Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to shine our Friday spotlight on (primarily) children’s book author Cynthia Voigt. I asked Cynthia how she would like to be introduced, and to tell us a little bit about her writing. This was her response:
Really, all there is to say about me and my writing is that I do it, and I keep on doing it. Clearly, I’d like to be introduced as a writer, who is published mostly in the children’s field but who also has a couple of adult novels among her credits. I’ve been doing this for longer than most of my readers, and many of their teachers, have been alive.
Also, I spent a lot of happy years teaching, almost every level from grade 2 to grade 12, with tutorial forays into early reading, always English, as we called it then. Reading, thinking, and writing: that’s what I got to teach.
Where can people find your work? (Besides Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester–though they should totally check here first!)
After they leave Annie’s, or if they’re too distant to make the trip? There are libraries and book stores large and small, and online sources for new and used copies.
How can we follow your work and share your awesomeness?
You can follow my work on my website: cynthiavoigt.com. My awesomeness however is nowhere to be found. Stories, yes, awesomeness no.
What was the inspiration for Little Bird? What were the steps you took to bring it from initial inspiration to the finished book?
If I understand inspiration to mean “reason why” and the question becomes What made you write this book? then I can answer it. If inspiration actually means like a heroic figure mimicking which gets heroic behavior out of me, or gives me enough hope to try, then the answer is different.
The first reason why I wrote Little Bird is that I have four grandchildren. For entirely personal reasons, perhaps having to do with his large dark eyes, the first grandchild book (where the title includes the particular name, although it’s not “about” the particular person) has a mouse as its hero. The second, again because of the eyes, features a “solutioneer.” After that, there had to be a third and fourth, a squirrel and a bird, who live on the same Maine farm as the mouse, and a couple of rescue dogs who are not related to me. Among themselves, the kids refer to “their” books, so there was a lot of pressure to come up with a fourth, and a lot of patience required of a little girl who prefers not to have to be patient.
I couldn’t have not written this book. My yard is home to a lot of crows, and they are interesting to watch as the strut around on the grass, looking for things to eat. They were also interesting to read about.
If inspiration isn’t about the Why of the thing but the Why of Me, the writer, who gets the writing done, then it is up to me to inspire myself. Nobody else can sit me down to produce word after sentence after paragraph after story. That’s my job.
What character did you love or hate the most while writing? And why?
You know, I like all of my characters, even the villains of the pieces. It seems to be how I like to work. A student once remarked, “You like everybody!” and it was a protesting. But she was right, I liked each one of my students; each one was so much his or herself, and I could try to understand them all–it was endlessly interesting. It follows to reason that I don’t have a favorite character in this book. I enjoy all of them, and I enjoy trying to figure out who each one of them is. I enjoy trying to put my sense of who they are into words that might bright them to life for a reader. In fact, not only do I not have a favorite character in this book, I don’t have a favorite character in general, or even a favorite book: each is a treat for me, for his or her or its own reasons. The reasons vary, and that makes it even better.
What was the biggest challenge in writing and putting out Little Bird? How did you overcome that challenge?
Aristotle said, and I agree, that plot is the most difficult. I expect that’s what the word “challenging” means: hard for me to do. I do not feel that I have ever overcome the difficulty. There are, however, a couple of things I do, that ameliorate it. First is to make an informal outline of the plot, so I can see the skeleton of the thing and maybe smooth out any particularly unfortunate joints, or where bones are missing. I like to see the thing whole. The other thing I have learned to do is write 20 or so pages and then, especially if I feel like “it’s not working” (how I phrase it to myself), start all over again. This is effective because I know my people better by then.
And that is not to say that the other parts are not “challenging.” I don’t find any of it easy… or boring, which is part of what keeps me going.
Are there any groups, clubs, or organizations that you would recommend to other writers that have helped you in your career?
Which is also a lesson I have learned first from teaching and then from writing. Everybody is different, sometimes in large sometimes in small ways. I have always described myself as a closet writer. I think I need to be solitary with my idea, and work it out as best I can, myself, with nobody else adding their thoughts or ideas. Is this because I’m afraid somebody else will change my idea? Make me unsure if theirs isn’t better? One of the things I used to tell my students when they were faced with an essay was: when I was reading what they wrote, I had to listen to them. I couldn’t interrupt and derail their thought processes. I have always felt that way about my own writing: I prefer the face I fall on to be my own, not yours.
Others, I know, profit from the kind of discussion groups offer; I don’t seem to be able to. But that’s OK because they don’t have to work my way and I don’t have to work theirs. The real secret is to figure out how to get your best work out of yourself, and people are so different, how could there be only one way?
Note that once I have finished a draft, I am more than happy to hear somebody’s opinion, especially if it is enthusiastic but also if it points up a weakness I have failed to see.
Cynthia, Thanks so much for taking the time out of your busy day to answer our questions!