It was our pleasure to have a virtual sit-down with Cindy Maddox, author of In the Neighborhood of Normal, to learn a little more about her writing process as well as any backstory tidbits she might want to share about her new novel.
• Are any of the characters in your fiction based on people you know in real life?
The main character in my novel In the Neighborhood of Normal shares my grandmother’s name (Mish, short for Artemisia) and a few of her eccentricities, but she also shares some wonderful characteristics from a woman I knew named Barb. The Mish in the book is her own person but undoubtedly has been influenced by my love for these two women in real life.
• With what do you write? A computer? A pencil? A ballpoint/ biro? Rollerball? Quill and the blood of virgins (male or female is fine. We’re all about the equal opportunity at Regal)? A fountain pen (people who use a fountain pen get extra credit points)?
I’m boring. I write with a computer and the most common word processing program. But spellcheck must be turned on, the grammar tool must be turned off, and hidden formatting symbols (e.g., spaces and paragraph marks) must be visible.
• Are you fluent in any other languages?
I like to joke that I am fluent in English, sarcasm, and profanity, but I am actually not all that fluent in profanity. I have never advanced beyond the single-word expletive, which is probably just as well since I’m a minister. My church is very liberal, but the pastor letting loose a multi-syllabic profanity-laced rant is still frowned upon.
• Do you see chocolate/wine as an intrinsic aid to writing?
Chocolate is an intrinsic aid to writing primarily because chocolate is an intrinsic aid to living. I used to get involved in the milk versus dark chocolate debate, but now that I am older and wiser, I do not discriminate. Except for white chocolate. It is an abomination.
• Who has supported you along the way?
I started writing this novel years ago, but I never really got going. My wife talked me in to accompanying her to a writers’ meetup, and I went as a favor to her. The accountability and feedback got me moving. Even when I feared I would never see the book in print, my wife’s faith in me kept me going. I never would have finished it without her.
• What do you read that people wouldn’t expect you to read?
In my teenage and early adult years, I read a lot of romance. At the time I needed an escape from real life and those novels filled the void. As I aged I lost interest in the genre but still sometimes want to read to get away. In those times I don’t want fluff—I want the characters to struggle with meaningful issues and events—but I don’t want to read something depressing, either. That’s what I try to write: fiction with relatable characters experiencing real-life drama, but that leave the reader with joy. Life has enough despair.
• Has your education helped you become a better writer?
I think both my undergraduate and graduate degrees have helped me become a better communicator. The best training as a novelist, however, came from my work as a freelance book editor in partnership with a more experienced editor. She performed the substantive edit on novels, and I followed with copyediting. Seeing the changes an experienced editor made in a manuscript was invaluable to me as a writer.
• What’s your process for writing: do you outline, create flow charts, fill out index cards, or just start and see where you end up?
I start with a character and a general idea, and then I see where it takes me. I need to have a general idea of where the story is going, but I don’t like to be bogged down in details up front. I like to watch the story unfold. Sometimes it goes exactly as planned, and other times I’m surprised.