I love the UNEARTHLY series. I’m not incredibly fond of angel stories, but the story just hooked me from the beginning.
I took a chance and emailed author Cynthia Hand to tell her how much I loved her books, and to ask if she’d agree to do an interview for my Spotlight Week series. I was ecstatic when she graciously accepted my invitation. Cynthia Hand is one of my favorite YA authors and after reading my interview with her, you’ll discover why.
Here’s a bit more about Cynthia, from her author bio on http://www.cynthiahandbooks.com/
Cynthia Hand is a native of southeastern Idaho and currently lives with her husband and two small children in Southern California, where she teaches writing at Pepperdine University. She has graduate degrees in creative writing from Boise State University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Instead of a muse, Cynthia has a guardian angel named Buster. He wears a Stetson in place of a halo, prefers a beat-up pickup truck to flying, and loves to correct Cynthia’s grammar.
I’m very excited to have her here today! Without further ado, I present the amazing Cynthia Hand!
The Amazing Cynthia Hand
1. Tell us three random, unique, or weird facts about yourself.
- I learned to ski when I was 5 years old. As a teen I was on a ski racing team.
- I obsessively collect movie scores. I have hundreds of them, and I can usually pick out who the composer is within a few minutes of seeing a film.
- I have two cats: Stella and Frank.
2. What inspired you to write UNEARTHLY? Did you always know it would be a series?
This is a tougher question because the inspiration, as it always is for me, was a bit mysterious. I heard Clara’s narrative voice, and started asking questions about what that voice seemed to want to tell me, and the story unrolled from there. But there are a number of things from my life that ended up inspiring parts of the books: first, that series of questions: what is my purpose in this life? Can I mess up that purpose, or is it fate? Do I want to believe in destiny, or would I rather make my own choices? As a child I also loved Madeleine L’Engle’s book, Many Waters, which has the Nephilim in it, and got my wheels turning about what that would be like, to be the child of an angel and a human. And I loved C.S. Lewis’ description of heaven and hell in his book, The Great Divorce, which is an influence you can clearly see when Clara goes to those places.
Yes, I always knew it would be a series, although I didn’t always know how everything was going to turn out.
3. UNEARTHLY, HALLOWED, and BOUNDLESS are all wonderful character-driven novels. Which of the three books did you enjoy writing the most? Which one gave you the most trouble?
This is a tough question, too! I think I definitely enjoyed writing Unearthly the most. Back then I was writing just for me, and I was discovering these awesome characters and this wonderful, multi-layered world that they live in, and that was so much fun. Every day was an exploration. The second book was much harder, because I had a lot more on my plate as a writer by then, and also because Clara experiences a loss in that book that was close to my heart, which was emotionally tough to write.
But the third book was the hardest to write. Ugh. I get stomach pains just thinking about it. The big problem was, about ¾ of the way through writing the third book, I was informed that there wasn’t going to be a fourth book. Paranormal romance was taking a steep dive in sales across the board, and I totally understand, from the business side of things, why my publisher wouldn’t want to buy another PR-my original book deal was for 3 books, although I always thought of the story in 4 parts.
So. I had to reevaluate everything. Book three as I originally intended it ended with the night at the Pink Garter (mild spoiler alert!) and Clara and Christian (and one other special character) running off into the night, on the run. I had already written a little novella from Christian/Angela’s POV to go between book three and book four. And now.
Basically I had to rewrite the book to be the end. Which meant that I had to condense a whole lot, and totally abandon some other parts of the story. It was the worst form of torture.
But it turned out all right in the end. I was able, through a lot of sweat and a LOT of tears, to make Boundless something that felt right and I was proud of. I was maybe even more proud of Boundless than my other books, because I had to work so hard to accomplish it. And it is definitely a tighter, more action-packed story than it would have been if I had stretched it over two books.
4. The UNEARTHLY series features characters with angel-blood. How did you come up with the (very cool) angel classifications such as Dimidius & Quartarius? Did you have to do a lot of research?
Again, it was kind of mysterious, but yes, I did do a lot of research. I had about a week in the beginning where I was keeping a OneNote file full of notes about the different types of angel-bloods and angels and all of their powers and limitations. Fun stuff.
5. Clara Gardner’s story spans both the rural town of Jackson Hole, Wyoming and the more urban town of Mountain View, California. Why did you choose these particular settings for your trilogy?
I chose them because I knew both of those towns pretty well. I grew up within an easy drive of Jackson, and it was one of my favorite places to go. The mountains there, the Tetons, are my favorite mountains in the world—they have such an awe-inspiring beauty. Also, I liked Jackson because it is this cool juxtaposition of Old West and high end, a tourist town. It’s rustic but it has a regular-sized high school. I thought it would be a good place to put Clara.
I chose Mountain View because I wanted a Bay Area city, somewhere near to San Francisco, because I thought of Maggie, Clara’s mother, being connected to that place. And so I chose Mountain View, where my son was born.
6. Clara, Christian and Tucker are characters with very distinct personalities, and their love triangle throughout the series kept me guessing until the end. How did you make your characters so three-dimensional? And if you were a character in the story, would you prefer to date someone like Christian or Tucker?
Ha. Okay, first question first. I don’t make my characters three-dimensional. I just kind of uncover them that way. Actually, I deliberately left Christian a bit two-dimensional in Unearthly, because I wanted him to be the kind of guy you like from afar but don’t actually know very well. And then she would get to know him better and better throughout the books. But I’ve always seen my characters something like Michelangelo saw his statues, like they are already there in the marble, and only need to be released.
As to who I would date, gosh. Probably Tucker, because I think it would make me nervous that Christian could read my mind. . . But then Christian is . . . Christian! Gah, you guys, I can’t choose.
7. If your books were to be made into a movie, which scene would you be most interested in seeing live on the big screen?
The moment between Clara and Tucker in the barn from Unearthly. Because aw.
The scene where she meets Michael from Hallowed.
The journey to hell from Boundless.
8. If you could spend a day with a favorite author (living or otherwise), who would it be,and what do you imagine your conversation being like?
Jane Austen, I think. Then I would tell her about all the movies that have been made from her work and it would totally blow her mind.
9. Tell us about your path to publication. What is the coolest thing about being a published author?
I took a kind of unconventional path to get here—the go-to-school path. When I knew I wanted to commit to being a writer, I went for an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) degree, in literary fiction. I studied hard for three years (and I didn’t even attempt to get published in any of that time) and then went to get a PhD, where I studied hard for another three years. In my first year of my PhD I met my future husband, and he was all like, “So, what have you published?” and I was like, “Um, nothing,” and he was like, “Let me read one of your stories,” and I was like, “. . .okay,” and he was like, “This is really good, you should publish it,” and I was like, “okay,” and so I sent it out and it was accepted for publication in a great literary journal, and I was a published author!
I did it all to impress a boy, is what I’m saying.
Then a few agents called me about that story, and I ended up connecting with my lovely agent, Katherine. And that’s where it all began.
The coolest thing about being published is that you and your readers get to know the same people. We all know Jeffrey and Maggie and Tucker and Wendy. The people who, up until the moment the books hit the shelves, only existed in my brain (and the brains of a select few) can suddenly come alive for thousands of other people, who will love them or hate them or form all other kinds of opinions about them. That is so cool.
10. What’s your typical day as a writer like? Do you have any writing-related rituals or quirks?
My writing life changes from book to book. But ideally I would write every day for a few hours, in the morning, I would aim for 1500-2000 words. I can’t really afford rituals these days because my schedule is so crazy that I just have to make it work in whatever situation I’m in. But I do like tea. I drink a lot of tea when I write.
11. What do you like to do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies, sports, or crafts you like to spend time on?
I read a lot. I am a television junkie. I am a recovering video game addict (I just started Elder Scrolls Online and realized immediately that it was too dangerous for me and had to cut it off before I stopped writing books to run around shooting arrows at monsters all day. I also knit and crochet and play piano and snuggle with my kids.
12. Are you a plotter or pantser? Are there any specific writing tools (books, software, a specific pen J ) you use to work on your novels?
I am both, honestly. It depends on the project. Sometimes I just jump in with very little preparation and see where it takes me. And sometimes I plan, although I almost always deviate from my plan when the characters have other ideas.
Again, how I write depends on the project. I have a type of pen I like, and I will often write longhand into a special set of identical notebooks that I have picked for the project. It usually takes me about five notebooks to write a novel. Then I revise as I transpose it all into my computer, where I used Word. I am trying to learn Scrivener, which is cool, but it’s slow going.
13. Are you currently working on any other projects?
Right now I am getting ready to submit a project to my publisher that I have had SO MUCH FUN working on. I’ve been writing a funny fantasy (think: teenage Princess Bride) with two of my author friends. It has been the most fun I’ve had writing in ages. We work on Google Docs so we can always see each other’s work. We laugh until our sides hurt. It’s so fun. I really hope it sells so we can finish it.
I have a book coming out in February, called THE LAST TIME WE SAY GOODBYE. I am really close to having the cover and book description ready to share, so keep watching my social media or my blog for that. It is very different from Unearthly, as it is a contemporary YA, but there are definite connections between this and Clara’s world that my readers will be able to recognize. It’s about a girl who is trying to figure out her life after her brother’s suicide.
And I have a book due in September that I am currently writing, another contemporary YA. So I have to get cracking.
14. What advice would you like to give to writers on the road to publication?
Well, there’s the usual: read, write, study. I found the study part especially helpful. I don’t mean you have to go get an MFA or study formally, but that you should take your education as a writer seriously and seek out form and theory and practice these ideas and play around with writing as a craft.
15. What would you like to say to your young readers? Is there any advice that you would like to give them?
To thine own self be true.
Okay, so that’s Shakespeare, that doesn’t count.
The great thing about being a teenager, in my mind, is that you still have so many choices ahead of you, so many possibilities. Find some kind of middle ground between not taking those choices seriously enough and taking them TOO seriously. Be mindful. But also let yourself explore, let yourself play, let yourself discover who you are and what makes you happy and what makes you smarter and what makes you kinder. And then go after those things.
Sheesh. That’s a lot of deep thought.
Read good books. They don’t even have to be my books. Just good books, books that make you think and make you laugh and make you want to be brave. There you go.
Come back this Friday for the final part of the Spotlight Week, where I give away a SIGNED COPY of BOUNDLESS.
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