Friday, May 11, 2007

Cyndi Salzman Talks about Writing, Research, and Avoiding Laundry

A couple of weeks ago, I was flipping through Library Journal at work and spotted a familiar name--Cyndi Salzman, an author and fellow member of American Christian Fiction Writers. Her new book, Crime and Clutter, not only received a favorable review there, but she was interviewed and talked about some unique ways she went about the research for the book. (Also, she was pretty darn funny!) I immediately contacted her and asked if I could pass along some of her wit and wisdom to our readers. Here's the interview that resulted:

How long have you been writing?
I wrote and illustrated my first book at age six on manila paper and bound it using rubber cement. The title was The Beatles Book and commemorated the Fab Four’s “landing” in the United States. When I heard recently that Yoko Ono is now 73 years old – the shock sent me into a full blown hot flash.

How did your first book contract come about?
About ten years ago, I began writing a book as an excuse to avoid laundry. Frankly, I wish I had a loftier reason for kick-starting my career. But I don’t. The simple truth is at the bottom of the laundry pile – probably under a pair of smelly socks. It’s no surprise that my first three contracts were for nonfiction books providing encouragement for the domestically challenged.

Your first novel?
I had toyed with the idea of writing fiction for quite some time but came up with the idea for my mystery series when my group of girlfriends (we call ourselves the Friday Afternoon Club) was taking one of our "road trips." We spent ten hours on a train going to Chicago and laughed the entire time. On the trip home, I thought it would be a great premise for a mystery. We ended up plotting a story with the help of several passengers and the conductor, who happened to be a part-time mortician. Although the trip inspired the series, that particular story hasn't been written—yet.

Has there been a time in your writing journey that you felt like giving up? How did you get through that time?
I think about this at least once a week. The work is HARD, promotion grueling and I am always behind on laundry. I think – “WHY am I doing this? I could have a drawer full of clean underwear!” Then God softly whispers – once again – in my ear, “You know why…” Then He reminds me of the same words of encouragement David gave to his son Solomon when he passed the baton, “Be strong and courageous – and do the work.” (I Chron, 28:20) So I pull on a pair of my dh’s underwear (since I don’t have any clean ones) and fire up my laptop.

Tell us a little about Crime and Clutter.
Crime & Clutter is the second title in my light-hearted mystery series focusing on the friendship and adventures of six women who have dubbed themselves the “Friday Afternoon Club.” Sound familiar? : ) Caught up in the everyday challenges of carpool, soccer practice, music lessons and never-ending laundry – this feisty group of midlife moms find themselves acting as sleuths to unravel the mysteries and predicaments they encounter. In this book, Mary Alice is forced to face the difficult memories of her father's abandonment when she was a baby. The FAC rallies around her to help resolve her family's long-buried secrets which take readers through the Sixties counterculture.

How did you go about the research for it?
This is where the former journalist comes out in me. I love research! I read several books written about hippies and the counter-culture during the Sixties, piles of news articles and the trial transcripts of the Chicago Seven and similar cases. I pulled up archives of old television and radio reports, haunted “old hippie” chat rooms and forums and did several interviews with people who were in college during the time.

One of my childhood friend’s older sister lived on a commune and we visited her in 1968. Although I was only nine years old at the time, I have some very vivid memories of the place and the people. I remember being both fascinated and frightened by the experience. Finally, Denny and Ali’s story contain similarities to that of my own parents. I was able to pull from things they’ve said over the years to get a sense of the passion and motivation of the times.

Is there one great research tip (a source, or website, or just a way to go about it) that you would like to pass along?
My training is in broadcast journalism, so I have always keyed into what people say – looking for a sound bite that adds flavor to the story. Consequently, I like to interview people face-to-face whenever possible. I also like listening to recordings or reading transcripts of interviews or trials. And I read letters or diaries when I can find them. Anything in a person’s own words. This gives me a better sense of the emotion and a flavor for the times. For example, when I researched the first book in the series, Dying to Decorate (which deals with the Underground Railroad in the Great Plains) the Slave Narratives produced during the WPA project in the 1930’s were invaluable.