Author Interview: Cindy Chen

(Kelly was written by Kelly Blanchard. Cindy was written by Cindy Chen.)

With her sister keeping watch on the Muse Shop, Kelly headed for the coffee shop on the town square across from the old but large gothic courthouse. Kelly came to the coffee shop—the only octagon building in town, and she looked up at its second level to see a few people on the covered balcony taking advantage of the pleasant weather. One of her friends up there recognized her and waved at her, and Kelly waved back but then went inside.

Her gaze swept the room, noting near the door were the stairs to the second floor, but she went in further. They liked to call the first floor the ‘Missionary Gift Shop’ because of all the crafts, clothes, and jewelry handmade by people in Africa. The owners often visited Africa and brought back pictures and lots of stories as well as ways everyone could help.

The wooden floor and wooden walls of the first floor added to the warmth of the atmosphere as couches and lazy-boy chairs invited for long visits among friends. On the walls hung handcrafted hats, t-shirts with inspirational quotes, and life-like drawings from a local artist. Kelly’s own books were around here somewhere, but she went to the counter to order something to drink.

After chatting with her childhood friend who worked behind the counter, Kelly turned just as the door chimed with a new visitor. She could tell this was the first visit here for the young woman, and she offered her a warm smile. “Cindy Chen?” She raised her brows when they locked eyes, and she saw recognition dawn in her eyes. “Hey, I’m Kelly Blanchard. Welcome! Glad you found the place. Would you like to get something to drink?” She motioned back to the counter. “Ethan here does those very awesome artwork on coffee if you ask him to.”

When she heard her name, Cindy looked up and nodded, offering the woman a smile in return and an outstretched hand for a handshake. “That would be me,” she said. “Nice to meet you finally! How are you?” Cindy looked to Ethan and smiled in greeting when Kelly mentioned him, and ordered an iced coffee. She then took a look around the coffee shop, taking in all the little details of the building. It wasn’t one of those chain coffee shops that she often visited (out of convenience, of course), but rather a coffee shop with lots of charm and character. It was really cosy, and she wanted to return sometime later on to get some writing done.

Once Cindy had gotten her drink, Kelly motioned to their surroundings. “Do you want to sit down here or upstairs where it’s a bit less crowded but more quiet.” Not that downstairs was too loud, but the constant in-and-out traffic was sometimes distracting.

“Let’s go upstairs,” Cindy responded, preferring places where it is more quiet–the coffee shop was lovely, but she’d much prefer to not lose track of her thoughts mid-interview. She went up the stairs, and took a seat at a table near the windows. “Is right here okay?”

“Absolutely!” Kelly slid into the seat across from her, and she nodded at a few friends she saw, but they recognized she was working—no time for a chitchat. Kelly smiled at Cindy. “Everyone knows everyone here, so it’s nice. I’m glad you could make it. So, tell me, tell me about yourself—what you do, and how it ties into your writing?” She raised her brows as she smiled then sat back in her chair and sipped on her drink.

“It’s very lovely here,” Cindy said in response. She took a sip of her coffee while pondering her question. She’d been asked so many “tell me about yourself” questions in the last year due to a myriad of college interviews, and has kind of set up some sort of “standard answer” for that. But for this particular interview, she supposed she can be more laid back.

“I was born in Taipei, Taiwan,” she started, which was a pretty important piece of information about herself, “and moved to America when I was nine. I’m still a student right now, since I turned eighteen earlier this year, and I will be attending Cornell University in the fall. I like to write realistic and historical fiction, often with some sort of musical background to it, since I’m also a classically trained pianist and violist.”

“Wow, very impressive with the pianist and violist part! I play the piano, but…ugh, you can’t even pay me to perform in front of people, so I’m very glad you do that. Music is so very important.” Kelly smiled but thought back to the times when she used to perform at concerts and literally couldn’t stop shaking because of the nerves. That’s why she quit and focused on writing, but for someone to be able to do both–that was impressive.

However, Kelly latched onto something else Cindy had said. “So, with historical fiction, are you studying history as well then?”

Cindy nodded at Kelly’s statements about music. “I kind of got used to the nerves with some time…to really enjoy the adrenaline,” she said. “Fifteen years of playing helped,” she added, chuckling.

When Kelly asked her second question, Cindy shook her head no. “It’s just something I really enjoyed throughout high school, and I still Wikipedia-surf about interesting topics. But no, I’ll be studying biometry and statistics at Cornell. People always ask me why I enjoy writing because my ultimate career goal is in STEM fields, but I’ve always taken it as a very serious hobby. I like the feeling of holding my own book in my hands and typing my thoughts out… and creative writing has also helped me to develop some technical writing skills too.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re not studying English or Creative Writing. Those require only boatloads of reading and writing—and it’s writing you don’t want to do, so good for you!” Kelly smiled with a nod. Then she tilted her head. “So are you hoping to get published one day, or is writing just a hobby for you?”

“I’m actually published,” Cindy said, smiling. “I published my first book last summer for my high school senior project. It’s called Sounds of War, and, sticking to the whole historical fiction and music theme, the book follows two teenage musicians who are stuck in the city of Leningrad during the siege in 1941. So, through the project, I published the book, and then sold enough copies to raise $600 for a charity called First Books, which supports literacy for kids in the U.S. and helps them get books to read.”

“That’s fantastic!” Kelly beamed, “Congrats on that!” She then set her elbows on the table and leaned in, getting into the conversation. “So why historical fiction? I love historical fiction by the way. My published works are historical fiction too, so I think it’s awesome! What drew you to that genre?”

“Thanks!” she said. “I love the genre because some of the first books I read once I moved to America was from the “Dear America” series, which followed the stories of fictional girls from various points in American history and the Orphan Train Adventure series which also had a historical background. I just think it’s really interesting to think about people who lived in a different time period and how the challenges that they faced differs from what we face everyday. Also, I think historical fiction presents a way for people—kids especially—to learn something while being entertained and engrossed in a story at the same time.”

“Exactly—lessons are important for story especially if you want people to remember your story long after they’ve read it.” Kelly nodded as she sat back in her chair and mulled over the many questions that came to her mind–which one first? Finally, she selected one and smiled as she looked back at Cindy. “So, what’s the story you’re working on now?”

Taking another sip of her coffee, Cindy thought about the answer to Kelly’s question. “Over the school year, I was working on a realistic fiction piece, a love story really,” she chuckled, “about two seniors in high school who are applying to colleges and face the possibility of going very separate ways after school. It started getting very personal about halfway through the book, so I’m not quite sure whether or not I’ll finish it up, and if I do finish it, whether or not I want to publish it…just because it was so personal.” Cindy nodded and leaned forward on the table, propping her chin up with her hand. “While I set that project aside, I’m starting on another historical fiction piece, following Johannes Brahms, Clara Schumann, and Robert Schumann’s love story. It’s probably one of the most complicated and dramatic love triangles in history, I think,” Cindy grinned.

“And I bet you handle it masterfully.” Kelly smiled. Her drink was empty now, so she set it aside to focus on the conversation. “And I really admire you doing more than one story at a time.” She shook her head. “I bewilders me how people can multitask so well, but well done.” She smiled once more at Cindy as she locked eyes with her. “Now, of the two stories, which one do you think you’ll be finishing first, and do you plan to publish it? Or wait until you finish the other one?”

“Well, the fact that the stories are set in two completely different time periods—one modern day and one in the nineteenth century—definitely makes my job easier!” Cindy said, smiling. “I’m further along in the modern day one, but I think that one will need a lot more work for it to be publish-ready. It’s somewhat autobiographical so I definitely want the story to do the people in my life justice! On the other hand, I definitely plan on publishing the other historical fiction, though how long before I finish that is beyond me.” Cindy shrugged.

Kelly nodded but caught a glimpse of the clock on the wall across the way. Their time was up, but she still had several questions she wanted to ask, so she didn’t mention the time. Instead, she focused on Cindy once more. “Do you work with outlines—especially with your historical fiction work? Or do you just write it off the top of your head?” She smiled as she asked this.

Cindy locked eyes with Kelly again. “I love outlining,” she chuckled. “So for the first historical fiction novel, I had a crazy deadline…and I had to restart halfway through just because I didn’t outline and nothing really made sense,” she said, cringing a bit at the experience. “I always outline now, and I’m a big fan of the snowflake method. Typically I come up with spreadsheets for each scene, and they can get up to 50, 60 lines long. Of course these outlines aren’t set in stone, but it’s really easy to modify and I always know where I’m going with the story.”

“That’s good.” Kelly nodded, thinking of the huge timelines and outlines she created for her own historical fiction work, and she smiled at Cindy.”It’s quite perplexing when people think outlines must be absolutely set in stone and can’t surprise you one bit because, nope! The story will do what it will.” She chuckled, shaking her head once more.

“So our time is actually up, but! What can you tell me about your main characters…in either story—you pick. What are their main conflicts?”

“I totally agree,” Cindy said in response, chuckling. She turned to look at the clock as Kelly mentioned the time—it was, indeed, later than what they had originally set. Still, Cindy took a moment to formulate her response. “I’m going to go with the realistic fiction novel because it’s what I’ve gotten the farthest in. The main conflict in the novel has to deal with expectations. Sophia, the main character, has to basically deal with the “ivy league expectations” that a lot of Asian parents have for their kids when applying to colleges. Then there was the expectations to good grades, a high orchestra placement, and so on. On the other hand, she also has to deal with her best friend—the possibility of seldom seeing him again and going separate ways after high school. I really wanted to capture in this book what it’s like to be a second-generation immigrant, which is what I am, and the expectations from parents, peers, and teachers when it comes to this crossroads in their life. I started writing this as a way to vent my own frustrations when it came to my own senior year, but the story has evolved so much since then… taken a life of its own, really!”

Kelly smiled warmly. “It’s wonderful when the story takes on its own life, but it will always be a piece of you. As much as I’d love to just keep chatting for hours, I unfortunately need to get back to my Muse Shop. You’re welcome to stop by if you’d like. Never know what you’ll find there.” She winked as she rose to her feet—Cindy mirroring her actions. “I’m really glad we were able to meet and talk. This was fun. I enjoyed hearing about your and your stories. When you do publish them, you’ll let me know?” She raised her brows. “I’d like to be able to tell others about them when they’re released.”

“It was great to meet you too—thanks for having me!” Cindy said, “and of course, I’ll let you know.” She grinned. “That was fun… and I’ll make sure to visit you sometime soon!”

“That would be great!” Kelly then led the way downstairs, and soon they parted ways. It was always difficult to say goodbye to a fellow writer. The temptation was too great to talk endlessly, but real life duties summoned, and Kelly fixed her gaze on her Muse Shop and headed that way.


Cindy Chen’s book is titled ‘Sounds of War’ and is already published! You may find it here:

Be sure to follow Cindy on social media:


Twitter: @notcindychen



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