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February 13, 2018

Interview with Cynthia Robinson, author of BIRDS OF WONDER

Cynthia Robinson's debut novel Birds of Wonder hits shelves on February 20. Today, Cynthia shares a bit about her new crime novel and her writing in general.
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What inspired you to write Birds of Wonder?

Birds of Wonder
February 2018; Standing Stone Books
978-1641365260; print (300 pages)
literary, crime
When I was in my mid-teens, a girl was found—much as in the opening chapters of BIRDS OF WONDER—in a field near my house, by a woman walking her dog. Girls found in fields are presumed dead, and that was the case here. The girl, eerily similar in appearance to me, had been raped and strangled, and her arms amputated. This violent crime shook up my smallish Tennessee town for a good long time—my mother didn’t want to let me out of her sight. And it clearly impacted me, remaining deeply lodged in my subconscious for, literally, decades. Many other concerns and events informed the novel’s conception, often relating to exploitation of and/or violence against women, but the central kernel was the finding, so many years ago, of that young woman’s body, in my hometown, where “things like that” ‘didn’t happen.’

What advice would you give readers interested in reading Birds of Wonder? How should they approach the story?

Don’t expect a traditional crime novel or psychological thriller all the way through. It does start out that way, but then—purposefully—veers off into other territory. Be ready for a few tough moments. All justified (I believe and hope) by the plot.

Who are your favorite authors you like to read and/or follow? 

I read everything by Kate Atkinson. Love Javier Mari’as (in Spanish), and Lola Lo’pez Monde’jar (ditto). Noy Holland, Kazuo Ishiguro, Rabih Alameddine. James Lasdun.  And I could go on, but I won’t!

When do you find the time to write?

My sweet spot for writing is in the late afternoon to early evening. Ideally I get 2-3 hours (daily). Obviously, sometimes this isn’t possible, but I try to carve out a spot, even if half an hour, each and every day, so as not to lose contact with my work.

How has your career at CornUniversitysity influenced your writing style?

For a good long time, my academic career kept me from writing fiction at all (or, perhaps more accurately, I allowed it to do that). No more! In the positive column, my work as an academic (both as a teacher and a researcher) has given me focus and discipline, a deep knowledge of the past and of other languages and cultures, and a treasure trove of material I am beginning to tap only now. My published (or soon-to-be published) fiction, for the most part, has steered entirely clear of the academic sectors of my life and knowledge, but I am changing that…

What are you working on now?

A novel set in a hotel in Bloomsbury, in London. The protagonist is a ghost. It circles themes of loss, regret, love… It time-jumps, it uses figures from the (in)famous Bloomsbury Group as secondary characters. If I say more, I might jinx it, but I really am loving this project. It’s in its fourth draft, and I very much hope to deliver it to my agent toward the midpoint of the current calendar year. I believe that there will be short fiction spin-offs from this project, but for the moment I am focused like a laser on getting the draft in shape, to where I want it.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Read, lots. And then read some more. Find the process that works for you (mine involves whiteboards and note cards…), which will take some experimentation. Find the schedule that works for you, and stick to it. Ass-in-chair is the best way to get words onto the page. You might decide you hate them, and you might even erase them, but you will have written.

We noticed you're very active on Instagram! What sorts of photos do you like sharing?

I’m not a Bookstagrammer in the sense that I have some sort of system for reading and reviewing books. But most of my posts (except for the bunny part — the bunnies speak for themselves, or I often put words into their mouths…) do have to do with books and reading. I’m a very visual person, and so enjoy coming up with creative compositions that help to express, visually, what I feel about a particular book, or where I am in my reading process of it. I read like a writer, which means cannibalistically, always out for something that inspires me or helps me solve a particular problem, so my Instagram is maybe a bit chaotic compared to the pages of others. I’m also trying to include more literature from Spain, or from the middle ages, not to burden people with boring stuff, but just to introduce a little variety and wider awareness into my feed. Anything you don’t like, you can scroll past! I also am thinking about how to incorporate references to music that I associate with certain books or reads… just starting on that right now, so it’s still just a kind-of mess in my head at this point!

Buy Birds of Wonder at Amazon

About the Author:

Cynthia Robinson is a writer and art historian based in Ithaca, New York. Her short fiction has been published by The Arkansas Review, Epoch, The Missouri Review, Slice, and others. She is Mary Donlon Alger Professor of Medieval and Islamic Art at Cornell University and has recently, following a very long hiatus, returned to fiction with her first novel, Birds of Wonder.

website  *  Instagram

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