Portrait of Cara McDonald

Cara McDonald
Editorial Director
Evergreen Custom Media
MA English: Communication Development, 1998

Where are you working now? I’m self employed; I work with a business partner, and we own Fort Collins, Winter Park Mountain Living and Breckenridge magazines.

How did your major prepare you for the job, the life you have now? There were two main ways. I was fortunate to have peers and professors who encouraged my writing. And through teaching as a TA, I developed my ability to analyze and troubleshoot copy, which led directly to using my skills as an editor.

What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishments (both personally and professionally)? How did your experience in the English Department help you with these achievements? Professionally, my work at 5280 Magazine was a tipping point. I was hired as the deputy editor when the magazine was only nine times a year and had a pretty green staff. I was green myself, but I had a strong vision for what the magazine could grow into and had the freedom to push boundaries and shape coverage. In a year we grew 40 percent, hired and trained people, mentored existing staff and within two years were taking a seat at the table with other city magazines nationally, winning significant awards. But what was most satisfying was seeing the growth we all went through as we stepped up and on to a bigger playing field. The autonomy and vision I was able to express there led me to start my own magazines with confidence (even during a recession, which I don’t recommend!). City regional magazines are just in my blood, and I love how they impact readers, subjects and what they mean to their communities.

Personally, running my own publications has allowed me to live a life free from a lot of the drama and stress in the publishing world (it’s real). I live in the mountains with my family, am able to raise my boys and be there for them. Marrying the love of my life and merging our dreams, making a life in the mountains actually work, has been an incredible gift.

What did you like about the English program? Why did you choose to study here? At the time, I was planning to pursue an academic career and I was drawn to what was then the Communication Development MA program. They had generous teaching assistant positions, which was a draw. And of course, being in Colorado didn’t hurt.

Do you have a favorite or funny story from your time with the English Department? My classmates and I used to leave Paul Trembath’s theory classes in a bit of a state, sort of giddy and smug and confused all at once. We barely grasped Nietzsche and Derrida, but we made it a ritual to head to the Crown Pub to keep discussing over pints of cider. One night, we left the Crown and it was snowing, and we all stopped and made an enormous misshapen snow woman on campus. We named her Gertrude Stein. We were pretty full of ourselves.

Was there a specific class, professor, advisor, or fellow student who made an impression on you, helped you, or inspired you when you were at CSU in the English Department? Do you still keep in contact with your classmates or professors? Of course. When I visited the school before enrolling, John Calderazzo took time to talk with me about my goals and what I wanted to pursue in grad school. I remember him urging me to drop the expectations and plotting and career planning, and asked if I could study anything, no strings attached, no job prospects, but just for the joy of it, what would it be? I knew that writing was the answer. I ended up pursuing more non-fiction work vs. a PhD track, and I’ve never regretted it. John continued to encourage me and we’ve stayed in touch to this day.

And Steve Reid’s four criteria for analyzing text stay with me to this day, and I’ve shared them with numerous editor colleagues through the years. The Prentice Hall Guide for College Writers is burned into my brain forever.

I am still in very close touch with a number of classmates. Several, like Laura Pritchett and Shawna Jackson, have written for Fort Collins Magazine over the years and been amazing supporters and friends. Anne Mudgett, a CD MA who graduated a year before me, became a close friend when we landed in the same small town in Michigan after graduation. She eventually moved back to Colorado, encouraged me to do the same, and set me up with the man who’s now my husband. So my time at CSU certainly paid off in the relationship department.

What would you like to tell prospective CSU English Department students? Definitely consider pursuing a teaching assistant position. Try to avoid going into debt in grad school, especially if you’re pursuing a writing career! But not only is it an enormous financial burden lifted, you get a much stronger connection to the department, the staff and faculty, and form a very tight community with fellow TAs. And I can tell you to this day the principles we taught have stayed with me, because that’s the richest and deepest way to learn, by teaching. Teaching composition has made me a ten times better editor than I would have been without it, because I can analyze and explain the why behind my direction.

What advice do you have for current CSU English Department students? Network aggressively and pursue internships. Use every possible connection in the department for an introduction or a foot in the door. Getting started after graduating is very hard. Once you’ve landed that first job or byline, things are exponentially easier.

What was the last piece of writing you read or wrote? OR, What are you currently reading, writing? OR, You have an hour to spend in a bookstore. What section do you make a beeline to? I’m writing all the time, in our magazines, and recently wrote about fruit beers and white water rafting. Being a writer means you get filled with tons of useless information about all kinds of things. I just finished reading Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay and Mother’s Will to Survive,  a memoir by Stephanie Land. It’s about how an unplanned pregnancy changed the trajectory of her life, and their struggle for dignity and basic survival. It’s beautiful.

What are your hobbies or special interests, what do you enjoy doing with your free time? I read a lot and have a book club up here full of diverse and fascinating women, so I love finding community there. My passion is animal rescue, and I’m currently enjoying a young BLM mustang mare I adopted last year and training her to be a good equine citizen. It’s pretty humbling. Horses have bullshit-ometers that are very sensitive. You have to show up very present and very clear, with all your stuff together. That’s good therapy.