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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Interview Studio: A Conversation with Debbie Cairo

Many of our members know Debbie, the cheerful face behind Evanston Writers Workshop. She started the original meetup group and brought in the board that now runs the non-profit company. Tomorrow, the world!

All kidding aside, Debbie has a lot of energy, great ideas, and tremendous creativity. She's written several novels and her first, OVER MY UNDEAD BODY, is published with Whispers Publishing.

We caught up with Debbie over email to discuss her projects and writing process.

SN: You started the original Meetup group of Evanston Writers Workshop in 2007. What made you decide to get things going?

DC: I went to a Romantic Times convention prior to that and met a couple of authors, one of them being Tina Holland, who I became fast friends with and introduced me to the concept of critique partners. Unfortunately, one was in Florida and one was in North Dakota, so our critique sessions were limited to AOL Messenger and email. A gentleman named Richard started a writers group in Evanston through Meetup dot com. Five of us showed up at the first meeting. I found I really enjoyed the companionship and input of other authors. So, when he stepped down as organizer of the group less than a month after its creation, I took it over without hesitation. Since then, as we have grown and evolved, we now encompass much more than the critique group it started as. I’m very excited to see where we go in the future.

SN: When did you start to think of yourself as "a writer" and not just someone who fiddled with stories?

DC: Almost immediately actually. I made the transition from voracious reader to writer. I read a series of books by an author who will remain anonymous, and I thought to myself, I can do better. So I sat down and spent the next seven months writing my first novel. I considered myself “an author” when the great Kate Duffy said, “Damn girl, you can plot!”

SN: You mentioned once that you grew up Jewish on the North Shore, in a predominantly WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) culture. How has that shaped your outlook on your stories?

DC: Actually, I grew up in a predominately Jewish neighborhood. My senior year, they merged my school with another school that was almost entirely WASP. There was a lot of mistrust and bigotry on behalf of the students and the parents. I learned the usual thing you learn when you are a victim of discrimination. I learned what it felt like to be an outsider. I learned to stand up for myself, which is a big theme in all my books. I learned that parents instill pre-conceptions and sometimes skewed values into their children. And since that new high school was filled with some of the wealthiest kids in the country, I learned that money definitely does not buy you happiness. You can see all these themes in the characters I build.

SN: You also run a popular board-gaming group through Meetup. How does your interest in strategy games affect your writing and stories?

DC: I think an interest in science and science fiction go hand and hand with both writing and board-gaming. You can feel the geek in me trying to get out in all my stories.

SN: What was the inspiration for your first book, OVER MY UNDEAD BODY? What gave you the idea for the title?

DC: The inspiration was, what would it be like to be a trailer-trash vampire? In all the vampire stories, the vampires are wealthy and powerful. I wanted to turn that on its ear. The body-switching part of the story came from my affinity for fish-out-of-water-stories. What if that trailer-trash girl was thrown into this world of opulence on top of learning how to exist as a vampire. I wish I had a great story about how I came up with the name, but I honestly don’t remember. I’m sure Tina Holland and I were throwing out suggestions to see what stuck to the wall and that one did. She’s an amazing sounding board.

SN: Do you have any writing rituals that you follow on a regular basis?

DC: Being the technology geek that I am, most of my rituals involve naming conventions and folder organization on the computer. What chapters are in what stage of writing or editing and where do they belong in the file structure. Once a actually put my fingers on the keys to write, I make myself quiet so that I can see the story running through my head. Then I simply write what I see.

SN: What are your must-have writing tools?

DC: My computer is the only physical tool I need. I use it for everything from writing to editing and research. Beyond that I must have my imagination, the Evanston Writers Workshop, and my friends and fellow authors.

SN: If you could only answer one question, what would it be, and how would you answer?

DC: That’s a dangerous question because I am politically inclined. Sufficed to say, our government is broken. The question would be, “how would you fix it?” The answer is way too long and way too divisive for this interview.

SN: Dark or milk chocolate?

DC: Milk, though there is no such thing as “bad” chocolate.

SN: Coffee or tea?

DC: Tea, chai, hot. Drinking it as we speak (or type).


ctgoodson said...

Great interview. I especially liked Debbie's insight as to when she began thinking of herself as a writer.

A. Catherine Noon said...

I'm glad you enjoyed, Colleen! Thanks for commenting!

Supie Dunbar said...

I love these Interview Studio pieces. Thanks Debbie and Tina.