OSGOOD – “Write what you know,” authors have long been advised. Cathy Day, who teaches creative writing at Ball State University, found success doing just that, she told about 20 during a June 6 discussion at the Osgood Public Library sponsored by its book club.
Her 2004 debut novel, “The Circus in Winter,” is about her hometown of Peru in northern Indiana. Yet “southern Indiana has been my ... home for quite a while.” Her parents now live in Aurora, her sister works at Bright Elementary School and her mother and brother used to work in Batesville.
One woman asked about her writing beginnings. “Like a lot of writers, I love to read,” she answered. While devouring “Silas Marner” at 12, “I read this really beautiful paragraph .... What occurred to me, a writer could put words together in such a way to make readers feel something.”
At DePauw University, Day had to write a senior thesis. The professor pointed out, “‘You’re from that weird circus town. Why don’t you write about it?’”
The Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus performers wintered there from 1884-1944 because the owners lived in the town. She explained, “The kids in Peru hate the circus. They’re sick of it,” just like Gettysburg residents are tired of the Civil War.
But she did have stories. “My great-great-uncle, my mother’s sister’s husband’s father, got killed by the elephant.”
Her book began as a 50-page nonfiction essay. She wrote more stories before earning a master’s degree at the University of Alabama in 1995 and the rest of the chapters after that.
One professor said some of her stories were like Victorian dollhouses. Day got the period details right, but the characters felt like dolls, not real persons. She realized, “You have to get inside the characters in the same way actors and actresses do. For me, my favorite stories are the ones when I’m learning as much about myself” and putting those emotions into the characters. “They are literally parts of me.”