Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Hot Topic & A School Visit

This morning I read from BUCK FEVER to the fifth graders and teachers of a New Jersey elementary school. The novel won’t be out in all of its hardcover glory until November, so this was kind of the first official reading to a group, if reading from a plain ol’ advanced reader copy counts as official. Nonetheless, I was a bit anxious to see, hear and feel the reactions to the deer hunting elements of BUCK FEVER. Why? Well, from the moment I started mulling over the idea of a novel that hits the varied points of view about deer hunting, I’ve encountered lots of personal opinions and points of view. And I do mean lots. From the dedicated hunters that I interviewed to those who love to target shoot but can’t bring themselves to aim at living things, to the folks who can’t fathom looking into the eyes of Bambi and pulling a trigger (I am, by the way, a member of this last group), hunting can be a red hot topic.

Would a similar mix of conflicted opinions and points of view rise up this morning? Ah, yes. After my reading, my audience dove right in to a lively and wonderful discussion about the main character, Joey, in BUCK FEVER. We talked about his predicament, and then why hunting is important to some people, such as Joey’s dad. And what happens when animals such as deer have no natural predators. Alex shared with us how the town I was visiting hires hunters at least once a year to thin the deer population because it keeps growing out of control. Unfortunately, out of control means that many poor deer get hit by cars, die of diseases and starve during the winters, when that yummy green stuff they like to munch on goes away. Casey told us (much to the surprise of her teacher) that her dad sometimes goes on safaris to hunt big game (wow, I thought, how very Hemingway). Wide-eyed Kevin couldn’t imagine why anyone would eat venison (that’s deer meat for you city slickers). Yet Craig felt certain that his dog would chow down on deer any day of the week, if given the chance. Apparently Rascal the terrier lives to chase deer that wander into Craig’s yard. Dana spoke up to say that she loves venison tacos. She’s been hunting with her dad and can’t wait to go again. Yet Kyle confessed that he argues with his cousin about hunting (Kyle being anti hunt and his cousin being pro).

So, yes, there were many opinions about hunting. But by the time I left the school, we were all a bit wiser and a bit more informed. Happily, I came away much less anxious about how the deer hunting elements of BUCK FEVER will be received. Especially if these aspects of the novel continue to lead to such wonderful discussions. And it didn’t hurt that my audience wanted to hear more of the story, wanted to know whether Joey would or would not become a hunter.

Wonderful. I left them my advanced reader copy.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Always Carry Pen and Paper

A wise and experienced writer once advised me to always carry a pen or pencil and a small notebook or stash of scrap paper with me. As I sat on a folding chair at a college graduation ceremony yesterday, for six hours of waiting, windy speeches, and an almost endless role call of professors and students, I realized the true wisdom of this tip. I found myself taking mad notes, doodling, and sketching out vague ideas and passing thoughts onto partially stained napkins, assorted graduation hand-outs, and on the back of receipts. Any paper that I could get my hands on. Was I taking notes about the graduation? Um, no. The truth is, I have just about finished my latest middle grade novel and I am about to send it off to my agent. This means that the gates that separate my subconscious from my conscious have been flung open. New ideas have been rushing through, showing up at the doorstep of my consciousness, auditioning like anxious American Idol wannabes. In moments of down time, when I’m not revising, reading or writing, they scream the loudest. The way that they did yesterday, as I sat, unprepared.

By the time that the graduating class filed into the open area surrounded by spectators, I had narrowed the auditioning story ideas down to three. The minute the students parked and the speeches began, I had nabbed the paper bag that had held my hubby's lunch. Even though it smelled like hot dog, I made the most of every bit of white space. When our graduate finally stood with those in her row, prepping for the march to the podium, I had one idea, a story foundation and even some sketchy scaffolding for my next novel. On a crinkled and stained bag with my napkin, hand-out, and receipt notes stuffed inside of it.

So, whether you are a writer or not (but especially if you are), allow me to recommend the benefits of keeping paper and pen (or pencil) with you at all times. You might just thank me the next time that you are waiting for an appointment, sitting in traffic, commuting, or, say, spending hours at a college graduation ceremony.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

DOG GONE Give Away

It’s hard for me to believe that DOG GONE made its debut a year ago. Wow, does this ever highlight how fast a year can fly by. DOG is a story that is particularly special to me because it is based on a stray pooch that my family adopted when I was about fifteen years old. Dillan. A wonderful, sweetheart of a pup. Adorable, really. A good dog with an amazing grin and a tail that swung in wide circles when he was especially happy. Unfortunately though, for us as well as the neighborhood sheep population, this pooch had a few nasty habits. Yup, adorable Dillan could be a very bad doggie.

We probably should have been suspicious when the eyes of neighborhood dogs started appearing at the double glass doors at the back of our house, which always caused Dill to hop in crazy, excited circles. “Oh, how cute,” we’d say. “Sparky, Shadow, Rupert, and Bandit are here to get Dill. To play.” Play? Err, no. Mister so-called good dog went on to terrorize the farming community with his furry pals. Loving pets turned thugs.

Years later, the antics of that dog sparked DOG GONE. And now, as I mentioned, DOG GONE is available in paperback. To celebrate this, I am giving away three copies of the soft cover version. Fun, right? I think so. I love giving away books. Would you like one? If so, send me an email via the contact information at On Friday I will put the names into a dog bowl and pick three at random.

Good luck!

Saturday, May 16, 2009


I just finished reading the ARC of IN THE PATH OF FALLING OBJECTS by Andrew Smith (Feiwel and Friends, Fall, 2009). What a tension packed thriller! This story of two boys on a trek to meet up with their father pulled me right in. Jonah, the protagonist, and his younger brother Simon have only ten dollars, a backpack full of dirty clothes, Jonah’s notebook, and a stack of letters from their older brother, Matt, who is serving a tour in Vietnam. And these guys are in the middle of the desert. Alone. On foot. With no food. See what I mean?

I gasped as I read the first scene, horrified but madly turning pages, thrown head first into the boys’ situation. Yes, I was hooked. Not long after this POW, the boys accept a ride with two men and a girl. The driver is the antagonist. The other man is metal, which, for me, added an awesome and humorous twist. The girl, an alluring and troubled character, is desperate. Oh, is this poor thing desperate. But it was the antagonist, Mitch, who really made me get up and turn a few more lights on in the room. Okay, yes, I also checked the locks on the doors. I was home alone. You’d do the same, believe me. This Mitch is seriously scary. Passing him in the middle of Times Square would make the hair on the back of your neck stand up, so imagine catching a ride with him in the desert. Whoa.

The plot builds with plenty of danger and creepy human behavior (read psychotic). The kind of action that makes me wince when I see it on a movie screen, but madly flip pages when I am reading about it in a book. Without giving anything away, I’ll just mention that the scene with the antagonist smearing ash from a car fire over his body before slicing his skin, to add his own blood to the mix, will be with me (in a good way) for a while.

But IN THE PATH OF FALLING OBJECTS is more than a survival story. This novel goes much deeper. It is a story about brotherhood and the bonds that are often forged through heartbreak and tragedy. The characters are human, blemishes and all. I felt compassion for the vulnerable Jonah, the rebellious Simon, the desperate Lilly, and even the scary-crazy Mitch. And for me, the compassion brings these well drawn characters to life.

Andrew Smith’s IN THE PATH OF FALLING OBJECTS will be available in October.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Hello and welcome!!! My name is Cynthia Chapman Willis and I am the author of DOG GONE (Feiwel and Friends, 08) and BUCK FEVER (Feiwel and Friends, November 09). And yeah, I’ve been dragging my feet in regard to this blogging business, but here I am, for better or worse or something in between. This journal will be about the roller coaster ride that is the writing life (including all the climbs and dips) and most things related to it. This, of course, will include some shameless promotion of my books. At least this is what I’m thinking now. Honestly, since this blog is brand new and a work in progress, time will tell what twists and turns the ride will take. So, climb aboard, buckle up, hold on. . . Let’s have some fun!

Coming soon, which really means in a couple days or so, I’ll be giving away a couple copies of DOG GONE in paperback. Stay tuned!