I’m delighted to share my interview with author Cynthia Toney. Cynthia is a fellow member of the Catholic Writers Guild, and I thoroughly enjoyed 8 Notes to Nobody. (You can read my review here.)
I love the new look of your Bird Face series – bright covers and snappy titles that capture the mood of the series. Is it how you envisioned Wendy’s story being presented?
Thank you so much. At first I didn’t envision a series at all. I began to write book two well after book one released through its original publisher, under the title Bird Face. Soon I had to search for a new publisher because the first one was no longer going to publish MG or YA, and it would eventually stop publishing books altogether.
Although the series handles some serious issues, my new publisher and I agreed that the covers should be cheerful. The stories are full of hope and contain some humor. I also wanted the covers to tie together yet retain individual looks. When my publisher asked for new titles because she wanted to use “Bird Face” as the name of the series, I thought about the elements of the stories that were numbered. Wendy receives eight notes in book one, 8 Notes to a Nobody, and tracks ten steps in her relationship with David in book two, 10 Steps to Girlfriend Status. It must’ve been divine inspiration that caused me to create titles containing numbers that also employ alliteration and have a sort of rhythm to them. I’m happy to report that I’ve received positive and unsolicited feedback regarding the titles and covers.
Your main character, Wendy Robichaud, is Catholic, although I think the series would appeal to any and all faiths. What is the Young Adult market like for Catholic and Christian teens?
Fortunately, the quantity, quality, and variety of books for Catholic teens are steadily increasing, based on my non-scientific research. Books appropriate for Catholic teens fall within the broader selection of those appropriate for Christian teens in general. Teens and adults who do not practice the Catholic faith or any Christian religion can still enjoy my books and most other books written with Catholic or Christian teen characters in them because the stories are universal.
I think the key is to make the protagonist’s religion a natural part of her character. In the case of the Bird Face series, I can’t imagine half-Cajun Wendy, who wears a crucifix willed to her by her Cajun grandmother, being anything but Catholic. Her Catholic background drives her reactions to the plot elements, but Catholicism does not drive the plot elements. Teens of any faith, or no faith, can accept Wendy as being more like them than unlike them.
I enjoyed reading a novel geared toward the younger end of the teen spectrum, age-appropriate but not dumbed-down. Why did you choose to write about characters in their early teens?
The reason I began writing the first book is I noticed a gap between light-hearted contemporary fiction for middle grades and heavy-topic contemporary novels for high-school teens. Where were the stories for that transition period when kids begin to notice or focus on more mature matters but are not ready to be slammed with sex, drugs, and graphic violence?
Bird Face Book One: 8 Notes to a Nobody tackles some heavy topics but remains light. How do you maintain that balance, incorporating themes with depth without making the tone gloomy or depressing?
Having one POV character helps. I show only what 14-year-old Wendy is able to see or hear regarding her peers suffering from eating disorders, depression, or bullying. Through a series of events, she pieces together what she suspects is causing her peers to behave the way they do. The reader doesn’t go behind the scenes with her classmate who has an eating disorder, nor does the reader gain any of the detailed information about the disease that the girl or her parents are privy to.
When I read 8 Notes to Nobody, I half-wondered if addressing suicide wasn’t premature for middle schoolers. Unfortunately, not long after, a thirteen-year-old tragically jumped to her death within walking distance of our home. How important do you think it is to equip kids of that age to handle that specter?
I think it’s extremely important for YA authors, parents, educators, and others who work with youth to acknowledge the existence of teen suicide and to help young people recognize signs of potential victims around them. Reaching out to a lonely or bullied classmate and getting that person to open up about what’s troubling him or her might save a life.
Unfortunately, suicide might still occur within a young person’s peer group in spite of offers of friendship and help, so pre-teens and teens should be made aware of whom to tell if they suspect someone is suicidal—and that it’s okay to tell. A very good high school friend of my daughter’s, one who visited my home on occasion, committed suicide in spite of his having many friends and both parents who tried to help him. If that happens, I think it’s important to help teens understand that some psychological or medical causes are out of their control.
I found some great resources on your website for use in discussing 8 Notes to a Nobody. In what settings do you envision groups making use of those resources?
Anywhere that pre-teens or teens gather and talk—even sleepovers! Scout meetings, church youth groups, middle-grade through high school classrooms, and after-school or summer programs are good venues for discussing topics such as eating disorders, teen suicide, and bullying. A free, downloadable and reproducible PDF of a Book Club or Teacher’s Guide for 8 Notes to a Nobody is available on www.cynthiattoney.com.
If I receive positive feedback about the Guide for 8 Notes to a Nobody, I would like to create one for 10 Steps to Girlfriend Status. That story has a deaf/hearing-impaired teen character and an elderly character suffering from Alzheimer’s, so the Guide would contain resources and discussion questions for those topics as well as others.
What’s next for the Bird Face series? Any other projects you are working on?
The third book of the series has the working title 6 Dates to Disaster. Like the first two books, it will handle some serious issues and include some mystery. With each book, Wendy will advance through high school.
I completed a YA historical manuscript titled The Other Side of Freedom. The story takes place in the 1920s and has a Catholic boy protagonist. It’s very different from the Bird Face series, obviously, and I enjoyed writing it. I currently seek a home for it!
Cynthia is a former advertising designer, marketing director, and interior decorator with a BA in art education and a minor in history. While employed by a large daily newspaper, she rewrote some ad copy without permission and got into trouble for it. At that point, she knew she was destined to become an author. She has a passion for rescuing dogs from animal shelters and encourages people to adopt and save the life of a shelter animal. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking Cajun and Italian food and studying the complex history of the friendly southern U.S., where she resides with her husband and several canines.
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/birdfacewendy
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