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AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Cynthia Hands  

Posted by Scott Wilson

Scott: Thank you so much taking the time to chat with us here at The Fringe magazine. I’ve just read your recent book Unearthly and thoroughly enjoyed it. What sort of feedback have you received about this book to date?


Cynthia: Unearthly has been so well received, which has been wonderful for me. From the beginning my husband warned me not to read the reviews, since it would take 25 good reviews to counteract the effects of one truly bad review, and I think that’s very good advice. But I still read the reviews, and they are overwhelming positive, and it’s been great to see that readers are enjoying the story as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Scott: What sparked your interest in Angels and did you plan on Unearthly being part of a series when you began writing it?

Cynthia: When the idea for Unearthly first came to me, I didn’t know it was going to be about angels. I knew that I wanted Clara, my main character, to be a hero of some sort, with some extraordinary abilities, but the other paranormal creatures didn’t really fit her. I didn’t want her to be a werewolf or a vampire or a fairy. Then I remembered this one passage from the Bible with had always raised a question in my mind, in Genesis 6, about the daughters of men marrying the sons of god and producing offspring, who were “heroes, men of renown.” Bingo. The Nephilim or part-angels was such an interesting subject. I remembered reading a Madeleine L’Engle book when I was a child called Many Waters, which described this Genesis 6 time and included these Nephilim creatures. Fascinating stuff; I thought so even then. It also fit perfectly with the idea of destiny that Clara had. Once I hit on the angel-blood concept I never really looked back, and the story unfolded so beautifully around the idea.

As far as it being a series, I knew that the end of Unearthly wasn’t the end. There were so many questions that still needed answers and there was still so much more for her to experience. I didn’t know how many books it was going to take to get to the end, but I thought it would be at least three. So HarperCollins bought three, although now that I am beginning work on Book 3, I think there will be a Book 4. Let’s hope so, anyway.

Scott: A lot of new writers often ask about the amount of pages or words that a published author produces each day. How much time would you spend writing on a typical day, (if a typical day exists for a writer that is)?

Cynthia: Well, I have two sets of answers to this question: Pre-Unearthly, and Post-Unearthly. So first Pre-Unearthly. When I was writing Unearthly I wrote about four hours a day, during my son’s naptime and often a bit after he went to bed for the night. I made it my goal to write 1000 words a day, but I found that it varied. Some days I wrote 500 words, some I wrote 2500. At the end I averaged it out and found that I had written about 800 words a day. It was a slow and steady process. I was committed to working every single day, without any excuses, even if I only managed 35 very shoddy words. In that fashion it took me about five months to complete a draft.

Post-Unearthly I had a very different life. My son was older, and no longer took naps. I was teaching two classes at Pepperdine University. I was pregnant with my sweet little daughter. And I was swamped by all the fan mail and interview requests and marketing stuff and blogging and touring that came with Unearthly being published, which was wonderful, but it also gave me very little time to write. I had to write whenever and however I could. I put my son in daycare for a few days a week. I escaped to the Pepperdine library, away from computers and email and phones, and worked in a series of notebooks in a quiet corner behind the stacks. On a good library day I could write 2000 or even 3000 words, which I then brought home and transferred to my computer after my son had gone to bed. It was a very stressful time, but I am so proud of Hallowed (Book 2 of the series), maybe even more proud than I was of Unearthly, since I was able to accomplish it under such difficult circumstances.

Scott: Do you have any theories on why Paranormal Romances have become a bestselling genre and sparked a new interest in reading among teens?

Cynthia: I think Twilight might have had something to do with that. (laughs) This is a pretty hard question for me to answer, since when I set out to write Unearthly I wasn’t trying to write a Paranormal Romance. I simply wanted to tell Clara’s story. When I was a teenager we didn’t have a YA section of the bookstore, and we didn’t have any concept of Paranormal Romance, as such, but I think I would have been just as caught up by it, because I would have loved the imagination and the sense of escape in these books. And I would have loved the romance, because that was a time where romance was starting to seem like a real possibility. I would have been Team Edward, I think.

Scott: Unearthly has some pretty detailed descriptions of sporting activities. Are you a fitness fanatic yourself?

Cynthia: I was a fitness fanatic, as a teen. I did ballet and gymnastics, loved baseball and horseback riding, and I was on the local ski racing team. I was also into theatre—I acted in nearly every school play and some for the community theatre, as well, which is where my love of Angela’s Pink Garter comes from. I was a very busy teenager; it amazes me, looking back, that I found time in all of that to study.

I grew up in Idaho, very near the Wyoming border, so there was also a lot of camping, hiking, and fishing. I was and am still madly in love with Teton National Park. So writing Unearthly in that setting was so much fun, because I got to see her fall in love with those things, too.

Scott: How do you approach your writing? Do you tend to develop a story in your mind and then proceed to conduct some research or is more of an organic method where you write the story first and research any technical aspects later?

Cynthia: I am not a “plotter,” per se, as I do not typically know everything that’s going to happen in a novel when I sit down to write. I normally have a good starting point and a vague idea of an ending point, and maybe one or two key scenes in mind for the middle, but then I tend to let myself be surprised by what comes out on the page. There’s a certain magic in that. I tend to do research at the same time as writing. I have an enormous corkboard on my office wall where I have posted all kinds of Unearthly helpers: maps of Jackson and Teton National Park, my characters’ class schedules, the anatomy of a bird’s wing, a field reference sheet to the native flora and fauna of Wyoming, some postcards of the mountains and pictures of my character’s haircuts, that kind of thing. And every year, writing this series, I also make a trip to Jackson and visit the high school and wander the town and the landscape, and then I come home and infuse what I gleaned on this trip into the current novel. I find research so fun and rewarding; it makes the story so much richer to incorporate real elements into it.

Scott: As a writer it is interesting to hear what other writers read in their spare time. It is often surprising to hear the genres and variety of books other authors read. Can you tell us what are you reading at the moment and what you five favorite books are?

Cynthia: I devour books. Right now I would say that I read about seventy-five percent YA books, which I have come to enjoy so much. I am as big a fangirl of some of these YA writers as my own readers are. I love the author Carrie Ryan, for instance, and her lovely novels on the zombie apocalypse (starting with The Forest of Hands and Teeth). I am also a huge fan of Lauren Oliver (Before I Fall is amazing; the new book is Delirium, loved that too). What is on my nightstand at the moment is George R. R. Martin’s much-anticipated A Dance With Dragons, (and I am shamelessly skipping to all the Daenerys parts), Carrie Fisher’s memoir Wishful Drinking, Burned by Ellen Hopkins, which I am reading for inspiration on a project I’m working on that is a novel with some poetry in it, and Water Wars by Cameron Stracher, which I just finished and really, really liked.

Five favorite books? I’d sooner choose my favorite stars in the heavens, I think, but let me think. Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, my favorite classic, along with Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, favorite sci-fi. Atonement by Ian McEwan, Never Let Me Go by Kazua Ishiguro, and Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha, favorite bestsellers. The Shell Collector by Anthony Doerr, hands down my favorite story collection. As far as YA goes, along with the two authors I mentioned above, I love Lois Lowry’s classic, The Giver, Matched by Allie Condie, Rampant by Diana Peterfreund, and a new favorite this year: The Knife of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness.

See? I read. I also keep make a list of all the books I read over the year and post it, along with my favorite picks, every December 31/January 1st, on my blog.

Scott: There seems to be a lot more options available to authors to get published now compared to say a decade ago. What advice would you offer to unpublished writers in approaching publishers for the first time?

Cynthia: I would say, focus on the writing. I see so many people get caught up by the query process and get bitter about the rejections, but, no matter what things look like in the publishing world, this truth remains: publishers want to publish good books. They do. Really. They are actively seeking good books to publish. If you write a GOOD book, it is highly likely that it will be published. So put your energy into writing a really awesome book.

Scott: If you were stranded on a desert island, what five authors would you like to have as companions and why?

Cynthia: Oh, Lord. Well, to start I’d take along my pal Courtney Allison Moulton, author of Angelfire, because she can always make me laugh. J.K. Rowling, so Courtney and I could pepper her with questions and spend a good long time staring at her, waiting for her to produce some kind of charm that would whisk us off said desert island, or turn it into a dessert island, or something magical. Jon Krakauer (author of Into the Wild, among other things) because I bet that guy’s resourceful. Tobias Wolff, because he was my writerly hero for so many years. And Ernest Hemingway, because there are some things I’d like to say to him.

Scott: Thank you very much for your time. I look forward to your next book.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 2, 2011 at 1:02 AM . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

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