump off the garage roof, which involved crouching right at the edge for ten minutes working up your nerve, and then checking each time you landed to see if you’d broken anything – and she learned early on that losing at games was easier in the long run than putting up with me losing. Now, of course, she travels all over the world collecting stories and diseases, while I stay at home scowling over paint chips, and losing on purpose to my kids. So the cycle continues. (Read an New York Times article by Catherine and Liz.)People sometimes ask if I played football in high school: no. I ran cross country and track, badly, but I have absolutely no skill whatsoever with ball or team sports. Plus my high school didn’t even have a football team. Instead, I was part of the art clique – taking extra art classes, spending my study halls and lunch periods working on my latest still life. (Please tell me this was not a unique experience.) I didn’t do much writing – my sister was the anointed writer – but I read my little eyeballs out. I was the queen of our library’s YA section.In college I studied architectural history. The formal name was “Growth and Structure of Cities Program,” but for me, it was all about buildings. I’ve always been fascinated with the built environment – how spaces fit together, how streets work, how they read. And curiously (Warning: Life Lesson approaching), it’s paid off in the oddest ways. For example, several of us in our neighborhood recently got quite upset about a enormous building going in across the street, and while everyone agreed that they didn’t like the way it looked, I was the one who stood up at public meetings and used words like entablature and cornice line and fenestration – all this architectural jargon I’d learned back at Bryn Mawr – and sounded like I knew what I was talking about. And because of that, the building ended up getting redesigned, and – in my humble opinion – now will look much more attractive and appropriate, which is nice because I’ll be looking at it for the rest of my life. So don’t be afraid to study what you love, because you do not know now, and you may not know for twenty years, how amazingly it will pay off. But it will. Dairy Queen was my first stab at creative writing since high school, not counting several years as a struggling screenwriter (which followed several years as a struggling scholar). I unabashedly recommend screenwriting for mastering the art of storytelling; just don’t pin any hopes on seeing your work on the big screen. But you’ll learn so much in the process that this won’t matter. I also recommend, you know, living. I've been passionate about food pretty much my whole life – first eating it, now preparing and then eating it. And so it plays a pretty big role in my writing, and adds so much flavor . . . not literally, of course, but the more you can add that's true, whether it's emotion or geography or gardening (that’s me in the picture above), then the stronger that story is.
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