By Joy S. Jones
English Professor Cate McGowan was destined to become a writer.
Cate’s mother attended school with acclaimed American writer Flannery O’Connor, who made quite an impression on her, and by the time Cate was 12-years-old, she’d already read a collection of O’Connor’s short stories that was kept in a hallowed place in her family’s home. Evermore intrigued by the personal inscription to her mother, she read it numerous times. In fact, “Cate,” Mary Catherine McGowan, surmises that she was named after Mary Flannery O’Connor.
Growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, her across-the-street neighbor was Olive Ann Burns, author of “Cold Sassy Tree.” Nearly all her heroines were writers as she came of age — Jo in “Little Women,” Anne in “Anne of Green Gables” and Laura Ingalls Wilder of “Little House on the Prairie.” And as a teen, she was cast as Irena Synkova, a teacher, writer and Holocaust victim in the play, “I Never Saw Another Butterfly.”
“All these formative things planted the seed in my head about wanting to become a writer. I saw these strong-willed women buck societal expectations, and I wanted the same deal,” she says.
On April 15, 2015, a collection of Cate’s own short stories will be published by Missouri State University’s Moon City Press. Cate was awarded publication after winning the 2014 Moon City Press Short Fiction Award. “True Places Never Are,” is a collection of 19 short stories written over a 10-year period. The title derives from a passage in Herman Melville’s novel, “Moby Dick”: It is not down in any map; true places never are.
“The short story form is easier for me because of my work schedule, which is sometimes a work week of 90 hours. I wrote the stories while working full time, teaching overtime and managed to complete a sentence here, a paragraph there,” Cate shares.
“One of the stories, ’Everything’s Lighter in Water,’ I wrote as an undergrad. Initially a 500-word piece that was published in a lit mag, I decided that I really liked the characters, and it ballooned to 80 pages, which I then cut to 2,000 words and subsequently published a different incarnation after nearly 482 revisions.”
482 revisions – indeed, Cate was destined to be a teller of tales, spinner of yarns — and into what she hopes will become gold: well-received by the community of readers and writers who await her book’s publication.
“Nothing is ever perfect; it’s just done,” she says. “I was reading one of the stories aloud — it was written some time ago — and I found myself presenting it in a halting voice, because it didn’t fit the voice I feel that I have now. If I could, I’d re-write it.”
As the title suggests, the stories in “True Places Never Are” are driven by setting, by place and time. All locales, she confesses, only exist in her mind.
“The stories are organized like they’d be in a poetry collection, divided into sections. Part I has a Southern setting, and the stories take place in a rural, agrarian place. The next section contains historical works that are a little surreal with a dose of magical realism thrown in; and Part III takes place in an urban environment. The people living there are coping with loneliness while they share space with others. One can feel intriguingly desolate in crowds,” she points out.
The tales also reflect Cate’s varied interests in art and history and her fascination with what makes people tick and sometimes even compulsive or unkind.
Cate has published fiction in Glimmer Train, Snake Nation Review, The Louisville Review, The GSU Review, Moon City Review, Vestal Review, among other literary journals, and has also been anthologized in W.W. Norton’s Flash Fiction International.
Cate is a tenured professor and an inaugural winner of the 2014 Faculty Association Awards for Excellence in Teaching, Counseling and Librarianship. Known affectionately by her students as “McG,” Cate was named among the “highest rated” junior and community college professors nationwide on the Rate My Professors Top Lists after earning high marks from her students.
Cate has several readings scheduled to promote the book and she invites faculty and staff to attend:
- Sunday, March 1, 2015, 2 p.m. – “Sunday Author Talk,” Winter Park Library, 460 E. New England Avenue, Winter Park
- Saturday, April 14, 2015, 7 p.m. – There Will Be Words, Gallery at Avalon Island, 39 S. Magnolia Avenue, Downtown Orlando
- Monday, April 16, 2015, 7 p.m. – East Campus, Building 3, Room 177 (Atrium)
For more information, visit CateMcGowan.com.