From penning a teacher-pleasing essay on prunes to writing articles about cooking and decorating, Cynthia Toney seems to have done it all. Now, along with all the other jobs she has held in this business, she can call herself an award-winning author of YA novels. Her debut novel, Bird Face (now titled 8 Notes to a Nobody) was a bronze medalist for the Moonbeam Children's Books Award (preteen fiction, mature issues), granted by the Jenkins Group.
I met Cynthia through her first publisher, Port Yonder Press, where I served as her content editor. I fell in love with her writing style and her main character, Wendy Robichaud. Wendy's experiences reminded me--too well, at times--of my own years in school. Cynthia's work is charming and fun, and I'm excited to have her in our WOTS group.
When she isn't writing, she's an avid dog rescuer and a fan of Cajun and Italian cooking. She's a multi-talented woman with eclectic interests and a passion for writing. I'm honored to have the opportunity to interview her.
Where are you from originally, and what brings you to Texas?
I grew up in a few different towns in Louisiana and was educated there, but was long drawn to Texas. One of my sisters has lived here for decades, and much of my family has migrated to Texas.
What does your hubby do? How many kids do y’all have and what are their ages?
My husband, Pat, is retired from communications design—print and web. But he’s not really retired because he handles my website and designs my bookmarks, signage, and business cards. We have three adult married children and are hoping all three of them and their families wind up in Texas. One already lives here.
You’ve been a newspaper artist, an advertising and marketing director for an educational publisher, and an author of how-to articles–not to mention appearing in an infomercial. Of all your pre-novelist jobs, which was your favorite?
I truly enjoyed writing for and working in the production of catalogs and direct-response mail pieces. Often considered junk mail by recipients, such print pieces undergo careful thought and planning. If well done, the text and graphics work together in a special way to call a reader into action and result in a purchase.
What is your worst memory pertaining to writing?
The anxiety and wondering if my first book would ever be published. If it weren’t for my faith in God and my husband’s unshakable belief in my ability, I wouldn’t have made it.
What is your best?
Receiving a letter from a teen reader who loved my first book.
What got you interested in writing for young adults?
I’d seen how insecure many teens were. They didn’t know how wonderful and powerful God had made them or that what they were experiencing at this moment wasn’t all there was to life. Young people I knew had committed suicide. Some were shy, some were bullies, but most seemed to have a lot of love to give. I wanted to show them that they had the power within themselves to change or redirect some aspects of their lives. They are valuable and shouldn’t give up on being recognized as such.
What triggered the Bird Face series?
During the time I worked at the newspaper, I’d thought of an idea for a novel for middle grades. Betsy Byars’ Bingo Brown series inspired me with its humor and 13-year-old angst. So although the series handles some difficult topics, the stories employ humor and offer hope.
Your first in the series took 10 years to write. How long did it take to write the second? What is the secret of the faster turn-around time?
The second book, Ten Steps to Girlfriend Status, took six months. After writing the first book, I joined ACFW and got involved in swapping critiques with other writers in the main critique group. Then I joined two smaller groups (actually helped start one of them) and those relationships improved my manuscript extensively. I had a publisher for my first book about two years after joining ACFW, and the book released about two years after that. I didn’t start the second book right away; I waited to see if the first book was well received. Then I sort of played around with it.
After a year on the market, I had to find a new publisher for the first book and its sequel because of changes in the first publisher’s structure. By that point I was planning an entire teen series and turned on the steam to finish book two. I received a tip from a friend that Write Integrity Press was considering YA and liked mystery, which my stories contained. Fortunately, I signed a three-book contract rather quickly with W.I.P. and now have a new home for the Bird Face series. The first two titles already released are 8 Notes to a Nobody and 10 Steps to Girlfriend Status. Book three will be 6 Dates to Disaster.
What are your writing goals? Where do you see yourself in five years?
In five years, I hope to have completed the Bird Face series, taking it as far as I want it to go. I also hope to have my YA historical published, and possible another.
What have you learned about the publishing process that you’d like to share with our readers?
Expect the unexpected. Build relationships with as many others in the publishing world as you can. Be an angel to them and celebrate their successes. Learn from your rejections. Your turn will come, and it will be sweet.
Find Cynthia on these sites:
Website: Cynthia T. Toney
Blog: Bird Face Wendy
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/birdfacewendy