It’s time for the next subject for my 2018 author interview series. Author interviews are posted every Friday throughout the year.
I am honored to continue this series with author Cynthia Kirkwood
You can catch up with all of my past author interviews (nearly 200) on my Author Directory page.
If you’re an author interested in being interviewed in this series, I still have limited spots available for 2018. You can email me at email@example.com
Now, please enjoy this interview with Cynthia Kirkwood:
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I am myself.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
You can’t plan publication dates. Turn On, Tune Out, in which a British composer turns outlaw in Los Angeles, is my first published novel, and my third written one. When I started my first one, Journey to Honor, I was a reporter at the Rochester, New York, Democrat and Chronicle. I figured I’d finish it, publish it and then start researching the next book. It didn’t work out that way. Gary Fisketjon, then an editor at Random House, had advised me that the most important thing was to keep writing. I now have a body of work, including a play, a screenplay and several children’s books.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain seems to have become an under-appreciated novel. A few years ago, I read about school districts in the United States that were banning the book or removing it from reading lists because of the “n-word,” which appears 219 times. There is now a 2011 edition which uses “slave” in its place and “Indian” for “injun.” What would Mark Twain say? He did say: “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter – it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”
Peter Messent, author of the Cambridge Introduction to Mark Twain wrote in the Guardian newspaper in January 2011: “His repeated use of that derogatory term in Huckleberry Finn is absolutely deliberate, ringing with irony. When Huck’s father, poor and drunken white trash by any standard, learns that ‘a free nigger … from Ohio; a mulatter, most as white as a white man … a p’fessor in a college’ is allowed to vote, he reports: ‘Well, that let me out … I says I’ll never vote agin … [A]nd the country may rot for all me.’ It is very clear here whose racial side Twain is on. Similarly when Aunt Sally asks if anyone was hurt in a reported riverboat explosion, and Huck himself answers ‘No’m. Killed a nigger,’ she replies, ‘Well, it’s lucky; because sometimes people do get hurt.’ The whole force of the passage lies in casual acceptance of the African American’s dehumanised status, even by Huck, whose socially-inherited language and way of thinking stands firm despite all he has learnt in his journey down-river of the humanity, warmth and affection of the escaped slave Jim – the person who truly acts as a father to him.
“It’s exactly that vitriol and its unacceptable nature that Twain intended to capture in the book as it stands. Perhaps this is not a book for younger readers. Perhaps it is a book that needs careful handling by teachers at high school and even university level as they put it in its larger discursive context, explain how the irony works, and the enormous harm that racist language can do. But to tamper with the author’s words because of the sensibilities of present-day readers is unacceptable. The minute you do this, the minute this stops being the book that Twain wrote.”
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
Yes, I do read my book reviews. When written well, they are thought- provoking and teach me something about my novel, Turn On, Tune Out. I haven’t gotten any bad ones.
Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
There are characters inspired by people I’ve met or know. But people rarely recognize themselves.
Do you Google yourself?
Yes, I Google myself. As an independent publisher, I am also marketing Turn On, Tune Out. A Google search indicates how well I’m publicizing my work.
What is your favorite childhood book?
When I was a child not old enough to go to school, my favorite books were Little Golden Books, which were first published in 1942. It wasn’t until you asked me this question that I realized that they are still published today. These books were sold in drugstores for only twenty-five cents. I bought them for myself or, at least, pointed out titles to my mother. They were my very own books, and that meant a lot to me. And they were beautiful with wide cardboard covers and spines of gold and black. I had one about a kitten. I remember it having one page torn in half. I also remember A Poky Little Puppy by Janette Sebring Lowery, illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren.
As a grade school student, I walked through the closet door in Narnia and fell in love with the magic of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.
As a mother, my favorite children’s books are Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne and The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.
If you had to do something differently as a child or teenager to become a better writer as an adult, what would you do?
The poet, Larry Neal, who taught me at Williams College, advised that writers should read myths and learn languages. A Religion major at Williams, I studied philosophy, anthropology and political science courses that tried to answer the question of existence: Who are we? I believe that we are our stories, our mythologies.
As a first-generation American, I grew up with the mythology of Belize, which both my parents left for New York City, where they met at a Belize dance. One of my children’s books features Tata Dohende, a hairy dwarf with backwards feet. When I was 4 years’ old, my family spent months in Belize, where I spoke only Creole. In kindergarten, I unlearned it, which is a loss. “Talk like your teachers,” my parents, understandably, instructed me. At least, I still understand Creole.
As a junior in college, I studied at the American University in Cairo. I learned to speak Arabic, and I immersed myself in Arab culture, which is awash in a rich mythology.
Later, I spent one year in Sicily, where I spoke Italian (not Sicilian for which there were no language books or CDs). I lived in the village of Aci Trezza, 6 miles north of Catania. Off the coast of Aci Trezza are three massive rocks. According to local legend, these great stones are the ones thrown at Odysseus in The Odyssey. Locals call the stones the “isole dei ciclopi,” or islands of the Cyclops, and I lived on the Riviera dei Ciclopi. Legend says that the Cyclops once had a smithy below the volcanic Mount Etna, which looms over the village to the northwest. During my time in Sicily, I was living inside a mythology.
In Sweden, I studied and tried to speak Swedish, which was difficult because most Swedes would answer my Swedish question in English. I read Scandinavian mythology. I was re-introduced to the thunder-god Thor and read Edda, a source of medieval Norse mythology. My local library, which was in the suburb of Solna outside of Stockholm, contained excellent language courses and books in more than 40 languages, many of them eastern European. The only requirement for a library card was a passport from any country. Sweden impressed me with its openness to other cultures and its attention to languages. The Swedes I met spoke more than one language.
In Britain, I lived 15 years in various places. Like other countries, each area has its own culture, way of talking, and stories. Cornwall, in the southwest, was especially rich in folklore and active in reviving the Cornish language.
Also, I have lived in western New York, southern and northern California, and Tidewater, Virginia. I’ve not been able to shake off my New ‘Yawk’ accent – I haven’t tried – but I’ve always learned about the stories and history of the places I’ve called home.
So, in answer to your question, I would not do anything differently as a child or teenager to become a better writer as an adult.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
It takes me years to research and write a book.
My career as a newspaper journalist taught me the importance of accuracy. One wrong detail makes the reader question the authenticity of the writer and, worse, pulls the reader out from under the spell of the story.
As for the writing, I agree with John Gardner in On Becoming a Novelist:
“Fiction does not spring into the world full grown, like Athena. It is the process of writing and rewriting that makes a fiction original and profound. One cannot judge in advance whether or not the idea of a story is worthwhile because until one has finished writing the story one does not know for sure what the idea is; and one cannot judge the style of a story on the basis of a first draft, because in a first draft the style of the finished story does not yet exist.”
Amazon: Turn On, Tune Out
Cynthia Adina Kirkwood’s characters – a 21st-century composer in Los Angeles, a 19th-century black mountain man in America, 17th-century buccaneers in the Caribbean, and others seem disparate. Nevertheless, in whatever time or place, they have one thing in common:
Their journey toward freedom.
All Cynthia’s characters seek freedom – physical, mental and spiritual. Therefore, she calls herself a freedom writer.
Cynthia and her son live in central Portugal, where she makes wine and olive oil. Turn On, Tune Out’s protagonist, Angelica Morgan, is inspired by her mythical daughter.
Connect with Cynthia:
Facebook page: Facebook