Sunday, January 13, 2013

Cynthia P. Willow and the Legendary Interview

I've also interviewed the Grandmother
of the cover designer, for what
it's worth.
The fact that I have another interview up so soon should tell you how quick a read Patty Gayle and the Legend of Kingsley was. It’s a fun and easy read, a fantasy adventure set primarily in Florida in the early Sixties. When we meet her, Patty Gayle is a spunky twelve-year-old who loves to swim in the lake where her poor family is fortunate enough to live (and hates to read, incidentally, so don’t go making Patty Gayle a role model, children). One night, Patty’s beloved Grandmother reveals a special key to her granddaughter that she has hidden, promising to tell her the full story behind it before too long. That very night, a stroke shatters those plans. Patty then takes it upon herself to find the key and discover the mystery that her Grandmother had intended to share with her. What she finds is a magical world and an urgent task that she was born to complete.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, but I should also point out that my 8-year-old daughter absolutely loves it. That’s fine because the story is geared more toward younger readers. I’ve seen reviewers call it cute and compare it to a bedtime story, and I won’t argue on either count. There’s more sleepy backdrop and homespun charm than exciting climax, but that’s okay with me; there was joy in the journey. There are places where I felt the writing got a bit repetitive or pedantic. I sometimes felt that the author held the reader’s hand too much, especially early on. Of course, the book is written for young readers, but I still felt like the author could have trusted her audience a bit more. And, honestly, I don’t know if much of her target audience would even notice.

My questions were so tough
that Cynthia kept having to make
this contemplative face.
I am very privileged to have the author, Cynthia P. Willow, joining me for an interview today. I’ve actually gotten to know Cynthia a bit through an online community for Christian Indie Authors that we’re both a part of, but don’t worry. She doesn’t get a pass on tough interview questions just because of our cyber friendship. When it came down to the Q&A, I was all business. Speaking of business, you can find Cynthia online under her digital willow tree. In addition to Patty Gayle, she is the author of the novel Hell’s Christmas, which has been shooting up the Amazon charts. Now, since this interview is pretty straightforward (meaning it didn’t require time travel, as is sometimes the case), let’s get to it!

Brad: Hello, Cynthia. Thanks for joining me. I’ve been reading and enjoying Patty Gayle and the Legend of Kingsley. I believe this story has special personal meaning to you. Tell us about the connection between your novel and your family.

Cynthia: Hi, Brad! Thanks for this interview. I’m quite excited about it. Patty Gayle and the Legend of Kingsley does indeed have great personal meaning to me. Patty Gayle, the heroine in the story, is my mother. Most of the characters in the story are my family, some of them I never got to meet before they left this world. My great grandfather, Alonzo Strickland was the first white man to settle Kingsley Lake, one of the settings in the story. Even the fairy queens are named after 3 of my great aunts, all of which I can remember from childhood. The personalities I gave them is how I remember them. Ruby was the one who seemed the most serious, Pearl seemed to be the one who was the most sensitive, and Emma (who I thought could have easily been short for Emerald) was the energetic one.

Brad: Sounds like Great-Grandma P. Willow liked herself some precious stones. Where did the idea for this story come from?

Why would anyone go to Kingsley Lake and not swim??
Cynthia: It might sound crazy, but I’ve been writing parts of this story in my mind since I was a child. When I would go visit my great aunts at the lake, I would be quite bored. For some reason, when my mom and I would take my mema to visit her older sisters, it wasn’t to swim; it was just for a visit. This happened for years, and I was quite young. I would be bored out of my mind as the sisters visited and their television was always on a channel with soap operas. It was during these times I would pretend like my great aunts had some neat story about how they got their names. And I would tell myself that when I grew up and became a writer that I would write that story. And so, I did.

This explains why Patty Gayle has to follow
a lemon chiffon-bricked road.
Brad: It’s good to know you’re an honest person. I don’t think enough of us keep the promises we make to ourselves as children. Were there any other fictional works—TV, movies, books, etc.—that influenced your book at all?

Cynthia: As much as I love movies, book, and TV, it would be hard to say that none of them influenced this story. I would have to say that the Narnia series definitely influenced this story and it has parts that probably were influenced by my all-time favorite movie, The Wizard of Oz.

Brad: Tell me about your heroine, Patty Gayle. What personality details are from the real person, and what did you invent or exaggerate for your character?

Since this is the *real* Patty Gayle,
if you pictured something else, you're doing it wrong.
Cynthia: Since Patty Gayle is my mother, it wasn’t hard to write her. Of course, I didn’t know her when she was 12 and 13, so some of it is just the way I imagined her to be. She really does have a huge fear of spiders, and the way I described her physically is pretty accurate. As far as her personality, I did exaggerate how spunky she was, but that’s because she grew up to be that way. As a child, she was very shy and probably would have never been brave enough to tell a lie or go snooping in other people’s things. She was way too scared of the consequences.

Brad: Speaking of consequences, as Patty’s life begins to get more and more adventurous, she begins to lie and make a series of moral compromises. I kept expecting there to be some negative consequences to her devious actions but there weren’t any. I was reminded of Harry Potter a bit, who also tended to break the rules, usually with no ill effects. Given that the book is geared toward younger readers, are you concerned at all about sending the message that lying and stealing is an appropriate way to get what you want? Patty would scold herself for these actions, but she never came clean and nothing bad ever happened as a result of them.

Prophecy fulfillers always get all the breaks.
Cynthia: I am a huge Harry Potter fan, but I don’t think I had him in mind when I wrote this story. I think the reason Patty Gayle never had negative consequences was because she really felt like she was doing what she was called to do. At first, she didn’t realize how big the calling was, but she knew that her grandmother had intended for her to have the bracelet and the book. Whether that was right or wrong, it was realistic. I think any of us in the same situation would do the same thing. If Patty Gayle would have been the type of kid to lie just to get her way with no real purpose, I’d definitely have written in consequences. In Harry Potter, Dumbledore knows and sees all. He knows that when Harry broke the rules, it was to save someone or discover some great mystery. He knew Harry was fulfilling a prophecy and that Harry was basically chosen for that part. That is why (in my opinion) there weren’t consequences for Harry. I guess what I’m trying to say is that God sees the heart. [Editor’s note: Cynthia also pointed out that there are some consequences, such as when Patty Gayle gets grounded for skipping school.]

Brad: I wonder if Fred and George were also fulfilling prophecies by stealing food from the kitchens, but I suppose I’d need to investigate the Department of Mysteries to find out. I need to ask about a specific (and minor) bit in the book, which takes place after Patty has found her way into the magical world of Kingsley. I must admit, Cynthia, that I’m a little concerned about the seagulls. Since all wishes in Kingsley come true, Patty wishes that the seagulls would return to their homes after she no longer wants them around. Are the birds compelled to stay home forever because of her wish? Will they never be free of that horrible curse?

"Free! We're free from the Curse of Patty Gayle!"
Cynthia: There is more than one part of the story that warns about wishing. We must all be careful what we wish for, and the seagulls were just a way to show Patty how magical the place was, and how she needed to be very careful. As far as them having to stay at home forever, she didn’t say they had to stay there forever. You can be relieved to know that they come and go as they please.

Brad: Phew! I was afraid that “go home” would be the rule in their life until someone wished something else. Glad to hear those poor birds aren’t trapped. Let me just ask one more question along those lines. Did you have any hesitation, as an author, of permitting such a powerful device in Kingsley so as to allow all wishes to come true? Did you ever feel trapped by adding that rule to the fantasy world, or feel like it’s difficult to build suspense with an “out” like that available to Patty?

Cynthia: The Bible says there is power in our tongues, so what we speak is very important. And I don’t think that all wishes come true in Kingsley. If they did, Patty could have just made a wish for things to be better in Kingsley and never have to do anything on her quest.

Brad: Indeed. I was wondering why she didn’t wish that. Let’s talk about you now, Cynthia. First of all, how long have you been writing?

Would you just look at all that nostalgia?
Cynthia: I’ve been writing since I was in middle school. I wrote my first book in the 6th grade. It was an assignment, but I took it very seriously. I still have it. It was called Billy Goes to a Funeral. As far as my adult writing, I began back in 2006 when my children began bringing Scholastic flyers home from school. They told me they thought I’d be a great writer, and it reignited the flame inside me that I’d had in my own childhood.

Brad: I’ve read Billy Goes to a Funeral and it’s brilliant. Okay, I haven’t really, but it’s good to know your children have such power over you. What do you perceive to be your greatest strength as an author?

Cynthia: I think I do well when it comes to creating characters (not all my books have characters who are based on real people). I’ve been told that I make relatable characters and that I do well at describing personalities and settings.

Brad: And your greatest weakness?

Cynthia: I tend to spend a lot of time building the climax and then resolve the conflict too easily. That’s something I’ve got to work on.

Even when writing fantasy,
don't forget about Him.
Brad: Sorry about the self-analysis, but I thought it might be something to start asking authors. And here’s another pretty common question around here: You’re a Christian, Cynthia, and that comes through very clearly in Patty Gayle. Do you feel a responsibility, as a believer, to incorporate spiritual themes into your story? Do you have any purpose in writing beyond that of merely writing a great yarn?

Cynthia: I do feel a responsibility to incorporate spiritual themes. They’re not all as obvious as the ones in this story, but they’re there. All of my characters mention a belief in a higher power and prayer is a part of their lives as well. In my Karini and Lamek Chronicles, the setting is completely fantasy, but there is still a spiritual theme, and even more obvious, good conquering evil.

Brad: Speaking of The Karini and Lamek Chronicles. . .I often ask authors about what they’re currently working on, but I don’t really need to since you did a blog post about just that recently. But a little birdie (or perhaps it was a ghillie dhu) mentioned that you’ve also started working on a sequel to Patty Gayle and the Legend of Kingsley. Any details you can give us about that novel?

A modern sequel probably means much more
water skiing. (And, yes, this is actually Kingsley Lake.)
Cynthia: I have begun the sequel to Patty Gayle. I never intended to write another Kingsley story, but my fans have asked me to give them more. As of right now, I’m calling it Return to Kingsley. It takes place in the present (2013), and will involve Patty Gayle’s grandchildren. The entrance to Kingsley is different, and one of the characters that was in the original dies. Kingsley is under a curse, and a plague is destroying the land. That’s all I can give you for now.

Brad: That’s enough to whet my appetite, I assure you! I’m a little ashamed to be doing this, but I need to draw your attention now to the button sitting on the table beside me. This little device is actually a remote detonator for the 3,482 lbs. of C-4 explosives attached to the bottom of your chair. I apologize for resorting to threats, but I do need you to name for me your favorite book, and I’ve found that many authors have a difficult time choosing one if their lives are not in danger.
"You're nothing without me,
Pevensies! NOTHING!"

Cynthia: Hands down, The Magician’s Nephew by CS Lewis. Yes, I love The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but there would not have been a magical wardrobe if not for the magician’s nephew.

Brad: Having finished A Horse and His Boy recently, we just started The Magician’s Nephew in our nightly family storytime. So thanks for the spoilers (oh, okay, I have read it before). Now, who is your favorite author? I’m beginning to wonder if I didn’t go a bit overboard on the explosives. I think that the amount I used might actually injure me as well, and perhaps even a decent chunk of the United States. What I’m trying to say is that I have no desire to push this button, so your prompt answer is much appreciated.

Cynthia: In my own genre, it’s CS Lewis with JK Rowling in a close second, but I do read other genres from time to time. I’ve read more Phyllis A. Whitney than any other author, and her novels are mystery/suspense. I have to add that I’ve been reading a lot of Indies now that I am an Indie myself, and I’m now a big fan of yours. Emaline’s Gift was a fantastic story, and I’m anxiously awaiting the next book in that series.

The Manatee herself.
Brad: For the record, the views contained within this interview are the sole opinion of those making them and are not endorsed by the owner of this blog, Blogger or Pixar Animation Studios. Except for the bit about Emaline’s Gift being enjoyable. We all agree on that. Thank you, Cynthia, for the kind words. We’ve got a bit of a surprise for you now. As this is a book geared primarily toward children, I’ve brought my 8-year-old daughter, Manatee, around to join in the interview. She has a few questions of her own, so I’ll let her ask them.

Manatee: Why did you decide to write the book?

Brad: I actually already asked that question, more or less. Chip off the old block, isn’t she?

Cynthia: I’ve been wanting to write this book since I was about your age. I became fascinated with my great aunts being named after jewels. I thought it would make a great story.

Manatee: Why did you make Patty so poor?

Cynthia: I wanted to make this story as true as I could, and Patty Gayle really was poor growing up. Her mother didn’t make a lot of money, and her father was not around.

Manatee: Why did you make Patty have a special connection with Penny?

Cynthia: Patty Gayle really had a dog named Penny, and they really did have a wonderful relationship. Mom didn’t have a lot of friends, so Penny was her only companion when she was young.

Brad: Me again, and I just have one more question for you. You are an independent, self-published author. Other than purchasing copies of Patty Gayle and Hell’s Christmas in bulk, how can readers best support you and other indie authors?
To help you know how
to rate Patty Gayle.

Cynthia: If you read a book by an Indie (or any author for that matter), and you liked it, please take the time to write a review. Also, if that author has a fan page, leave a nice comment for them to see. We writers put in many hours of hard work and money to put out our books. It’s all worth it when we hear from a fan. Also, spreading the word to your friends and family helps a lot too.

And let me, Brad, just pop in here and add that, if you don’t have very many friends, you should probably consider making more if only for the expressed purpose of telling your new friends about books like Patty Gayle and the Legend of Kingsley and—oh, why not?—Emaline’s Gift. Of course, if you’re a believer, you should really be constantly reaching out and building new relationships for the purpose of sharing the Gospel and the love of Christ, so you can pretty much do the two-birds-one-projectile thing.

Jo Rowling may have sold more books,
but Cynthia Willow's done more interviews
on this blog, so it's pretty much even.
In case you missed it earlier, you can pick up your own copy of Patty Gayle and the Legend of Kingsley right here. Hopefully you’ve gotten a good idea from this interview whether it’s a book you’d enjoy. Based on all the positive reviews I’ve seen, I don’t suppose you can go too wrong on this one! I want to thank Cynthia for taking the time out of her busy schedule to swing by and answer my questions. These interviews would be exceedingly dull if not for the authors willing to participate. I actually don’t have another interview currently scheduled, so let me know if you bump into anyone who’d be willing to let me read their book and ask questions (after I finish The Casual Vacancy, of course). Thanks for stopping by, and don’t forget to support indie authors!

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