Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Meet Cynthia Willis

Cynthia Chapman Willis is the author of two books for young readers: DOG GONE and BUCK FEVER. I first became aware of her work when I stumbled upon her novel DOG GONE. As an animal lover, the title intrigued me, and since I’m always finding myself in the middle of returning lost dogs, I knew I had to read it. Please read her wonderful interview here, and at the bottom, learn how you can win your choice of one of her books!

Cynthia - tell us a little about how you came to write DOG GONE, and its path to publication.

DOG GONE is based on a sweet and adorable homeless and stray dog that my family adopted when I was about fifteen years old. While playing around with story ideas one day, I started thinking about how this beloved pup joined a pack of neighborhood dogs that began terrorizing local farm animals. My dog and this pack situation ended up becoming the premise for DOG GONE.

The path to publication began when I heard an agent speak at a conference. I liked what he had to say and, so, submitted my dog story to him. Soon after, he offered to represent me. That was thrilling, of course. But one of the greatest days ever came later, when he sold this novel to the amazing Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of Macmillan.

Was DOG GONE the original title, or did you come up with that after acceptance by the publisher?

DOG GONE is not the original title. I am beyond awful with titles. The original title for DOG GONE was GOOD DOG, BAD DOG. Luckily for me, though, the amazing and talented folks at Feiwel and Friends suggested DOG GONE.

How did you get your start as a children’s writer, Cynthia? Is it something you always wanted to do?

I fell in love with creative writing in the second grade and have always loved children’s books. However, I didn’t have the self-confidence to give writing as a profession serious consideration until a college professor nudged me toward it. After college, I became an editor of elementary textbooks where I had the opportunity to read lots of great children’s books as well as write books and materials for the textbook programs. This helped me to develop my own writing.

I just finished reading your second novel, Cynthia, called BUCK FEVER, and I love the premise. Tell us a little about that book. The details about hunting seem pretty real. Have you ever hunted, or do you come from a hunting family? How did you come up with the idea for this story?

I am not a hunter and I don’t come from a hunting family, believe it or not. However, I live in an area where there are lots of deer and where deer hunting is very popular. There are many different opinions about this, pro and con. These different points of view fascinated me and inspired BUCK FEVER. Since I am not a hunter, I did lots of research while writing, including interviews and learning how to shoot a rifle. The more research I did, the more interested I became in the subject matter and all the opinions surrounding it.

How long does it generally take you to write a novel, and what is your method.? Do you write from an outline, or by the seat of your pants?

I always start a new story with a blank book in which I write plot ideas, character sketches, setting descriptions, details that pop into my head, potential opportunities for humor, and all sorts of random thoughts. I also draw maps and sketch floor plans in the notebook. Once I have a skeleton of an idea, I develop an outline. I build upon this until it is quite meaty. Then, I try to write the first draft full speed ahead without stopping to revise or fuss, using my outline and my notes to keep me focused. After the first draft is finished, I revise and revise and revise, which is my favorite part of the process. The time it takes for me to write and revise a novel varies depending on the subject matter and how the process goes, but each book gobbles up at least a year.

How do you get your ideas, Cynthia?

Ideas pop into my head at any time and at any place--which can be really inconvenient. This is why I always keep a pen and paper with me. When a line from something I am reading, a song, a recollection, or a piece of a conversation deposits the seed of a story into my head, I am, at least, ready scribble down something about it. If an idea really appeals to me, I start asking questions that include What if? or What then? This kind of questioning helps me to figure out if my idea has the potential to grow into a full-fledged story.

Can you tell us about any new projects your working on? Any new books?

I recently finished the first draft of a new story. Phew! I am a wee bit superstitious about sharing what I am writing about, but I will say that this latest novel includes a dog that needs to be saved. The idea and the inspiration for this plot came from a news item that bothered me a lot. I could not stop thinking about it and started researching the subject at the heart of the news item. This led to the story idea and the first draft.

Any advice for aspiring authors, Cynthia? What’s it take to get published in today’s market?

Perseverance. My advice is always Do not give up on your dreams. This was the best advice I received and I like to share it whenever possible. I believe that persistence, meaning a devotion to improving one’s writing and stories, is the key to getting published. In my pursuit of improvement, I read as much as possible, fiction as well as books on craft. And, of course, I write whenever and however I can.

One last question, Cynthia. What’s your favorite animal? And why?

Oh, that’s a tough question to answer. However, I think the horse remains my favorite animal. There is a unique bond between a rider and her horse that, for me, surpasses even the connection between a person and a dog or a person and a cat. I’ve been lucky enough to share my home with lots and lots of critters, including a pet rat, but my horse and I had the greatest connection of all. Horses are unique and very special.

Cynthia - thanks you so much for stopping by! To learn more about Cynthia and her books, please visit her website:

And just before Christmas, we have time for One More Book Giveaway.

Win Your Choice of either DOG GONE or BUCK FEVER. But you have to act fast!

All you have to do to enter is leave a comment below, on why you'd like to win one of Cynthia's books. (Make sure I know how to contact you, too.)

Contest open until midnight, Pacific Time, December 15th, 2010, when I will randomly draw the name of the winner.

Books will be shipped to U.S. addresses only.

Good luck, everyone!


Cinette said...

I'm a Cunuck, so I can't play:-( But I will be looking up these books!

wilsonc said...

I can relate to either one of these books. When I was about 13 we lost our dog, Jingles, because someone had reported him chasing the livestock of a neighbor. We were not at home when animal conrol came to the house. They couldn't come onto the property to remove the dog but they had a neighbor child do it for them. They had destroyed him before we found out they had taken him.

As for "Buck Fever" my 12-year-old grandson has recently shown an interest in hunting. My husband and my son-in-law are planning to take a gun and hunter safety course with him so they can take him out safely. I'm not much for hunting. The only kind of shooting I like is with a camera...but to each his own.

Judi said...

Linda, You are awesome. Enjoyed the interview. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Judi

Linda Benson said...

Thanks to everyone who commented and entered. The winner is wilsonc! Please send an email to linda (at) lindabenson (dot) net with a shipping address, and your preference of DOG GONE or BUCK FEVER, so we can get the book right out to you. Merry Christmas!