Interview with Cynthia Stone1. What was unique about the setting of the book and how did it enhance or take away from the story?
The book is set in Central Texas, where anyone has a chance to make a fortune from a variety of sources: land, cattle, and/or oil. The town is fictional, so I didn’t have to be accurate naming the streets and other details. The variety of landscape (woods, rivers, hills) gives the characters options for activities and places to hide.
2. What specific themes did the author emphasize throughout the novel? What do you think he or she is trying to get across to the reader?
The journey to learn family truths can be painful when secrets come out. We can’t heal our own hearts or mend our behaviors unless we are willing to ask and listen to the stories of our parents’ lives. It’s how we learn where we came from and why we deserve a place on the planet.
3. Do the characters seem real and believable? Can you relate to their predicaments? To what extent do they remind you of yourself or someone you know?
The main character isn’t all that likable, but she makes people laugh and cry. Reviewers have said they relate to her better by reading the flashbacks involving her childhood. Everyone seems to choose the same favorite character, because we all want to be like her. They are all selected parts of different people I’ve known, even if the events are fictional.
4. How do characters change or evolve throughout the course of the story? What events trigger such changes?
She has shut off any relationship with her father, even though they share many traits and life events. The deeper she digs for the truth, the worse her son’s behavior becomes. She is tough, stubborn, blind, and uncompromising, until she is forced to make a different choice to save her son from suffering the same family break-up she endured.
5. In what ways do the events in the books reveal evidence of the author’s worldview?
Families are complicated, even when everyone is reasonably mentally healthy. Forgiveness, truth, and deep listening are essential to stop family tragedy from reverberating through the generations.
6. Did certain parts of the book make you uncomfortable? If so, why did you feel that way? Did this lead to a new understanding or awareness of some aspect of your life you might not have thought about before?
The main character is so unwilling to open up her own emotions or find out what’s going on in her son’s thinking and reactions to their family tragedy. Her behavior is a universal lesson in why we should avoid judging others, why we should try to “walk a mile in their shoes,” and why we should consider the impact of our actions.
7. Was there a basis for your story? A previous experience? Something else?
I am often surprised by the number of families touched by suicide. It’s a deep grief and mystery, not just a terrible way to bond. The stories people have told me always come with a certain level of regret about not listening better.
8. What research did you have to perform to back up your story? Any research which really opened your eyes or gave you new respect for a topic or profession?
Set in the mid-1970s, I took pains to be sure certain gadgets (e.g., answering machines), laws (seatbelts), news events (Watergate), and songs on the radio were available/enacted/current/popular. Several friends who are psychotherapists helped me get the “crazy” tuned right.
9. What is your method for writing a book? A certain amount of hours every day? A certain routine? Are you character/story builder or an outliner or some other method?
Sit down when it’s light outside, and write something every day. Write until your backside is numb. Forget to eat and shower. Don’t go anywhere and don’t let anyone in your office. Don’t answer the phone or make calls. Don’t get up until it’s dark outside.
I start with an idea for a character with a problem, then figure out what makes it worse, especially the character’s choices. Give her a personality trait that needs fixing. Throw in other characters who are either stumbling blocks or mentors. Know the character arc: what does she have to learn/change/do by the end of the story. Then start an outline of scenes, timelines, family trees, locations, and other pertinent building blocks.
10. How do you get past writers block or distractions like the internet?
Just say no to your screen. Open one file, one Word.doc. Control the mouse like it’s your billfold. Believe everything else will keep (especially applies to laundry and other chores).
Writer’s block actually means your characters aren’t talking to you. Ask them questions. Shut up and listen. If all else fails in your desperate attempt at storytelling, make the phone ring. On the page, of course.
11. Favorite book from childhood.
Hard to answer. There were so many. Either Heidi or The Black Stallion.
12. What’s on your desk? Can you see your desk? Describe what you see when you look around.
Papers, laptop, favorite photos and unique paperweights, books about writing, other novels, a red polka-dotted ceramic shoe, a fat-tailed sheep made of beads from South Africa, a stone cross from Jerusalem, a lacquered box from Russia with fairy tale art, comic clippings about authors or writing, more papers. About 5% of my desktop is visible. My office is painted lilac (hope I don’t write purple prose) and hung with artwork depicting passions, especially a print of a Renaissance painting of two cherubs reading. Or maybe they’re critiquing a friend’s book.
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