6 Dates to Disaster

51gkvseyi7l-_sx322_bo1204203200_

6 Dates to Disaster by Cynthia T Toney is a thought-provoking book for high school students. Wendy is coasting through the last weeks of school eager for her family trip to Alaska to see Mrs. V and Sam. Unfortunately, financial struggles threaten that dream. Wendy is determined to figure out a way to get to Alaska. When a job opportunity from a classmate looks like the ideal way, Wendy is forced to consider whether or not it’s too good to be true. There’s also a fun mystery involving a jewelry box, and Wendy’s former best friend has a new boyfriend who is bad news.

Pros: See my comment below about one of the main plot points related to a scandal that arises as a result from Wendy’s tutoring job. The ensuing ethical dilemma was thought-provoking. Cynthia creates strong and fun characters. Her stories are humorous and realistic but are clean and morally uplifting. Wendy’s stepdad looses his job threatening her summer plans. Consequently Wendy pitches in to earn money for her Alaska trip to see Mrs. V. David and Wendy handle coupledom without being too physical or dramatic. Wendy is a big-hearted girl, especially when it comes to her stepsister Alice and her former best friend Jen.

Cons: Not too many. There are a few ethical things that come up. The aforementioned plot point of Wendy’s tutoring job. Also, Jen gets involved with an older boy who is a bad influence. There’s alcohol involved, which is handled very well. It’s clear that underage drinking shouldn’t be condoned and that drinking and driving is extremely dangerous. David and Wendy kiss and physical temptation (at a very PG level) comes up. The two “put on the brakes” fast so the story doesn’t go far with this.

Rating: 5 Stars. I bought a copy of this book and will buy other copies for teens. It’s definitely a book for high school kids, possibly seventh or eighth graders. There’s nothing really inappropriate in the subject matter. However, it’s is a bit too mature for kids any younger than this.

Personal Opinion: I’m a big fan of the Bird Face series and 6 Dates doesn’t disappoint. Wendy is as funny and plucky as ever. Alice is sweet. David, Gail, etc. round out a strong supporting cast. Without spoiling anything, we’re reunited with several characters from 8 Notes to a Nobody (Book 1).

Discussion points for parents & teachers:

  1. Job Loss
  2. Family
  3. Dating/Relationships
  4. Academic Dishonesty
  5. Underage Drinking/Drinking and Driving
  6. Integrity
  7. Priorities

Most of all, Wendy’s dilemma about her tutoring job challenged me. She is concerned that she’s doing too much for the students she’s tutoring.  As an adult, I didn’t see anything wrong with what Wendy did. However, I had to step back and put myself in the shoes of a high school student. While adult writers might hire an editor or someone in another profession might have a peer or senior colleague review their work and mark it up with corrections and suggestions, that isn’t really the role of a tutor. They’re just supposed to help a student understand concepts not heavily correct or even rewrite assignments.

Cynthia T. Toney

Blog:  http://birdfacewendy.wordpress.comFacebook Author Page:  https://www.facebook.com/birdfacewendy

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/CynthiaTToney

Twitter:  @CynthiaTToney

 Instagram:  @CynthiaTToney

Pinterest:  Cynthia T. Toney, YA Author

Advertisements

Learning this book-publishing business

pages

Image courtesy of Morguefile free photos

Saturday I once again had the privilege of attending the monthly Writers on the Storm meeting in The Woodlands, Texas. I’ve been a member for about six months, after moving to the state last spring.

This recent meeting was particularly sweet because author, editor, and fellow member Linda Yezak posted an interview of me on the W.O.T.S. blog that very morning.

But a blog feature is only one fragment of the benefits I’ve gained by belonging to this group. And that’s the reason I push encourage new writers I meet to join real and online groups–and not to struggle alone! In a group of writers, you’ll meet others like yourself as well as established authors who’ve learned the ropes and are more than happy to share their knowledge with you.

At our meeting, a panel composed of several members of our group spoke about changes in the book publishing business. As our W.O.T.S. president, Janice, explained–you know longer have to become published by a big publishing house, Christian or otherwise, to become a successful book author. You might go with a small press, go it alone, or become a hybrid author like Janice who has some books traditionally published and others designed and produced herself.

The panel spoke on everything from using Amazon as an author to the best places for advertising your books to where to look online for the best free professional advice. We learned it’s a good idea to use MailChimp, a free newsletter subscribe service, when you want to start a newsletter and have visitors to your website subscribe to it. (I needed that affirmation to take the first step toward a newsletter myself.) We also learned that all the blogging in the world won’t sell books if you don’t establish relationships with your readers. (Again–newsletter!)

Of course it was mentioned that a great place to join a critique group, attend free webinars, and find a writing group like W.O.T.S. is American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), of which W.O.T.S. is a local chapter. If you’d like to join a local chapter of ACFW, expect to be required to join ACFW first and to pay the reasonable dues for both. If you don’t have a local chapter and would like to start one, contact ACFW.

Next month, W.O.T.S. will talk to its members about the ways to make money from our books. I can’t wait!

profile_pic  Cynthia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seeking My Niche

Niche.statue

Image courtesy of Morguefile free photos

I have one of those in my house—a niche. It’s carved out of the wall at the end of a short hallway. Not much fits there, but I placed a tall pottery vase that is flattened from front to back so it nestles in the space just right.

And boy, is it showcased.

Isn’t that what we authors are supposed to do? Find a niche for our work? An audience where it’s showcased rather than one of many similar, cluttered objects where none stand out.

I suppose those are extreme examples, but books can’t yell for attention like humans can. How do I find the audience(s) where my novels might catch fire, so to speak?

I’m thinking out loud now. Thanks for sticking with me.

My YA novels in the Bird Face series use humor and hope to address serious issues facing teens today. Each novel addresses at least a few. It’s the way I like to write stories, with my protagonist facing multiple issues and crises that are intertwined.

So, how do I find a niche for those books?

Right now, I’m looking for teens with particular challenges or areas in teens’ lives where certain types of stories or characters are lacking. Stories featuring a teen that is hearing-impaired are hard to find, for example. So are those with Catholic teen characters.

I wrote my first book because I care about kids who are shy or bullied. It’s fiction that contains elements of Christian faith, and the half-Cajun Wendy naturally became Catholic because all the Cajuns I knew were Catholic.

I wrote my deaf teen character Sam in my second book because I care about hearing-impaired teens. A good friend in my twenties taught at a school for the deaf, and she shared her experiences.  I grew up not understanding much about the hearing-impaired children I met, but I later worked around hearing-impaired adults, who referred to themselves as deaf and who became my friends.

Like an ethnic group, both hearing-impaired and Catholic teens like to see characters similar to themselves occasionally depicted in the fiction they read.

I’ve decided to try target-marketing to both Catholic teens and hearing-impaired teens (as I continue to market to all teens, Christian and non-Christian). I know, I’ve selected two niches, but I’m still figuring this out.

Anyway, that’s my plan for today.

Are you an author struggling to find your niche? As a reader, are you attracted to specific religious aspects of story or social issues in story lines?

Cynthia Toney

Cynthia Toney

You’re This Close: 14 Signs of Future Publication

ThisClose

The community of fiction writers has been one of the most supportive groups I’ve ever belonged to. Its members are quick to reassure others that yes, we’ll get our best work published. It’s only a matter of time.

And it’s true. It’s happening within our Scriblerians group.

I’ve read a number of blogs and articles describing the signs that an author is close to landing a book contract with a publisher. But there’s nothing like having those indicators right here at home among the Scriblerians. They bolster the confidence of all our members, and if you’ve experienced any of the following, know that your time for seeing your book in print will likely come too.

(Any or several of these signs might apply to any of our members.)

  1. You find your niche and a following grows rapidly for your blog, Twitter account, Facebook author page, etc.
  2. You are approached to speak about a topic you blog about or cover in your fiction.
  3. You are asked to write about it for another’s blog or periodical.
  4. You are hired to edit a published author’s work.
  5. You win one or more fiction-writing contests.
  6. You are sought as a judge for writing contests.
  7. Your short story is selected for an anthology or for publication in a magazine.
  8. You are selected by a publisher as an “influencer” for its books, reading and reviewing regularly.
  9. You are hired for any reason by a publisher that knows you aspire to be published.
  10. You become involved in the production of others’ books as an illustrator, editor, or consultant.
  11. Your rejection letters become more personalized, offering suggestions for changes to your manuscript.
  12. You are asked to resubmit to an agent or editor after changes to your manuscript.
  13. You are referred by a published author to his or her agent.
  14. You sign with an agent.

Of course, none of the above may happen. We’ve heard of authors who send out a few queries, full manuscripts are requested immediately, and they sign a contract with a publisher within weeks.

But most of us need some bolstering along the road before we reach our destination. If you seek publication of your book—fiction or nonfiction— I hope an item or two on our list encourages you.

What other signs can you cite and add to these?

Cynthia

cynthia-toney

Bullied? You Are Not Alone

BIRD.FACE.FC.tinyVanessa writes: today I’m talking to author Cynthia T. Toney. Her new book, Bird Face, is an entertaining—yet enlightening—novel about a teen girl dealing with issues such as suicide, eating disorders, and bullying in the public school system.

 

As I read Cynthia’s book, it resonated with me because of my own experiences—which are still quite vivid despite the passing of years. In high school, two girls consistently harassed me in the halls, the cafeteria, the gym, wherever our paths crossed. They were tall and loud and insulting, abullying leaves scarsnd the constant stress ruined my high school years. At home, my father had a debilitating, chronic illness and my mother was his full-time caregiver, so I was reluctant to tell my parents I was in trouble. Like many victims, I felt isolated and just wanted to survive until it was over.

Fellow readers, if you or someone you know is being victimized by a bully, you’ll find immediate help and resources at the bottom of this blog post.

Cynthia, thanks for coming to the blog today and talking to us about Bird Face and the subject of bullying.

Vanessa: My first question is about your main character, Wendy, and how she faces difficult challenges and discovers something about herself along the way. Did you draw from personal experience?

Cynthia: I did. Not so much as a young person, but later. It takes some of us a long time to understand that we have within us the strength to do more than we initially think ourselves capable. I remember thinking as a teenager and a young adult, “If only I didn’t have this difficult situation to deal with” or “If only I could get over this hurdle” or “solve this problem” then I could do such-and-such. But often, forcing oneself to move forward and get involved somewhere else you’re needed, or to work at solving a different problem, helps resolve the previous one.

Vanessa: Were you bullied in school or did you know anyone who was, and how did you deal with it?

Cynthia: There was a girl in elementary school who bullied other kids into giving her candy. I had only one encounter with her but didn’t give in. Nothing further happened because of that. In upper elementary, I was called Bird Face a couple of times, and it hurt a little, but the bullying was short-lived and didn’t affect me the way it does Wendy. My daughter experienced instances of bullying when she was in school, but I experienced more verbal bullying as an adult from other adults.

Vanessa: Indeed, adult Iamavictimbullying is now getting attention, too. Scientific studies indicate that the resultant stress—regardless of age—causes depression, anxiety, PTSD, migraines, stomach trouble and a host of other physical ailments. In Bird Face, is the bully, John Monster based on anyone you knew in school?

Cynthia: The idea for John-Monster came to me because of the variety of bully types in the news. A bully doesn’t always fit the stereotype of years past — that of the hulking male who shoves his way through life. It can be anyone, including someone like John who is verbally bullied at home and turns the same toward his classmates. It can also be the pretty and perky girl next door who bullies someone over the Internet.

Vanessa: How did you develop the bullying plotline in such a believable way?

Writing in first person point of view creates challenges. I had to write the character John-Monster to show us why he verbally bullied Wendy the way he did. Neither she nor the reader could be allowed to get inside his head. I didn’t want her or the reader to understand the reasons for his bullying right away, so I wrote clues into the story as it went along. And I had to show he was still lovable, and loved by someone the reader knows.kid yelling other kid crying

Vanessa: Your research and insight are fantastic.   Most victims are bewildered at being the object of a bully’s vitriol. Bird Face delivers believable, multi-dimensioned characters instead of simple black and white, right and wrong. What advice would you give kids (or parents of kids) who are being bullied right now?

Cynthia: Parents and other adults responsible for children in their care should pay attention and listen to kids. To me, one instance of name-calling doesn’t necessarily equal bullying, and a talk with the parties involved may put a stop to it. Repeated offenses that distress the victim to the point that he or she withdraws socially or turns on others shouldn’t be ignored. It’s important to be aware of what’s happening at school and what your child is doing on the Internet.

Vanessa: Thanks for talking with us about Bird Face and this important social issue for teens. Fellow readers, I highly recommend Bird Face. I bought it for my fourteen-year-old daughter and she found it entertaining as well as informative. A rare combination in children’s literature.

Cynthia: My pleasure. Thanks for inviting me.

———————————————————-

Ms. Toney holds a BA in art education and began her first novel while working as an advertising designer and marketing copywriter for a number of publishers. She enjoys writing both contemporary and historical fiction for teens. Also once a decorator, her articles on interior decorating appear at 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.

Connect with her:

Email: birdfacewendy@gmail.com

Personal Blog:  http://birdfacewendy.wordpress.com/

Member Blogger:  https://thescriblerians.wordpress.com

Facebook Author Page:  https://www.facebook.com/birdfacewendy?ref=hl

Twitter:  @CynthiaTToney

About Bird Face:

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

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 and pulling away. 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?

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

**********

 how to stop bullyingIf you or someone you know are being bullied, do not remain silent. Bullying is wrong, and you deserve to live in peace, without harassment. Get help and know your options.
  1. Resources for coping with bullies, approaching school authorities, and other strategies: http://www.stopbullying.gov/get-help-now/
  2. Crisis hotlines and informational websites: http://www.teenhealthandwellness.com/static/hotlines

Tell us about your own experience with bullying. We’d love to hear from you. Together we are strong!

 

 

 

 

The Wannabe

In the last several weeks, we’ve been posting items related to Bird Face , written by our own Cynthia Toney. We interviewed the author, shared tales from junior high school, and reflected on where we are today because of our experiences. Bullies and bullying have existed since Cain and Abel, yet we humans need to periodically discuss the issue and make sure we continue to battle our fallen human natures.

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.

On one of those rare days when I could sit and read to my heart’s content, I picked up Bird Face  and never put it down until “The End.” Whether you’re a parent or a teen or a kid old enough to read a chapter book, you’ll be able to relate. While a few of the characters initially seem as stiff as one of those  cardboard cutouts of a celebrity advertising the latest soft drink in your local convenience store, that’s not the author’s fault. It’s Wendy’s. And who of us has never done that – made a judgment on a person we don’t know very well and relegated them to a flat rendition of their true selves?

Like some of the other Scriblerians, I can relate to more than one of the characters. I had Wendy’s total lack of self confidence, Alice’s reticence, and Tookie’s desire to be popular. The combination came off as arrogant snob, and I assume the In Group labeled me a Wannabe. Wannabes may or may not have excellent qualities, but they want, they covet, recognition.

Image

I hung around the fringes of the in-group, what Wendy calls the Sticks and the Suaves. I went to their parties, but was too self-conscious to enjoy myself. I made the cheerleading squad. Yay! Rah! And at a whopping 120 pounds, I provided a nice, solid base for our pyramids. Instead of being grateful for an excellent singing voice, I noticed who sang with more pizzazz, and I was green-eyed jealous.

Unlike Wendy, it took until my senior year of high school to get comfortable with myself. With no regrets, I walked away from the Sticks and the Suaves and discovered new and true friendships. I began to search for what I could learn from others instead of seek their admiration, but it wasn’t until I surrendered my life to Jesus, that I truly learned how to give of myself without the desire to get something back.

Does Wendy learn how to thrive by the end of eighth grade? Or does she keep messing up for more years than I did? I won’t tell you. Don’t want to be a spoiler. But if you choose to learn the answer, you’ll enjoy a great read.

confessions from a junior high bird face

To celebrate the release of Cynthia Toney’s debut novel, Bird Face, I have decided to publicly humiliate myself. [deep breath]

You see, Cynthia’s novel took me back to my junior high years. I don’t know about yours, but mine came with a lot of ups and downs. Academic ups and relational downs, mostly.

In 6th grade, I had to switch elementary schools because I was admitted into a gifted and talented program and they weren’t offering it at the school that was a block from my house. So in my final year of elementary school, I had to start all over. New school, new friends, new everything. And I looked like this:

Horrible picture of me from 6th grade. #soembarrassing

Horrible picture of me from 6th grade. #soembarrassing

No fashion sense, glasses, braces, and stick thin. AND I was in the gifted and talented program. *sigh*

The funny thing is that no matter how you end up looking, your junior high self-image tends to stick with you for quite a while. So while I ended up graduating from high school looking like this (and don’t ask how long it took me to get my hair to look like that)…

Me as a senior in high school

Me as a senior in high school

…I still felt like the 6th grade image of me. I was bird face and bird legs, and just like Wendy Robichaud, the main character of Cynthia Toney’s most excellent novel, my best friend was drop-dead gorgeous. She was even voted Most Beautiful our senior year of high school. And just like Wendy, I was both happy for her and jealous.

But the character from Bird Face that really resonated with me was John-Monster. A brainiac bully who made himself feel better by making others feel worse.

There was a boy in our gifted and talented program name Mike Long. He was smart, obviously, and a nice guy. We all liked him, but we all called him Mike Wide behind his back because the poor guy was very large. If his last name had been Smith or Thompson or something else, I wonder if things would have turned out differently. I don’t think any of us meant to be a John-Monster to him, but I’m sure at some point that we probably slipped and he heard what we called him. The thing is, we didn’t do it to be deliberately mean. At least, I didn’t. The long/wide comparison was just sitting there begging to be used, kinda like people would always call me Lisa Pizza and my husband Chris Piss growing up. It’s what kids do. And honestly, Mike was large enough that he would have been teased no matter what his last name was. Childhood obesity when I was growing up wasn’t what it is today, so a large kid really stood out.

I never saw Mike after 6th grade, but I heard he committed suicide less than two years later. A product of childhood teasing? I’m sure it played a part. And this is what reading Bird Face made me think of. While we all feel like a bird face at times, there’s a little John-Monster in all of us as well. Growing up is coming to the point where you don’t let others identify you. You decide who you’re going to be, and become the best person you can, like Wendy.

BIRD.FACE.FC.reducedSo I think Bird Face is important and that all tween girls and their parents must read this book. Let’s talk about real issues that kids face and confront them head-on. Unlike many Christian novels where everything must be clouds, smiles, and rainbows, this book is edgy in that it handles topics like bullying, self-image, eating disorders, and suicide in a gentle manner from a Christian worldview. And it’s non-preachy too. Read this book, is all I’m saying.

And to Mike Long and his family… I’m sorry. I remember your son for the great pictures he drew.

And now, dear readers, if you could go back to junior high and do one thing differently, what would it be?