Memories of Corydon found in ‘Cynthia’s Attic’
She said she grew up on a Sycamore-lined street in Southern Indiana, and she wanted to put that backdrop into the books she writes for children.
That’s how Mary Bulleit Cunningham feels about her birth place, Corydon.
Born in 1947 to Paul and Sarah Rainbolt Bulleit, Cunningham lived here until she was 35. Since then, she’s been in five different states, including her most recent location, a home in Villa Rica, Ga.
Now, instead of living here, she’s writing about what she remembers from her childhood in a series of young adult novels called ‘Cynthia’s Attic.’ The latest book is called ‘Cynthia’s Attic: Curse of the Bayou’ and will be released next month. There are two other books in the series, ‘Cynthia’s Attic: The Missing Locket’ and ‘Cynthia’s Attic: The Magic Medallion.’
Cunningham based the main character of Cynthia on a childhood friend of the same name, Cynthia Miles, now Goss. She began writing the books in 2000, after she and her friend had been out of touch for many years.
‘I had just finished telling my best friend, Diana, about the recurring dream I’d had for almost 20 years, when I had a ‘lightbulb’ moment,’ she said. ‘It occurred to me that the dream took place in the attic of my childhood friend, Cynthia. ‘Hmm,’ Diana remarked, ‘Cynthia’s Attic. What a great title for a book!’ The dreams stopped and the writing began.’
Her series follows two young girls, Cynthia and Gus, after they discover a magical element in the attic of Cynthia’s home in Southern Indiana. They are able to travel through time and meet characters that may seem familiar to many Corydon-based readers.
‘Since the original setting for the books is Corydon, and takes in many childhood memories, much of the research was already in my head,’ said Cunningham. ‘I have many pictures of early 1900s Corydon, so it was easy to describe the 1914 journey of Cynthia and Gus. All three books in the series are loosely based on stories I remembered hearing about my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. In fact, many of the characters in my book are based on Cynthia’s and/or my family members.’
Despite her humble Southern Indiana beginnings, Cunningham never let her dream of being an author die.
‘It can happen,’ she said. ‘With perseverance and hard work.’
She said the best advice she ever received was to write what she knew, and that was part of the reason she chose Corydon as a setting. With the pictures she was able to look back on, as well as her own memories, that was a ‘really easy’ choice for her.
She has received some critical and commercial success from her novels, and she’s even found a way to get her books in the hands of Corydon youth.
Her stories are being used as part of Barbara Smith’s fourth-grade reading class at Corydon Intermediate School. Smith’s students read the novels and then send e-mails to Cunningham as part of their assignment.
Smith said she uses Cunningham’s books as ‘read aloud’ because ‘the vocabulary is just a little bit above fourth-grade level.’
As they read through the novels, they discuss elements of a story and plot development. After they have read a great deal of the story, they begin their e-mail interaction.
‘They e-mail (Cunningham) and give their opinions of her book and also ask her questions about how she wrote the book,’ Smith said. ‘They were curious as to where she got her ideas.’
Some of those ideas Smith knows about first-hand.
‘I always tell the students about the house that the story takes place in because I have great memories of playing in that house myself,’ Smith said. ‘Mary, Cynthia and I grew up together, and we did a lot of the things that Mary tells about in her books.’
She said that her personalization of elements in the story, as well as picking out parts of the book the students will recognize (like the Constitution Elm, for example), the students ‘get excited when they hear these things.’
‘After we finished the first book, they could hardly wait to hear the second one,’ Smith said. ‘Some of the students even took the first one to read again.’
‘This is, without a doubt, the biggest reward,’ Cunningham said of the e-mail interaction. ‘I love interacting with these kids. They are enthusiastic, appreciative and brutally honest.’
She knows that even though she’s gotten good reviews from adults, it’s the glowing reviews from her ‘target audience’ that really mean something. In fact, a blurb from one reader, Kelsey Smith, is being published on the cover of the newest ‘Cynthia’s Attic’ book.
‘This was my publisher’s idea,’ Cunningham said. ‘They are thrilled about the number of e-mails I receive from students.’
So thrilled, they’ve asked her to consider adding a fourth book to her series.
Cunningham said she’s been writing since she learned how to put pen to paper, and her biggest influences have been authors Harper Lee, Terry Kay, J.K. Rowling and J.R.R. Tolkien, and her dad, who was a reporter and columnist for The Courier-Journal in Louisville.
Besides publishing the Attic series, Cunningham has also been featured in the Gulf Coast Writer’s Anthology, Vol. II, and ‘Women Only Over Fifty (WOOF)’ which was co-written with Melinda Richarz Bailey of Tyler, Texas, and Diana Boley Black of Marietta, Ga., also formerly of Corydon, and will be published by Echelon Press in the spring.
Cunningham lives with her husband of nearly 25 years, Ken, in Villa Rica. They have three children, John, Stephanie and Samantha.
For more information on the ‘Cynthia’s Attic’ series, log on to www.marycunninghambooks.com or visit www.amazon.com.