Designing Incredible Thrillers With an Architect’s Eye
Interview by Amy Lignor for Suspense Magazine
Cynthia Swanson defines her “first love” as being creative writing. Although her belief that she needed a practical career one day had her choosing to major in Architecture in college, her love of writing never waned.
Beginning with her debut novel, “The Bookseller,” Cynthia has now released the incredible tale, “The Glass Forest.” Both led her to achieve success by bringing readers a beautiful package that combines her passion for detail and design with her writing. It is a truth that Cynthia is able to “construct” her scenes as an architect would do with building projects and blueprints. Each line, every angle of her characters brings the story to life on every page. Taking time out to sit with Suspense Magazine, Cynthia spoke about both realms, and how she feels about first drafts, the excitement of research, and where her ideas come from.
Suspense Magazine (S. MAG.): Delving into your latest release, readers will truly be able to experience (and appreciate) the exquisite detail when it comes to your story. Can you give a bit of information on how you honed that talent? Does the area you live in help to create such animated locations that feel as “alive” as your human characters?
Cynthia Swanson (C.S.): I’ve seen “The Bookseller,” my debut novel, referred to as a “love story for the city of Denver.” That’s quite flattering, but my feeling is that every novel should be a love story for its setting. As a reader, I admire stories that transport me to a different place (and sometimes a different era) and include atmospheric elements that make me feel as if I’m right there with the characters. Creating this type of setting was my objective for both “The Bookseller” and my second novel, “The Glass Forest,” which takes place partially in a fictional upstate New York town and partially in Door County, Wisconsin.
MAG.: Are there any facets of design/architecture that play a role in your writing? Is home design a personal hobby of yours?
C.S.: Home design, and in particular midcentury modern design, is absolutely a hobby of mine. I was an Architecture major for two years in college, and while I ended up getting an English degree, I never lost my love of design. I prefer clean, uncluttered spaces…and I feel that way about writing, too. Sometimes authors need to remove “word clutter” in order to get to the heart of the story.
MAG.: Please tell readers about your newest title, “The Glass Forest.” (Perhaps give a sneak peek that cannot be found on the inside cover?)
C.S.: “The Glass Forest” was a long time in the making. I actually had the concept for it before I wrote “The Bookseller,” but “The Glass Forest” features a complex plot and when I initially thought of the premise, I wasn’t in the right space to tackle it. Still, the basic idea stayed with me: what would it be like to find yourself residing in the home of a missing person? How could you (especially if you were a somewhat naïve young woman) resist hunting for clues around every corner? Pulling in the atmospheric details of the 1950s/1960s, as well as the backstory of the missing woman and her enigmatic teenage daughter, brought it all together for me.
MAG.: You work with writers as a manuscript consultant. Could you explain what that entails and how writers can contact you about that service?
C.S.: I’ve worked with writers at all stages of manuscript development, but I’ve found that my passion as a consultant is in helping writers during that “final push”—when they’ve been working on their manuscript for a long time, have revised and polished it, but need a fresh set of professional eyes on it before submitting to agents or editors. I work on only one such project at a time, allowing me to focus on that project and still maintain time for my own books. For more information, writers can visit, http://cynthiaswansonauthor.com/for-writers/.
MAG.: You certainly are a master at the psychological thriller. Is that your favorite genre? Is there one you wish to try one day, and why?
C.S.: Thank you! I love writing (and reading) stories that combine well-paced suspense with strong literary elements, such as well-developed characters and solid language. I truly enjoy research, so I love bringing in historical elements as well. I have a number of other book ideas that follow these themes, which should keep me busy for a while without tackling other genres. But you never know!
MAG.: You have a list of events on your website. Can you share a little about the benefits that come from those who help you in your writing journey? Does it add excitement or enjoyment when meeting and greeting others and speaking to them about writing as a career?
C.S.: I’m introverted by nature, so when I first started doing events, I was nervous and thought I’d be terrible at it. What I found is that when I have the opportunity to talk with writers and readers about books—mine, theirs, and other books we love—the discussion flows easily. It’s truly one of the most rewarding aspects of being a published author. I had no idea I’d enjoy it as much as I do.
MAG.: Do you have a particular moment, whether it be odd or beneficial, where you met a writer or a person at an event that made a definite long-lasting impression?
C.S.: I haven’t met her in person yet, but when my editor and I were asking authors to possibly write advance praise for “The Glass Forest,” my editor reached out to Mary Kubica. While the timing didn’t work out for Mary to review “The Glass Forest,” she responded to my editor that she wished she could, because she’d loved “The Bookseller.” When I saw that, I thought: “Wow, Mary Kubica read my debut novel…and not even because someone asked her to? Okay, totally fangirling over here…”
MAG.: There is always advice given to authors on what they should do to make a career in writing. What would be a piece of advice you would offer to another writer in regards to what they should not do, or a pitfall they should avoid when taking up writing as a career?
C.S.: Don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good. In other words, don’t try to write a perfect page before you go on to the next page, because most writers working that way will stop long before they have a finished story. I’m a big believer in what Anne Lamott calls “shi**y first drafts.” My first drafts are terrible, but I forgive myself for that and get on with the excitement of revising and improving the story. For me, that’s when the best work happens.
MAG.: What is a “Day in the Writing Life of Cynthia Swanson” like? Do you have specific times you write? Do you have any quirks or routines set in place that need to occur before the writing can begin?
C.S.: On an ideal day, I write in the morning, then take a break to get some exercise, then go back to the writing. I’m a very antisocial exerciser, because I generally use that time to mentally process whatever I’m working on. I often solve writing conundrums when the adrenaline is flowing. I try to stay off social media until later in the day. It doesn’t always happen that way, but that’s the ideal.
MAG.: What’s up next for readers to look forward to? Are you currently working on a new project?
C.S.: My third, in-progress novel is about a complex family during the early years of international adoption. I’m deep into research and revisions, and I’m learning so much. It’s eye-opening and instructive, and I love the direction the book is going. Stay tuned!
Readers will definitely “stay tuned” for that book to appear. As Cynthia dives into the research and brings both the historical and fictional elements of her novels to fruition, her ability to “design” unforgettable works of art on paper and her attention to detail would have made even the famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, proud. To catch up on the latest happenings in Cynthia Swanson’s world, visit www.cynthiaswansonauthor.com. ■