Cyndi, first I’d like to thank you for being one of the Dames and all that you do to promote other authors and celebrities. As Author of the Month here at Dames of Dialogue, I’m happy for the chance to let our readers know more about you.
1. When did you first start writing and what is the first thing you wrote with the goal of being published?
Shortly after my husband and I moved to Maine in 1999, I wasn’t working and it just seemed like the place to write. The first thing I wrote with the goal of being published was a futuristic YA titled Alien Eyes and the second was a fantasy YA, Keeper of the Forest. Before I could submit either of them, my husband had a heart attack and while I was sitting in the OR waiting room as he went through bypass surgery, I came up with an idea for a romantic suspense. That idea eventually resulted in my first novel, Death by Indifference which was published as an ebook. Also, while he was recuperating, I wrote the first draft of The Secret Life of Alice Smitty, a short story about a woman whose husband is stuck at home recovering from bypass surgery and she creates an alter-ego, Alice Smitty, who’s bent on killing her husband. That story was my second sale and appears in the anthology, PMS: Poison + Murder = Satisfaction.
2. Having read both YA’s, I really wish you’d get those two published. Alien Eyes has one scene that was really nail-biting scary! I liked the suspense in Death by Indifference but that Alice Smitty is a hoot! I so identified with her.
I love your paranormal Eternal Shadows series. The four cousins are well-developed and sizzling hot, and with each book, I can’t wait for the next one. Tell us about this series.
The Eternal Shadows series is based on an ancient Cherokee legend about how the black bear came into being. Each book tells the story of one of the Tassel men, blood-brothers as well as cousins, who were cursed by the Shamans and exiled to Eternity Mountain. They each have various psychic abilities and can shape-shift into one of the native animals of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The first book in the series, Snow Shadows is the story of the oldest brother, Mathias, who can turn into a black bear. Storm Shadows is about Marcus, the second oldest, who shape-shifts into a cougar. Sun Shadows, which I’m working on now, is about Lucien, who shifts into a gray wolf. The final book, Moon Shadows, will be about Jonathan, the youngest and most powerful who can shift into any animal. They are charged with protecting the animals and the environment on the mountain for eternity. In order to do that, they are given the gift of immortality…or so they think.
Your novella Unwilling Angel is really fun to read. I loved Mac, the “unwilling angel” and understand he was based on one of your favorite authors. Can you share who that author was? I do hope you continue this series, and if so, what’s next?
Mac is named for Ed McBain. The novella was inspired by an “Elvis” sighting I had of him shortly after he passed away in 2005. The first scene where Emma thinks she’s seeing the ghost of her favorite author is very close to what happened to me. On my way home from the store where I thought I “saw” Ed McBain,” I started writing the story in my mind and by the time I pulled into my driveway, I practically had the entire book written.
The contract for Unwilling Angel expired last November and as soon as I can get the publisher to take it off their site, I’d like to offer it on Kindle for free. At the same time, I’d like to release Unruly Angel for a low price. But that all depends on me learning how to format an e-book for Kindle!
4. You know, I wouldn’t mind “seeing” Ed McBain. I always thought he was so handsome. One thing you can do with Unruly Angelis get it published! It’s a great story. And that’s smart thinking re; the Kindle. You’ll get a good response from both. They’re so witty and fun to read.
I’m excited at the interest in Whistling Woman, the faction I was honored to co-author with you. Tell us about Whistling Woman and what inspired it.
Oh, I remember that night so well. We were on vacation in Florida and we went to our dad’s house for dinner. He entertained us—as he usually does—with stories about growing up in the mountains of North Carolina and about our great-aunt Bessie. After we got back to the house we’d rented for that week, you and I were sitting out on the screened-in porch and talking about how someone needed to write down those stories before they were lost forever. I’m not sure who said it first, but one of us said we should collaborate on a book about Aunt Bessie’s life. I remember I wrote a blog entry about it that night and the next day we started tossing ideas around. And the rest, as they say, is history—or will be when we get the book out.
In the waning years of the 19th century, Bessie Daniels grows up in the small town of Hot Springs, North Carolina. Secure in the love of her father, bothered with her mother’s desire that she be a proper Southern belle, Bessie’s determined to forge her own way in life. Or, as her Cherokee great-grandmother, Elisi, puts it, be a whistling woman.
Life, however, has a few surprises for her. First, there’s Papa carrying home a dead man, which seems to invite Death for an extended visit in their home. And shortly before she graduates from Dorland Institute, there’s another death, this one closer to her heart. But Death isn’t through with her yet. Proving another of Elisi’s sayings, death comes in threes, It strikes yet again, taking someone Bessie has recently learned to appreciate and cherish, leaving her to struggle with a family that’s threatening to come apart at the seams.
Even her beloved Papa seems to be turning into another person, someone Bessie disagrees with more often than not, and someone she isn’t even sure she can continue to love, much less idolize as she had during her childhood.
And when Papa makes a decision that leads to yet another death, this one of a new friend, the course of Bessie’s life is changed forever.
5. How in the world you do these blurbs so well amazes me. It’s like pulling teeth when I do it.
Among your works to date, which is your favorite book and who is your favorite character?
My favorite book by far is Whistling Woman, which as you noted above, I had the honor of co-authoring with you. Whistling Woman is the story of our great-aunt Bessie’s life, or really, the first one-fourth of her life, growing up in the small town of Hot Springs, North Carolina at the end of the 19th century. It’s a coming of age story and is based on stories we heard when we were growing up. Interspersed with the stories are Cherokee legends and folklore, historical facts about the Hot Springs area, and a generous helping of imagination.
The character of Bessie and her father, John Warren Daniels, or Papa as she calls him, are my favorite characters. They don’t come from my imagination but are based on fact, or fact as you and I know it and as Daddy remembers it. There were times when I could’ve sworn Aunt Bessie was actually sitting in the room with me as I was working on Whistling Woman. Never felt that with Papa but maybe that’s because I actually knew Aunt Bessie and remember her from my childhood.
6. I agree with you. I love these characters and am convinced we channeled Aunt Bessie.
What inspires you most?
That’s an easy one, you. I am so blessed to have you in my life and you never fail to inspire me and make me believe in myself. I think it’s safe to say, if it weren’t for you, I would’ve never buckled down and wrote my first book, much less have been published. You wear so many hats in my life, mentor, beta reader, gentle critic, favorite author, beloved sister, and cherished friend.
7. Thanks, Cyndi. I’m blushing at your kind words. Right back at you, kiddo.
You use the pseudonym Caitlyn Hunter for your romance novels. I am always curious how authors arrive at their nom de plumes. Care to share how you came up with yours?
This goes back to Ed McBain again—he’s one of my favorite authors and he had many pseudonyms, something like six. The first book I ever read by him was written under the pseudonym of Evan Hunter. I enjoyed Last Summer so much, I went looking for other books by him and that was when I found his 87th Precinct series written as Ed McBain. He chose the name Hunter because that’s where he attended college and I chose it as a way to honor him. As for Caitlyn, I wanted to keep my initials so I looked at a baby-name site on the Internet and Caitlyn was the first one that jumped out at me.
8. I think the 87th Precinct series is probably the best series ever written. I’ve read every one of those books, many more than once. He remains one of my favorite authors and is undoubtedly one of America’s best mystery writers. I was saddened by his passing.
Speaking of which, one thing I love about your books, Cyndi, is the dry wit that seeps through, reminding me of the honorable Ed McBain. Is this deliberate or just a natural part of your voice?
Oh, wow, being compared to Ed McBain is just about the best compliment anyone could give me. Excuse me while I stick a pin in my head and let some of my ego out. Actually, when I read something I’ve written, I never see the humor in it and I don’t really think I’m particularly funny. I guess that means it’s natural but…I just don’t see it.
9. I think a lot of people who are naturally witty feel as you do, Cyndi.
It’s apparent from reading your books that you do a lot of research, especially in regards to Cherokee lore. Do you like this aspect of writing?
When I first started writing, I hated research. I saw it as a necessary waste of time but once we got into writing Whistling Woman, I really enjoyed it. It’s thrilling when you’re researching your ancestors and you find some little tidbit somewhere that tells you something about them or confirms something you’ve heard from family. I can see why genealogy is so popular. And when I research Cherokee legends, I feel as if I’m researching my ancestors too since we’re part Cherokee.
10. I was amazed at all the material you placed in Whistling Woman dealing with the Cherokee culture and medicine. They’re such an interesting people and I’m proud to be 1/16th Cherokee. I, too, loved researching this book, especially those trips to Hot Springs and Marshall, NC.
Like me, you’re a true-blue dog lover, Cyndi. Tell us about Des and Fletch.
Aw, my sweet babies. We adopted Des from the sister of his owner, who died of cancer, and Fletcher from the Asheville Humane Society. Des is a black lab mix and the biggest baby you’ll ever meet—or maybe I should say the most spoiled dog in the world. Fletch is a beagle mix and he’s deaf. He’s a loner, absolutely hates being shut inside, and he loves to go on his own personal incredible journeys. Thank goodness he has a chip and we’ve been able to get him back safe and sound every time, although he has become well-enough know at the Hendersonville Humane Society that they call him Otis, after the town drunk on the Andy Griffith show, the one who was a fairly regular visitor to the jail. They are both incredibly loving, sweet dogs and can always coax a smile out of me.
11. That is so funny about Fletch. Thank goodness he has that chip but I love that he takes his little adventures. He’s such a character. And Des is so special. It’s apparent he adores you, and I feel comfortable knowing that if anyone were to try to harm you, they’d have to go through Des first.
Tell us about Hendersonville, NC, where you live.
Lovely, historic Hendersonville, a bird sanctuary where the white squirrels thrive and the apples scent the air in the fall. Of all the places I’ve lived, from Tennessee to Colorado to Maine and back to North Carolina, Hendersonville is my favorite—and you know how much I loved living in Maine so that’s saying a lot!
Hendersonville is a small town just south of Asheville in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. It’s just big enough to offer all the modern conveniences and small enough to give you all the benefits of small-town life. Historic Downtown Hendersonville is fascinating and beautiful with rehabbed buildings, lots of flowers and interesting shops, and bears everywhere. The bears aren’t real, of course, they’re statues left over from a Bear-footing it on Main Street festival several years ago. They’re all painted to reflect the businesses, a chef for one of the restaurants, a baseball player for the sports shop, etc. And then there’s Mike’s on Main Street, one of our favorite restaurants. Mike’s is in a restored drugstore that still has some of the old signs up on the outside and the kitchen is in behind the raised pharmacy counter. And they have fantastic food!
12. I find Hendersonville quaint and charming. I love visiting there.
I know you researched Southern sayings for Whistling Woman and found some great ones. What’s your favorite Southern saying?
Oh boy, this is a tough one. When we had the idea to use a Southern saying for the title and the heading of each chapter, I had the best time researching—who knew “Southern Speak” was so popular?—and it’s hard to choose a favorite. If I have to choose, I’ll go with the saying which gave us the title, “A whistling woman and a crowing hen never come to a very good end.” I also like, “That girl’s just naturally horizontal,” and “They ate supper before they said grace.”
I really like the way you titled each chapter in Whistling Woman with a Southern saying, Cyndi. It fits the book perfectly.
Thanks for letting me have the honor of interviewing you. Readers, here’s where you can find out more about Cyndi aka Caitlyn Hunter: