Hi I have Author, Chynna T. Laird, on the Hot Seat
Janice: Tell us about yourself?
Chynna: Wow, let’s see…I’m a very busy mom of four children: three girls Jaimie (eight), Jordhan (six) and Sophie (two) and a beautiful little boy Xander (four). All of us live crowded together, along with my life partner Steve, in our tiny townhouse in Edmonton, Alberta (Canada).
When I’m not running around with my kiddos, I’m studying to complete my degree in psychology with a focus on special needs children and families.
Janice: Sounds like a lot of work. When did you start writing?
Chynna: I’ve always loved reading and books. Rumor has it that I started reading when I was two. My uncle was a distributor with Golden Books at that time so I used to get tons of his sample books and I eagerly devoured every one of them. I think that’s where my interest began in wanting to write stories like the ones I read.
Then in Grade Four a publisher came to our class to teach us all about the world of writing, editing and printing books. We even got to write our own books, with illustrations, and have them bound. My book was called, ‘The Tales of Super Bug’ a brave crime-fighting bug whose only fear was a size thirteen sneaker (sadly, that’s what caused his sudden demise).
Okay, so the cover was laminated construction paper and the ‘binding’ was staples but STILL! To me, that was the coolest thing in the world. After we’d ‘published’ our books, our class got to put them in the school library to be borrowed by fellow students. We were supposed to have taken them home at the end of the school year but I’d completely forgotten poor Super Bug on the last day of school.
Several years later, my younger sister came home from school waving a book she’d taken out of the library. She was SO excited to show me her book had MY name on it! It was SUPER BUG!! And there had been so many names listed inside of who’d taken it out over the years. That was my sign that writing was what I was meant to do.
Janice: That’s wonderful. What a thrill it must have been for you. Who was the biggest influence on your writing?
Chynna: I’d have to say my grandparents were my biggest influences. They believed so much in me and encouraged me to go as far as I could on whatever path I chose. I even named my writing business after them: Lily Wolf Words (Grandma’s name was Lillian and Grandpa’s was Wilfred.)
Janice: A very nice homage to your grandparents. How do you go about your writing? Do your prefer pencils to pens or is it all straight computer work?
Chynna: I do most of my work on the computer. It’s just a lot faster. But I do enjoy journaling. I have a notebook with me everywhere I go so I can jot down ideas for stories or articles wherever I am.
Janice: What influences you in your writing? Music, movies, reading, or straight research?
Chynna: Every day people and experience influence me the most in my writing. Especially those who have had to face tremendous adversity in their lives and show us how we can overcome the tough times thrown on our life’s journey. I’m also tremendously influenced and inspired by my children.
Two of my children, Jaimie and Xander, have special needs. They often struggle with the simple things the rest of us take for granted. They each inspire me every day as they teach me new ways of seeing the world, of doing things and learning about things. They are a wealth of writing ideas, let me tell you.
Janice: When do you write morning or evening, or are you a late into the wee hours of the morning person?
Chynna: I have to fit writing in around my children’s schedules (eg: picking up/taking them to school, homework, Jaimie and Xander’s sensory games and therapy, etc.). I have sprinklings of time throughout the day but I get most of my writing done in the evening after we (finally) get the kids in bed. I’m not really either a morning or night owl…I’m just a ‘Write until I’m so tired I’m not making sense anymore’ person. HA!
Janice: Who in charge you or your muse?
Chynna: Definitely my muse. I don’t seem to be able to shut the thoughts and ideas off! Hence the notebook. A good writer friend of mine told me she gets tons of story ideas and creates a separate folder for each as they come to her, complete with title and brief plot. She’s told me she has many, many folders to go back to! I’ve actually started doing the same thing as I go through notebooks like crazy!
Janice: Use only one word to describe your writing style? Or at least what you want your readers to take away from your writing.
Chynna: Emotionally-charged. (Is that two?) I’ve been told I elicit deep emotions from my writing. I often write about some tough issues in my work based on personal experiences. I’ve always thought this is the way to get people talking about these issues, especially those considered ‘taboo’ so we can learn about them, understand them and accept them.
Janice: What other books have you written?
Chynna: In addition to my YA book, ‘Blackbird Flies’, I’ve also authored an award-winning children’s book (I’m Not Weird, I Have SPD), two memoirs (the multi award-winning, Not Just Spirited: A Mom’s Sensational Journey With SPD and White Elephants), and an adult Suspense/Thriller (The Gift to be released late 2011).
Janice: What influenced your recent book, the one you are promoting here today?
Chynna: Payton, the main character in my book, is loosely based on a few experiences I’ve had, only he’s a lot younger than I was during those experiences and he made better choices. I grew up with a mother who lived with bipolar that she refused to acknowledge or treat and she died due to maladaptive ways she chose to cope with her issues. Blackbird Flies is my way of discussing issues like mental illness, peer pressure, drug abuse, etc. in a non-threatening sort of way. People seem to be more wiling to talk about and learn about these issues when presented in a ficitional sense…at least that’s what I’ve found.
I’d love to see these issues become less ‘taboo’ so those going through them will feel better about needing, and seeking, the help they need to live their lives more effectively. I always say, “Through knowledge comes understanding.” If we’re willing to take in the information and absorb the knowledge, the understanding will follow.
The most important part about this book is that Payton shows us that kids can go through tremendous adversity and still come out okay. All they need is a positive distraction just that one person who believes in them. Payton’s distraction was his music and his grandparents believed in him.
Every one of us has the power to fly. We just need to allow ourselves to be carried.
Blurb: Fifteen year-old Payton MacGregor is a musical prodigy. To him, though, his music is merely a way for him to escape from the chaos that surrounds him. All of his life, he’s had to care for his mother, who copes with her bipolar disorder with booze instead of turning to her own musical talents. He refuses to become a statistic. Then he’s thrown a curve ball.
His mother suddenly dies, leaving him to be cared for by his aging grandparents. As much as they love him, they decide to send him halfway across Canada to live with his father, Liam—the man Payton always believed abandoned him and his mother. Payton isn’t making the relocation easy on anyone until he finds out he’s going to attend the prestigious School of the Arts for musically gifted youth. Any second thoughts he has about his new life are erased when he meets Lily Joplin. Their connection is instantaneous.
Lily is a talented singer, but her struggles with drugs and bipolar disorder hit too close to home for Payton’s comfort. And when her issues become all-consuming, he wonders if his music will be enough to carry him through.
Excerpt: The following excerpt is taken from the part in the book where Payton begins to understand why he was really packed up and shipped off to Edmonton to live with his Dad—the man he’d believed had abandoned him as a child. This scene shows the anguish Payton is in and the love-hate emotions he carries around with him about his mother. It also shows his passion for his music—what he’s always turned to when times were toughest. We also feel his initial attraction to Lily, his romantic interest:
The Dean led Payton into the opera hall. “Your Dad told me you are a bit of a pianist.”
Payton resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “I guess you could say that.”
“Well, we haven’t moved the piano back to the music room yet since our recital last night,” the Dean said, nodding toward the stage. “Would you like to have a go?”
Payton’s gaze switched to the stage where a full black lacquered grand piano sat. Its lid opened towards him, exposing its gorgeous strings…beckoning him. It had been days since his fingers last caressed the keys of a piano. There was nothing that would have made him happier or given him more inner peace at that moment than to play his music.
He didn’t answer the dean . He just walked down the stairs to the stage. A spotlight still shone on the piano. It didn’t even matter to him that the leather seat was hot from the lights. He sat down, pushed the seat back to account for his long legs and positioned his hands over the keys. He closed his eyes.
He played Chopin’s Nocturne—one of his favorites. He’d learned it completely by ear, listening to his mother play it. She’d played the piece with such emotion, it pained his heart. He wished the music flowed half as beautifully from his own fingers as it had
As a young boy, he liked lying under the piano bench while his Mom practiced. When she’d gotten really into her playing, the bench shook in time with her hands flying across the keyboard and her tiny feet pumping the pedals. Being only five feet tall, she’d often had to sit right on the edge of the piano seat so the pedals wouldn’t snap back up.
When Payton struck the last chord, the notes lingered high above the auditorium stage, echoing for several seconds. Then silence. Payton removed his glasses and wiped his eyes on his sleeve then heard…applause? It wasn’t just his dad and the dean.
He put his glasses back on and squinted, trying to block the glare from the lights with his hand. A small group of students had sat down in the first couple of rows while he’d been playing. He was embarrassed at first, but when he stood, the students rose, cheering, “Bravo! Awesome!”
He fidgeted for a few seconds then shot a peace sign and walked off the stage. Walking back up to where his dad and the dean stood, he saw that girl again…the one that looked like Alicia Silverstone. He got a closer look at her. Even in the dim light, he saw her face perfectly. Her hair was all one length and ebony. It draped around her shoulders, hugging her gorgeous oval-shaped face. Her dark emerald eyes were highlighted with perfectly sculpted eyebrows and long eyelashes—the same darkness as her hair. Her creamy skin looked like the sun had never touched it. Her pink, plump lips stretched into a half-smile when she noticed him staring at her. She gave him a thumbs-up.
He just hoped his mouth wasn’t open.
“Son, that was incredible,” Dean Fenehey said. “You’ll definitely be an inspiration to other people here. And you can almost bet if you keep up your practicing you’ll get that
Practicing? Scholarship? What the…?