TweetCathleen Maza lives and writes in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, Illinois, where she shares a 110-year-old home with her family. A proud member of the Society of Midland Authors, her short fiction has been published in literary venues such as Crack the Spine, Clover: A Literary Rag, and Chicago Quarterly Review. She is also the author of several independently published short story collections, including the six novella YA sci-fi series Sky Knights.
Time to chat with Cathy!
What are the greatest challenges in writing short stories?
I often think the biggest challenge in writing short stories is finding the audience to read them. When I began writing full time, I was only submitting my work to literary magazines. Obviously, that’s a market filled with readers who specifically want to read short works of fiction. Until I started publishing stories in collections of my own, I had no idea how difficult short fiction could be to market. A lot of readers have told me that they don’t want to get invested in a character for only a few pages, then get invested in another, and so on. I can’t tell you how many readers have asked if I’ll turn specific short stories into novels. Personally, I’ve always had an infatuation for short fiction stories, which is probably why I write them. I’m fascinated by the whole idea of creating a character, setting a scene, and telling an entire story that makes sense in only a few pages.
What’s the greatest pleasure in writing short stories, as opposed to a novel?
I really enjoy writing short fiction because I can create an unlimited number of characters and scenarios and actually use them however the muse moves me. I never have time to get bored with a specific piece of work. My brain is always picking up ideas for stories and I can utilize those creative thoughts in an effective manner. If I wrote longer works, I think I would have an incredible backlog of things I was wanting to write about. I also like the fact that being a short fiction writer doesn’t limit me quite as much to genre or subject matter. I can write the story that’s in my head at any given time and then hang on to it until I create more and eventually put together a collection.
Are all of your short stories themed collections?
Absolutely! I am an organization freak in real life and it plays out in my writing. I can’t imagine publishing a book of random stories with no theme to tie them together because it would feel like chaos to me. Once I have half a dozen or so stories that feel like they “fit” together, I’ll figure out the common threads and come up with a theme. From there, I can usually write the additional stories needed to fill out a collection that I’m satisfied with as a short fiction author.
Tell us about your novellas.
Most of them happened by accident. But it was always a happy accident! The first novella I ever wrote was based on a short science fiction story I had written years and years ago. It was a young adult/new adult piece that just grew and grew in length as I re-worked it. By the time I was done, it was a 90-page novella. I published it as a stand-alone, but the characters didn’t want to leave my head. I realized at that point that I had a series on my hands and ended up writing six novellas to tell the entire story of Sky Knights. The condensed volume is sold under my name, but the individual novellas are sold under the name C.A. Maza, so as not to confuse readers into thinking I’m a dedicated YA writer. I shocked myself with that whole experience. I never expected to write YA material, let alone a whole series of it. Years later, in July 2020, I published my first full length paranormal novella. Unlike Sky Knights, that one was written on purpose. I had been toying with the idea of being able to create a longer piece of adult fiction and Inherited was the end result. I was really pleased when it came in at 120 pages, which was a milestone for me.
Some authors, like me, always write scenes in order. But I know some people write scenes out of order. How about you?
I always write my short stories in order from beginning to end. The novellas, however, were all written completely out of order. I actually write every single one of my first drafts on index cards, which is an extremely valuable tool in putting together longer stories. I write the chapters I have in mind in any order and then easily lay them out and arrange them to create a larger, cohesive story.
How many unwritten books are in your head? How do you decide which ones come to life now and which ones stay on the back burner?
Right now, I have the makings of about three new projects on hold while I’m finishing up my current WIP. That’s about what passes as normal for me. The minute I have an idea for a story (or novella) I write notes on an index card and put it in a basket on my desk. My notes can be anywhere in length from a paragraph to three words, but I always know what I meant when I go back to develop them into more of a WIP. I usually try writing a little bit on each project until one suddenly stands out for me and grabs all of my attention.
Can you tell us about your road to publication?
It was long and winding. I’ve been writing short stories since high school. I worked in corporate insurance as a proofreader during most of my 20’s and early 30’s and remember writing a story or two on the back of company letterhead during lunchtimes. I saved all of my writing in a file at home for “someday”. I was in my mid-forties and a stay-at-home mom when everything clicked into place for me to start writing full time. For the first few years, I only focused on getting published in literary magazines. After that, I was accepted as a member of the Society of Midland Authors and began to indie publish my short fiction collections. These days, I’m enjoying having one foot in both worlds.
Have you received reactions/feedback to your work that has surprised you? In what way?
I was, of course, thrilled have my writing recognized by the Society of Midland Authors. Beyond that, I’m always amazed at how readers will have so many differing opinions about the same story. I remember a lively discussion about my short story “Flammable” (from the collection Same Problems, Other Worlds) where half a dozen readers had totally different interpretations as to what message I was trying to get across. I was blown away by how passionate people felt about my story and how personal it became to them.
Do you feel your latest book is your personal favorite or one of your previous novels?
My last published book was Inherited and I feel a special connection to it because it’s my longest single piece of writing. I also have a fondness for my YA work because it was fun to create and unexpected. But if I had to pick my personal favorite in terms of writing, I would go with Complicated Heart. I feel that collection showcases a number of my short fiction writing strengths. There are a few stories in there that I still can’t believe I was able to write.
Are you an introvert, extrovert, or ambivert? Have you changed throughout your life?
I like to think I’m a well disguised introvert. I have no problem holding conversations with strangers and I enjoy myself at social functions and on social media. My family moved often when I was young, so I learned how to connect with new people at a young age. However, I do tend to steer away from discussing anything too personal or voicing strong opinions in a crowd. I enjoy getting to know people, but I definitely save the best parts of myself for my close friends and family.
What’s the coolest surprise you’ve ever had?
When I turned forty, my husband threw a fantastic surprise birthday party for me. I had no idea he could pull off such a large social event without my input, but everything was top notch. I was stunned that he could sneak such a big party into our house while I was lunching with a friend. He invited absolutely everyone I knew at the time, the food was excellent, and it was an amazing day. Definitely one of my top ten life memories!
What are the most important traits you look for in a friend?
Loyalty, generosity, and a sense of humor. I tend to be a giver, but I’m at a stage in my life where I’m more careful with my time and wary of relationships that only go one way. The ability to have deep conversations and explosive bouts of laughter with my friends are must-haves for me. And I absolutely treasure those friends who can let any amount of time go by and then just pick up our friendship without skipping a beat…that’s important to someone who can disappear into their work for weeks on end.
What makes you angry?
Anything or anyone that I feel is trying to micro-manage me. I get upset with people who give “constructive criticism” on things that they’ve never attempted themselves. Also, I fume over people who squash the creative enthusiasm of others. I feel like the world badly needs less self-proclaimed experts and more kindness.
What simple pleasure makes you smile?
My husband bringing home chocolate. Sitting on the deck with my dog. Getting a call or text from my college kid. Eighties music. Writing “the end” on a manuscript.
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