I asked Cindy about her writing adventure.
What was your inspiration for writing this story?
There were a couple of things that inspired The Stars of Whistling Ridge. The first (hilariously enough!) was my phone’s autocorrect feature. A few years ago, I was trying to Google something that had to do with the book Little Women, and my phone keyboard spit out Little Winnebago instead. I thought that was so absurd—surely many more people want to type “women” than “Winnebago,” which is a brand of RV camper, right?! But the experience was so funny and strangely charming that I started wondering what a book called The Little Winnebago would be about. In thinking about reasons that a family might live in a Winnebago RV, I came up with the idea of a mother whose responsibility it is to tend to the magic that undergirds the world and has to be constantly traveling to have the greatest reach. Although it’s not a retelling of Little Women, there are elements of The Stars of Whistling Ridge that are definitely inspired by that source material—including the relationship Ivy has with her brilliant and precocious younger sister, and Ivy’s continual struggle to control her anger. As I wrote, I also spent a lot of time thinking about my own childhood visits to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, and the hours that I spent learning handicrafts from my Grandma Cindy, for whom I was named. Grandma Cindy died when I was ten, and both my relationship with her and her death were formative experiences for me as a young girl. All of those elements simmered together in my mind and The Stars of Whistling Ridge is what grew out of them!
What was your favorite part about writing it?
Honestly? Everything! I am usually a very neurotic, anxious writer. I’m a perfectionist, and I have a hard time trusting that my stories are powerful and that anyone will want to read them when I’m done. Because of that, drafting is usually kind of a painful and angsty process for me! With The Stars of Whistling Ridge, though—for whatever reason—working on the book was a joy from beginning to end. I always say I can’t pick a favorite of my books because I love them all for different reasons, but The Stars of Whistling Ridge was definitely the most FUN I’ve ever had writing a book. Even the large-scale editing process, which took place during the first months of the pandemic right after my daughter’s school had closed, was a lot of fun. I loved these characters and this setting, and any time I got to spend with this book was a delight.
What’s one thing you’d like kids to take away after reading it?
I find that in a way, all of my books end up having the same central theme: That sometimes, the things you think you NEED to be happy aren’t actually the things that will make you happiest, and that you can still find great happiness and satisfaction even if your life takes a different path than you expected. This was a message I needed so much as a middle grader; I was born with a genetic disease that made my life very different from my peers and required continual flexibility and the ability to make new plans if my illness got in the way of my original goals. As a preteen and young teenager, I struggled a lot with feeling like I didn’t have a really good idea of what a happy life with my disease could look like, because it felt like it held me back from so many things I wanted. As I grew, I came to realize that sometimes the things I wanted most WEREN’T the things that were, ultimately, going to make me happiest—and that, in fact, happiness was often more a process of learning to accept the circumstances I was in rather than raging about the things I wanted but couldn’t have. This theme is at the heart of Ivy’s story; I hope that young readers, like Ivy, can come to better see that there are many paths to happiness and fulfillment, and that even when your life doesn’t go quite the way you want it to, it can still be pretty fantastic.