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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Interview with Mary Cunningham, Author of the Cynthia's Attic Series

Writing was not your first career, but now with the success of your books it looks like it will be your last. Tell me what made you decide that you could actually write something that Tweens/MG would like to read? 
 When I began writing Cynthia's Attic, I was so green I didn't even know the genre of my target audience! I read the Harry Potter books and tried to keep my stories close to that level.

Who encouraged you when you didn’t even have a writing background that this was something you could do?
My dad is my inspiration to write. He was an amazing journalist/writer, and while  he never lived to see my books, I feel him standing over my shoulder as I write. 

Did you write in your off time from work? Or were you a “stay at home” wife/mom?   
I wrote in my spare time in the beginning, but now it's my fulltime job, and I can't imagine my life without writing and inspiring elementary school students to read and write. 

When did you actually start writing your first book that got published? How long was it before you decided it was ready to be send it out to publishers? Tell me about that process.
About ten years ago, I began writing the first two books in the Cynthia's Attic series and decided, immediately upon completion, it was ready for publishers. Wrong! I sent the first manuscript to about a dozen NY publishers and got nothing but rejections. 

Finally, one wrote a note to me that indicated the idea was strong, but there was "too much telling and not enough showing." I owe all five books to that editor! I spent about six months rewriting and also joined a writers group where I found out about Echelon Press.  

According to the Echelon Press website it states – “All queries MUST include a full Marketing Strategy. This report must be sent as an attachment. Queries that do not include a Marketing Strategy will be deleted without consideration.” Is this something you had to do? Or is it a new requirement?
My contract for the first two books came in 2004. I don't remember the exact requirements but the president, Karen Syed, mentored me along. I didn't get how important it was to establish an online presence. And, in my defense, blogs were just becoming popular and Facebook was still in its infancy. 
I have since learned that marketing is essential for all authors, unless you're on the NY Times bestseller list. Then I suppose your publicist will handle most of it. LOL! It's definitely to an author's advantage to have a strong following and online presence at least six months before your first release. 

What are some of the most productive ways you’ve promoted your books?
Facebook, Twitter, GoodReads, LinkedIn are some of the sites I've used. My comfort zone is on Facebook, but other sites have been good, too. I also do a lot of local events and have much success doing school author visits. I'm fortunate to live in a market (Atlanta) that is flush with elementary schools. I keep very busy! My goal, this year, is to break into the SKYPE market; a great tool for author and book club visits. 

I also held a contest for the purpose of bringing a new character into Cynthia's Attic! On Cynthia's Attic Blog, I asked readers to post their favorite character in the first four books and why that character drew them to the story. A lovely young woman, Veronika, who lives in Siberia, won with her choice of the little brown dog, Molly, from The Magician's Castle. While gathering background information, I discovered Veronika had lived in France for a while which made her character in the latest book even more fun to write! 

What do you wish you knew about publishing books sooner?
What I wish I knew sooner? An author's job doesn't end when the final edits are complete. The real work is just beginning!

When I read about your books, they made me think of the Magic Treehouse Series. Did you get any of your inspiration for writing your books from this series or any other books? What other ‘tween authors do you admire?
So glad you made the comparison! I've had reviewers say the same thing, along with elementary school students. One of my favorite reviews begins with "Nancy Drew meets Harry Potter." 
J. K. Rowling's writing gave me permission to write "outside the box," and let my creativity go in directions it may not have, otherwise. Tolkien was also a huge influence along with H. G. Wells. 
Other 'tween authors I admire are Kerry Madden, Kate DiCamillo, Kirby Larsen and so many others!   

You did have another type of writing career prior to writing these books but it was as a songwriter. Did you sell any of them to any singers or music publishers?
Wow! That's going waaay back! Living in close proximity to Nashville, I wrote, mainly, country songs. A couple were picked up and recorded, but then disappeared very quickly. 
One I'm proud of was "If This Ain't Heaven." It was demoed (are you ready for this?) by Blake Shelton before he became Blake Shelton! It was never picked up, but it's still a good song and I credit much of my writing today to struggles associated with rewriting and rewriting and rewriting song lyrics. 
Unlike books, songs allow very little space to get your message across. I'd also like to mention an early mentor, Debbie Hupp (co-writer of "You Decorated My Life" and many other hits), who drilled in the value of tight lyrics and meter.

So few houses these days even have attics (or just so small spaces between a few beams); yet your book deals with a real life friend’s attic in growing up. Did you have an active imagination as a ‘tween yourself?
Some of my fondest memories are of playing in Cynthia's attic. We played dress up, played with old discarded toys and had a clubhouse in the attic. During the summer, we'd play softball, croquet, hide 'n seek; just about any outdoor game we neighborhood kids could dream up!
And, yes, I've always had an active imagination! Again, I have to credit my dad for encouraging my imagination with his own bedtime stories. His were so much better than Mother Goose or the Brothers Grimm (shudder!).

Your newest book, The Magician’s Castle” whisks your characters forward into 2014, where they meet their granddaughters. That’s just a few years ahead. Why did you choose that time?
Since the previous three books went 50 years in the past (1964-1914) I decided to place the girls 50 years in the future (1964-2014), plus it was a good time line for them to meet their granddaughters. That was so much fun! My publisher had to talk me into taking Cynthia and Gus into the future, but I'm glad I did.

What did you expect life to be fifty years later when you were a child?
As to what life would be like 50 years in the future? In 1964, I was sure we'd be traveling around in hovercrafts (i.e. The Jetsons) and taking weekend trips to the moon by 2014! Never did I think we would still be riding around in plain ole cars and living in houses similar to those in the sixties

Would you give me some details on your latest book?
I'm very excited about the newest book, Legend of Lupin Woods. I believe it's the most exciting, yet. After much discussion and hand wringing, my publisher and I made the decision to end the series on a high note with book five. The last story draws from exciting adventures and favorite characters from the 4 previous books. 

Here’s a brief synopsis… Much to the girls' dismay, mysteries previously solved are coming undone! Aunt Belle is missing…again! Cynthia’s great-grandfather, Beau was never found, and their nemesis, the circus clown, Blackie, again, appears to be making life miserable for everyone. This storyline gave me the opportunity to bring back some of my favorite ancestors and characters. Since one side of my family is from France, I place the time-traveling duo in a small French village and send Gus, alone, to fend off danger in a terrifying woods. 

What advice would you give other 50 somethings who want to embark on a writing career?
Write what you know! My series is set in the small, Southern Indiana town where I grew up and based on family stories, ancestors, and of course, my childhood playing in the attic of best friend, Cynthia.

That's all for today's interview. I hope this has stirred up an interest in reading her fun books. If you would like to buy one of her books, here's a link to do that. If you enjoy watching video trailers, here's a link to see the one for Cynthia's Attic.

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