Interview with Bird Face’s Author, Cynthia T. Toney

Anonymous sticky-notes, a scheming bully, and a ruined summer send almost-fourteen-year-old Wendy Robichaud down a trail of secrets and self-discovery.

Anonymous sticky-notes, a scheming bully, and a ruined summer send almost-fourteen-year-old Wendy Robichaud down a trail of secrets and self-discovery.

Using humor and offering hope, this story for ages 10 to 14 (grades 5-8) delicately addresses issues of bullying, eating disorders, imperfect families and teen suicide

 I’m so excited to present my fellow Scriblerian and critique partner Cynthia T. Toney! I came in late to the group, so I’d never read any of her work. But when I did, I was so impressed by the quality and the truthfulness of her story, that I jumped at the chance to be the first to interview her. Her main character, Wendy, leaps off the page in all her humor, awkwardness, and honesty. One can’t help but love her. But let me first tell you readers a bit about Cynthia so you can catch up to what we know!

Cynthia began her first novel, “Bird Face,” while working as an advertising artist/designer and marketing copywriter. With a love for decorating with salvage, she later became an interior decorator, and her decorating articles currently appear on homeguides.SFGate.com. She has a passion for rescuing dogs from animal shelters and studying the history of the South, where she resides with her husband and as many dogs as space will allow.

Now for a quick summary of Bird Face!

At the end of eighth grade, 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. 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?

Now,to jump into getting to know Cynthia and her book even better!

 Nickname: My fellow writers call me Cyn. Family calls me Cindy, but anyone is allowed. I love the name Cynthia but get tired of typing that many letters.

 Philosophy: We all have a special contribution to make. Find out what that is for you. For me, it’s working with dogs and with people who associate with them. God made us stewards of the animal kingdom, and man domesticated several species. So it is our duty to care for those, such as dogs, cats, and horses, to name but a few.

 Fave Scripture: Psalm 7:1 O Lord, my God, in you I take refuge. (That covers everything for me!)

 You’ve dealt with many school issues extremely well, (bullying, eating disorders, peer problems, family dysfunction and teen suicide) but one of them struck home with me: the desire of parents to excel at sports. Do you think this is a relatively new phenomenon?

 In the story, a parent’s desire for and pressure upon a child to excel at sports represents any and all pressure placed upon a child to achieve something non-curricular that is the parent’s dream but not necessarily the child’s. This has been around at least as long as I can remember. I’m no psychologist, and I believe that we should give children goals to reach for. But I’ve seen instances where a child shows a particular interest or a parent chooses an activity for him, and the child is forced to keep trying to be the best at it for the rest of his childhood or he’s called a quitter. Talk about stress! Adults often change jobs for one more satisfying or for which they are better suited. Maybe that child would like time to read, work with animals, or pursue an art form or a different sport. On the other hand, if a child chooses a sport or hobby, he should stick with it at least long enough to give himself a chance to do well. The amount of time would be something that the parent(s) and child should discuss. My daughter pursued dance for a few years, was very good at it, but gave it up in spite of my urging her not to. She regretted that later. I had a number of interests that my parents didn’t help me pursue at all, and I’ve often wondered if dance lessons, for example, would’ve made a difference in my life.

How long did you take to write this book from the beginning stages to the end product?

 Over a decade to write it because it took some twists and turns, and so did I. I put the manuscript aside at least a couple of times—for years at a time because of moving and job changes—and at one point lost my computer files. I’d pretty much given up on the story ever being published and then found a hard copy that was several revisions prior to the last one I remembered. I mentioned that to my husband, and he searched some old Zip discs until he found a digital copy I’d forgotten was saved. We didn’t even have a Zip drive any more, they were so outdated. He had to consult with some tech guys at work, I believe, to get the manuscript off the disc. But it still wasn’t the latest version I remembered.

It’s true what they say about putting a manuscript aside and looking at it with fresh eyes. Mine was an extreme example, but I made some major changes to the plot after finding the manuscript again.

Your main character, Wendy, comes off so true and relatable. Is she fashioned after yourself?

 In some ways. I was shy at her age and I have a few of her habits, such as list making. The title came from a name I was called only a couple of times. Like Wendy, I didn’t know what it referred to at first, but I didn’t let it affect me as much as it does her. I didn’t even think of using that title until I was pretty far along on the first draft.

I love how you’ve shown your bully, John Monster and your snob Tookie to have major problems of their own. Were you able to see this other side of characters in your own school years?

 Not while I was still in school, but I wish I had. A wise person later called my attention to the fact that everyone, no matter how good their lives appear to us observers, carries burdens and sorrows and faces difficulties that would perhaps shock us.

As an artist as well, I’m completely attracted to your cover. It’s so refreshingly different. How much involvement did you have with the design?

 Thank you. My husband conceived the basic design, and my publisher’s artist carried it through. I was glad not to have to design it myself.

Are you working on a sequel to Bird Face?

I plan to write one, but I’m awaiting reader feedback on the first book. I hope readers will share their favorite characters with me so that I can be sure to incorporate them in the sequel. And I’d like there to be another small mystery within the story, for which I have an idea but am not committed. The setting will be Wendy’s freshman year of high school and may take her to another location in Louisiana or elsewhere. But no matter what, I believe Wendy will continue to discover the weird and the wonderful about herself and her fellow human beings.

Now that we’ve warmed you all up, here is an excerpt of Bird Face!

 “Bird. Face.” A whisper, but the voice rang deep. He stood against the wall just inside the door.

The hair on the back of my neck stood up. With animal instinct, I turned only my eyes toward the sound. Time slowed while I walked past him, so close the breath from his sneering mouth rustled my hair.

Bird Face. Those two simple little words came from John Wilson, the tallest boy in eighth grade. A Brainiac, he reminded me of Frankenstein’s monster. Not that he was hideous or scarred or anything. Other than his block-shaped head, he looked about as ordinary as any boy could—brown hair, brown eyes, glasses. He had bony arms and wimpy shoulders. Nothing scary about that.

But he had a way of creeping up on a person. I could be in the library or the bus line, and all of a sudden, there he’d be, looming in my personal space. He acted like the monster in some old black-and-white movie. I had gotten somewhat used to that, but it was weird he decided to speak. And what the heck was a “bird face,” anyway?

I kept walking. If John-Monster expected some kind of reaction from me, he wasn’t going to get one.

I didn’t stop until I got to my desk. That’s when I noticed a swatch of yellow on the seat. Another sticky-note message. Still printed, but this time signed too.

Only words.

“A FREND”

And a bad speller, apparently. I examined the little square of paper for a few seconds. The writing still didn’t seem familiar at all. An eerie sensation like someone was watching me made me turn. But when I glanced around the room, I got nothing.

A yellow note pad would be a clue, if only I could find one. Tookie wore a yellow shirt —designer, of course. Gayle wrote in a yellow notebook. Frank grinned at me with yellow teeth. But no yellow sticky notes anywhere in sight.

Okay, it’s me again! Look on Amazon for your copy of Bird Face! And lastly, I have a question for you. During school, did you ever form an unlikely friendship, or have a likely friendship fizzle out due to differences in lifestyle?

To get in touch with Cynthia:

Email birdfacewendy@gmail.com.

 

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9 thoughts on “Interview with Bird Face’s Author, Cynthia T. Toney

  1. Thank you for this interview, Loraine! It was a lot of fun answering your questions.

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  2. You are so welcome Cynthia! I truly loved your characters and your style. I know everyone else will too!
    Loraine

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  3. My friendships in middle school fizzled out due to military life, i.e. moving. I wrote and wrote and rarely got replies and one day realized I was putting so much effort into trying to retain friendships that obviously weren’t as important to the other person. So I forced myself to stop but it was difficult.

    I didn’t make real friendships again until college, and they were more the unlikely type, I suppose. Up until then I’d never really known anyone whose parents were divorced, or were raised in foster care, or were single moms who’d had a child while still in high school, etc. But we were connected by a love for God, a desire to attend a Bible college and an appreciation of each other for just being ourselves.

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    • Sparksofember, I totally get putting out a lot of effort to keep in touch and realize that al the effort is on my part. Those really aren’t true friendships, as I’d found out much later. And I also find the friendships rooted in a love for God have so much more foundation somehow. It doesn’t seem to matter what you’ve gone through, or who you are, God’s a great equalizer!
      Loraine

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  4. Lorraine and Cyn, I enjoyed the story behind the story. The main character, Wendy, will resonate with young girls. My fourteen-year old read it quite greedily, finished it in one sitting, and then started reading again.

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  5. Hi Vanessa!
    That is high praise coming from your daughter, to read it in one sitting! I agree that it is a really fast and easy read that touches so many important issues in your people’s lives now. Thanks for the comment!
    Loraine

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  6. Pingback: Christian author or author of Christian fiction? | The Scriblerians

  7. Pingback: The Scriblerians | Looking back and moving forward

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