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Blog: This Writing Life


  • Writer's pictureMelissa Stoller

3 Question Interview - C.M. SURRISI

I'm happy to feature Cynthia Surrisi on the the blog today! She has two upcoming books: A SIDE OF SABOTAGE, a middle grade mystery (the third in a delightful series), and a picture book, THE BEST MOTHER, perfect for Mother's Day. I look forward to reading both. In the meantime, enjoy her thoughts about stories . . . creativity . . . and connection!

STORIES – Discuss what inspires your ideas and stories, and share the process about your latest projects.

My impetus to write has always been reading. I have always had this reaction to reading, painting, dancing, music, and even sports. I read and it motivates me to write. I look at art and it moves me to draw or paint. I see dancing and I get up and dance. I go to a concert and I want to take up an instrument. I am not much of a quiet enjoyer of things. I become deeply involved in the construct of what I am experiencing and almost immediately want to partake. As you might imagine, this has its problems. I put books down all the time to run to the computer and write. It is a high compliment to a book if it motivates me to write, but it is an even higher compliment if I want to run and write but I can’t put the book down.

I keep a notebook and scribble cryptic little bits in it. Some turn into picture books, some short stories, some poems, some novels. The Quinnie Boyd Mysteries had their genesis in my youth when I read Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books and spent summers in Maine. With every book I read, the idea for my own mystery series grew. My love of Maine ensured that it would be the setting. It took a long time to finally write them, but they were always there at the back of my mind, developing. Fortunately, Greg Hunter, editor at Lerner, appreciated the setting, the humor and the pluckiness of Quinnie and picked the book out of a submissions call for MG mysteries. I owe a great deal to him as an editor. Not only did he give me my first publication opportunity, he basically helped my put my VCFA MFA into practical application.

The third mystery in the series, A SIDE OF SABOTAGE, is not only an exploration of detective methods, and growing and evolving interpersonal relationships among kids, it’s an homage to food, which permeates the series. I’ve wanted to have a little fun with food snobbery for a while so I decided to make it part of this mystery. The research was fun and I feel I snagged a few good laughs. For example, the fancy chef from Boston who comes to Maiden Rock and competes with Quinnie’s dad’s café, offers a dish described as: “lobster quenelle poached in seaweed broth and finished with a beam of light.”

I was pleased to see that early reviews shared my sense of humor on this. Booklist kindly said,

“Small-town sleuth Quinnie Boyd goes on high alert when the opening of a fancy new restaurant not only signals competition for her dad’s popular local café, Gusty’s, but also touches off a series of inexplicable kitchen and backroom mishaps. Coincidence or sabotage? Quinnie has no doubt which—but, as in her previous capers (Vampires on the Run, 2017), finding enough real evidence to convince her mom—the town’s hard-nosed sheriff/mayor—without being grounded for life proves a tricky challenge. Surrisi surrounds her pushy protagonist with teen peers who join the investigation with varying degrees of reluctance, and stocks the adult supporting cast with plenty of suspects, obvious and otherwise. She also tucks in much eating and drinking in order to create comical contrasts between the new eatery’s haute cuisine (“lobster quenelle poached in seaweed broth and finished with a beam of light”) and Gusty’s mouthwatering pies, pastries, and like plain fare. Young fans of both cozies and foodie-themed tales will find much to savor in this latest outing.”

— John Peters

So for those who have been reading the series, and are looking forward to the next one, I hope you find it delicious. Thanks for letting me pass on this much appreciated review.

My picture book, THE BEST MOTHER, is a mother’s day gift to my daughter, who is the best mother I know. A combination of watching her parent her daughter and recollections of her childhood, inspired this story of Maxine who is so miffed over being compelled to brush her teeth and comb her hair every day that she announces she intends to go out and interview for a new mother.

As with all of these things, you hope some editor, somewhere, will connect with the story. And of course, you trust your agent (mine is the lovely Linda Pratt of Wernick and Pratt) to know which editors it might appeal to, but happily this book instantly found a home with Tamar Brazis of Abrams. And not only did the book appeal to Tamar, she brought illustrator Dianne Goode to the project. Dianne is a distinguished, award-winning illustrator who brought Maxine’s story to life with perfection. I can’t say too much more about this project other than it was borne from love, had an instant connection, and garnered a brilliant illustrator. A writer can’t ask for more.

I wish everyone at least one experience like this with a manuscript.

CREATIVITY -- How do you showcase your creative side through writing/illustrating and other pursuits?

I think most writers would agree that craft is something you can learn. Sometimes it’s in the school of hard knocks, but you can acquire basic writing skills by reading, being in a critique group, studying craft books, going to conferences, taking classes, or getting an MFA. And you can hone those skills through practice.

Creativity springs from within. It’s like the concept of voice. It’s something beyond style, its unique to the individual and you can’t search for it, you have to let it emerge.

For me, creativity is something that resides in those cryptic little notes I make, or from walks with the dogs, or washing the dishes, or baking. I do something else with the conscious decision that my mind is open to new ideas or solutions to problems. It works like a charm. I’ve cut a lot of tasks short to go write down the inspiration that came to me.

As to how I showcase that? I don’t know. It’s in the prose. When readers ask me where I get my ideas or “where did all that come from?” the answer is always the same. “I don’t know. From somewhere inside that part of the brain that is twanged by the process of making up story." For me, the showcasing is in the hands of the editors who chose to work with me, and their publishers who are willing to spend the money to place my books on shelves and in readers’ hands. Let’s face it, publishers who compete in the children’s market must be doing it for more than riches. The cost of designing and printing a book is substantial. I really believe all strata of this market are underpaid. The market is being sustained by a lot of love. A few powerhouse books carry the rest along.

CONNECTION -- How do you connect to your young readers through your writing/illustrating, and how do you stay connected to the KidLit community?

Golly, these are thought-provoking questions. I guess I connect through story itself. And in the case of the picture book, through Dianne’s illustrations. I do book launches where my readers meet me. I have done school visits which are very much a mutual admiration society. I follow the best I can on Twitter and by listening to podcasts. I have a website and an author Facebook page. I love to meet teachers and librarians. But at its core, the connection is made through the words in the book. And I think that’s the way it should be. Of course, if parents, teachers and librarians are not aware of the books, it’s harder for the content to reach the kids.

In the final analysis, though, the way I see myself connecting is through the plot, the characters, the humor, the heart and the irony of the stories. Nothing makes me more convinced of this than having a reader tell me they want another book in the series, a reader holds the book to their chest with affection, or a librarian tells me the books spawned a Quinnie Boyd Fan Club.


C. M. Surrisi has a long term, intense relationship with reading and writing. She has a BFA and a JD, and also an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She has taught writing at UNCA and at many conferences. She’s a member of SCBWI, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, the Authors Guild, and more than two critique groups. She lives in Minnesota with her husband and her two rascal Cavalier King Charles Spaniels named Sunny and Milo.


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