Cynthia’s Attic with Mary Cunningham

Mary, thanks for taking the time to visit Manic Readers today.  It’s been quite a long time since I’ve read a children’s book but I can certainly see the appeal of the Cynthia’s Attic books.  I really enjoyed THE MISSING LOCKET.  It’s an engaging blend of fantasy, adventure, mystery and that smidge of independence that’s so appealing.  I would’ve eaten these up.

For those who aren’t familiar with them, could you please give us a brief overview of your Cynthia’s Attic series?

I’m glad you enjoyed The Missing Locket and that you appreciate the balance between mystery and fantasy.

Twelve-year-old best friends, Cynthia and Gus (Augusta Lee is her given name, but don’t call her that unless you want a kick in the shin!), are the main characters. The stories are seen through the eyes of Gus.

Magical costumes, disappearing stairs and a spooky attic filled with dusty antiques. What more could two, adventurous, young girls ask for.

The time-traveling duo are as different as bubble gum and broccoli. They are, however, equal in their ability to get into trouble without much effort.

In trying to escape the boring summer of 1964, the adventurous girls stumble upon a trunk in Cynthia’s attic that has been in her family for three generations. Along with perilous escapades, they make important, sometimes humorous discoveries about their ancestors, and even manage to change history—for the better—along the way.

Do you ever find it difficult to write from a younger point of view?

Since I’ve never quite grown up (lol), I find writing for children more satisfying than writing from an adult perspective. I have vivid memories of my childhood and, since the books are based on playing in the attic of my real childhood friend, Cynthia, situations and stories are fun to imagine.

Did you enjoy the time travel forward vs back that takes place in THE MAGICIANS CASTLE?

Going forward in time presented more challenge because I had to create new characters and circumstances. It is much easier drawing on situations that have already happened, and then embellish the story. To create future storylines and future relatives was a more difficult task. I did, however, have a lot of fun writing Book Four, especially when one of the girls meets her “old self” in 2014.

Do you have a personal preference for forward or back?

My heart will always prefer traveling back in time, perhaps because I regret not spending more time listening to my grandparents tell their childhood stories. I love writing about traveling back in time solving mysteries and having adventures with my ancestors, and I also have many old family pictures dating back to the late 1800s-early 1900s that I use to create my characters and settings.

Boys and girls, alike, love the time-travel element of the series, and so do I.

Is there a family historian you rely on for the family stories you incorporate or are they based on your memories of them?

Every family should have a Cousin Betty. My cousin spent weeks in Europe in the 70s researching both sides of our family tree by digging through town hall and church records. She traced the Kistler (Cynthia’s Attic: The Magician’s Castle-Book Four) side of our family back to the late 1300s. I believe that much of the information on the Internet today is a result of her painstaking research. I do remember some of the stories from my childhood, but all are enhanced by Betty’s detailed records.

Was it easier to write the series books or the stand-alone GHOST LIGHT?

Believe it or not, it’s just as difficult to write a short story as a 33,000-word chapter book! To complete a story from beginning to end in a few thousand words isn’t as easy as it sounds. All the ingredients still must be there and you have fewer words in which to develop the story and characters.

Which do you find easier, the tween mysteries or the adult one you’re working on?

I don’t find one easier than another—just different. Since I don’t “write down” to my ‘Tween audience, my writing is not all that different, especially since mothers and grandmothers also enjoy the books. Naturally, I write adult situations for adult books, but I’ve found that young readers are just as discerning, so you’d better have your story tightly written or they’ll catch you!

What inspired you to write WOOF with co-authors Diana Black and Melinda Richarz Bailey? It sounds wonderfully humorous.  I’m not there yet but it’s looming large!

We started with a small club consisting of four “WOOFers,” as we call ourselves. The purpose being to support each other, share stories and laugh at our aging minds and bodies. My husband suggested we write a newsletter, so Diana (my best friend) and I began writing short stories about a few of our funny or embarrassing experiences. We brought Melinda on board and the three of us decided to try our hands at writing and self-publishing a book in 2000. My publisher read the first edition a few years later and asked if we’d be willing to rewrite and update. The 2nd edition of WOOF: Women Only Over Fifty was published by Echelon Press in 2008.

Do you prefer to write the short stories or the books?

I prefer writing books because it allows me to fully develop multiple storylines and characters.

Do you find there are more similarities than differences between song writing and the books and stories?  For me, the best songs tell stories.  I’m definitely one of those who listens to the words.  *S*

A song is a short story put to music. At least country songs are usually structured that way. I’m not sure I’d be writing today if I hadn’t spent many years crafting song lyrics.

Is there anything you require to coax your muse?  Chocolate?  Music?  Silence?

Chocolate is a must, and I do my best writing with noise and commotion around me. I’m not one who wants closed doors and complete silence. I also like to let my characters show me where they want to go, in fact, I’ve had new characters jump, spontaneously into the middle of a story. For instance, a shape-shifting puma named SuRana appeared in Cynthia’s Attic: Curse of the Bayou and saved the day!

Is there anything, news etc., that I may have missed you’d like to share?

My series, Cynthia’s Attic, is inspired by a 20-year recurring dream about a mysterious attic. When I realized that the dream took place in the home of my childhood best friend, Cynthia, I wrote a short memoir about our friendship and the “early days.” That memoir  turned into a 4-book (soon to be 5) ‘Tween fantasy/mysteries.

Cynthia and I lost touch for years, but shortly after the first two books were published, my husband and I moved to West Georgia within 40 miles of Cynthia’s home! Our first meeting, after almost 20 years, was spent talking and laughing as if we were still sitting in her attic searching through boxes and trunks of memories. She loves the books and our friendship remains strong and true.

Thanks so much Mary for joining Manic Readers today.  I’ve enjoyed it.

Thanks, so much, for having me! I thoroughly enjoyed my visit.

Mary Cunningham Books

Cynthia’s Attic Blog



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