Behind the Words: Cathy Ulrich

Posted by on Jan 14, 2022 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Behind the Words: Cathy Ulrich

Cathy Ulrich is a prolific writer and an incredible member of the literary community. She was published in Spry in 2015, and if memory serves me correctly, she’s been working with us as an editorial reader since that publication. Every issue, we offer our staff the opportunity to take a break — we’re an all volunteer team — and every issue, I watch my inbox with anxiety until Cathy responds…always with a note about how happy she’s be to continue working with us.

And only then I can let out a sigh of relief. She is a quick reader, a detailed reader, and a dedicated reader. She encourages stories that may need small edits instead of immediately casting them aside, and when an issue publishes, she champions everyone’s work. I’m so honored to have gotten to know Cathy in the years since we published her work, and I hope you’ll take a moment to learn about her and connect with her now. 

Starlings is a beautifully written piece of flash. Since we publish both creative nonfiction and fiction at this length, I’d love to know which of these genres Starlings falls under.

“Starlings,” like a lot of my writing, has elements of truth in it hidden amongst the lie, the story. This piece has more truth than a lot of my others — it could probably be described as CNF. That year, we really did see a leg-injured starling, really did see a snow-white one in the midst of the others, thought it might be a different kind of bird, looked up on our phones white starlings.

To follow up from that question, where did the spark of inspiration come from to write this piece?

All the elements were there, so many starlings that year, I can still remember how they peppered the yard, the rush of their wings when they took flight. But the thing that sparked it into a story for me was my mother saying if we were birds, we’d be starlings. She says it to mean that we’re average, but I think starlings are really beautiful.

If you could go back and edit Starlings, would you? Why or why not, and what, (if anything) would you change?

This is a game I try not to play! I try to be satisfied with a story once it’s been published, otherwise I’ll be filled with writing regret all the time. Although in this case, I would maybe make the breaks between the paragraphs stronger — each one is its own little section, and I didn’t make that clear enough, I think.

Shoot, now look what I’ve done!

I feel like every time I open Twitter I see that you’ve published something new. What’s your submissions process look like? Do you write something new and send it to a few places? Do you wait and send batches of work out at a time? 

I submit work as time allows — I like to be familiar with the journal’s aesthetic before submitting. In some cases, this works out perfectly: when I wrote “Starlings,” I thought it would be a good fit for Spry and, luckily, you thought so too! Other times, I am completely wrong and then I have to search for a new home for the piece. I try not to do simultaneous submissions — I am much too disorganized to keep track!

How big is your “In-Progress” folder? How many works-in-progress make it to a final draft?

It’s about a quarter inch thick at the moment! I need to have a physical copy to mark up with pen, so I carry a literal folder around with all the things I’m working on, all my scraps of paper that might turn into something.

In a good week, I can write two or three pieces that might be worth submitting. (In a bad week, when I am very depressed or having panic attacks and can’t focus, I usually just stare at the wall on my lunch break; I can’t write at all then.) Usually two or three rounds of edits is all I give a piece — it goes from handwritten rough draft to the marked-up printout to a clean, pretty version. If I can’t get a story in that time, I have to put it away because it just isn’t going to work. Sometimes I completely rewrite it later and come up with something worth sharing, sometimes it is gone for good.

Another thing I notice from following you on Twitter is that you are such an excellent literary citizen. You’re always sharing the work of your peers. Why do you think it’s important to share fellow writers’ words? Why do you do it?

I love reading. All of my favorite writers love reading. So when I see something that makes me feel like, “yes, this is lovely,” I want other people to have that same feeling when they read it!

And it is so, so powerful to know that your writing has meant something to someone — I have become friends with a writer who shared one of my pieces before I was even active on social media. She didn’t know it out the time, but she actually helped save my life. I was suffering very badly, and seeing that somebody was moved by my words, well, it really saved me.

To follow up, what do you think it takes to make a good literary citizen? What do you wish you saw more often from your peers?

There’s something I’d actually like to see less, and that’s comparison. It makes me so sad when people see a story and say “I could never write like that.” That’s actually good, you know? Because that writer is already writing like that. I want you to write like you.

That comparison thing, it hurts you and it hurts the writer you’re comparing yourself to. We’re all just telling the stories only we can tell, sharing them how best we feel comfortable. When people start getting judged for that (positively or negatively), it can become really painful. We’re all just doing our best — there’s no need to put yourself down, or anyone else. There’s enough room in the world for all the beautiful writers and their words.

Is flash the only genre you write in? If so, what do you like/dislike about it so much? If you write in other genres, which is your favorite?

Flash is definitely my preferred genre. They only had poetry classes when I went to school, so my teachers were all poets, but I really wanted to write fiction. Flash is a bit of a compromise, and one that suits my temperament and skills.

Describe a perfect writing day.

Oooh, that would have to be I get a whole hour for lunch break, and the phone doesn’t ring (or if it does, my coworkers answer it), and I have enough time to write a whole story in my notepad before going back to work, maybe get some edits done on another. Yes. That would be just perfect.

You’ve also been a reader for Spry for some time now. I honestly have no clue what the journal would do without you. Tell us, what do you look for in submissions. What sings to you and what turns you off?

I’m so honored to be a part of the Spry staff — it means so much to me to be part of a project like this. What I look for in our submissions is an unexpected moment, beauty in the language, something that makes me look at a character or a poet or an artist and say, yes, yes, I feel like this too.

That moment. It’s just so wonderful.

Erin Ollila believes in the power of words and how a message can inform – and even transform – its intended audience. Her work can be found all over the internet and in print, and includes interviews, ghostwriting, copywriting, and creative nonfiction. Erin is a geek for SEO and all things content marketing. She graduated from Fairfield University with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. Reach out to her on Instagram at @ErinOllila, or visit her website