A Long Career in Journalism and More Recent Love of Cats Inspire a Debut Novel
A Q&A with COM Senior Lecturer Stephanie Schorow
“Write what you know” is advice offered by every writer, to every writer.
Stephanie Schorow, who likely said as much to her writing students at COM, takes such advice to heart. “Cat Dreaming: A Story of Friendships and Second Chances,” her new novel about female friendships, the power of cats, and newspaper journalism in the 1980s, is based on her own experience as a journalist at the cusp of the digital age.
Before joining COM’s faculty this fall as a senior lecturer of mass communication, advertising, and public relations, Schorow wrote for the Stamford Advocate, Associated Press, and the Boston Herald. “Cat Dreaming” is her debut novel, and as the author of nine nonfiction books about Boston and New England history, represents a new direction.
A book launch event will be held on Dec. 15 at 7 p.m. at the Mudflat Pottery Studio in Somerville. Proceeds from the event will go to the Boston Animal Care and Control shelter in Roslindale.
With Stephanie Schorow
Madison Mercado: Why did you want to write a novel after so many nonfiction stories?
Stephanie Schorow: I think a lot of journalists secretly yearn to write novels. There’s just something about writing a novel that is intriguing. It’s not that we don’t like facts. We love facts. It’s not like we don’t like real events. We do. But there’s something about creating a whole world, and there’s something about using a lot of fiction writing techniques that you can’t do in nonfiction.
Madison Mercado: Why did you want to write this novel, specifically?
Stephanie Schorow: There’s three main themes or reasons I want to write this. One was I wanted to explore women’s friendships and how intense and important they are. They can be as tenuous and as strong as relationships with a partner.
Two, I wanted to explore the mysterious power of cats and how they can really enhance our lives. There’s a bond between women, men and their cats.
And third, I wanted to go back to the world of journalism in the 1980s before a lot of the technology that we take for granted. I wanted to go back to that period because I wanted to explore the idea that we were on the cusp of change and we didn’t know it. Ancillary to that, I wanted to write about working in a features department at a newspaper. A lot of novels focus on news reporting, but my background has been in feature writing, and I wanted to explore that world for this book.
Madison Mercado: When you first started thinking about writing this book, did you always want it to be about your own journalism experience, or could it have just been about female friendship and cats?
Stephanie Schorow: It did evolve, as most novels do. You create your characters and you start following them around. And I followed them into a newsroom, and I followed them into the 1980s because I wanted to write about a pre-digital world where, again, people were just on the cusp of change.
It kind of evolved into the four friends and their relationship with a fictitious newspaper, but it’s based on my experience on working for real newspapers.
Madison Mercado: While you mentioned the ‘80s were not your favorite era, though an important one, how was that experience for yourself when you were going through the decade?
Stephanie Schorow: As journalists, we were working on computers. We weren’t on typewriters at that point.. What I think the ‘80s represented to me was a time where we weren’t aware of a lot of things that were coming down. President Reagan, who’s still very much loved today, was kind of a calming influence, but there were a lot of things that were happening under his watch that are coming back to bite us today (such as) this gap between the very, very wealthy and the lower- and middle-income class.
And I think for women, it was a difficult time because there was kind of a feminist backlash at that time. There have been a lot of gains made, but in the ‘80s there was a backlash. And people like Phyllis Schlafly emerged and there was a feeling that, “Well, it’s okay if you want equal pay, but we want you to be women.” And there were a lot of things that I didn’t like about that. There were a lot of things that really bothered me. Even though women were being hired, they weren’t being promoted.
Although I love shoulder pads. I wish I could go back to that shoulder pad era.
Madison Mercado: Are the four friends in the book based on any real life friends of yours?
Stephanie Schorow: They’re kind of based on little bits and pieces of friends and little bits and pieces of me. Several people have said, “Which one is you?” And I’ll say none of them. They include things that have happened to me and have happened to friends and have happened to people I’ve heard about. So none of the characters is me, but all of them are me.
Madison Mercado: How did you get into the idea of cats and their power?
Stephanie Schorow: Cats are something that’s grown with me. I was a cat naysayer actually during the ‘80s, I didn’t get cats until the ‘90s. As a naysayer I would say they’re kind of silly and they’re selfish and stuff like that. But then I was adopted by a cat. There’s a meme going around about the cat distribution system, and the cat distribution system found me when a cat adopted me. In fact, I should say, while the women are not based on me, the cats are all based on real cats. They’re portraits of my cats. They get the full biography. So I was adopted by a cat and it was kind of almost a mystical experience to get adopted by a cat..
In the book, I reference, “Oh, my cat did something so cute. I wish I had a way of filming it.” And that was kind of a throw to the future when the whole Internet is cat videos. So, why cats? Why not? They are intriguing creatures. They’re intriguing animals, and they’re very good companions.
Madison Mercado: So you also helped bring back the COMmunicator this semester. How’s that been?
Stephanie Schorow: We have the website up and running, and we’re hoping that more students will get involved with it, particularly next semester. We’ve got some good stories up there already, and I think we’re going to have even more really great stories next semester. I’ve got a very good team of students who are working on it right now, and they’re very excited about what we’ll do. So I think that it will be a great place for the College of Communication to really shine, to really get a lot of information about its faculty, its programs, interesting people, and interesting projects. It’s just beginning, but it has a very bright future.
Madison Mercado: After being an instructor for the Summer Journalism Academy, how does working with high schoolers compare to college students now?
Stephanie Schorow: One thing I’ve noticed is the high school students were more willing to speak up and express opinions. And I don’t know if that’s because of COVID. I don’t know if that’s because a lot of the older students were more in an online class situation before. So my goal is to help students speak up, feel comfortable speaking up, and feel comfortable relating to each other. The high school students were more bubbly, and they had a lot of energy. They weren’t as skilled. There was a lot more hands-on teaching with them. But they were fun. They had a lot of energy and joy. And I think my current students do have that, but they’re less expressive about it.
My goal is to help them to feel free to speak out about their thoughts and feelings and opinions. I like hearing that. I like students who disagree with me. I really do. I really enjoy that kind of back and forth, even though they’re wrong – I’m kidding! But I love the back and forth of somebody who challenges anything I say or do. It’s helped me to question myself and to become a better teacher.
This Q&A was edited for length and clarity.