WHY DOES WRITER CAT DORAN KNOW SO MUCH MORE
ABOUT CULTS THAN YOU DO?
Kiera Coffee: You’ve recently written a novel.
Cat Doran: It’s called Welcome To The Family, it’s the story of a girl who was born into a cult that is kind of an amalgam of a million different cults. I’m obsessed with cults so I took the best parts of my favorite ones—is it okay to have favorite cults—and made them into one.
KC: What cults are on your top-three list?
CD: One big influence was The Source Family in Los Angeles, I kind of borrowed their aesthetic. If you think of what a cult looks like in terms of hippies…
KC: In the 70’s?
CD: Yes. Everyone in The Source was beautiful and the women wore long dresses, the leader drove a white Rolls Royce, wore a white three-piece suit and had a long white beard.
KC: It seems like cult leaders live a lot better than the cult members.
CD: Jim Jones’ cult, People’s Temple, is one of the first ones I was interested in. In the beginning they were providing for poor people. I think what happens with cults is; they all start out with a utopian ideal, generally about peace and love. Then the cult leaders get drunk with power and find themselves in the position where people idolize them. They abuse that.
Another cult I researched is called Family of God. It has smaller pods, members who go off and live in family groups. It is a really dark cult where sex with children is okay. And they did this thing where the women supported the cult by doing something they called “flirty fishing”. Which was prostitution.
KC: Wow. What is the cult in your manuscript like?
CD: It starts in upstate New York, then one family moves to France and Justine, the protagonist, grows up in the south of France. Long before she comes of age, her mother’s boyfriend molests her. She’s a pretty dark character. When she turns sixteen they take her to Cannes to auction off her virginity. But she ends up getting out.
KC: I think of your other writing as darkly funny. Is there humor in this?
CD: Humor comes in during Justine’s inner monologue throughout the piece. And a couple of the characters are over the top; they provide absurdity.
KC: What happens after Justine leaves the cult?
CD: She comes to America, she lives in New York. Down the line she gets a job in fashion, working for an egomaniacal designer. The fashion world becomes a different form of cult.
KC: The two have things in common?
CD: Well in the fashion world Justine puts herself in positions where she has power… but then she gives it away. It is kind of the same thing she did in the cult. I’m fascinated by why people are seekers, I think people in cults are looking for someone to validate them. Everyone does this, you see it in American yoga studios; people believe the teacher has some kind of enlightenment to give them.
KC: So the manuscript carries a theme about power.
CD: Justine has power, she’s cunning, she gets herself places. On the other hand she gives her power up very quickly.
KC: You said to me once, in a moment of frustration, “I wish someone would tell me what to do.“ I remember it because you usually want full control of things.
CD: Every once in a while I wish that someone would tell me what to do. I think it comes from being a person who has been single much of my life. That means I have to figure everything out, and I get sick of making choices sometimes.
KC: Your job also entails a lot of decision making.
CD: I am a creative. I basically make short films, something a company is paying me to make. I write a script (trying to solve some problem or sell something), write a series of scripts, sell those scripts through, then make the script. Sometimes I direct, sometimes I don’t.
KC: What is it like to write at work and also write a novel?
CD: Because of a horrible thing called an open office, I have become able to write anywhere, with any amount of distraction around me. I just have to put in headphones.
KC: You listen to music while you write?
CD: I had writer’s block for a while, about my manuscript. A hypnotherapist suggested I listen to music without words, because it turns off part of your brain, frees it up for other things. I wrote almost this entire manuscript listening to Dvorzak.
KC: What gets in the way of writing well?
CD: I think the internet has made it impossible to be a focused human. The current news cycle, I can’t stop reading anything about it, so that’s a problem. Also social media is distracting, and the ease of things you can find on the internet, and someone who starts texting or emailing you. I’m a very focused person but I can hardly read a book anymore. Sitting down to write is torture in a way. I had to do it in bursts,
KC: Of 160 characters.
CD: Of a couple hours. Luckily for me I write quickly.
KC: And now you can write anywhere?
CD: When I was working for Apple, part of it was in San Francisco. I told myself that during the bus ride—which is an hour and a half each way—I would write. And I did. I wrote a great part of this manuscript that way.
KC: Apple would be proud.
CD: It just dawned on me! I didn’t even mention Fundamentalist Mormons who I’ve been fascinated with and read so much about.
KC: Didn’t you visit their compound?
CD: Years ago I went to Colorado City on the border of Arizona which is the seat of polygamy, where Warren Jeffs lived. I was driving across the country by myself and I took a detour. I was so fascinated with them, I thought I could just drive up, maybe meet someone and talk to them.
KC: What happened?
CD: Two guys in a white pickup truck started following me. They wanted me out. I was an unrecognized car and I had snapped some photos with my flip phone. I don’t know if you can call Fundamentalist Mormons a cult but they are certainly a religion you can’t easily get out of.
KC: Back to your earlier idea about seekers, don’t you think it can be normal to seek out something that might lead you to insight?
CD: Yes, that’s what everybody starts out looking for. But then in a cult it becomes easier to have another person tell you what to do. I guess it’s back to that desire, to just have someone tell me what to do.
photo credit: The Source Family