Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to shine our Friday spotlight on Middle Grade Author Cindy Baldwin. Cindy is the critically acclaimed author of WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW (an Oregon Spirit Book Award Honor, Indies Introduce, and Indie Next title) and BEGINNERS WELCOME. As a middle schooler, she kept a book under her bathroom sink to read over and over while fixing her hair or brushing her teeth, and she dreams of writing the kind of books readers can’t bear to be without. She lives near Portland, Oregon, with her husband and daughter.
Beginners Welcome is scheduled to be released on February 11. I asked Cindy where people could find her work (Besides Tower Books –though they should totally check here first!), and here was her answer:
I love pointing readers to one of my local indies, AnnieBlooms.com, where they can order signed and personalized copies of my books! I also highly recommend readers use IndieBound.com to find independent bookstores near them. Otherwise, my books should be available just about anywhere books are sold!
How can we follow your work and share your awesomeness?
You can find me on Twitter @beingcindy, on Instagram @cindybaldwinbooks, and on Facebook at fb.me/cindybaldwinbooks.
For readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you write? What can readers expect from Beginners Welcome?
I love writing books that are grounded in the real world, but have just a little bit of something magical. In my first book, Where the Watermelons Grow, that’s bees that make magic honey. In Beginners Welcome, it’s the fact that even though Annie Lee’s daddy died unexpectedly a few months ago, his presence is still clear in her apartment—his shaving cream appears in the sink every morning, his record player plays his favorite songs without being turned on, his coffeemaker starts to brew his favorite blend even when it’s empty. Magic also appears in the form of Ray, the pianist Annie Lee befriends, whose music makes magic lights appear that only certain people can see. There’s something that’s really compelling to me about this blend of reality and magic; it always feels like a reminder that life is bigger than we sometimes realize, and that even when we’re really struggling, magic is all around us.
What was the biggest challenge in writing and putting out Beginners Welcome? How did you overcome that challenge?
Beginners Welcome was a really hard book for me to write. A big part of that is because it’s the first thing I wrote after accepting a publishing deal with HarperCollins for Where the Watermelons Grow—which means it’s the first thing I wrote while trying to deal with reviews, sales numbers, and the ups and downs of publishing a debut novel. Because Where the Watermelons Grow was really well-received in a lot of ways, I spent a lot of time worrying that nothing else I could write would ever measure up! Ultimately, I had to keep putting my head down and doing the very best that I could with the story I was working on, without letting myself be distracted by other things. I had to just accept the doubts and worries I felt and keep writing anyway, trusting that at some point, I would feel better. And I did! Thanks to the brilliant guidance of my editor, Alexandra Cooper, I was able to take the raw material of the book and revise Beginners Welcome into something I love deeply and am very proud of.
What draws you to the particular genre or style that you write? What do you think draws readers to these kinds of books?
I always tell people that I love to write middle grade because I really like child psychology, and the time between age 10 and age 13 is an especially fascinating one. It’s during those years that you really start to recognize the world around you as being both bigger than you realized, and more separate from you. You’re trying to figure out how you fit into everything—your community, your family, your friend groups. It’s a time of heightened emotions, and a moment where you’re not really a kid anymore, but you’re not quite an adult, either. So many middle graders are caught in a space of wanting to be treated like a grown-up, and developing enormous maturity and responsibility—but also having things that they love from childhood and don’t want to let go of. I love exploring all those tensions and questions in my books. And, in a big way, I always find myself writing books for the kid I used to be: a kid who had some pretty big challenges and often felt lonely and isolated because of them. A kid who really needed reassurance that even if things were hard, and even if my life looked very different than my friends’ lives, I still had value and I still could find great happiness.
What piece of advice would you want to share with other writers?
Find writer friends! Very few writers are able to make it without having a vibrant and supportive writing community. This is important for things like craft improvement, because talented critique partners can be the difference between a book finding an agent and not—I firmly believe that one of the reasons I found representation for Where the Watermelons Grow and not the books that I had queried previously is because I had finally found several critique partners who challenged me and were strong in the ways I am weak. But writer friends are also important because whether you’re a hobbyist who just wants to write for fun, or you someday become a published author, writing can be a very emotionally taxing calling. Publishing, in particular, can be brutal, and you’ll need people around you who understand what you’re going through and can lift you up when you’re down.
What is one thing that most people don’t realize about you?
I wouldn’t necessarily say this is something that most people don’t realize about me, because I’ve become increasingly open about this on my social media over the last few years. But I’m disabled and chronically ill, and that’s something that I’ve recently tried to share more publicly. For a lot of years, I knew I wanted to be an author, but was not sure if I could manage to make a writing career work with my health challenges. It wasn’t until I saw a couple of published authors talk about their own disabilities that I felt like maybe there really was a path forward for me. You can’t be what you can’t see! In so many ways, my health issues—especially cystic fibrosis, a serious genetic disease I was born with, which requires extensive daily maintenance—have informed and shaped both the things I write about and the structure of my writing life. My biggest wish would be that children and adults who follows my career and worries that they may not be able to make it as a writer because of their own unique challenges will be able to find hope in the things I’ve shared.
Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to be with us, Cindy!