by Alexander Mika, ’21 (CLAS)
When she was first hired by Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor Gina Barreca in spring 2019, then-first-year student Nicole Catarino ’22 (CLAS) had no idea that she would soon help work on a book, let alone be featured in it. Fast Funny Women, an anthology of seventy-five flash nonfiction pieces by women authors and edited by Barreca, will be released by Woodhall Press in March 2021 and includes works by both internationally celebrated authors and incredibly witty new voices. In this conversation with Catarino, I had the pleasure of learning about her experience assisting Barreca with the process of creating Fast Funny Women.
AM: When you were first hired, what were your responsibilities working for Professor Barreca? When did the work begin for Fast Funny Women?
NC: At first, it was primarily managing her inbox. She got so many emails. I mean, at the time she was writing for The Hartford Courant and Psychology Today and all these other different things. So we’d get emails from readers, people who wanted her to come speak at events, emails from students being like, “Hey, I need you to write this for my grad school application.” So it was basically my job to be a human calendar and keep an eye on things, answer emails. There were organizational tasks, too, like preparing things for her classes, reaching out to the bookstore. In the summer, she approached me with the book she was working on and we jumped right into it!
AM: What was it like creating a book with so many contributors?
NC: Gina’s pitch was basically this: “We’re going to get 75 different women to write in this book. I want you to be one of them.” It still blows my mind to this day that she was like, “Yeah, I’m going to put you in a book.” I think in total we probably reached out to about a hundred people. At the beginning, it was just reaching out to people and asking, “Would you be interested? Do you want to do this? Can you do this? Do you have the time to do this? We need this by this date. Is this possible for you?” Some people were great and would respond with a “yes” and attach a piece of writing for us already. Most people needed the time, which was completely understandable. So it was really just being good about deadlines and keeping people on track. There was about a year of just emailing people about their writings, getting the drafts, sending back edits, getting biographies and pictures, making huge Excel sheets and Google drive folders and so on.
AM: How did it feel to hold the first manuscript?
NC: It’s funny you mentioned it, because I had that feeling of “Oh my God, this is a book” twice. The first time, well, I guess the second time was when I got the very first manuscript, but the first time was when we had fully printed it out. I still remember printing out all two hundred pages, taking this massive stack of papers, hot off the press and just holding the book in my hands for the first time. It didn’t look anything like a book; it looked like two hundred pages of a Word document, but I just remember looking at it and knowing that my name was in there somewhere and just being absolutely elated. Gina, I think, saw the happiness on my face and was like, “Well, you need to take pictures.” So I have pictures. It was massive. I can’t stress enough how big the stack was. It dwarfed my head.
The second time that happened was when we got the first manuscript back and we had the cover page, which was beautifully done by Mimi Pond. It had the cover, it had all the details, the table of contents, the different page numbers. And again, my name was right there and it looked so beautiful. And I just remember looking at it and thinking, “Oh, this is so cool.” It’s like baking something and the bread comes out of the oven and you think, “This is my child. I helped make this. Even if mom ended up doing most of the work, I assisted in this.” And then immediately spotting my first grammar issue of being like, “Okay.”
AM: With so many moving pieces and things to keep track of, what was something that caught you off guard or surprised you about this process?
NC: I think the biggest thing for me was like realizing how much work goes into a table of contents. I had just never thought of this before because most of the time. My instinct would tell me to do it in alphabetical order or in the order in which people submitted the pieces. It took us a couple of weeks to figure out the order, asking questions like “What are the themes that we can find within these different stories, despite them all being so different? Who do we want to start the book? Who do we want to finish the book?” That was definitely one of the more eye-opening parts.
AM: What are some of those themes?
NC: It’s a book written entirely by women, so there are a lot of stories in there that are about just womanhood in general. One of the themes was dating, but even more specifically, online dating; we had a bunch about online dating. Food and weight and dealing with that. Men, in any sort of capacity, negative or positive. School and teaching, learning. We had a lot about law, which was interesting. And then we had to put them in some sort of order resembling a book, which I think worked out. Gina had more of a hand in that than I did.
AM: Can we talk a little about your piece that’s featured in the book? What was your process for that? Did you have the piece ready, or did you write it with the pressure of a deadline looming overhead?
NC: I didn’t have this piece written at all. Actually, I still remember her asking me to be in the piece, I remember my just overwhelming excitement and then immediately afterwards realizing I have no freaking idea what I want to write, because I don’t think I’m a funny person. I know that I have a good sense of humor, but I don’t think I’m a funny person. And I don’t think that anything that happens to me is funny. It’s all about how you tell the story, but my day to day is very basic and boring. What I actually ended up writing about was about another internship I had been doing. I worked at a law internship in Harford doing child support law, which was a lot. And so I ended up writing about one of those experiences because it was at the forefront of my mind at the time. I only had seven hundred fifty words, and boy, brevity is the soul of wit and I have none of it. I am not a short talker. So it was mostly just me sitting there trimming, trimming, trimming, trimming, getting Gina to pop in, trimming, trimming, trimming. I was really lucky to have Gina helping me to make it shorter and funnier.
Even just in that year my own style had changed so much that I was looking at the piece and would think, “This sucks.” I would love to rewrite this, but of course you can’t when you’re doing line edits. And so it was mostly me being trying, “Okay, well, maybe I can just change that to a period instead of a semi-colon.” I got yelled at a couple of times by the editors being like, “We can’t do this now.” It was worth a shot. I had to try. I said, “This semicolon is so pretentious. Can I please take it out?” “Absolutely not.”
AM: That’s it, Nicole you’ll forever be known in infamy as The Semicolon User.
NC: That’s alright. If there’s something I have to be known for…
AM: Now that the book is going to be released soon, what’s next?
NC: Once the book comes out, it’ll still be a lot of publicity work. We’ll be doing talks about it, getting the word out there, gauging people’s reactions. The exciting thing, though, is that we have a series planned for the future, so Fast Funny Women is actually going to be a series. Gina’s already in the process of exactly what we did freshman year, inviting people to the mix, getting people to to join the book again. We’ll see where that goes, but yeah, there’s a series in the works. We’re already working on the second book, so that I imagine is going to take up a lot of my time again.
Nicole Catarino is a junior at the University of Connecticut pursuing an English major with a concentration in creative writing and a minor in literary translations. She hopes to pursue a master’s degree in English after graduation with the intent to go into publication. On a given day, you can find her listening to one of her many Spotify playlists, drinking boba tea, or trying to come up with an idea for a new D&D character.