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I Learn from Children, Even the Imaginary Ones by Cynthia T. Toney

CindyPurpB&W3rev.reducedThe garbage truck makes its presence known each Tuesday morning with a rumble and a screech, but the last visit was different.

I heard a honk. My dogs barked, and I ran to the front window and raised the shade.

One of the garbage men waved an arm and pointed at a little girl standing next to my garbage can. I hurried out to see what was going on.

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” he said, ‘’’but she won’t let me take the can. I think she said there’s more garbage in the house.”

“No, there isn’t. She’s not my daughter.” Concern began to build. I didn’t recognize this child, who couldn’t have been much older than six. I scanned the street both ways. Where were her parents?

“I think she’s mentally challenged.” The garbage man, who was over six feet tall and as lanky as a professional basketball player, had the gentle voice of an angel.

I finally looked into the little girl’s eyes, not as clear and focused as a healthy child’s. “Go ahead and dump the can,” I told him. “I’ll try to find out who she belongs to.”

“Yes, ma’am. Thank you. I’m sorry I had to bother you.”

“No, thank you for calling me out here.”

He tossed the garbage, and the truck rolled on.

I placed a hand on the girl’s shoulder. “Where do you live? Do you live on this street?”

“K,” she said.

In her hand she held a bowl, eating unrecognizable crumbs from it. The morning was a hot one, and the sun beat down on both of us standing at the edge of the street.

“Would you like some water?”

She shook her head. “K.”

“Is Kay your momma? Or your babysitter?” I stroked the girl’s hair, but panic was setting in—for me, anyway. She remained composed.

“K.”

Just as I decided I’d better take her inside and call the sheriff, a young woman on foot appeared around the curve in the street. I waved one arm to get her attention, then two. She picked up speed. The child glanced her way.

“Is that your momma?”

“K.”

It probably took the woman less than a minute to reach us. Although winded, she smiled, her cheeks rosy.

“Are you her mother?” I stroked the girl’s hair again. “She’s a sweetheart.”

“Yes, thank you.”

“She keeps saying ‘K.’”

“She means ‘Cade,’ her brother. He likes to go down to the creek and play with the other boys, and sometimes she tries to follow him.”

“What’s her name?”

“Emma.”

Now we had three overheated, possibly thirsty people standing at the street. “May I get you a bottle of water? Emma didn’t want any.”

“That’s very nice of you, but no thanks. I have two little ones asleep in the house. Mine is the second to last one on the other side of the street.” She pointed. “I’d better get back.”

“No problem. I’m home every day, so if she goes missing again, let me know and I’ll look out for her.”

“Thank you so much.”

I went inside, where the green peas I’d left on the stove had burned. I’d lost my focus during the drama, but Emma hadn’t.

She knew what she loved and didn’t forget what she wanted: her brother Cade (which, by the way, means “pet lamb.”) And she went after him.

That kind of devotion and single-mindedness is what makes me love kids, kindergarteners and teenagers alike. We adults have so much to learn from them, so I choose to write about them and for them.

While writing Bird Face, my main character became real to me. I watched Wendy and speculated what she’d do next. How would she handle this situation?  What would she try first? I knew she’d make a mistake or two before figuring out successful strategy and tactics. It was all so that she could learn to love herself and those around her better. She had a lot of love to give, but it took her a while to discover where and how to direct it. And to forgive.

I was the same way for many years when I didn’t look to Jesus to show me how. I believe he used the story of Wendy to reach me. As I wrote her story, she demonstrated how to love better, further, and more wisely.

And sometimes so does a child like Emma.

About the Author:

Cynthia enjoys writing both historical and contemporary teen fiction with a touch of mystery and romance. She holds a BA in art education with a minor in history and worked as an advertising designer and marketing copywriter when she began her first novel. More recently she has been an interior decorator, and her decorating articles appear on eHow.com and homeguides.SFGate.com (The San Francisco Chronicle online). She has a passion for rescuing dogs from animal shelters and encourages people to adopt and save the life of a shelter dog or cat. In her leisure time she cooks Italian and studies the complex history of the friendly South, where she resides with her husband and several dogs.

You can connect with Cynthia via her e-mail: birdfacewendy@gmail.com, also her website, her blog, on Facebook, and Twitter

About Bird Face:

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?

Wendy and Cynthia talked about Bird Face on Monday and Wednesday.

 

Author Interview: Cynthia T. Toney

CindyPurpB&W3rev.reducedToday’s guest is 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?

You can connect with Cynthia via her e-mail: birdfacewendy@gmail.com, also her website, her blog, on Facebook, and Twitter

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!

521390_391234014291056_168496479_nMore About Bird Face:

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.

 

 

Character Interview: Wendy Robichaud from Bird Face

521390_391234014291056_168496479_nToday’s guest is Ms. Wendy Robichaud from Cynthia T. Toney’s wonderful young adult novel, Bird Face. Wendy, I have to say that I am so glad that I met you. Your story brought memories back to me that I’d thought I’d forgotten, and they showed me that not much has changed since I attended school. Please, tell our readers a little about you and your story.

Thank you, Mrs. Lamb. It’s great to meet you too. I used to be so shy that I wouldn’t have imagined being able to talk with you like this a year ago. And it seemed that when I did work up the courage to say something to a person I didn’t know very well, I could never say the right thing. I always put my foot in my mouth and made someone mad. It was so hard to make new friends because of that, so it was a good thing I had Jennifer, my best friend. When people were mean to me for no reason, she stood up for me. But after a while, I knew it was time to start standing up for myself.

Teens often experience change in their lives as they grow older. Friendships change or strengthen or new ones are created. What did you learn about friendship during the last school year?

I realized there were people out there waiting and hoping to be friends with me, but I either didn’t recognize the signals they sent or was too shy to act on them. I had a feeling Jennifer was changing, and it scared me because I never had to try to impress her and could always be myself. But I couldn’t see that I was on the verge of changing too. It wasn’t until I was forced to seek new friends that I did, and I believe God gave me the right push at all the right times. I looked at people with new eyes and saw things we had in common that I could build friendships on. But on the other hand, you never know when an old friend might reappear, and because of what you’ve experienced when you were apart, you might become close again.

With everything you experienced in the year leading up to entering high school, what is the biggest lesson you learned?

That it doesn’t do any good to feel sorry for yourself and wait for someone to come to you to be your friend. You have to reach out to them or at least meet them half way. If you wait too long, you may lose them forever, and you’ll wonder all your life if friendship with them could’ve made a difference in your life and theirs too, if only you’d done something to show you cared. No matter how low you feel, there’s always someone who feels lower whose spirits you might lift with a friendly smile or a genuine compliment. If you’re rejected, it may hurt a little; but if you keep trying, you’ll find someone who appreciates your effort. Who knows? That person may be your new best friend!

This, I believe, is a deep question, but somehow I think it is a question meant especially for you: If you could go back to any time in your life and change history, would you do it? If so, when would that be and how would you change your life? If not, why would you be willing to go through the same conflicts that you have faced?

I think I could’ve gotten an earlier start on some things, like being nicer to my stepmother. I could’ve taken the attitude that if being nicer to her didn’t make her act nicer toward me, I wouldn’t be any worse off than I was before. If it did help, a lot of days at her and Dad’s house would’ve been more pleasant. And I wish I’d noticed and cared more when people at school were bullied or looked like they were sad or needed a friend. I would’ve tried to be as nice to them as people like Alice, David, and Jennifer have been to me.  But I believe some of the other things had to happen when and how they did. I wouldn’t have been able to change that part of history, and I don’t think I’d want to. Certain people, places, and events had to come together in the right way at the right time to make me truly understand them and myself.

Okay, Wendy, before we close, I just have to know—what’s the scoop with you and David?

(Blushing) Well, he’s the nicest boy I’ve ever known. Just for example, on the first day of sixth grade, my first day at Bellingrath Junior High, I couldn’t find English class. I’d heard the teacher, Mr. Stanley, could be a real bear, and I was scared to death I’d be late. I must’ve looked it too because David stopped and asked if he could help me with anything. I thought, Oh, sure, you must’ve seen me with Jennifer earlier, but that wasn’t it at all. He’s just nice. He walked me to class and then had to practically run to make it to his own class. I think we’re really only friends right now in ninth grade, but he does sit with me at lunch sometimes. And the other day he mentioned something about wanting to see me run track and asked if I’d come to one of his baseball games when the season starts. So maybe we’ll be more than friends someday if I don’t mess it up!

More About Bird Face:

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?

CindyPurpB&W3rev.reducedAbout the Author:

Cynthia enjoys writing both historical and contemporary teen fiction with a touch of mystery and romance. She holds a BA in art education with a minor in history and worked as an advertising designer and marketing copywriter when she began her first novel. More recently she has been an interior decorator, and her decorating articles appear on eHow.com and homeguides.SFGate.com (The San Francisco Chronicle online). She has a passion for rescuing dogs from animal shelters and encourages people to adopt and save the life of a shelter dog or cat. In her leisure time she cooks Italian and studies the complex history of the friendly South, where she resides with her husband and several dogs.

You can connect with Cynthia via her e-mail: birdfacewendy@gmail.com, also her website, her blog, on Facebook, and Twitter.