First, a little background:
How did you come up with the idea for Unearthly?
Cynthia called it mysterious. She had basically gone through a dry spell, where she hadn’t wanted to write for years. Then one day she just had this feeling of wanting to write again, and *bam* within 24 hours she had the idea for Unearthly. The first thing she saw was Claire having the vision of Christian and the fire in the beginning.
Why fallen angels?
It wasn’t angels at first. She just knew that she wanted a supernatural girl as the main character, and for her to be a hero. But nothing else fit; she didn’t want vampires or werewolves or faeries. So she was doing research and found something about how, in the bible, Nephilim were considered heroes. She researched it some more and there was born the idea of using all different kinds of angel mythology.
Did you have any particular issues or road blocks with writing Unearthly?
Surprisingly, no. She wrote pretty steadily, 4 hours a day until it was finished. On my notes I wrote 6 months, and I can’t remember why now…
Was it harder writing Hallowed than it was writing Unearthly?
Much harder. She says there’s a lot more pressure to finish this one and lack of time to deal with said pressure. She has a tighter schedule now that she has another baby and so writing Hallowed was less enjoyable. Though, she explains, the events in Hallowed isn't aren't exactly happy and it’s much more serious, but she didn’t enjoy writing it as much for other reasons. And for book 3, she has even LESS time. How will she do it?
How many books are planned in the series?
When Cynthia originally sold it to Harper, they asked for three and bought only three. But as long as everything goes as planned, there will be a 4th Unearthly book!! There will also be two companion books of the series, one from Maggie’s POV and another from both Christian and Angela’s POV, but where Christian is reading Angela’s diary. Sounds very interesting!
What kind of research did you have to do for this series, in both mythology and the region where it takes place?
Mostly angel mythology from all different religions. She also actually went down to Jacksonhole and researched the area, as well as interviewing a few kids at the school. She even researched about flight and wingspan and wind drafts. Now that’s dedication!
I hear we will see a lot more of Christian in Hallowed (which I’m quite excited for). If you really had to pick, would you go with Tucker or Christian?
She says she loves them both equally. But she got the underlying question, which is who she thinks is better for Clara… which sadly she could not divulge. I thought she’d totally dismiss the question so really this was more than I was expecting.
Do you have any say over the titles or the covers?
Cynthia answered that she has say, but not too much. The original title for Unearthly was Angel Blood. But apparently Harper wasn’t buying it, so they asked her to write out a list of words from the book that caught her eye and Unearthly was the one Harper liked. As for the cover, she wanted one where you couldn’t see the girl’s face (a reason why she really likes the Australian cover, besides the red hair that apparently really sells well over there). Needless to say, they didn’t listen to her about the face. But she grew to love the cover and I’m pretty in love with it myself.
How long did it take for you to get published? How many rejection letters did you get?
I must say this was the biggest surprise of the interview. The answer to the first part of the question was pretty normal: She committed to really writing in 2000, but the idea for Unearthly came much later. Once she had it though, it took her a little more than a month for it to get picked up and the offer for the series came in mid-September. The surprising part was that she received NO rejection letters for Unearthly. None, zero, nul. Surprised? Well, she explained that she already had an agent for some short stories she had published, and her agent was friends with the person that ended up being Cynthia’s editor. Apparently, the editor had been looking for an angel book, and of course her agent jumped at the chance. But Cynthia redeems herself by saying that her rejections came in the form of her academics, as in she was rejected from the grad school she wanted and she’d been rejected from journals as well.
Do you have any advice for those of us who want to be published authors, especially teens?
I hear this one a lot: write every day. Cynthia also mentioned you should study not just read. What she means is to study writing technique books, so that you can perfect your writing style. But reading is also important she says, so read books in your genre and get a good feel for it. She also suggested crit groups. She met her crit partner online at a more mature and social version of Sims, but she also suggested finding people in your area that are also writers AND that you trust. That’s the biggest problem, she says, is finding people you trust to read and critique your work.
What are you working on right now?
She is working only on book 3 of the Unearthly series right now. During the summer though, she was working on 3 projects: book 3 and the two companion books I mentioned earlier.
Do you listen to music when you write or do you need complete silence?
Cynthia likes to hang out and write at the Pepperdine University library (the college where she works), which is a half-hour drive from her house. So she listens to music on the way there and on the way back. She realized that if she listened to music during writing, she would adopt the mood of the song, and when it changed to a completely different song, she’d lose focus.
What are your favorite books of this year (unpublished too)?
Cynthia loves her dystopians! She says she even has an idea for one, but is waiting until the craziness of dystopians flooding the market calms down. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness was her first response, but that Blood Red Road by Moira Young was a close second. Then was Prized by Caragh O’Brien, the second book in the Birthmarked series, From Bad to Cursed by Katie Alender (not dystopian), and The Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater (also not dystopian).
Is there any place you’ve visited that you’ve fallen in love with or would love to visit some day?
Cynthia says she likes to travel. When she was 18, she went to England, and on the boat over to Belgium, she swore she would return. But she hasn’t yet. She also mentioned wanting to go to Germany (she’s part German).
What was it like growing up in Idaho?
She said her town in Idaho was very wholesome community. When she was there, she wanted to leave, but now she wants to move back. We both shared the same opinion about California (we both want out!). She was also able to do more outdoors kind of things in Idaho, which is why it plays such a big role in Unearthly. She felt like she could mentally live in her home town while writing it.
For “lunch” today, she had French toast (which looked so delicious by the way!)—and not made at home, which she never has time for. She also likes lasagna and a lot of other Italian foods, though when I asked if she was Italian, she said not even a little. Though she also likes Mexican, so she’s not too picky. Because she’s German, Welsh, and Swiss, she loves chocolate of course!
If only I could have found the actual French toast. There was way more and she ate it all! I'm so proud :)
Thanks for the great interview Cynthia and I'm so happy I got to meet you!