Monday, August 3, 2009

Book Launch: The Secrets of the Cheese Syndicate

I'm pleased to announce another author interview with Donna St. Cyr and the book launch of her debut novel THE SECRETS OF THE CHEESE SYNDICATE.

Congratulations on the publication of your novel, SECRETS OF THE CHEESE SYNDICATE. It’s such an intriguing title! Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it?

Well, it all started with a bottle of Sprite and the fact that I really, really like the word “Gorgonzola”. When my children were younger, they came home one day and my daughter tattled on her little brother because he found a bottle of Sprite on the school bus. He opened it and drank some. I was mortified, horrified – and generally possessed all those knee-jerk reactions a good mother should. What if it was drugged? What if he got sick? What about the germs? What if? I ranted about all those possibilities for about thirty minutes – after which he ran off to play and was perfectly fine. Later that evening, while I was writing, I started to think of the literary possibilities for that “What if”. What if a kid found a bottle of a magical elixir on his bus, his sister drank it and began to shrink, and he found out he’d actually been chosen to go on a mission for this shadowy organization called the Secret Cheese Syndicate? The story was born there. Why is it a Cheese Syndicate? I have this thing about words I like and I love the way Gorgonzola sounds – so one day I came up with this character – Madame Gorgonzola. She’s made of cheese and is quite a sight to behold (and she smells bad). She became the leader of this secret organization and recruits Robert, the story’s hero, for his assignment. He’s got to find something called the Mystic Cheese of Eliki while he’s out there battling some pretty hairy creatures. Oh, and his father happens to be an agent for this organization, but Robert didn’t know this – he just thought he’d run off and forgotten the family. So Robert might just find his father while saving the world from evil and bad taste.

How long have you been writing for children/teens? Have you written other books or is this your first effort?

I began writing about five years ago. The first novel I wrote, while a great idea, was terribly written. After taking some writing instruction I concentrated on magazines for awhile and sold several pieces to children’s magazines such as Boys’ Life, Highlights, and Cricket. The magazine writing was fun and gave me early success that encouraged me to try again with a novel. I’ve also tried my hand at picture book writing. I have one picture book that I’m especially hopeful about currently under consideration by a publisher.

Can you describe your path to the publication of SECRETS OF THE CHEESE SYNDICATE?

I began writing the story as an assignment for my writing class. The instructor loved it and encouraged me to finish and pursue publication with it. It took about a year to write, then another year to rewrite with the help of my critique group. During this time I started attending regional SCBWI conferences and started the whole submission process. I’d sent the cheese story out five times – with five rejections – before I saw a call for manuscripts of Verla Kay’s board. I thought my story fit Blooming Tree’s expectations, so I sent it in. About four months later I received a call – acceptance – YAY! Then another full revision, two rounds of small revisions, copy edits, and waiting, waiting, waiting. It’s like having a baby – only it takes so much longer!

Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

Join a critique group. Develop patience. Don’t take rejections personally, but learn from them. Challenge yourself through writing classes or exercises.

Can you tell us something about your personal life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.?

My three children are now young adults, so I look forward to shepherding them into independent lives and enjoying a slower pace where I can devote more time to writing. My oldest son has autism and I’m very excited about a project I’m involved with called St. Andrew’s Village. It will be a faith-based integrated community where disabled and nondisabled individuals can live, work, and play. Our goal is to create an environment where individuals have the support they need to live abundantly as accepted and productive members of their neighborhood.

Do you have any new writing ventures underway?

I just finished the first draft of the cheese story’s sequel. It’s called THE MANTICORE'S REVENGE. I also have a project that I’m quite attached to but haven’t worked on in some time. It’s a historical fiction novel about the Grand Derangement or Great Expulsion. This happened in 1755 when the Acadians were kicked out of Nova Scotia and scattered across the American colonies and the Caribbean Islands. Eventually a remnant of those refugees made their way to Louisiana and prospered. Their descendents are the Cajuns of today. I’m from south Louisiana and this story fascinates me. It’s a challenging book to write because it spans a long time period and I don’t think I’ve found the right voice for it yet.

Do you have a website where readers can learn more about SECRETS OF THE CHEESE SYNDICATE?

Yes. It’s

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