Monday, December 29, 2008

Michigander Monday: Cynthia Furlong Reynolds

I'm pleased today to welcome Cynthia Furlong Reynolds. Cynthia is a multi-talented writer. Her work includes numerous picture books, a young adult novel, a chapter book collection, and, for the adult market, oral histories for individuals, towns, non-profit organizations, and corporations. Her corporate history Jiffy: A Family Tradition was recently named a 2009 Michigan Notable Book.

Debbie: Tell us a little about yourself.

Cynthia: I was born in Maine, where my mother’s family can trace its roots for 11 generations, and I have always loved the sights and sounds of Big Water—which is why living in the Great Lakes region has been the next best thing to living in Maine. My family moved 17 times before I graduated from college, and I desperately wanted to live in one place. When I met my husband, Mark was living in his hometown, a small village in the hills of NJ, and I must admit, that was a big attraction for me. Of course, three years after we married, we began moving with my husband’s job! Together we’ve moved 11 times, which means that my 11 years in Michigan is nearly three times longer than I’ve ever lived anywhere else!

My personal history is reflected in my books. I often write about places I love (L is for Lobster, H is for Hoosier, M is for Maple Syrup, Fishing for Numbers, The Far-Flung Adventures of Homer the Hummer, Across The Reach) and places I’ve loved to visit (Rascal Makes Mischief on Mackinac Island, Across The Reach, and my Oliver’s Travels series). In addition to children’s books, I often write grown-up histories. The book OUR HOMETOWN: America’s History Seen Through the Eyes of a Midwestern Village shows that not only have I always longed for a hometown, but I’ve also researched histories of hometowns since my college days.

A graduate of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA, I have taken writing, history, and literature classes my entire life. I love stories and story-telling, and I worry about the loss of great stories from the past, so I often write people’s life stories or oral histories of places and professions. I use my research/interviews in different ways, not only in grown-up histories, but also in fiction; I’m working on a series of Young Adult novels that are based on collections of letters or memories of people I’ve interviewed.

I’ve worked on newspapers, magazines, and university staffs, among them Princeton and the University of Tampa.

I had a passion for writing and reading even before I knew my entire alphabet. My book Grammie’s Secret Cupboard talks about how I came to learn at a very early age that I would be a writer, thanks to the insight of a wonderful grandmother.

My family lives in the country outside of Ann Arbor. I have two grown-up sons and a daughter in high school, as well as two obstreperous dogs we love dearly.

Debbie: And of course, we'd like to know about your latest books, and all that's upcoming!

Cynthia: I have a half-dozen books in various stages right now.

Mitten Press is publishing a series of mouse adventures winding through the Midwest, called Oliver’s Travels. Oliver Catsdorf, a very enterprising and charming young mouse, is given an ancient family map with some strange symbols and pieces missing. It’s up to him to solve the mysteries of the symbols and reunite the map sections. His grand adventures and daring deeds take him through Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee. (Gr. 3-6)

I’m working on a series of Young Adult novels based on collections of letters or recollections of elderly people I’ve interviewed.

I’m continuing a Middle Reader series I began with Across The Reach. Every summer, Elizabeth Henley Sherman visits her grandparents and her best friend, who live on the coast of Maine. In the first book (which is semi-autobiographical) she comes to know her great-grandmother, who has Alzheimer’s.

In the picture book arena, I’m writing a series of fairy tales based on American folk stories, as well as a book (again based on my historical interviews) about life in a one-room schoolhouse. I have two Christmas books done, including The Legend of St. Nicholas.

I’ve written my first adult historical fiction novel, Wounded Hearts, which I should be sending to agents even as I write this.

Debbie: Your favorite place in Michigan?

Cynthia: I love Lake Michigan, particularly the shores along Muskegon State Park, and any spot north of there. In the past we’ve lived on Lake Superior, and I love Big Water! There is something cleansing and humbling and utterly dramatic about huge expanses of water and the stories they whisper to us in the waves and tides. Mackinac Island is tied for first place, though.

Debbie: A few interesting people in Michigan we should all know about?

Cynthia: I’ve interviewed quite a few famous people because of my career in journalism, but I find the non-famous people far more interesting. John Keusch is a 100-year-old lawyer in Chelsea, Michigan, who still comes to the office every day. Historical societies are chock full of characters with fascinating stories. I’ve met great cooks, fascinating collectors, challenging adventurers, and amazingly creative people. If you take the time and ask the right questions, you’ll find interesting people wherever you go!

Debbie: Your favorite Michigan event?

Cynthia: I love the street events in Ann Arbor, the Christmas music in churches all over the state, Dexter Daze, my daughter’s orchestra and piano concerts, the U of M graduation ceremonies (my boys graduated in 2007 and 2008), Marshall’s home tours, Mackinac’s festivals.

Debbie: Something others should know about Michigan?

Cynthia: That we take the Big Ten games—all games—VERY seriously. I thought I understand big-time football and basketball when I moved here, but I quickly realized that you have to live here to understand the Michigan/OSU and Michigan/Michigan State rivalries!

Debbie: And finally, for our ongoing poll: Some residents of Michigan refer to themselves as "Michiganders"; others "Michiganians." Which do you prefer?

Cynthia: I far prefer Michigander—that name reminds me of a slightly befuddled Beatrix Potter creature, a relative of Jemima Puddle-Duck perhaps. I often feel befuddled!

Debbie: You show absolutely no signs of befuddlement! It's been a pleasure having you join us today. Thank you!

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