“Don’t Stop Writing!”

Cynthia's Attic Fantasy Series by Mary Cunningham

Every teacher, from third grade on said, “Mary, whatever you do, don’t stop writing.”  Those words came back to me when I signed my first publishing contract with Echelon Press. “Why,” I ask myself, “did it only take 40+ years to appreciate the fact that, maybe, just maybe, I had a knack for writing. Better late than never.

My life as a published author began in 2005 with a young reader series, Cynthia’s Attic. Five books later, it’s still gaining readers. I wrote the first two Cynthia’s Attic books, consecutively: The Missing Locket and The Magic Medallion, came together rather quickly. They were done, complete, finito!

Or, so I thought.

My venture into the New York publishing world didn’t quite turn out the way I imagined. Rejection after rejection came my way; at least the ones that were polite enough to answer. Frustrated that my stories weren’t getting a fair shake, I almost gave up until one editor generously wrote a few lines on the manuscript title page.

“Too much telling. Not enough showing.” Another couple of sentences of encouragement about the concept being interesting and engaging, gave me new life. Now, if I could just figure out what “Too much telling. Not enough showing” meant!

I put my writing aside for a few months, then began to research this telling/showing phenomenon.

Ah ha! You need to engage your reader by putting them into a scene; not telling them about the scene. Or, at least that’s my interpretation. Close enough.

Here’s how the first draft of my first Cynthia’s Attic story began:

Cynthia and I were born just three months apart and lived just three houses apart. When we were growing up, our friendship was just as close. If she wasn’t playing at my house, I was playing at hers. 

Before we discovered the attic, we were content just playing with dolls or cooking in Cynthia’s pretend kitchen baking brownies for that afternoon’s special tea party. As we grew older, we’d climb trees or play softball along with the rest of the kids in the neighborhood. 


The above writing is textbook. Textbook on how not to write a story readers will want to read! To my credit, I read, studied, and learned.

Here’s the beginning of the published book, Cynthia’s Attic: The Missing Locket

“Hey, Cynthia!” I rounded the corner of her house, squinting in the morning sun as it glared off the white clapboards. Shoving a huge wad of Bazooka bubble gum to the opposite side of my mouth, I managed to continue, “Hurry up! You’re the only one with a catcher’s mitt.”

“Oh, Gus.” Cynthia fussed with her pink chenille robe as she hung halfway out the window, “Do I have to play? You know I’m no good at softball.” Craftily changing the subject, she added, “I just got that new Beatles record today. C’mon up and listen to it.”

That sure sounded tempting…but no, I stood my ground. “You promised, Cynthia,” I demanded, kicking a big clump of dirt off the sidewalk and back into the flowerbed. “Tell ya what, just play for a little while and then I’ll listen to your stupid record.”

“Oh, all right.” She sighed, disappearing behind the ruffled purple curtain.

Cynthia and I were as different as bubble gum and broccoli (except for our ability to get in trouble without much effort). I was a freckle-faced tomboy–skinny and sort of shy, but with enough athletic ability to make most of the clumsy boys my age envious. And on any given day, my copper-red hair looked like I’d spent the entire night twirling around on top of my head.

Cynthia looked like a cherub–pretty and petite, with beautiful blonde curls and a ponytail that was always neatly tied with a shiny satin ribbon. Coordination was not her middle name (board games and jigsaw puzzles were about as physical as she liked to get), but she was always willing, with some coaxing from me, to try just about anything. Even though we’d never be mistaken for twins, we were as close as sisters, and argued like it from time to time.

“Could you walk any slower?” I bellowed when Cynthia finally ambled across the field chewing on her mitt.

“I’m coming! I’m coming, Augusta Lee,” she answered; her voice dripping in sarcasm.

“Oh, there’s that name,” I mumbled under my breath. “She knows I can’t stand being called anything but Gus.”

Better? I certainly hope so! That major six-month rewrite got me a publishing contract for two books and then three more.

As much as I love Cynthia and Gus, I’m excited, now, to be venturing into adult mystery with my new favorite character, Andi Anna Jones and her tribe of misfits. Margaritas, Mayhem & Murder will be released by Imajin Books, soon! Stay tuned for the upcoming cover reveal! You’re gonna love it!

Imajin Books


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