Coffee & Conversation with Cindy Callaghan

Happy Friday, everyone! Now that summer is coming to an end, (sniff,) and my boys are soon heading off to school, (double sniff,) I am going back to a regular Tuesday/Friday posting schedule, (yay!)  

To kick-start things off again, joining us today in the cyber cafe is Cindy Callaghan, author of the incredibly cute JUST ADD MAGIC!

When Kelly Quinn and her two BFFs discover a dusty old cookbook while cleaning out her attic, the girls decide to try a few of the mysterious recipes inside.  But the ancient book bears an eerie warning, and it doesn’t take long for the girls to realize that their dishes are linked to strange occurrences.  The Keep ‘Em Quiet Cobbler actually silences Kelly’s pesky little brother and the Hexberry Tarta brings an annoying curse to mean girl Charlotte Barney.  And there’s the Love Bug Juice, which seems to have quite the effect on those cute Rusamano boys…

Could these recipes really be magical? Who wrote them and where did they come from.  And most importantly, what kind of trouble are the girls stirring up for themselves? Things are about to get just a little too hot in Kelly Quinn’s kitchen.

And while Cindy is getting settled with her favorite coffeehouse beverage, a skinny sugar-free caramel latte . . .

And her favorite snack, cookies–peanut butter are just the best….ideally, they are slightly undercooked . . .

. . . let me take a second to announce the upcoming first annual PICTURE BOOK CHALLENGE coming in September!

Yes, those who attended Pam Smallcomb’s wonderful ABC event last spring will remember how Pam was challenged by her friend, James Proimos, to write a picture book draft every week for sixteen weeks. (Yes, SIXTEEN WEEKS!) Fear not, ours will not be that long, I’m thinking eight weeks is good. Enough of a challenge, but not enough to drive us totally insane . . . just somewhat insane.

We’ll be starting in mid-September, once everyone has had a chance to ship the kiddies to school, gird your loins, and get ready to go! Look for more information on this coming next week.

Until then, our lovely Cindy is cozy and ready to go, so let’s get on with the interview!

First off, Cindy, when did you decide to be a writer?

I’ve been writing forever.  In third grade I wrote my first play.  I was always into short stories, scenes and characters.  Of course, lots of melodramatic poetry.  Then, I put creative writing aside for college, grad school, early career days of clawing my way to the glass ceiling, and starting a family.  About six years ago I saw an ad for a writing class.  That catapulted me into my first novel, a fabulous suspense thriller for adults.  The class became a critique group and one novel became another and another, and finally to JUST ADD MAGIC.   So, it wasn’t a decision.  Baby, I was born this way.  (That’s Gaga)

How long did your path to publication take, and what were your biggest hurdles?

I guess you could say it took thirty-something years.  The biggest hurdle, and I think for me it was the most important one to surmount, was finding a literary agent.  How did I do that?   I spent a lot of time on the internet researching agents.  I wanted a small highly targeted list.  I did this in a few ways.  I looked at books I thought had a similar personality to mine, and tried to find out who represented those authors.  I also looked at who was speaking at SCBWI conferences because I thought they’d be open to reading manuscripts.  I also looked at literary agencies and carefully researched what types of genres each agent was interested in.  I made my list which included Greenhouse Literary Agency. 

Enter the query letter: I toiled over the query for weeks trying to get it just right. I sent out my submissions careful to get each agent’s individual specifications just right.  I heard back from Sarah Davies right away requesting the entire manuscript.  In her email I think she wrote, “Don’t get too excited.”  But, I did anyway.

Just a few days later, we connected on the phone.  She liked the story, but identified areas where it needed work.  She was willing to work with me on the revisions.  Then, once again, with Sarah’s advice, I reworked the story.  I sent it back to her about three months later on a Sunday night.  By ten o’clock Monday morning she called me that she wanted to represent it.  Things really took off there.  She pitched it very quickly and we had a bite from Aladdin, which was what Sarah called, “The perfect home for JUST ADD MAGIC.”

Awesome! Okay, then, seeing how hindsight is 20/20, what advice for beginners do you wish you would have followed?

I see the recipe for success in these areas.  Each one has countless books written about it.

  •  A well-written story:  By well-written I mean all of the basics: spelling, grammar, punctuation, lay-out.  You can have the most genius idea in the world, but if you aren’t adhering to the traditional grammar rules and you’re buried in typos, no one will take you seriously.  This took me a very long time to learn.  I am a terrible typist and an awful proof-reader, and even though I was an English major, I make LOTS of spelling and grammatical errors.  I really try not to, but it takes a tremendous amount of effort.
  •  A well-told story:  By well-told story I mean a unique story idea with rich, colorful characters involved in an interesting or intriguing plot.  These three things are huge so I want to say them again: 
    • A unique story idea (“concept”)
      o    With rich, colorful characters
      o    Involved in an interesting and intriguing plot

I think a safe critique group or feedback from multiple places is crucial to creating a well-written and well-told story.

  • A well-pitched query:  A strong query letter and synopsis are needed.  These two documents can be short, but can take an eternity to write.  And it is important that they are very tight and polished.  I had my query and synopsis critiqued several times before it was ready to send out.  Many articles about writing query letters are available on the internet.
  • An advocate:  If you are unfamiliar with the publishing industry, you probably need someone who can represent you, an agent.  Once you have a solid project to shop around, consider attending conferences.  It’s a great way to get the lay of the land and to familiarize yourself with literary agents.  This is the route I went.  Of course, authors can query publishers directly.

Great advice! Where’s your favorite place to work?  And, if the paparazzi were taking pictures of odd things authors do while writing, what would be in yours, hmm? 

I write really early in the morning on the weekends.  I leave the house at like 6:00 am.  It’s tough to find places open that early.  One of my least favorites, but reliably open early is McDonald’s.  After about 8:00 am, I have more options and I opt for a local coffee-house. 

But, what I really love is a full writing weekend when I can go to our mountain house with a few writer friends.

Odd?  Moi?  Never.

For the record, whenever you plan your next full writing weekend in the mountains, I’M SO IN!!! Okay, what’s next on your agenda, any juicy projects you’d like to tell us about?

Obviously, I love to work on sequels.  JUST ADD MAGIC was written to be the first of a trilogy.  I’d like to get a contract for the next two. 

I am also interested in curses, cemeteries, pizza shops, locker time machines, and fun European adventures.

My idea notebook is jam-packed with more awesome stuff than I could ever write in a lifetime.  I don’t want to tell you any other ideas for fear someone will beat me to it.

Time for the lightning round—no more than four words per answer!

Do you . . .

Outline or wing it?   I OD on outlines.

Talk about works-in-progress, or keep it zipped?   Somewhere in between.

Sell by proposal or completed draft?   Draft, but I hope to graduate to proposal.

Prefer writing rough drafts or editing?   Drafting….what a rush.

Dread marketing/blogging or love it?   In the middle.

Read Kindle or traditional books?   Both..and CD, Ipod

And finally, what’s your favorite:

 Time to work?   Early!

Music to listen to while writing?   No.

Writing tool?   Dragon voice recognition software….I’m a terrible typist.  Lots of paper, mechanical pencils, paper (lined and unlined, big and small), colored pens, scented markers.

Pair of shoes?   Sneaks.

Guiltiest pleasure?   Sneaking out to a movie all alone, 64 oz Diet Coke.

Line from a movie?  I love to quote movies. If I picked just one, I’d hurt all the others’ feelings.  I can’t do that.


Awesome, thanks so much for stopping by, Cindy, and best of luck with all your writing!

And be on the lookout, everyone, for more details about our upcoming PICTURE BOOK CHALLENGE!

About Laura Bowers

Laura is a writer, runner, reader, runDisney addict, blogger/vlogger at Write, Run, Rejoice and Joyful Miles, mom of two college boys, excellent chili maker, and obsessive list keeper. She clearly likes run-on sentences and adverbs. She also still thinks Spice World was an awesome movie and feels no shame about that.
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4 Responses to Coffee & Conversation with Cindy Callaghan

  1. Edie Hemingway says:

    What a great interview! And thanks for the valuable advice, Cindy!

  2. Edie Hemingway says:

    By the way, Greenhouse Literary agent, Sarah Davies, will be at our tri-region conference in Gettysburg on November 11-13, 2011!

  3. Pingback: Announcement-Upcoming Events | As the Eraser Burns

  4. Pingback: Writing Advice for Beginners: Coffee and Conversation Flashback Friday Round One | As the Eraser Burns

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