Interview with Cynthia T. Toney, Author of 10 Steps to Girlfriend Status
Today’s guest is Cynthia T. Toney, who is here to discuss her second book in her Bird Face series. I’m a big fan of Cynthia’s work, having had the pleasure of reading the first book in her series before publication, and I have championed her writing since that time.
Cynthia is the author of the Bird Face series for teens, including 8 Notes to a Nobody and 10 Steps to Girlfriend Status. She’s always had trouble following directions and keeping her foot out of her mouth, so it’s probably best that she is now self-employed. In her spare time, when she’s not cooking Cajun or Italian food, Cynthia grows herbs and makes silk throw pillows. If you make her angry, she will throw one at you. A pillow, not an herb. Well, maybe both. Cynthia has a passion for rescuing dogs from animal shelters and encourages others to adopt a pet from a shelter and save a life. She enjoys studying the complex history of the friendly southern U.S. from Georgia to Texas, where she resides with her husband and several canines. She is a member of ACFW, Writers on the Storm (The Woodlands, TX), and Catholic Writers Guild.
Welcome back to Inner Source, Cynthia. Wow! Book Two. Tell me how it feels to have Wendy step into high school for the first time?
Hi, Fay. It’s great to be back!
I must admit that Wendy was better prepared for high school than I was at her age. The summer between eighth and ninth grades taught her a lot, and I expected more of her than I did of myself at the start of high school. I loved the thirteen-year-old Wendy but was ready for her to experience new, more mature things, to see how she’d handle them.
I’ve said this to you before, but I have been captivated by the ability of your stories to transcend generations. When I walked into school with Wendy, I felt as if I experienced déjà vu with regard to some things, but other things have changed. I won’t tell you my generation if you don’t tell me yours, but what do you think is different about teenagers and schools even within the last twenty years?
Teenagers now have so much to handle. I first noticed it when my daughter was in high school. I don’t know if, as a teen, I could have juggled all the things some of them do these days. Not only is there more to learn academically, but teens are expected to participate in many extracurricular activities. The pressure to acquire material things seems greater, so many of them choose to work an after-school or weekend job to keep up with new technology products, for example. They have much more worry regarding their safety around strangers. And of course, the drug problem has grown.
I write for teens to show them how wonderful and powerful God made them. In spite of all their accomplishments, teens I’ve known have demonstrated that they don’t feel loved.
The story is about Wendy’s steps to girlfriend status. I’m really interested in hearing how you, as a writer, developed that list. Did anything that went on that list, surprise you?
*Chuckle* Unlike boys, a girl often reads signs of a potentially serious relationship into the most minor kinds of attention a boy might pay her. That idea prompted the list. I don’t think anything on the list surprised me. I just developed Wendy and David’s relationship as I thought it might in real life between two kids with pretty good heads on their shoulders. But I wanted readers to understand how important real friendship with a boy is in developing an emotionally healthy romance. If I had revealed that early in the story, it wouldn’t have made for as much fun.
I had a recent conversation with a friend and her teenage daughter about dating, and particularly about dating more than one person at a time. I’ve noticed that girls fall in love more quickly and easily, and when they develop strong feelings about that first boy, they think he’s “the one.” Boys don’t seem to think that way, and it usually takes getting to know several girls before there’s a special one.
I disagree with some of my friends in that I think a teenage girl should not limit herself to going out with only one boy at a time. If she’s honest with the young men she’s seeing, and she is upfront about what dating means to her (friendship and going out for good, clean fun—not sex), then that’s the best way not to fall into the trap of becoming too quickly attached to one boy. How can she learn what God wants her to learn about the opposite sex and eventually make a choice pleasing to Him if she doesn’t allow herself to meet and date a number of worthy young men?
You introduce a new character who has a handicap. I’ve heard that you’ve been able to make some great connections in this regard, and I’d love for you to share them with our readers in case they might want to make a connection with you.
Right now, two interesting people are reading 10 Steps to Girlfriend Status to evaluate its potential for the deaf community. One gentleman is an educator of deaf students in a mainstream school environment. The other person is a mother who is deaf but has both hearing and deaf children.
I want to find out how deaf readers will respond to my deaf teen character, who is deaf but also speaks and reads lips. He and Wendy do not communicate using ASL (American Sign Language) because she does not have time to learn it before they become friends. I plan to have her try to learn ASL in the next book.
My concern for the book’s acceptance in the deaf community is that the deaf designate as “oral” anyone who speaks and reads lips rather than relying solely on signing. The deaf generally do not regard deafness as a handicap but rather as a way of life, with ASL as the preferred method of communication. But sometimes a deaf person speaks and reads lips in communicating with the hearing if he or she was not born deaf but became deaf later and retained the ability to speak.
There is a lot for me to learn even though I worked among deaf adults for a number of years. I love American Sign Language and think it’s a beautiful and fun language to learn. If anyone who reads 10 Steps to Girlfriend Status would like to contact me to discuss my deaf teen character, is a deaf teen, or has experience with deaf teens, I would love to hear from them.
Last question: is there anything coming for Wendy or any other stories on the horizon that you can share with us?
I’m in the process of completing the third book of the Bird Face series, with the working title 6 Dates to Disaster. All your favorite characters from books one and two will be there.
Another project dear to my heart that I wrote while seeking a publisher for my first book is called The Other Side of Freedom. It’s a coming-of-age historical with a young male protagonist. Set in the 1920s within an immigrant farming community, it’s about as different from the Bird Face series as one can imagine.
Thank you, Cynthia. I’m looking forward to reading more of your wonderful YA novels.
More About 10 Steps to Girlfriend Status:
Wendy Robichaud is on schedule to have everything she wants in high school: two loyal best friends, a complete and happy family, and a hunky boyfriend she’s had a crush on since eighth grade–until she and Mrs. Villaturo look at old photo albums together. That’s when Mrs. V sees her dead husband and hints at a 1960s scandal down in Cajun country. Faster than you can say “crawdad,” Wendy digs into the scandal and into trouble. She risks losing boyfriend David by befriending Mrs. V’s deaf grandson, alienates stepsister Alice by having a boyfriend in the first place, and upsets her friend Gayle without knowing why. Will Wendy be able to prevent Mrs. V from being taken thousands of miles away? And will she lose all the friends she’s fought so hard to gain?
About 8 Notes to a Nobody:
“Funny how you can live your days as a clueless little kid, believing you look just fine … until someone knocks you in the heart with it.”
Wendy Robichaud doesn’t care one bit about being popular like good-looking classmates Tookie and the Sticks–until Brainiac bully John-Monster schemes against her, and someone leaves anonymous sticky-note messages all over school. Even the best friend she always counted on, Jennifer, is hiding something and pulling away. But the spring program, abandoned puppies, and high school track team tryouts don’t leave much time to play detective. And the more Wendy discovers about the people around her, the more there is to learn.When secrets and failed dreams kick off the summer after eighth grade, who will be around to support her as high school starts in the fall?
8 Notes to a Nobody received the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval. In its original edition, Bird Face, it won a 2014 Moonbeam Children’s Book Award, bronze, in the category Pre-teen Fiction Mature Issues.