Author Interview: Cynthia T. Toney
Cynthia, it’s no secret that Bird Face is one of my favorite novels. It’s definitely at the top of my young adult list mainly because for me, the best young adult novels transcend the age group, which Bird Face does so well. Adults who read such stories are just as entertained and enlightened as the younger folks. In your writing, did you even think about the impact upon an adult reader or did you simply write the story for the teen audience only to find that it did transcend?
Thank you for inviting me, Fay, and it means a lot to me that you rank Bird Face so highly. As I was writing the story, I had no idea it would affect adults the way it has. My first clue that it might was when one of a few adults who read the entire pre-published manuscript said a scene between the protagonist and another young character was so touching it made her cry. That helped me know that adult readers might closely identify with one or more of the teens, or at least relate one of them to a young person in their lives. I originally wrote Bird Face to reach shy, socially awkward teens and those who struggle in families with divorced parents.
Other authors may find this unusual, but my husband didn’t read any part of Bird Face until after it was published. Before that, I only said to him that if he wanted to read any of it to let me know. That approach worked out for the best because after I gave him a published book, he surprised me one day by saying he’d already read half of it. He finished it the next day and told me how good he thought the story was. Now when we’re together and I’m talking with adults about the book, he pipes up and says how much he liked it. My husband is usually reserved, so that kind of public affirmation is very special to me.
Wendy Robichaud’s young teen years seemed to mirror mine, and the sweet memories, the laughter, and the tears that came while reading are also what endeared the story to me. How much of Wendy’s life mirrors your teenage years.
Wendy and I share some traits, but she is not exactly like anyone I know. At her age, I too was shy and wished I was prettier. I wasn’t popular with boys and didn’t develop a figure until late in high school. Like Wendy, I’ve always had only one or two close friends at a time. We’re both list-makers and lovers of the arts. However, it was my daughter who was a child of divorced parents, and that aspect of her life remains a painful subject for us both.
I have a feeling that one thing you and your heroine have in common is a love for animals. Do you work or volunteer with agencies that work with animals? If so, would you care to share that with us?
Helping find a way out of animal shelters for animals that might otherwise be euthanized is a passion of mine. Each shelter, or pound as they were once called, is different. Some shelters try hard not to euthanize while others don’t. Some facilities have adequate space, heat, cooling, vet care, and supplies. In others, the animals live in misery. I urge people to adopt from a shelter rather than buy a pet. Many beautiful animals, including purebreds, wind up in shelters through no fault of their own.
My most recent success story was a very large female dog in my county shelter that had been blinded in one eye. No one knew when or how because she was picked up as a stray. I found out about a blind dog rescue organization, contacted it, and offered to foster her (provide a temporary home) if this organization would rescue her and find a permanent home. We worked it out, and I went to the shelter myself and got the dog because the organization was located out-of-state. The dog was a gentle giant, sweet and lovable. With the rescue organization’s funding, she had surgery to remove the eye, which was swollen beyond repair. She must’ve been in a lot of pain. She was with us a month and is now in Pennsylvania awaiting adoption.
Anyone interested in helping or adopting shelter animals (dogs, cats, donkeys, horses, rabbits, pet pigs) can find rescue organizations in every state and most counties. Search Facebook and the Internet for specific or general animal rescues. You can also search for rescues of particular breeds.
I can’t stress enough how important donations to animal rescues are, and donations to 501c3 nonprofit rescues are tax-deductible to the extent of the law. No amount is too small, and animal rescues are some of the most appreciative charities around. I once received a thank-you note for a donation of only one dollar!
Some of the issues and secrets that the teens deal with in Bird Face are serious ones. I’d love to know if you’ve ever dealt with them or if you know someone who has because the way you present them is very real and very touching.
I do have a personal connection to someone who had an eating disorder as a teen and to a few young people who committed suicide. Eating disorders can kill, only more slowly than suicide.
It’s so hard sometimes for teens to understand that no matter what hurts them right now, life won’t always be this way. Not only are they precious human beings, but they have the power to make their lives better. Decades of good times are ahead, but they have to be here to enjoy them. I still tear up when I think of a particular boy, a friend of my daughter’s, who committed suicide in high school. He was such a nice person when he visited my home. When I see an old photo of him smiling and looking so normal and happy, I wonder what was going on behind that façade.
Do you have any future projects in the works? If so, we’d love to hear what they are.
I’ve begun a sequel to Bird Face, hoping that readers of the first book will let me know which characters they’d like to see more of. Because Wendy has four years of high school ahead to meet new people, experience new things (get herself into trouble), and discover more about herself and her fellow human beings, there’s the opportunity for a series.
I just completed a YA (some say MG) historical novel titled The Other Side of Freedom. What’s it about? In the 1920s South, a thirteen-year-old boy and his immigrant father become involved against their will in a crime that results in the murder of an innocent man and family friend.
Because I have defied convention and am writing for two very different subgenres of YA that may require finding two different publishers, I think I should find representation for one story or the other, or I won’t have much time to write!
Almost-fourteen-year-old Wendy Robichaud doesn’t care one bit about being popular like her 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 her best friend, 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. When secrets and failed dreams kick off the summer, will Jennifer still be around to support her?
Be sure to meet Wendy Robichaud.