Today I am interviewing Mary Cunningham, author of a series of children's fiction stories, for approximately the same age group for which I write—ages 8-14.
JANET: Mary, I am familiar with your Cynthia's Attic series, and I just visited your beautiful
website. I see that your ideas for your series came from a recurring dream and is based on your childhood friendship. What a gift your dreams were! Please tell me more about it. Are many of the elements of Cynthia's Attic directly from your dream?
MARY: Thanks for your kind words about my website, Janet. I'm glad you enjoyed your visit! As for my dream directly impacting Cynthia's Attic, the description of the attic is close to my memories as a child. The mystery staircase was very vivid in my original dream and plays a distinct role in The Missing Locket. I also rely heavily on family stories and family members (mine and Cynthia's). Also, the setting for the stories begins in my hometown in Southern Indiana.
JANET: I see that reading and the love of books was instilled in you by your father. How important do you think that is for a child?
MARY: Hugely important! My dad not only instilled a deep love of reading and the written word, I believe he is directly responsible for my vivid imagination. When we ran out of bedtime stories or books, he'd make one up. He never discouraged my love of fantasy and creativity. I had an imaginary friend, Jimmy, when I was a toddler and both my parents played along. My mother would set an extra place at the table for Jimmy, and my dad would always include my "friend" when we went for car rides...making sure Jimmy was safely in the back seat before the car door was shut.
JANET: My definition of "True Fiction" is fiction that reflects real-life, captures real human emotion, portrays natural reactions and consequences, and teaches important life-lessons in the context of exciting adventure stories. I have often said that it is possible for even scifi and fantasy/adventure novels to do these things. I know you don't classify your books this way, but do you think they meet most if not all of my criteria for true fiction?
MARY: Excellent question! Let's see...I've never classified Cynthia's Attic in the true fantasy genre, but more historical fiction with fantastical elements. Best friends, Cynthia and Gus, behave like any friends would. They fight sometimes, have totally different personalities, but are fiercely loyal to each other and to their families. Even though they travel back in time through a magic trunk, they still encounter many of the same problems and challenges that any twelve-year-old best friends would face.
JANET: What part of writing and being published brings you the greatest joy?
MARY: I love creating! I love writing a really cool sentence, paragraph, or chapter, and then reading it aloud. I also love the interaction with kids who have read the books. Seeing the excitement on their faces when they describe their favorite characters or sequences is priceless.
JANET: What is your main goal in writing these books?
MARY: I can't deny it. I'd love to be nationally recognized as a really good writer. To be validated by your peers is great. To be validated by your readers is phenomenal! I supposed my main goal is reaching out to young readers and capturing their parents and grandparents in the process.
JANET: Do you have any more books planned for the Cynthia's Attic series after the Curse of the Bayou?
MARY: My publisher Quake has requested a fourth book. Quite honestly, I don't have a complete storyline, yet. So Book Four is going to be a challenge. But, I don't think I'm quite ready to let go of Cynthia and Gus, so I'll probably meet the challenge.
JANET: In this modern, fast-paced world of technological, instant gratification, it seems that fewer kids are reading books, and fewer parents are reading with their kids. What do you think we as authors can do, other than creating fun-to-read books, to encourage reading in today's youth.
MARY: We can create young writers. I talk to so many 10-16 year-olds who are writing fantasy/fiction. I'd imagine that J. K. (Rowling) is, in a big way, responsible for spurring this interest. So, to answer your question, I believe that holding workshops for young writers and also creating book clubs are two ways to encourage reading and writing.
JANET: I think workshops for young writers is a great idea. What have you found so far to be the best venues for conducting these?
MARY: The best way I've found to set up workshops is through the Parks and Recreation department in your area. They are always looking for ideas. Also, libraries are very willing to conduct workshops for young and adult writers.
JANET: You have a very impressive line-up of events scheduled, Mary. I would like to encourage anyone who would like to hear you speak or get your books autographed to check out the
events page on your website.
Thank you, Mary, for taking time to chat with me.
MARY: Thanks, Janet, for the invitation. It's been a pleasure.