Ann McCutchan‘s work springs from deep interests in the arts, nature, and creativity, and the ways they shape individuals, places, and history. Her books include a biography of French flute virtuoso Marcel Moyse and a volume of interviews with composers about the creative process. In 2011, she published two titles: Circular Breathing: Meditations From a Musical Life and River Music: An Atchafalaya Story, an eco-biography of Louisiana musician Earl Robicheaux and the Atchafalaya River Basin. Ann is currently writing Where’s the Moon? a memoir of Florida during the Space Race, and a biography of author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.
Ann will be teaching a class for the Writers’ League on Saturday, May 2 at St. Edward’s University called “Eight Ways of Knowing: Research and Creative Nonfiction.” Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.
Scribe: When did you know you were a writer? Was there a defining moment in your personal history?
Ann McCutchan: I’ve loved writing and reading from an early age, but I can’t say I “knew” I was “a writer” until after my second book was published – about the time I set aside my musical life to focus on writing. And even now, I resist the label. I think of myself as a creative person who’s been lucky enough to work in two disciplines: music and writing.
Scribe: How did your experience as a journalist influence your present work?
AM: Newspaper and magazine journalism require quick, focused thinking, no-nonsense research skills, concision and overall resourcefulness in service to meaty work produced on deadline. The novelist Carolyn Chute once described journalism as “boot camp for writers.” I couldn’t have said it better. The experience reinforced, or perhaps played into, my years as a musician, which required several hours of practice a day, no matter what, in service to regular performances for which one had to be exquisitely prepared. There is no room, in music-making or journalism, for “I don’t feel like it” or “I don’t feel inspired.” One always shows up to the stand or the desk.
Scribe: Your class focuses on research. Does all writing require some form of research?
AM: You could say so. Even purely imaginative work requires exploring one’s mind.
Scribe: How do you choose your research subjects? Do you start with topics you’re interested in, or with a piece of information that intrigues you?
AM: Research is a skill or practice I bring to a compelling nonfiction project or story. For example, five years ago I felt an overwhelming urge to write about my youth in Florida, and determined it would be part personal history (memoir) and part social/political history. This required memory work, library time, interviews, on-site exploration, and even attendance at a high school reunion. Additionally, I poked around in others’ books for models of the thing I wanted to write, and listened to music. For a few months, my formal model was a Beethoven string quartet. How presumptuous. But it inspired me.
Scribe: What constitutes a good writing day for you? A research breakthrough, the perfect articulation of an idea, or just a lot of work done in one day?
AM: Any of the above. Two of the three in one day I’d count as golden. All three = Triple Crown.
— Thanks, Ann!
Click here to register for Ann’s class.
Click here for a full list of classes.