Cynthia discussed her debut, a middle-grade novel soon to be published by Jolly Fish Press, with fellow author Tara Goedjen. Cynthia’s a member of the online author group the Sweet Sixteens, which is dedicated to writers debuting this year. Tara rolls with the Swanky Seventeens.
ABOUT THE NOVEL
Monster is as monster does, but Frankenstein Frightface Gordon is totally the wrong shade of ghastly green—pale, baby blue, in fact—and he’s more concerned with keeping his pants neat and tidy than scaring the pants off his victims. But when a new law is passed to rid Uggarland of misfits such as Frank, he must decide if he will become the monster his parents can be proud of or be the monster he can be proud of. Trusting the most monsterly monster he knows, Frank looks to the grave and his dead grandmother to make his choice, entering into an adventure that most likely will seal his doom. Or prove he is truly monster enough.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cynthia Reeg, a curious librarian, ventured from behind the stacks to become a children’s author. Now she contends with quirky characters and delightful dilemmas as often as possible in her stories. Her amazing husband, two grown sons, two adorable grandsons, and awesome family aid Cynthia on this wild and wonderful adventure.
She’s a Kansas native who has lived in five other Midwest states. Currently she resides in St. Louis, Missouri and loves to vacation in Florida and New Mexico. Cynthia enjoys tennis, hiking, reading, and hanging out with her family. For more information, visit www.cynthiareeg.com.
TALKING ‘FROM THE GRAVE’
1) This is the first book in your Monster or Die series. How did writing a series shape your first book in terms of plotting and character arcs? Did you always intend to write a series, or was that encouraged by your agent or editor?
Initially the story was only one book. Then after many revisions, I sent it to a freelance editor. She was the one who suggested that I had more than one book happening. So I broke it apart and expanded areas. This enabled me to create richer/more complex characters and add more depth to the plotting. My characters always end up surprising me with the details in their lives. So much fun! My editor has also helped me with plotting and characters, which I’ve greatly appreciated.
2) In FROM THE GRAVE, you switch between the perspectives of Frank, a young Frankenstein, and his classroom nemesis, Malcolm McNastee the troll. Did you enjoy writing one perspective over the other? And what was the idea behind the Monster or Die series?
I really enjoyed exploring both characters. They each had their complications and challenges. I needed to show Frank as unique—something of a freak in the monster world, yet also establish how he was totally invested in his world. He couldn’t imagine not being part of Uggarland. On the other claw, Malcolm initially seemed like the perfect follow-the-rules, frightful monster—but quickly the complexities of his character emerged. He had a few soft spots and surprises for me. Frank was originally THE main character, but Malcolm quickly vied for equal billing. As an author, it was great fun switching points of view to tell the story.
As for the series, I wanted to explore bullying and prejudice in a totally different way. By looking at this issue in a monster world, I felt young readers might be more receptive to the parallels in their own world. The story can be read for fun and adventure, but hopefully I’ve provided a takeaway for a bit of contemplation as well. Plus, I had a blast creating the whacky characters and setting. I love to encourage kids to use their imaginations.
3) Do you have any advice for writers on finding a middle grade voice and story?
I LOVE middle grade because for me that was the first impactful reading I remember as a child. These books offered new friends, adventures, mysteries, and problems. The stories made me laugh. They made me cry. They made me afraid. They made me hopeful. They made me care—care deeply. To me this is middle grade—this coming of age. It’s the time when a child first ventures into the bigger world but is still firmly rooted in family. When a child discovers the true meaning of friends. When a child learns there isn’t always an easy answer or a quick fix. When a child realizes she sometimes must make a difficult choice and live with the decision. This vulnerable—yet fun-loving, not yet totally tamed—voice is what MG means to me.
4) How did your experience as a librarian influence your writing approach?
My work as a librarian enabled me to have hands-on experience with young readers from pre-school through YA. Of course, I took numerous college and graduate classes on children’s literature, which was a wonderful foundation. But being able to connect on a daily basis with individual students was priceless. I learned what excited them, what challenged them. And that’s what I wanted to do: write stories that would do both—entertain and dare. Fun stories that would cause the reader to stop and consider. Endearing stories that would create the desire to read another and another and another . . .
1) All-time favorite book or author?
I can’t pick just one! I’m a big fan of Richard Peck, Kate DiCamillo, Avi, Louis Sachar, Karen Hesse, Sharon Creech, Gary Schmidt—really, I could go on and on. So many amazing authors! This is only the tip of the iceberg.
2) A writing day in the life of Cynthia Reeg?
There is no regular day. I sandwich writing between grandsons/family, travel, exercise, housework, etc. I try to write in the morning or afternoon. But when there is a deadline, I work long hours, barely coming up for air. And when I’m not writing, I’m observing—taking mental notes, brainstorming. Here’s an example of me “writing” while sitting in a dentist chair: http://www.cynthiareeg.com/world-building/.
3) Oddest job you’ve ever had?
Scorekeeper one summer for the high school baseball team. I wrote a fantasy story centered around baseball (“The Slightly Tangled Tales of Jim-Bo Baxter”) which won me the SCBWI Missouri Mentorship Award. So never discount using what you know in a story.
4) One thing you wish you could tell your 12-year-old self?
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes!
5) Favorite publication moment?
Hearing my editor’s voice (TJ da Roza) on the phone offering a contract for FROM THE GRAVE—and seeing the awesome cover for the first time!
6) “Monster or Die” is a motto in the book. Do you have a writing motto?
“You gotta believe!” An editor at an SCBWI conference many years ago when I was just starting out to seriously pursue writing children’s literature said this. It’s helped keep me strong in the dark times. You’ve got to believe in your writing. You’ve got to believe you will be published. You’ve got to believe that you will make a difference in one child’s life.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Tara Goedjen is the author of THE BREATHLESS, a YA gothic mystery coming Fall 2017 from Delacorte. THE BREATHLESS follows 16-year-old Mae Cole’s quest to discover the person responsible for her sister’s mysterious death. Mae’s search takes a terrifying turn when she starts to dig up long-buried secrets about her family’s dark past.
Tara wrote her first story at age ten about children disappearing at midnight. She grew up (somewhat) in Alabama, and currently lives in California, where she’s working away at her second novel. You can find Tara on Twitter or her website.