the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog


Posted by Tami Brown on Thu, Mar 03, 2016 @ 04:03 AM

Today we're welcoming C. M. (Cynthia) Surrisi, a member of the Magic IFs class of January 2014. She lives in Asheville, NC, with her husband Chuck and her two rascal Cavalier King Charles Spaniels named Sunny and Milo, and Harry, the Prince of Cats. 



A mystery has washed ashore at the coastal town of Maiden Rock. Quinnie Boyd’s teacher, Ms. Stillford, hasn’t shown up on the first day of school—or the day after that. Quinnie thinks it’s a kidnapping case. Her mom, the town sheriff, doesn’t believe her, but Quinnie’s going to follow her instincts—even if she has to tiptoe around her mom to do it.

            Quinnie’s investigation will take her through a damp marsh, a lobster pound, and more of Maine’s messier places. On the way, she’ll have help from her glamourous new neighbor, Mariella from New York, whether Quinnie wants it or not. As the girls hunt for clues around Maiden Rock, they’ll encounter a swarm of cats, two nuns with a speeding habit, and a group of tattooed rocker-types who’ve been pigging out on the lobster fries at the town café. And if Quinnie’s hunch is right, the search may lead them right into danger . . .     


Welcome Cynthia-- and I might add any friend of a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is a friend of mine! Here at the LaunchPad we always love a good book sale story. How did you sell The Maypop Kidnapping?

I was in my last semester at VCFA, headed into packet number three, when someone alerted me to a blog post by editor Greg Hunter at Carolrhoda Books. The post is at You can also follow him on twitter at @gregjhunter.

 I urge readers to look at this post because it tells so much about the editor. By the time I finished reading it, I was hooked. I had planned to take the route of graduating and submitting to agents. But when I read this, I not only liked him, I understood what he was looking for in a manuscript. I felt my book had a chance so I submitted it, and soon thereafter I had a long conversation with him about the book and received an offer. Next, I talked with several agents, which admittedly is easier to do with a book offer in your hand. I chose Linda Pratt of Wernick and Pratt. Perfect.

 I concentrated on getting a good fit. I believe you can help yourself out a lot by thoroughly researching agents and editors and not submitting to people who are not right for you.

 These relationships have led to a second Quinnie Boyd Mystery, Vampires on the Run, which is coming out Spring 2017, and there is a third under discussion. I also have a picture book coming out from Abrams next year, which is being illustrated by the wonderful Diane Goode.

You've been busy! And I love how you took charge of your writing career, instead of waiting for something great to happen. Tell us about your writing community.

My writing community has expanded greatly over the last ten years. Initially, I joined SCBWI. In SCBWI I met wonderful, supportive people who remain good friends. Then, I went to VCFA, which is a huge bear hug. Now, I have my beloved classmates, The MAGIC IFs, my darling friends who attended VCFA during the same semesters as me, AND the tribe consisting of everyone who has ever gone to, or been associated, with VCFA. Then, I moved to Asheville, where there is a large, wonderful, and welcoming community of children’s writers who I am getting to know. I have writing friends who are available 24 hours, like a hot line. I have a Skype critique group. I am joining an in-person group here in Asheville.

Share something that inspires you-

Something I keep on my wall while I work. Many inspiring objects surround me, but one of my favorites is Pippi-Bliss by Jeffrey Stoner:


Who wouldn't be inspired by that blissful goat! What's your writing superpower?

I feel my writing superpower is quirky adults in kids’ books. I like my adults to be both larger than life and realistic at the same time, because I think that is the way they appear to kids in real life. I strive for adult characters who are respected as role models, even if they are sometimes difficult and test a kid’s patience. And most important, they have to add a comic element while they are providing an adult world superstructure to the story.

Let's talk about VCFA. Who were your advisors?

My advisors: Matt de la Pena, Tim Wynne-Jones, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Tom Birdseye. Each was perfect for me at the time I had them, and I regret I couldn’t have had the advisor experience with more of the faculty. I’ve thanked them so many times, it’s getting a little tiresome for them, I’m sure, but I’d like to do it again and single them out for some specific kudos: Matt taught me how to follow my main character around and make her life complicated, then watch her get through it. Tim taught me how to write a mystery. Rita taught me how to infuse heart into a novel. And Tom taught me how to make the most of a humorous moment in a story.      

How did VCFA effect your writing life? Do you have any advice for prospective students?

For many years before attending VCFA, I practiced law. When I started to write fiction in earnest, I simply didn’t have any adjectives. When writing legal briefs one is obliged to stick to the facts. While that is a bit of an oversimplification, it does loosely describe writing on the left side of the brain rather than the right side. When I had pieces critiqued at conferences, I was often told I could use more words. I think most people are urged to cut, cut, cut.

I knew I needed to study writing in the way that I learn best. For me that is a structured, intensive program with demands and high expectations. I retired from law to dedicate full-time to my MFA. I threw myself into it and I feel I got out of it everything it had to offer me. I stripped it all down to basics and started from scratch. I’d say I was the poster child for getting the most out of VCFA, but I know that everyone’s experience is pretty similar.

 If you want to learn to write for children and young adults, VCFA can make that happen. I am transformed on this front. I now understand the inner-workings of the craft of writing for kids, and I have tools and methods to apply what I know.

I thought I had a writing life before I started VCFA. I now know that what I had was never going to lead to publication. VCFA made the difference.

It was such a treat to talk to you about my favorite topics- Cavaliers, VCFA and MIDDLE GRADE MYSTERIES! Thanks so much for dropping by, Cynthia.

THE MAYPOP KIDNAPPING was published by Carolrhoda/Lerner and it's available in bookstores everywhere. You can find out more about Cynthia on her website and follow her on Twitter at @csurrisi






Topics: Carolrhoda Books, middle grade, 2016 release, C. M. Surrisi, mystery, Lerner

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