Catherine Gildiner is a best-selling author and psychologist. Born and raised in New York, Catherine moved to Canada at age 22 and now lives in beautiful Creemore in Southern Ontario. Catherine has written a successful and humorous series of memoirs which recount her life through self-mirroring character, Cathy McClure (Catherine’s maiden name). Catherine’s first memoir, Too Close to the Falls, which covers Catherine’s life up until age 14, remained number one on the Canadian Best Seller’s List for 172 weeks. Her second wildly popular memoir, After the Falls, continues her life story up until age 21. After writing two memoirs, Catherine wrote a Freudian thriller called Seduction – a fictional piece which also spent several weeks on the Best Sellers list. Most recently, Catherine completed her third memoir, Coming Ashore, as a continuation of her life up until age 25.

Here is our Q&A with Catherine Gildiner:

You’re touring this year to promote your third memoir, Coming Ashore. In her glowing review of Coming Ashore, Lynda Davis wrote: “…anyone who requires three volumes to cover her life up to age twenty-five has obviously lived a more interesting life than mine.” Tell me about your fascinating decision to write about small increments of your life instead of a single “up until now” memoir.

I wrote the first volume as one short piece (only using Chapter 1) and a publisher said I should make it into a book, so I did. I had no intention of writing two more. But the first was popular so I continued on. I ended Coming Ashore on my wedding day for a reason. In some ways I feel my life was my own until then. I was an only child with deceased parents so I wasn’t exposing anyone. If I went on writing about my husband and family I’d be exposing my view of them and their exploits to the world, which is not really fair to them.

Your first memoir, Too Close To The Falls, covered your life from ages 4 to 14. Why do you think you remember that period of your life so clearly?

I am the one from high school who remembers everyone and where they lived and what they wore in detail. My high school friends find it hilarious. I am a bit of an idiot savant that way.

I also think it only looks like I remember so much of my childhood. I look at Too Close To The Falls and think I remember my whole childhood, when, in fact, if you dissect it, there are only around ten episodes in the book. Everyone remembers ten episodes from their childhood and could recount them. The trick is spinning them out into full tales. In teaching memoir writing, I found that if you asked the right questions, people could recount their childhood memories. I start with the very happy and then the traumatic—that gets the ball rolling.

As an author and psychologist, what brings you the most joy at work and why?

I like the beginning of projects and planning them out. As a psychologist I liked doing a history and then planning the case and knowing what I had to do, then executing it. It was also a great moment when you saw the patient suddenly ‘get it’ or see the pattern of their destructive behaviour.

As a writer I like planning a whole book and watching the characters come to life. My favourite is the first draft when you don’t have to worry about making everything work perfectly, but the characters are just entering my imagination. Sometimes in fiction, I’ll plan a character to have a certain personality and yet they emerge quite differently. It can be a magical process and I love it.

Catherine Gildiner

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

My dad said, “Never criticize anyone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” I’ve learned how true that is. I used to wonder why people couldn’t control their children until I had them.

It also helped me as a psychologist. I did some work in forensics where the ‘criminally insane’ have killed people etc. I had to enter their heads and really feel as they felt before I could help them.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever given yourself?

If I think maybe I shouldn’t say something, it is always best not to say it. After innumerable blunders, I have taught myself to listen to that little voice and pay her heed.

You’ve written three memoirs and one novel. Which type of writing feeds your soul and your love of writing most?

I have loved the memoirs. When I write fiction I can get lost in trying to make the ‘perfect’ plot, or putting in too much extraneous information. The glory of the memoir is that the arc of the story, Cathy’s life, is already there. I have the outline done before I start and it reins me in. I have to stay within the facts and the era is always one I know.

I am now contemplating writing a novel on the Underground Railroad. It is really a challenge to write a historical novel. For example, did she ride a horse, a carriage, or a buggy? How liberated were women in 1850? etc. I have to know the era as well as the era I grew up in. It is a big challenge.

Do you have any strong female role models in your life? If so, how has their guidance impacted you?

My mother was my greatest role model. In many ways she was a typical housewife of the 50s in that she cared about clothes, bridge, garden club, and didn’t work. However, she wrote papers for her study club of 12 local women on the Mau-Maus in Africa. She wrote to Bishop Tutu in Africa and took her work seriously.

In her own way she was subversive of the woman’s role. She never, in my living memory, cooked a meal, nor did she iron. When I got an iron as a wedding gift, she said, “Throw it out or you might use it.”

I am from a religious family that is riddled with nuns. They were some of my strongest role models. I had an aunt who was a missionary in the Congo for over twenty-five years. She ran a school, a hospital and worked with lepers. She never once took any advice from, as she said, “Any man on earth.” She only answered to the “almighty.”

Catherine Gildiner

What’s something you haven’t already accomplished that you’d like to?

I have done everything I have ever wanted and been surrounded by supportive people. Now I want to give back. I have just contacted a prison and I’d like to do some volunteer work and help prisoners write their memoirs.

How would you like to be remembered?

About ten years ago when the scourge of AIDS was at its worst in Toronto, I had a number of friends that worked at Casey House, an AIDS hospice. One volunteer told me that when people were dying, she often read aloud to them from Too Close to the Falls. She said no matter how much pain they were in, the book always brought smiles to their faces.

That really touched me. Life can be hard for all of us at some point. I would like to be remembered as a person who made others smile through my humor.

 

Catherine is currently on a book tour for her third memoir, Coming Ashore. Want to learn learn more about Catherine? Visit catherinegildiner.com or follow Catherine on Twitter.

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