Ok, let's get back to the post, and our guest author, Cynthia Port! You won't want to miss this meaty interview, no sir! Because it's more than just the bare bones... :oP
I promise to behave now...
Drum roll, please!
Who, is Cynthia Port, you might ask? Mild mannered secretary by day? Candy shop owner? Veterinarian? You know...I just don't know, so let's read on and find out.
Ahhh! A face to put to the name.
Living in the fossil-filled hills of Southern Indiana, Cynthia Port writes for the young and the stubbornly young at heart. Her first novel, Kibble Talk, was published toward the end of 2013. Book 2 in the series, Dog Goner, was published in 2014. The Kibble Talk series hooks middle grade readers with its silly humor, but just under the surface are heartfelt messages about self-acceptance and not taking others for granted. Dr. Port is currently working on book 3 in the series, as well as a stand alone historical fiction that takes place in the Australian Outback. Wombats, anyone?
Ooh! She said "Dr." but she doesn't explain more...let's investigate. I'm sure we'll get her to spill the beans...or kibble.
Could you share a little about yourself and what led you to become a writer? (Pssst! Pay attention!)
I have written for a living for over a decade now, but in the science arena. For my day job I'm a scientific consultant, helping medical researchers develop and apply for grants and then write up their results for publication. When my first daughter was young, I penned a few picture book texts, but never did anything with them. About 5 years ago I was sidelined by injury for four months. I don’t “do” boredom, and writing became the perfect distraction. I wrote my first novel, which is still a work in progress, and then the idea for the Kibble Talk series came to me. I was hooked.
Do you write full time? How much of your life is set aside for writing?
Now you’re asking me to do math? Probably 10 hours a week devoted to writing and another ten to learning the craft, marketing and making connections. In terms of my brain energy though – when I’m driving, in the shower, making dinner, etc. – I write full time and then some.
Could you tell us a little about your novel?
In Kibble Talk, 10-year-old Tawny discovers on a dare that when she eats dog kibble, she can talk to and hear dogs. And dogs, it turns out, have a LOT to say. Tawny’s own dog, a cantankerous Great Dane named Dinky, tells her about his lifelong dream to be a lapdog with all the adorable accessories. Tawny promises to help him, and her own life nearly goes to the dogs. (See! She makes those bad jokes too!) The novel is written for the 8 to 12 year old crowd, but the humor spans a much wider age range so that adults find it funny and entertaining too. Tucked behind the jokes and hilarious situations are important life lessons about following your dreams and caring for those we often take for granted. Now that sounds nice.
Would you take us on a brief tour of your novel and the world you’ve created?
The world of Kibble Talk is Tawny’s home and neighbourhood, including a putrid retention pond and her town’s big, spiffy convention center. Unlike many novels for this age group, both of Tawny’s parents are alive and well and contribute importantly to the story. While there are fantasy elements (e.g., talking dogs), the personal issues that Tawny, her parents, and her best friend must overcome are real, making them highly relatable to young readers.
Where does the inspiration for your main character and story come from?
We once had an Alaskan Malamute named Kodiak who weighed 150 pounds. Her doggy life was fantastic, but I think she always wished she were tiny enough to curl up on my lap. Poor thing - her head alone was the size of a lapdog.
What is the message behind the story? Was it something you specifically wrote a story around or did it develop as your characters came to life?
There are two main messages in Kibble Talk: be yourself no matter what others think, and pay more attention to the people we all tend to take for granted, ie. family. These themes developed quite quickly after the basic plot formed in my mind.
Do you work from an outline or just go with the flow? If you use an outline, how detailed is it?
I work from a loose outline –1 to 3 sentences per chapter. These are like stepping stones I need to reach in terms of plot or character development, but how I get there develops as I go and is very much dependent on what my characters say to each other, much of which doesn’t feel as if it is really under my control. LOL, I've heard you comment on (eye roll included) authors who claimed their characters came alive...until yours did too. It's OK, your secret is safe with me (and all our readers).
What is the time span in your novel, weeks, months, years?
The whole novel takes place in 2 weeks, so it is quite condensed. The second in the series begins a week after the first ended, and also takes only a couple of weeks. Book three, which I am working on now, jumps ahead a few months but will also take only two weeks to happen. I’m pretty careful to state what day it is as the chapters start; when you are 10 years old a weekend day is VERY different from a school day.
Could you tell us how you go about your research, how you ‘catalogue’ information to make it all work?
The Kibble Talk series requires virtually no research – except for my years of observing people and mentally collecting their stories. My as yet unpublished work is historical fiction set in the Australian Outback in the early 70s. It deals with archaeology, aboriginal beliefs and language, the rabbit plague, local flora and fauna, Australian slang, etc. I did heaps and heaps of reading online and from library books, and watched several films. In terms of cataloguing and organization, I’m a hot mess. Let’s not go there. Wouldn't think of it. If it helps any, my friend has an Aussie English to American English dictionary, I could always borrow it for you. (...and no, I'm not "trying to piss in your pocket"...as they would say.)
How does this book differ from what you have written in the past?
All of my children’s writing aims for heart and humor with light adventure, and I imagine they always will. A young adult novel has been rolling around in my head for a couple of years now that will eventually make it to the page. It is romantic suspense, so quite a different target audience and writing style for me. I look forward to the challenge because I love the story and the characters.
How have the changes in present day publishing impacted your schedule as a writer?
Since I am so new to publishing, not much. I might like to have a traditionally published book too one day, as having the mix helps with visibility and gravitas on both ends.
How do you handle marketing? Do you have a plan, a publicist or just take one day at a time?
I pick myself up by the seat of my pants and fly. Mostly I fly into tree trunks and buildings, but occasionally I manage an artful double flip. Honestly, I would be completely sunk without my online author groups. In a top-notch group, authors are willing and eager to share what has and hasn’t worked for them. I always have to sift their advice through the lens of middle grade marketing because it is very different and much harder than marketing straight to adults, but I still have learned a lot – way more than I have time to implement. I've heard successful marketing takes 20 hours a week, when you know what you're doing. I can be quite daunting, and personally, I don't have those needed 20 hours.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Focus on the parts that give you the most joy. I really love meeting with classrooms and homeschool groups that have used my book as a read aloud, so I put a lot of energy into making that happen, whether or not it makes marketing sense. My other tip would be to not dabble with your writing. You can dabble while you outline and research, but once you feel ready to write, set aside large time blocks. I love meeting with school groups as well, and I really get a lot out of it. You should look into volunteer groups as well, there are often grandparents who would love to hear about your novel and then share with their grandchildren.
Could you tell us what you’re working on now?
This year my goal is to publish three new books: number three in the Kibble Talk series, my Outback historical fiction novel, and a nonfiction book about diet and nutrition.
Wow, that is quite impressive. Hats off to you!
Kibble Talk Book blurb: Once Tawny decides to do something, there’s no holding her back. So when her best friend Jenny dares her to eat dog kibble, down it goes. Little does she know how that dusty, tasteless lump will change her life. Suddenly she can hear what dogs have to say and talk back to them too! This might not be such a big deal, except that her own dog, an enormous Great Dane named Dinky, has a LOT to say. He lets her know right away that his fondest dream is to be a teeny tiny lap dog. Tawny promises to help him, and her life nearly goes to the dogs.
Excerpt from Kibble Talk: (this is the beginning of Chapter Three, entitled The Death of Fishy Fish)
Diving under my bed covers, I told myself over and over, “This isn’t happening. This isn’t happening. This is NOT happening.”
“Oh, but it is,” Dinky said with a lazy sigh. I felt him slump into a giant pile at the side of my bed. “Can I have my scratch now?”
I couldn’t believe I could hear another dog talking—and it was my own dog! I was also surprised at the type of voice Dinky had. Gunner had sounded like he should, which is an odd thing to say in the first place since we are talking about how a dog sounds talking. But Gunner looks sort of gross and gravelly and sounded that way. By that logic, Dinky’s voice should have been very deep and maybe elegant or something, like the prime minister of a fancy European country. It wasn’t though. Dinky’s voice was high pitched like a little kid, almost a squeak. His voice was, well, dinky.
“I can’t help my voice,” he squeaked at me. “Now get up and give me my scratch! Your mom and dad are on couch potato duty. That makes it your turn to entertain.”
I screwed up my courage and peeked one eye out from under my blanket. There was Dinky, staring at me with his usual huge, walnut-brown doggy eyes. I was about to dive to the bottom of my bed and never resurface when I thought of a way to test whether all of this was really happening.
“How do I know I’m not just imagining I can hear you talking?” I asked him nervously. “You haven’t said anything I couldn’t have made up myself.”
“Fair enough. Let’s see then,” he said, and gave his triangle ears an impressive waggle. “Oh, I know!" he said after a moment. "Your dad did NOT just find Fishy Fish dead one day in his bowl. He was changing the water and accidentally used hot instead of cold.”
I threw back the covers as I gasped in surprise. “What? He did? And he didn’t tell me about it? Are you sure?”
“I may be a talking dog, but I’m no liar. I saw the little orange guy go belly up, cooked like instant oatmeal. Then I had to listen to your dad’s guilty thoughts for weeks. He still thinks about it whenever your mom serves fish sticks.”
I shook my head in wonder. This was news I definitely couldn't have made up on my own, meaning that this talking dog thing might be legit.
“So . . . so you dogs are just thinking and listening all the time? Gunner said . . .” I started to ask.
“Gunner?" Dinky said, interrupting me. "Ugh. I’m sure he was a cute puppy, but that dog has let himself go.”
“He says he’d like a bath now and then, but they won’t give him one,” I snapped.
Dinky gave me that head-tilted, ear-raised, eyebrow-scrunched dog look. “If you’re gonna start taking Gunner’s side in things, in anything, I’m not sharing any of my dog food with you,” he said, and started to get up.
“Sharing any of your . . . hold on . . . was it really the dog food that did this to me? Is that why I can hear you?”
Dinky lay back down. “They say it’s happened before, but I figured it was just dog legend. Some of us have some imaginations, I tell you! Something about a Dr. who could talk to the animals . . .”
“You’ve heard of him too? Maybe it is true then . . .” Dinky mused, almost to himself. He started whipping his long bony tail against my hardwood floor, deep in thought. “We don’t know what causes it, but we know that when someone makes an honest effort to see what it’s like to be somebody else, they can understand them better. Sometimes it can go a bit further than that. When you ate Gunner’s food, what were you thinking about?”
“What it would be like to be a dog and have to eat that boring stuff all the time.”
“Just as I suspected,” Dinky said, closing his eyes and nodding his huge head in a knowing sort of way.
“What do you suspect?” I asked, moving to sit at the edge of my bed.
“When you ate the kibble and let yourself have a real glimpse of what it means to be Gunner, unpleasant as that had to have been, your brain must have opened up a new door, so to speak, so you could hear us the way we can hear you.”
Amazon author page
Kibble Talk Amazon
Dog Goner Amazon
Sampling from Reviews:
Kibble Talk currently has 59 reviews, 55 of which are 5-stars.
"[My daughter] literally laughed out loud reading it, something she claims she's never done before. Now she's bugging me to download the sequel."
"I truly loved this book. The writing is impeccable and the story is, well, hilarious…I felt myself slipping back to when I was a fourth grader!"
"I can't imagine any middle-grader (or adult, for that matter) not enjoying this funny and insightful story."
"when [my 12 year old granddaughter] started reading Kibble Talk, she didn't put it down until she finished it. Please keep writing, Cynthia, our kids need you."
"I don't know if the author wrote this with a young reader in mind, but IMO it appeals just as well to us older readers."