Q&A with Writer Cynthia Harmony about her WNDB Mentorship

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Cynthia Harmony is one of ten creators awarded a year-long mentorship through We Need Diverse Books. Here’s some information about the program from their website:

“The We Need Diverse Books Mentorship Program has now awarded over 50 mentorships, producing a total of 88 industry professionals and upcoming voices who have participated in one-on-one relationships since the first round of applications were received in 2015. Some of the program’s former mentees have gone on to sign with prominent industry agents, publish multiple works, or secure a debut book contract.”

Here, Cynthia is interviewed by Romy Natalia Goldberg about her experience so far:

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Q: First of all, congratulations on having been selected for the 2020 We Need Diverse Books mentorship program. Do you mind sharing where you were in your publishing journey when you applied for the WNDB mentorship?

A: Thank you Romy! I signed with my agent the summer of 2019 and I was on sub with my first story that Fall. I had applied the year before and didn’t get it. A bit before the deadline, I reread their reply. It said I had been chosen as a finalist, and they encouraged me to try again. So, I asked Natascha, my agent, and she was encouraging as well. Teresa Robeson, who is also represented by my agent, was a mentee a few years before and sold her MS. It made perfect sense.

Q: What drew you to the WNDB mentorship? 

A: I had been following WNDB since Miranda Paul shared their goals on a webinar a few years ago. A mentorship that considered my perspective as #ownvoices was crucial to me. It was my ultimate goal because it’s a unique, tailored opportunity to grow as a writer. And this is one of the few year-long opportunities out there.

Q: Your mentorship is with picture book author Rob Sanders, who is known for being an excellent writing instructor. What is it like to learn from him? 

A: Yes! I’m very lucky because he is not only a great writer, but also a great teacher. He’s said he’s not interested in editing people’s work, but in teaching them how to be better writers. He has kindly and respectfully considered my strengths and style. Then offered guidance from broad research to specific suggestions, to reimagine my stories and take them to the next level. 

Q: Any big a-ha moments or was it more of a slow and steady learning process?

A: A bit of both. Exploring different POV-narrators with specific mentor texts that I may have not considered on my own, was an a-ha moment that opened up that possibility. Tackling a parallel structure was more of a slow process. I also tend to be vague and poetic, so he has helped me tighten structure and language for younger readers.

Q: Any tips you’d like to share with fellow writers on how to make the most of mentorship opportunities?

A: At the beginning, Rob asked me many questions about my expectations and preferences for communication. I think that helped both of us picture how we would work together. I would suggest having that conversation and asking questions early on. I know he’s extremely busy with multiple book releases, writing classes and being a teacher, but I reach out, sending him revisions for whenever there’s a window. He has been great at getting back to me, and I think we’ve have covered a lot so far.  

Q: How has your mentorship changed the way you view yourself as a writer and your place in the industry?

A: It has given me the confidence to try new things and I know I’m bringing these experiences with me when I revise new stories, a sharper eye or ear (rhythm) for what works. I don’t think it has changed my place in the industry; I just know I’m extremely fortunate for this experience and hope to pay it forward one day.

Q: Please tell us more about your writing! What themes do you like to explore and what types of books are you working on?

A: My books are mostly lyrical with lots of heart. I love stories that pull your heartstrings, but also offer hope. I always bring in my culture with themes I deeply care about. But I also want to explore my range and work on a character driven story before this year ends. Humor is a bit of challenge, so I know I’ll need some help.

Q: And of course, when will we be able to see your books on the shelves? Anything you’re allowed to share with us yet?

A: My early readers and chapter books for the educational market come out next year. For picture books, I’m not allowed to say yet, but I’ll be able to share good news soon!

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Cynthia Harmony is an educational psychologist originally from Mexico City. She has lived in Playa del Carmen, Madrid, Salamanca Spain, and now calls the desert of Arizona home. She’s created exhibits and bilingual learning materials for children and science museums. She has published textbooks and writes picture books, chapter books, and early readers. She’s a translator member of The American Literary Translators Association and was awarded the 2020 We Need Diverse Books PB Mentorship. When not writing, Cynthia can be found in a museum with her kids, dancing to a Latin beat, daydreaming of tacos, or planning her next family trip.

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ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER: Romy Natalia Goldberg is a Paraguayan-American travel and kid lit author with a love for stories about culture and communication. Her guidebook to Paraguay, Other Places Travel Guide to Paraguay, was published in 2012 and 2017 and led to work with “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown,” and The Guardian. She is an active SCBWI member and co-runs Kidlit Latinx, a Facebook support group for Latinx children’s book authors and illustrators. Learn more at romynatalia.com

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