This week I have interviewed the charming and humorous juvenile fiction author Mary Cunningham, whose stories not only include ghosts, but shapeshifters and other spooky characters…
There’s a mysterious stairway in Cynthia’s attic, a magic trunk, and two young girls set for an adventure of a lifetime. Mary Cunningham’s characters are fun-loving, adventurous, and friendly to all, including ghosts! Cunningham started her professional writing career many years ago as a songwriter, and she’s been published before, but Cynthia’s Attic: The Missing Locket is her first juvenile fiction novel, and it’s been a huge success. In Cynthia’s Attic: The Missing Locket, two young girls, Gus and Cynthia, travel back in time to 1914 and meet some wild and fascinating characters. The two sequels, Cynthia’s Attic: The Magic Medallion and Cynthia’s Attic: Curse of the Bayou, will certainly be as popular as the first.
DSD: Mary, I’ve heard that this entire series has some factual basis from your childhood. Are Gus and Cynthia real people?
MC: Hi Darla. It's great to be with you.
The idea for the series originated in the very real Southern Indiana attic of my childhood friend, Cynthia. We were great friends and, unlike Cynthia and Gus, never had an argument. (After living away from each other for more than 40 years, we are about 50 minutes apart, and have renewed our friendship! I truly believe in serendipity.) Our real grandparents parents, and brothers and sisters also play supporting roles. The POV character, Augusta Lee, Gus, is played by yours truly. As a kid, I was a tomboy, loved fantasy and adventure, had a wicked sense of humor, and ate constantly (still do).
DSD: Mary, your first book, Cynthia’s Attic, has a ghost. Who is this character, and are there ghosts in any of your other books?
MC: I loved Louis the minute he popped into my head. He's the young son of a steamship captain. On a trip across the Atlantic with his dad, he contracts "The Fever" and dies. His dad has such remorse because Louis died in his care, that he can't forgive himself. Cynthia and Gus meet Louis on the ship and show the little ghost the way to help his dad find peace.
In book three, "Cynthia's Attic: Curse of the Bayou" (in process), a horrendous ghost pirate, Black Jack Hawkins, does everything he can to recover a stolen treasure chest, and to make life miserable for Cynthia and Gus. I can almost feel (and smell!) his stinky breath on my neck as I write.
DSD: What other supernatural characters are creeping through your stories?
MC: My favorite character, to date, is Mouton Boudreau, fondly nicknamed Mud Bug by his mother, Jasmine. She is also fond of using spells, or "gris gris" as it's called in the bayous of Louisiana, the setting for the book. When it becomes known that there is a posse coming to take Jasmine away for practicing "witchcraft," she puts a spell on her son; one that will protect him from anyone trying to do him harm. You'll just have to wait for the book to read about his supernatural side.
Also in "Curse of the Bayou," I'm fond of SuRana, a mysterious character who can't decide is she's a human or a puma.
DSD: What made you decide to include ghosts in your stories?
MC: I always had a fascination with ghosts, and watch every ghostly movie and TV program I can. I love shows like Medium and Ghost Whisperer, and also watch John Edward, James Van Praagh, and Lisa Williams. I know they have their critics, but I still find them entertaining. My love for ghosts does not, however transcend to werewolves and vampires! Even at my age (ahem), they still scare me!
DSD: Have you ever seen a ghost?
MC: Not that I remember, but my husband has on several occasions. More than once, he saw "something" going up our stairway in New Jersey. As a young boy, he was also visited by his grandmother shortly after she died. I also love the story about my three-year-old great-niece. Her mother had taken her to her grandfather's (my brother) grave. When they got home, Lauren insisted that she saw "Papaw." When her mother corrected her and said, "No. You saw Papaw's grave," Lauren stood firm, arms folded and said, "No! I saw Papaw. He was standing under the tree." I have no doubt she really did see him that day.
My "visits" come in the form of dreams...dreams that are simply too real to be ignored. They have, throughout the years, brought me insight and comfort.
DSD: Could we possibly see a spooky excerpt from one of your novels?
MC: Absolutely! From Book Three: Cynthia's Attic: Curse of the Bayou:
Cynthia and Gus have just been warned by Mud Bug's mother, Jasmine, about venturing out into the swamp. Later that night, Gus falls into a fitful sleep.
Follow me…follow me, Augusta Lee. The voice got closer and closer. It sounded nice, and "sing-songie" at the beginning, but, the closer it got, the more threatening and evil it became. My heart pounded. I knew I had to run, but in what direction? It was so dark. Surrounding me appeared the shadows of gnarly, moss-covered trees, and they were breathing. Which reminded me–breathe, Gus, before you pass out.
It was right beside me. I couldn't see anything, but I knew something awful was there because the air became foul with a burning stench.
Look at me…look at me, Augusta Lee.
What was with this weirdo? I'm not deaf! This "thing" doesn't have to repeat every sentence. I tried faking annoyance to hide the knocking of my knees, but it didn't work.
"Look at me!"
I jumped straight into the air and almost fell backwards. Fearfully turning toward the command, I saw a shape looming over me. An involuntary scream escaped. "Ahhh!" I knew at that moment that I was already dead, or soon would be. Eyes the color of red-hot coals stared back. Eyes that could only belong to pure evil…
The shape doffed its black plume-feathered hat and took a deep, theatrical bow. "Captain Black Jack Hawkins at your service, Miss."
Pure Evil or…Black Jack Hawkins, the pirate in Mud Bug's story. From the way he described the wicked captain…one in the same