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An Interview with Cynthia Ward

Conducted by Carrie Smoot
December, 2002

Cynthia Ward’s mother inspired her life’s motto: “How can you fail if you never quit?” She knew that writing was in her blood and that, one day, she would get published. That dream came true on May 15, 2002, when Twilight Times Books published Cynthia’s debut e-book novel, “Sometimes There’s A Dove.” It’s the story of four siblings, Shelly, Clair, Zeke and Bay and their parents. An illustrated version featuring Cynthia’s own drawings is in the works.

As a child, she loved a book about Virginia Dare. Dissatisfied with the ending, however, she decided to write her own. “I thought that was much better than never knowing what happened,” Cynthia says. She still has the book and the first draft. “It’s fun looking back on it now, knowing that I overcame so much,” she says. Diagnosed with dyslexia at 7, Cynthia treasures the Virginia Dare biography because it helped her master reading. Working with her mother and alone, she heard, saw, spoke and felt the words until she could read them on her own. L.M. Montgomery’s “Anne of Green Gables” series and the “Little House” books by Laura Ingalls Wilder were other favorites. Today, she likes anything by fellow Mississippian John Grisham and Billie Letts’ “Where the Heart Is.”

FF: You’ve said that your mom has taught you well in reading, perseverance and so many other things. Who are other role models and mentors in your life?

Cynthia: My grandmother. She was a bright and shining star in my life. She looked at me with a certain twinkle in her eye that made me feel so warm and loved. She was an amazing woman. Raising five children during the Depression and World War II years, keeping her family safe and together, and love and concern for all mankind were her top priorities. She made everyone feel special and loved. For me, it was a pot of spaghetti. Every time I’d visit her she’d fix it, because she knew I loved “Nanny’s Sketty.” I look up to her so very much.

Also my uncle Buddy, who was more like a father to me. My grandpa was the best fiddler in the county. He could also play any musical instrument there was. He’d invent new instruments to play. I’ve heard it said that he was a “piece of music walking around.” His son, my favorite uncle, could do the same. He used to play the fiddle to get me to sleep when I was little. I loved “Beautiful Dreamer.” Something in me is drawn to the violin, even though I can’t play it. I love to hear the sounds of the bow gliding over the strings.

All of my siblings. I was the youngest, and they were my protectors, and my best friends. I’d also like to add my Great Aunt Polly, who inspires everyone to be the best they can be. I don’t believe she’s ever met a person she didn’t like or that didn’t like her. She’s one of a kind.

FF: Are you self-employed, or do you work for other people when you aren’t writing? What have other jobs in the past taught you?

Cynthia: I’m one of the lucky few that can dedicate most of their attention to writing. I do volunteer work and take care of my disabled mother who had a stroke. I vowed that I would never leave her alone, and no matter where I go, or what I do, if my mother isn’t welcome I’m not welcome. There are a few who ask us if the “cord was ever cut.” We are so close, not only is she my mother, but she’s also my very best friend in the world.

FF: You are also a self-taught artist. What do you create? What colors and materials do you use? Do writing and art support each other, or are they totally diverse subjects? Who are your favorite artists?

Cynthia: Mostly I draw. Sketch. I’m pretty good at things like barns, flowers and people. I also like to dabble in folk and tole painting and decorating wood crafts with acrylic paints. Yes, writing and art do support each other. Both are a creative form and they go hand in hand.

I really like the older artists. Masters like Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, but Norman Rockwell is my favorite. His paintings are so full of life. I can almost see his subjects breathing! They are so real. A camera couldn’t even capture the feeling he put into his work.

FF: How has being self-taught helped you as a writer?

Cynthia: It gave me the time I needed to fully grasp what I had to learn. The pushing of an instructor’s timeline is a distraction, especially for those of us with dyslexia. But, I don’t rule anything out. I think there’s always more to learn on any issue and I’m open to learning it. I stay in my books.

FF: Why did you choose to write fiction, as opposed to other genres? Do you think you’ll be trying new writing styles later?

Cynthia: I am comfortable writing historical fiction. Yet, I have no idea where I may go. The sky’s the limit. I’ve even had an idea for a modern-day thriller. It’s quite psycho—about a detective and a serial killer he’s tracking…or who’s tracking him. A real “thriller.” Perhaps I’ll even break out of fiction and write a biography or two, including my own life story. Or maybe inspirational; I have no idea. All I do know is that I have a lot of stories I’d like to write. And to beat it all, I think I could write exclusively for myself and be perfectly happy. My characters usually do captivate me. Yet, seeing my work published is thrilling, and I hope everyone who reads my stories enjoy them as much as I enjoy writing them.

FF: You were born in Pascagoula, Mississippi. What’s Mississippi like? Do you still live there?

Cynthia: Mississippi is great. I truly love this state. No one really knows until they live here how wonderful it is and how much it has to offer. The number one attraction for me is safety. I always feel safe here. Most of the people are Christians. They are loving and helpful. I bake them pies and they cut my grass when my mower is out of service. Of course, it’s hot in the summer and lately it’s been surprisingly cold in the winter. But yes, I do still live here. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. I am completely biased to my “southern roots,” and am firmly planted here.

FF: What is your own neighborhood like?

Cynthia: Well, if you can call two neighbors a “neighborhood,” I guess I’d call it quiet and peaceful. But the cows do moo pretty loud at times, and I’ve even heard a few wild cats screeching. I have a front row seat to nature most all the time. The peskiest thing about being here is dodging the deer while driving into town. Knock on wood; I’ve missed every one of them so far.

FF: How does place affect and contribute to your writing?

Cynthia: I suppose, since I’m a country girl, that it’s easier for me to write stories with a small-town flavor. We’ve changed a bit here in Mississippi. We have modern technology, and we know how to “hustle.” (Just come watch our malls during the holiday season.) Yet, we’ve not forgotten our neighbors. We still smile and wave as we pass. It’s a feeling of community for everyone here, even if we don’t know each other. I think that spirit comes out in my writing.

FF: Even though you hated school because of your dyslexia, were any teachers supportive at all? Did any of them lead you to becoming a writer and artist?

Cynthia:Yes, I had a few tremendously good teachers. I must mention Mrs. Hudson here, who was my second grade teacher, and Mrs. Pace. They were really “there” for me. Yet, I suppose if there were a teacher that made me want to be a writer, that would have been my special education teacher, (who I guess should remain nameless since I’m putting her in a negative light.) I wanted to prove her wrong. She’d said I would never learn to read, so I became a writer to rise above her negative reports.

But the most inspirational person in my life remains my mother. She was the encouraging one. The one who made me believe in myself. The one who let me take all the time I needed. The one who never looked at me in disappointment for not having top, or even average, grades. My mother fostered all the arts in me. She was also an artist, and that helped.

FF: What does the printed word look like when you have dyslexia?

Cynthia: Um, that’s hard. See, I don’t really know that I’m seeing it differently. It’s like asking someone who’s always been color-blind the difference between seeing the world in color or in black and white. I suppose the most obvious example I can give is this. The other day I was standing in line at the checkout (I like to read the covers of the magazines and such while I’m waiting), and my eyes landed upon a notice and I read: “You must be at least 12 to buy alcoholic beverages.” I did a double take and it went back to the correct form: “You must be at least 21…” Things like that feel rather odd.

FF: How much does your disability relate to your writing, or are they totally separate things?

Cynthia: I’ve heard it said that we with dyslexia are more creative, which is a must in writing. We are in the category with Tom Cruise, Cher, Whoopi Goldberg, Leonardo da Vinci and Albert Einstein. Now, I hardly call dyslexia a “disability,” but I have in the past. I’ve learned that perhaps it’s a hurdle to the normal way of thinking. I suppose we do have our own way of doing things. Not a popular method of learning, yet we still learn. (Another smile.) I believe dyslexics are great with memorizing. That’s why so many dyslexics are actors. That’s how I learned to read. I memorized a book. That way, no matter what the words looked like, I could see them in all ways and know what that word was. The difference in dyslexics, I suppose, is that we have to learn to read a word in 10 different ways and not just one. The problem for me is that I sometimes spell them in 10 different ways, too. (She’s grinning now.) That’s why I adore spell-check, and Merriam-Webster online!

FF: Do you do a lot of advocacy work for adults with learning disabilities? Have you ever participated in any kind of a support group? How were these experiences helpful?

Cynthia: Well, really I’m just coming to some kind of terms with dyslexia myself. I’m trying to be more vocal about what I’ve learned over the years. I’ve just now realized how to actually be proud of who I am. I’d love the opportunity to get with younger people who are still living in shame. It’s so hard on children and young adults, and it’s hurtful too, especially when you are bright, yet you can’t convey it. I’d like to encourage them, and let them see that dyslexia isn’t a shameful disability, just a different road to travel. In the end, we all get to the same place. I think we dyslexics are given the long road, instead of the shortcut, through life.

I did give a speech at the (Hattiesburg) Family Education Center graduation this past spring. Adults and teens who have not completed high school can go there to continue their education and work toward getting their diplomas. It’s also a group of helpful and caring educators who become more like an extended family. Dr. Carroll Russell runs it. Mrs. Pat Mauldin, who volunteers at the center, has also become a great friend and help to me. The speech was a wonderful experience. Afterward, a woman came up to me, crying. She told me that I had just given her hope for her daughter. I can’t describe the tremendous feeling it gave me.

A wonderful support group online is the Davis Dyslexia Association International,
http://www.dyslexia.com/ddai.htm, message board. The people there are so kind. Even though I can’t give a lot of input because of my busy schedule, I do enjoy reading over their messages. There’s a lot of love, help and support there.

FF: How did you develop the story and characters for “Dove” and other stories? Who inspired them? How did you come up with the title?

Cynthia: I took “Dove” from stories I’d heard about my mother’s life. I really consider “Dove” to be a collection of fun tales about her as a child. The ideas, the hopes and fears of childhood during hard times, which many call the “good old days.” Even [during] the Depression and war, there was also closeness and unity. The characters just sort of develop on their own as I write. I think a lot of the development of my stories are linked to my family and its history, along with a lot of my own ideas about what happened, or rather, what “should” have happened.

The title came to me first, but the meaning hit me later. I thought it was referring to decent people. Once in a while, there comes a dove; there comes a good person. Yet, when I dug deeper into the story and was writing about this child and her family going through the events of a world at war, I realized that the dove is actually the “bird of peace.” In a world full of fear and strife, “Dove” was actually referring to the wonderful fact that sometimes there’s peace. Now, more than ever, after September 11th, we have to look forward to the coming of the Dove, to the coming of peace. We look forward to a better world for all mankind.

FF: What is your writing life like now? Do you have a schedule you follow each day? Do you have a separate office, and do you keep all supplies there? When you write, do you dictate into a tape recorder, use a pen and paper, or computer? Do you use any unique technologies?

Cynthia: I don’t follow a schedule. Just when the idea comes, I write it down. Usually its when I curl up in bed with my notebook and pen. My office is my bedroom. That’s where I keep everything like the computer and supplies. I usually write my stories down on college-ruled notebook paper and edit them as I type them into the computer. Paper, pen and computer are all I use. Before the computer, it was the typewriter. I thank God every day for the computer. It’s really a wonder! Now, when I mess up I just redo a word or two. Back in the days before computers, when I’d make these same mistakes, sometimes it meant retyping a whole page!!!

FF: What reference tools and resources do you find most helpful, in addition to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary site?

Cynthia: The computer has made research so much better. When researching a topic for a story, I just type it into a search engine and read, read, read. I think Writer’s Manual, http://www.writersmanual.com, is another great resource site. I’ve also used my publisher’s book, “Practical Tips For Online Authors” by Lida E.Qullen, quite a bit.

FF: How do you approach your research? What advice do you have for other writers in completing the process efficiently?

Cynthia: First of all, I get the subject matter, like the Civil War. Then I read everything I can on the subject, being sure to take good notes of the parts I’m trying to convey. I get a feel for the times and happenings, for the people and so forth. I also have a thing I do, where I put myself in that time and situation to see how I would feel or react to what’s going on.

My advice is to work at it. Shape and re-shape it into something you like. Don’t settle for anything that you think is not satisfying. Whatever standards you hold to other novels and novelists. Hold that same standard to you and your writing.

FF: Does a work of fiction seem to fall out of the sky or come to you immediately? How do you know when you’ve got “real” and fully developed characters?

Cynthia: They just come to me. I can’t explain it. A story starts to build in my head and I listen in. If I think it’s good, I’ll write it down. If it’s stupid, I pay no attention to it.

I know that my characters are “real” when I can’t control them. When their personalities are strong and they have their own “lives,” I sit back and wonder what they will do next. You can’t get any better than that in writing. I have an idea for a story and the characters lead me through to the end.

FF: How many drafts do you go through on a project? Do you self-edit, or work with other proofreaders and editors? What tips do you have for working with other people in the writing process?

Cynthia: How many? Can I count that high? (She says with a grin.) I don’t know; it seems like a lot. Don’t go into writing unless you truly love it. The process is frustrating and hard. I self-edit, add and take away until the story makes me happy. Only then am I content with it. But I really appreciate it when others point out where I am weak or lacking. Only by listening can we grow as authors. But learn to know the difference between nit-picking and constructive criticism. Don’t wallow in self-pity, curl up in a little ball, or give up on your dreams. Work through it and make it better.

Examination of your work can only help and make you and your work stronger. Now, I haven’t been very successful at getting feedback. But I have gotten a few and that was just by asking. You have to put yourself out there and open your mouth. Like I’ve heard it said, “If you don’t toot your own horn, who will?” And here I am, doing my best to toot that horn.

FF: How do you deal with frustration or writer’s block?

Cynthia: I don’t sweat it. I lay everything down until the block is gone and another idea comes. If I find myself frustrated, I take a break. Sometimes I take a weeklong break. Step back and clear your head.

FF: How long did it take to find a publisher? How did you locate an agent or approach publishers? Resources to use? Advice?

Cynthia: I’d send it in to a publisher, and have it rejected and then I’d work on it again. Send it to another publisher, and have it rejected, work on it again. I did receive a couple of contracts from publishers that were not acceptable. It was a process of work, rejection and work again. It took 10 years for me to find Twilight Times Books. I didn’t know a lot about e-publishing and thought I’d give it a try. So far, it’s been wonderful for me.

First I sent an inquiry letter with a synopsis and bio to get them to agree to read the novel. I didn’t send my manuscript if it wasn’t requested. My number-one approach is to be honest about your strengths as well as your weaknesses. Believe in yourself and in your work.

There’s Writer’s Digest, http://www.writersdigest.com, if you’re going after traditional publishers, or you can look up e-publishers on line. Sites like Ebooksnbytes have e-publisher listings. Here’s a link that could be helpful http://www.ebooksnbytes.com/publishers.shtml.

FF: What’s different about working with e-book publishers?

Cynthia: As opposed to traditional publishers? They work with you, for one. They are open, friendly and very helpful. They don’t just write you off to start with if you’re an unknown. Everyone has a chance here. The possibilities are endless. I have learned so much working with Twilight Times Publications. I’ve found out so much about the publishing business, some good and some not so good. But I’m a lot more business-savvy than I was just a year ago.

FF: Will you write about these same people in your next project?

Cynthia: Yes, I will write more about them in the future. I have a short chapter that continues from where “Dove” ends. These first lines begin the second book:

“As Clair turned to go inside, she heard an echo rising from the fields. “Ca, Ca, Ca, Clarieee, you beautiful, Clarieee…” It was Floyd’s old love song, but the voice wasn’t Floyd’s. This voice was deep, and throaty, rather nice sounding. Not squeaky and aggravating like Floyd’s. Who could this be?”

I’m thinking of having a little romance for Clair in the next one, as you can see. Seems as if ol’ Floyd has changed and gets her attention at last. But we’ll have to see where that goes. I just thought it would be great to watch these children grow up a bit more. I’d like to follow them through to adulthood. As they grow, so does the story. I’d like to see how it evolves. For now, I’m caught up in the lives of my new characters. They are very strong and demand a lot of my attention.

FF: How is that upcoming historical romance different from “Sometimes There’s A Dove”?

Cynthia: It’s a lot more serious. The title is “By Way of the Rose.” It deals with love, hate, family conflict and bitterness. Also, it goes into the Civil War, racial issues and betrayal—very different from what anyone would expect me to write after reading “Sometimes There’s A Dove.” But I really like this one, too. There’s a lot of history here and unexpected turns and twists. I think it will truly hold the reader’s interest from cover to cover. It shocks even me the way these characters act and take over the novel. They go and do their own thing no matter how I feel about it.

FF: Cynthia, it was a pleasure meeting you! Thanks so much for spending time with us. We look forward to seeing more of your work. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Cynthia: Thanks to everyone at The Fiction Forum Web site for giving me this opportunity. Also, I’d like to thank everyone who reads this interview. I hope it piques their interest in my work. If they do get a copy of “Sometimes There’s A Dove,” I hope that they fully enjoy it and will come around again when I have my next novel published. Happy reading and God bless!

Thank you Cynthia for sharing your thoughts with us. Readers can find out more about Cynthia by visiting her website at: http://www.fortunecity.com/meltingpot/Flatbush/90/index.htm.End

Copyright © 2002 by Carrie Smoot

One Response to “An Interview with Cynthia Ward”

  1. Mitchell Jackson says:

    Very good interview. Another author from Mississippi! The magnolia state keeps producing them. Good stuff.

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