Showcased Writer: Cecile Mazzucco-Than

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Interviewed by: Bre Hall

“Living in the Clair de Lune” Published in Silk Road No. 11

Creative Nonfiction

Cecile Mazzucco-Than holds a Ph. D. in Comparative Literature from the University of Pennsylvania and is currently a freelance writer, editor, and educator. A former bi-weekly newspaper columnist, her essays have appeared in Connecticut ReviewNorth Atlantic ReviewUnder the Sun, and upstreet.  Her essay for middle – grade readers, “Three Trees in the City,” published in Stories from Where We Live: The North Atlantic Coast, revived her interest in writing for children.  She presented a summer writing workshop for teens with a picture book author, and she is a member of the Long Island Children’s Writers and Illustrators group. Her creative nonfiction piece, “Living in the Clair de Lune,” appeared in the eleventh issue of Silk Road.

 How and when did you come to writing?

I began to write almost as soon as I began to read. I remember writing a story inspired by the Sesame Street muppet book People in My Family that I turned into a puppet show and presented to my classmates in elementary school. I won local short story and poetry contests and a Gold Key in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. By high school, I had a job as a reporter writing weekly feature articles for our local newspaper.  I went back to reporting as an adult, and in addition to writing soft news, I had my own bi-weekly column. I spent many years writing academic articles, and I published a monograph on Henry James’s non-fiction.

What was the inspiration behind your creative nonfiction piece, Living in the Clair de Lune?

Living in the Clair de Lune took shape in the back of my mind as my husband and I went through the first years of our life together as newlyweds and then as new parents, but I didn’t realize that the moon was such a constant presence in our lives until we moved to Long Island with our toddlers and began deliberately moon gazing. Then, I “reverse engineered” the idea and worked from how I felt free floating as a moon-gazing mother all the way back to my own childhood anchored to the earth and the goings on of the neighborhood by street lights.

Do you have a passion for creative nonfiction exclusively, or do you write in other genres as well?

I split my time between fiction and non-fiction.  For the past ten years, I have been writing middle grade and young adult novels as well as picture books.  Much of the fiction is historically based because the academic in me enjoys the research. Creative non-fiction has always been a passion, in part because I grew up reading the syndicated columnists in the daily newspaper, and I spent so much time in journalism. Creative non-fiction has that immediacy of reporting along with the world-building and reflection inspired by a place or a moment presented in rich prose that the fiction-writer in me loves.

Do you have any writing habits or rituals you perform before/during your time writing?

I like to make a lot of hand-written notes on any kind of paper scraps that happen to be handy because I write things down whenever they come to mind.  I circle ideas and shoot arrows off the page and clip together all the scraps on the same topic usually with a wooden clothes pin.  If it’s a nice day and I’m working well, I’ll do several loads of laundry and hang them out on my solar clothes dryers because I’m happy to be writing, and one of life’s greatest pleasures for me is sun-dried sheets.

Which authors do you admire? Do you think they affect your work?

I grew up reading Andy Rooney’s columns, and when I saw him on 60 Minutes with an Underwood no. 5 just like the one I typed on, I wanted to be like him.  Anna Quindlen’s New York Times columns are models of reflection on the unexpected connections in everyday life that form the center of my creative non-fiction. Henry James was lampooned for his convoluted sentences, but I enjoy creating sentences that take a while to unfold their main ideas.  There are so many underappreciated writers such as Rumer Godden, Joan Aiken, and Margery Sharp whose mastery of prose, plot, and characterization are models I keep in mind while writing.