Cynthia d’Entremont is the author of the young adult speculative novel, Unlocked, winner of the 2009 Word Alive Writing contest for fiction. The prize was a full publishing package from Word Alive, and Unlocked was released in April, 2010.
Janet: Welcome, Cynthia, and thanks for taking time to join us. You have a family, a job, you’re working on a Masters’ degree… and it sounds like there are multiple story plots jostling in your mind. How do you do it?
Cynthia: This past year has been unusually busy for me. Generally I can juggle two major commitments such as teaching and writing, but the addition of taking another university degree has been challenging. I have a good support system and continually remind myself that the university commitment is only for two years. At the moment I am halfway through! I try to find stolen moments to work on stories but I have to admit that it’s not as much as I would like.
Janet: What got you started writing?
Cynthia: I have always loved reading. However, a passion for writing has developed over the last ten to twelve years. I began taking courses and participating in writing groups…I was hooked! I believe that it’s never too late to try something new.
Janet: Tell us a bit about Unlocked.
Cynthia: The moment I finished the first draft for Unlocked I felt as if I had experienced the birth of another child. I printed off the manuscript, tucked in a binder and carried it around in my arms—and there might have been a few tears!
The reader first meets the protagonist, Jaron, scratching out an existence in the dystopian world of Leviathon. As I often say, “Jaron starts out living in a garbage dump and it goes downhill for him from there!”
Janet: Where did the story idea come from?
Cynthia: It literally hit in 2005 while staring at a figurine that I had bought in Old Warsaw, Poland fourteen years earlier. This father and child statue compelled me to write about characters that were homeless and desperate. I started out with the intent that the story would be a picture book. Boy, was I wrong!
Janet: How would you define the age range for readers? I suspect there may not be an upper limit, as long as the adult in question likes fantasy and speculative fiction.
Cynthia: I wrote the story with a young adult audience (15+) in mind. I kept the dialogue and action fast-paced and tried to keep the tension high throughout the story. Even so, there have been many adult reader they tell me that they can’t stop thinking about the characters once the book has been read.
Janet: And although the novel comes from a Christian publisher, the faith element is low-key and allegorical enough that readers from another faith—or from none at all—should enjoy it too, right?
Cynthia: Definitely! I think that because I am a person of faith, my storytelling reflects who I am. That said, individual readers may have their own interpretations of the story according to their world view.
Janet: Okay, I’m going to ask a question I personally hate answering. Feel free to pass. What’s the novel’s theme? Or what one key thing do you want readers to take away when they’re done?
Cynthia: I don’t know if there is one thing that I would like the reader to take away, per say. However, when I look at the totality of the novel I am struck with the power of making choices even in the midst of feeling that one has no choice. Living with hope might also be another theme.
Janet: These children starting out in a garbage heap certainly don’t seem to have many choices open to them, and readers may feel that way about their own circumstances, but even small choices can make a difference. Your characters prove that. I can see how realizing we have even a bit of power to choose can give hope.
Unlocked is essentially Jaron’s story, right? I’m hoping there’ll be a sequel and perhaps more after that. Would you stick with Jaron or switch to a different character?
Cynthia: The sequel is underway. In the first novel Jaron was the main character but there were also two other characters’ points of view (Devora and Freesia). The second book is mainly Devora’s story—she also started out in the Garbage Heaps with Jaron.
Multiple viewpoints are also included and the identities of these characters might surprise you. Okay, I’ll share one secret…we finally get to know Benjamin’s thoughts.
Janet: Remembering some of the surprises from Unlocked, I suspect knowing Benjamin’s thoughts will change my opinion of him from book one.
What has reader response been like for this book?
Cynthia: The most frequent thing I hear is that once people start reading it’s hard to put the book down. I consider that high praise. The next comment is usually, “When is the sequel coming out?”
Janet: Guilty of making both comments!
You’re a new novelist, so to help people who don’t know your style, fill in the blank: If someone likes__________________, they’ll like Unlocked.
Cynthia: Okay, this is a tough one! I like to think of it as a grittier, darker version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe but that might be thinking too highly of myself and may not fully convey some of the more mature issues found in the book. There is good versus evil, kindness versus deceit, life verses death, and hope versus despair.
Janet: I know you have other plot irons in the fire. Anything else you’d like to tell us about?
Cynthia: First, I have to say that my favourite thing to read is a mystery. For that reason, I never thought I would write one. When I’m working on a genre like fantasy, I often avoid reading other fantasy novels—I want to keep the world in my own story intact.
Well, in 2009, to my surprise, I wrote a mystery that I titled Oak Island Revenge. This young adult novel was recently accepted for publication and will be released next year by Nimbus Publishing. Set in 1958, this story has no shortage of small town scandal, treasure hunting, and a certain kind of justice.
Janet: Sounds intriguing! How can people find out when it releases (and about a sequel to Unlocked)? Do you have a mailing list?
Cynthia: I regularly update my website with news and events. Oak Island Revenge will likely be released late 2011 or early 2012. As well, details for the release date of the sequel to Unlocked will be posted as soon as they become available.
Janet: What do you like best about the writing life?
Cynthia: I love the creative nature of bringing a character to life—someone that has never existed before, now has a voice.
Janet: What do you like least?
Cynthia: Waiting to hear from publishers. Rejection. Self-doubt. Sitting while typing.
Janet: What do your family think of your writing?
Cynthia: They are supportive. I’m sure at times they would like me to pry myself away from the computer and I try to keep that in mind and book regular family time with my children and husband. Sometimes I feel like a hermit, especially with a deadline looming.
Janet: Writers are told to read widely and voraciously. I think that’s one of the perks of the deal. What are you reading these days?
Cynthia: I wish I had something brilliant to say—like I just finished War and Peace. Instead, I’ve been reading a lot of manuscripts from writers in my writing group. Other than that, the last year has mostly been reading textbooks, editing my own work, and reading picture books—I teach grade primary (kindergarten).
Janet: What are you listening to?
Cynthia: I love the song from the Prince Caspian soundtrack “This is Home” by Switchfoot. I’m a little disappointed it was already used in a movie—it would be perfect for Unlocked, the motion picture (a girl can dream, right?)
Janet: Dream big! I can see Unlocked working as a movie. Dark, impossible odds, and a journey with lots of action. Definitely movie material. And in the mean time, I’ve heard of authors recommending selected songs as a soundtrack to their novel. “This is Home” could be Unlocked’s unofficial theme song.
Is there a particular Scripture verse that’s made a big difference for you?
Cynthia: “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed.” Isaiah 54:9 (NIV)
Being a wife, a mother, a writer, a teacher, and a student gives ample opportunity to feel “shaken”. I am blessed and thankful to have a full life but often need to remember God’s unfailing love and covenant of peace when I face challenging days.
Janet: That verse means a lot to me these days, because it’s part of one of my favourite songs on the newsboys’ Born Again CD: “Build Us Back.” There’s a whole lot of shakin’ going on these days!
Cynthia, thanks so much for taking time to let us get to know you a bit. May the LORD continue to strengthen and bless you and make you a blessing to others—in every area of your life.