This month I pose my five questions to Cynthia Blair, author of three mystery series (written as Cynthia Baxter), including the “Reigning Cats & Dogs” mysteries featuring Long Island veterinarian Jessica Popper. Titles include Dead Canaries Don’t Sing and Putting On the Dog. She has also written contemporary women’s fiction and young adult novels. You can find Cynthia on Goodreads and BookBub.
You will find that sometimes I can’t help myself and respond in italics, but sometimes it’s enough to let Cynthia say it all.
What is your favorite book about the craft of writing? Why?
I’ve never been a big reader of craft books. I’ve learned whatever I know about crafting a novel by paying attention to how other authors have done it. I’ve always been attuned to how authors ask a question at the beginning of the book that keeps the reader reading, the ways they end chapters, the ways in which they construct scenes and build tension…it’s all right there on the page.
This is an intriguing answer for me, because I so often find writers pointing other writers to craft resources, as I have been doing for years. But one of my favorite exercises, borrowed from a craft book, was to write in the style of a favorite author.
What do you like most about writing a first draft?
That creative magic that comes from out of nowhere and enables me to pour out an entire scene without coming up for air. Fingers flying, ideas tumbling over each other, sentences writing themselves… it doesn’t always happen, of course, but when it does, it’s exhilarating!
What is your favorite part of revision?
Being done with it? I find it torture, especially when it requires moving scenes around and then reshuffling different sections throughout the book to be sure it all still makes sense. The only fun part for me is reworking individual sentences or paragraphs to make them cleaner and sharper. I’ll reread something and think, “Why on earth is that word there? Out!” Or “That verb should be at the beginning of the sentence, not at the end!” That’s a good feeling.
What book (not about writing) are you reading right now or recently finished that you would recommend to others?
I just finished Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout. It’s beautifully crafted. The writing is lyrical and the characters are wonderfully complex (and so human!). It’s about love and acceptance and disappointment and loss and rebirth…all the difficulties and rewards that people experience simply through having to (and needing to) live with each other.
Can you give an example of how you have been kind to someone else recently, in real life or through one of your characters?
A young woman recently wrote to me about a Young Adult novel of mine called A Summer in Paris. It’s the story of three high school girls who go to Paris on a school trip and the effect it has on their lives. One of the characters in the book decides to remain there, despite her parents’ objections. The woman who wrote to me said my book had inspired her to go live in Paris, which had always been her dream. She was grateful that my book had encouraged her to follow the character’s lead, so I suppose that was an inadvertent act of kindness!
Cynthia and I discussed how hard it can be to see our own kindnesses. This question isn’t easy for me to answer, either, and I hope that doesn’t make it unfair of me to ask it. Because I love the answers I hear from people in the Imagine Neighborhood podcast I borrowed it from.
I think that sometimes we don’t see our own kindnesses, either because they are inadvertent, as Cynthia points to, or subconscious, or because we aren’t sure that our intentional kindnesses are received as such. Yet it’s important to know we are being kind in the world, and to pay the kindnesses we receive forward. So I reminded Cynthia that in addition to the great kindness she did by inspiring her reader, she has also been kind to me — encouraging me as a writer and a member of the writing community, and answering these questions.
I hope you have enjoyed her answers and will strike out and read her books if you haven’t already. I confess I’ve so far only read from her Lickety Splits Ice Cream Shoppe mysteries, and I love the intriguing flavors of this dessert that Cynthia weaves in with fun mysteries!