January 28, 2019
On January 9 and January 12, local author Cindy Meyering visited the Marathon County Public Library’s Marathon City Branch to talk about, and read from, her new book I’m There for You. Meyering lives in Wisconsin with her husband, Mark. She is a retired teacher, but continues to enjoy time in the classroom by substitute teaching. I’m There for You is her first novel for children. It was self-published through AuthorHouse and was a winner in MCPL’s Community Writing Competition last year.
The following interview took place during the author’s visit to the Marathon City Branch Library on January 9th, 2019, and was conducted by Branch Assistant Elizabeth Lutz.
Elizabeth Lutz: Did this book’s story spring from your own experiences? Is it based on any real people or did it come completely from your imagination?
Cindy Meyering: The story is completely made-up. I have people ask me that a lot. It is not about one certain person that I remembered or had in my class, but I believe that it inspired me to create the characters based on things that I saw with kids along the way.
EL: What made you want to write for kids? Did your teaching spark this desire?
CM: When I was teaching, my very favorite thing to do was read to the kids. They would be up front in our read-aloud time. They wanted to know what was coming next. I just loved that time! I watched their faces and what they experienced when they connected with the character. I saw kids cry when sad things happened in our story, or laugh out loud. I thought that was so cool to be able to help kids connect to a story like that.
I’d always wanted to write a book, but that was what helped me want to write for kids.
EL: Tell us about the process of writing this book. Did it go through multiple drafts? Did anything change drastically between drafts? And what made you think of the multiple narrators in the story?
CM: Truly, I started this story about four years ago when I was teaching fifth grade. At that time, we had a new instruction where we taught specific reading and writing strategy for kids. When I introduced a new strategy to the kids, we all would write to try to use that strategy. So, I started creating this character – Jack – when I was doing that. I just barely got started with it, put it away, retired, and didn’t think much about it anymore until the library offered a writing contest. So, I found the story and worked on finishing it so I could enter it in that contest.
If you get the book, you will see the sections of the book where you get the perspective of different characters. From the very start I wanted to do that. I always felt that with kids – and it’s something I think maybe we all struggle with at times – you think that everybody is seeing things how you’re seeing them. You forget that you may be seeing the same thing or hearing the same thing, but your perspective is very different based on what you’ve gone through in your life. I wanted kids to realize that.
EL: There are a number of issues you take up in the book, among them: broken families, mental health, children living in poverty, and the personal relationship that teachers and social workers have with their students. What would you say is the main issue in the book? What do you want kids to know about this issue?
CM: There are a lot of things that Jack goes through. I wanted kids to know that we all need each other and we can all help each other. Even when we’re struggling with things, we can feel stronger by helping someone else. Reaching out to others helps to strengthen us and make us a better person, and ultimately help us get through what we’re going through. In the story a lot of people are helping each other and you see what a big difference, a positive impact, they can make.
EL: How did you decide on the story’s optimistic ending? Did the characters lead you there or did you have it in mind from the beginning?
CM: I did not have it in mind! In fact, I got stuck in the middle and I had three different thoughts of how I could end the story, and had to think really hard about which way I wanted to go. In fact, I started one way and just scrapped it. So it wasn’t all planned ahead of time. The characters kind of took me, I think, through that process and to where I was hoping they would go.
EL: I love that! I love when the story takes on a life of its own as if the characters are real people. Would you ever consider revisiting these characters in a second story?
CM: Possibly! I love Jack – he’s the main character, and he’s a fifth grade boy. There was one chapter where I was sobbing. I was just hysterically sobbing as I wrote. I just felt like he was my own child and he was going through this tough time. I really felt that I knew him. I do feel close to him, so maybe I would write a story again with him in it.
There’s also another character, Mrs. Halpa, in the story. She’s a crazy character, and I love her. She could do just about anything. She was a fun person to write about. So, Yes! There is a possibility.
EL: Can you share with us a few authors that inspire you or inspired you as a child?
CM: One of my all-time favorite authors is Patricia Polacco. She actually was told she was learning disabled, was labeled as being learning disabled through school, and always felt like she couldn’t do anything. At age 41, she started writing and she has got some of the coolest books. She is an amazing author and illustrator. A couple years ago, I had the good fortune of being able to meet her. She lives in Michigan and had an open house during the summer. Some of my teacher friends and I went there. We stood in line – it was 95 degrees out – for seven hours in her front yard to be able to meet her.
She (Polacco) is an amazing woman and an amazing author. I always felt like she touched a lot of kids. One of her books, Thank You, Mr. Falker, is about her teacher who helped her with her learning disability, helped turn her around, and saw her as more than just a child with a disability.
EL: Can you tell us what you are working on now?
CM: I have started another book. The main character is a girl and her name is Jersey. She was named after a Jersey cow. She is very quirky and a lot of fun. At this point, it’s early in the process but it’s going to address some bullying issues. Because she is so different and quirky, sometimes people don’t understand that and bully her. It’s about how she responds and makes it through.
Audience Question: Do you have a writing routine? You mentioned getting stuck in the middle. How did you deal with that?
CM: I didn’t have a routine. There were days when I didn’t write. I just couldn’t. I would want to, and I’d sit down but nothing would come. What I ended up doing was reading over what I had written, no matter how far I had gotten. And I read out loud; I wanted to just hear those words.
Another thing that I did which was really, really helpful was I went to the fourth grade class at St. Mary’s a lot. I’d read a chapter to the kids. I sat on the floor and I watched their eyes. I could tell what things they were interested in and what things they thought. I really, really listened to what they had to say because it was for kids. And that helped me.
One of the things I learned most at St. Mary’s was that you want details in stories, but you also want to let the readers infer things. For example, in a chapter that I read, the mom wasn’t present in the story. One of the girls raised her hand and said: “Where is his mom?” And I said: “What do you think?” Everybody’s hand went up. I got twenty different answers! It was because they all took what they knew in their homes. One girl said: “She’s overseas on a business trip,” one said: “She’s dead,” one said: “She’s in jail.” I was really careful about leaving it open enough that they could connect to that character based on their lives. I listened, and I feel like they helped spark more writing.
Audience Question: What ages would you like to write for?
CM: About eight to 12. In my last years of teaching, I taught fourth and fifth grade, and I really like that age with kids. They’re at that point where they aren’t middle-schoolers yet. Their minds are open. There are parts of them that are just little kids and there are parts of them that are ready to hear bigger subjects, too.
Audience Question: Are your characters all fictional or do you base them on people you know that we might see around town?
CM: They are all fictional; although someone who had read the book said to me “Oh, I could pick out kids I know from these different characters.” But really, they were all made up.
Audience Question: What most surprised you about the process of writing and publishing this book?
CM: I didn’t know a thing about the publishing part. I was so naïve. It’s hard because everybody wants your money. You know: “If you give me $8,000, I’ll market it for you.” How to go through that process and trust someone – that was hard. Lynn Lensmire is from town and she’s the one I spoke with. She gave me the name of her publisher; she’s written quite a few books for young children. She helped guide me to a place she felt was reputable, because I felt like I knew nothing
Audience Question: Did you design the cover?
CM: Author House, the publisher, had an artist that you could use and also some photographs that you could choose from. When I saw the hands reaching out, I liked that one right away.
Audience Question: How long did it take you to write this book?
CM: I did start it four years ago, but picked it up again in January last year. I was not done in May (the deadline of MCPL’s Community Writing Competition). It was just an excerpt that I submitted.
When I contacted the publisher and asked for information, I was not finished with the story. They said they would send an informational packet in the mail…I felt like I was motivated by them to finish. It may have taken me a lot longer, but I thought I signed up, I paid this money, I’d better get this book done! So, it was probably close to a year total.
Audience Question: Could the publisher have rejected it?
CM: They asked me to send the first three chapters to see if it was marketable or not—if I was writing something that they thought could be published. And I was granted permission then to publish it.
Audience Question: What felt most successful for you as a writer and what would you do differently next time?
CM: As far as successful: I finished a story. I got from beginning to end and completed something. I felt like there were so many times where I started things and didn’t finish them. And people are reading it! That I provided something that kids could enjoy and connect to.
What I would do differently is, because I was very naïve and didn’t know anything about the publishing process, I jumped into that before I was ready. When I signed up to have the book published I was not done with the story. I felt pressured. I felt that I’d made mistakes and had to redo things because I wasn’t ready. If I go through the process again, I hope I’d go in with more open eyes.
I’m There for You is available for checkout through the Marathon County Public Library. Visit our online catalog here to request the book, or stop in at the Marathon City Branch.
image credit: Taken by Lisa H. at Marathon