I have the great pleasure to introduce you all to Cyndy Etler!
Thanks to Cyndy and Sourcebooks Fire for providing this awesome opportunity!
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
Hmm... can I flip that question, make it a shorter answer? Here, let's try this:
Did you ever not want to be a writer?
Nope. I've wanted to be a writer since I've had conscious thought. I think my becoming an author was some planned-before-the-womb stuff. I don't have many pictures of myself as a kid, but in one of the three, I'm sitting on the Macy's Santa's lap, clutching a book in my chubby toddler hand, grinning with all I got. I was using the book to show Santa what I meant when I said, "This, dude. See how there's a name on this here book cover? This is what I want." As I got older, the drive to write got fiercer.
Your newest book is We Can't Be Friends: A True Story. What's it about?
Officially, it's about getting out after 16 months in super-abusive "teen treatment program" Straight Inc., and returning to my old high school. It's about trying to fit in, as a brainwashed cult-kid freakazoid. It's about the boys I found who would spend time with me, because I had big books and desperation. But more than all that, for me, it's about a teacher who recognized my talent as a writer. And let me know it, publicly. It's about finding that thing inside oneself, that tiny glint of diamond through the dark, compacted rock. It's about trusting that glint enough to chisel it out.
What inspires you to write?
I have two answers for this question, an inside answer and an outside one. The inside: I'm driven to write by the stories that play in my head. Or maybe they're not called "stories," since they're things that have actually happened to me. Whatever the terminology, my whole life has been, and continues to be, a psychedelic rollercoaster ride. Stuff happens to me that just doesn't happen. It seems to run in my genes.
For example: my father was a famous composer. Leonard Bernstein directed his music for an opening concert at Lincoln Center. My mother, 32 years his junior, was his student at hoity-toity Smith College. Before my parents were wed, my father was married to the Tootsie Roll heiress; that was in between his first and second marriages to the same woman.
At age 13, I was homeless and alone, having run away from my mother's second husband, an alcoholic abuser. When I turned 14, I was locked up in that place Straight- which the ACLU described as "a concentration camp for throwaway teens"- when a distant relative saw it on the local news. The news cameras were there because First Lady Nancy Reagan and Princess Diana were visiting the program.
At age 16, I was morbidly depressed and suicidal, I was an early recipient of a newly, released wonder drug called Prozac. I needed a double-dosage to make me not off myself, but it worked. I'm here. And happy.
And that's just a smidgen of the first 16 years. I have a maybe-crazy belief that interesting stuff happens to me so I have stuff to write about. Because I have to write.
Which leads me to the outside answer: I'm inspired to write by all the kids who need to connect with other struggling kids through books. When I was young, I didn't fit in. I didn't make friends easy. At least, not with humans. But books! Books were my friends. In books, I found kids who were living like me, who understood me. I found hope that things would get better. I got my needs met. For 17 years I've taught these kids in alternative schools. I've taught with my books. Kids still desperately need books like mine, that tell the truth, that tell their stories. Their need inspires me to write, and to write honestly.
Where do you write?
Talk about some crazy rollercoaster nonsensical stuff, the answer to this question is a perfect example. I'm a former street kid, right? I've been abused and arrested, kicked around and locked up. I've been poor, I've been broken, I've cleaned rich people's toilets to keep a roof over my head. And yet. Somehow. You know where I write? In my little custom writing room. With its tall, anrrow window and its plank-wood floor. Which I helped design. When I husband and I were planning our dream house. Which is no longer just a dream. Umm...how?
If you could have a date with any fictional character, who are you meeting tonight?
Toss up. Either Ben Zion, the brilliant, kind, homeless, Los Angeles reincarnation of Jesus in James Frey's The Final Testament of the Holy Bible, or I-Man, the brilliant, Rastafarian, Jamaican, school bus dwelling reincarnation of Jesus in Russell Banks' Rule of the Bone. Either way, I'm sure I'd get the real true story behind it all. Umm...yes.
So there you have it!