This month, I'm honored to interview fellow ACFW member Cynthia L Simmons, author of Struggles and Triumphs (2008). She also is active in the Christian Authors Guild (CAG), in which she conducts writing workshops and has served as president, vice president, and conference director. She received a nomination for 2008 Georgia Author of the Year and has contributions published in CAG publications, NATHHAN NEWS, Chattanooga Regional Historical Magazine, Georgia Right to Life Newsletter, Chattanooga Times Free Press (my wife's favorite newspaper), Catholic Exchange, and Christian Devotions.us along with interviews on radio and TV across the nation. As if that wasn't enough, she also conducts monthly podcasts called CAG Spotlight in which she interviews authors and VIPs in the writing industry. She recently completed a twelve week Bible study using the stories in Struggles and Triumphs.
JR: Welcome, Cynthia. Hope you have a blessed day. Your bio says, while you live in Atlanta, you're originally from Chattanooga. As a person who visits that area once or twice a year, what would you say is a must-see in that area?
CS: Point Park and Chickamauga Battlefield is a must for Civil War buffs. The Chattanooga Aquarium is awesome too. Be sure and visit the English Rose Tea Room on Market Street. They have authentic British tea and scones.
JR: You've written Struggles and Triumphs, a collection of stories of historical women. I think it's been labeled as historical fiction. What is the line between writing history and fiction, especially involving real people?
CS: It’s much harder to research ladies from the past. Most stayed in the shadows supporting their husbands rather than taking center stage. Some women, like Katie Luther, left behind little material. My stories reflect a pretty accurate picture of each lady. I imagine the details and step inside their minds, to reveal what I’d be thinking in that situation.
JR: What was it like doing research for the book? Was it done more on-line, or did you do any traveling to the settings for the stories?
CS: I did a lot of internet research, but I didn’t stop there. My goal was to find material written by each lady so I can hear her voice. In several cases, I also visited the setting. In writing about Katie Luther, I visited Wittenberg, Germany and saw where she and her husband lived. I also had the privilege of attending the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London where C.H. Spurgeon preached. It’s incredible to visit in person. I always gain valuable information.
JR: You've now released a study guide for Struggles and Triumphs. What was that like? How did you prepare for that? (Maybe I ought to write a study guide for my murder mystery set at an apologetics conference.)
CS: For starters, my husband and I co-lead a Sunday school class, so I’m very comfortable teaching Scripture. The stories in the book present numerous issues I felt I needed to address. So writing the study guide completed the project for me. Plus, people told me they wanted to know more about the women, so the study guide gave me a chance to fill out the history a bit more.
JR: You have homeschooled your children, including one with special needs. How has that experience impacted your writing?
CS: I’m a lover of words, and I had the privilege of teaching all five of my children to read. My youngest presented the biggest challenge. He’s a clever fellow with an array of disabilities. In order to address his needs, I had to research and take classes in special education. On several occasions his special needs presented some pretty tough problems. The Lord used stories from history to encourage me and keep me going. I chose to write so I could share that encouragement with others.
JR: You have the privilege of speaking as well as writing. Your webpage mentions topics aimed for women and those for writers. One of the former subjects, "Trusting God In The Hard Times" seems appropriate for authors as well. What advice would you give to authors who are currently struggling?
CS: I have several books that I’m very grateful for. One of them is A Grief Observed, by C.S. Lewis. Right after he lost his wife, he put his thoughts on paper and later published anonymously. (After his death, the publisher listed Lewis as author.) That book blessed many people and continues to be used. I also have a set of books by Susannah Spurgeon. As he instructed, she took material her husband wrote and compiled a biography of his life. She includes diaries, letters, and firsthand accounts. What a treasure! Peeking inside his life to see his struggles and choices gives such encouragement. Yes, writing is quite hard, but you never know who might benefit from your words. Someday in heaven you may meet someone who thanks you. Maybe your work will help a believer facing blinding grief or give another person the information he needs to fully trust God. We can’t measure our impact here and now. That will come in eternity. Keep writing!
JR: I forgot who said, "Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it." From your studies, is there anything you've learned from church history that we need to learn today?
CS: A multitude of Christian writers use fiction to tell the truth, and I like that too. I also enjoy telling real stories. It thrills me to find a beautiful story of faith where God guided a believer though tough times. History confirms the truths of Scripture, and it also demonstrates how God ministers through his church. Over and over he raises up a leader who calls the church back to himself. The stories are there, waiting to be unearthed and told. I love doing it.
JR: Before I let you go, what are you currently working on as far as writing?
CS: I’m working on a novel based in Chattanooga during the Civil War. My story surrounds a family owned bank. Someone is counterfeiting money, and the owners fear it could cause the bank to fail.
JR: Thank you very much for your time, and may the Lord Jesus Christ richly bless you.
CS: Thanks for hosting me.
Below are links to her webpage and to a video interview of hers.