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Interview with Cindy Thomson

Cindy Thomson’s passion for history touches everything about her writing from her tagline, “Writing the Stories of our Inheritance” to being a member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and using her skills for their group efforts.

Cindy, congrats on the release of the second book in your Ellis Island series, Annie’s Stories. As this book covered so many topics you love to write about, did you struggle with any part of it?
Thanks so much. Well, yes. I’ve heard the process of writing a novel compared to forcing an octopus into a mayonnaise jar. It’s work. It requires effort. There is no doubt about that. The basic outline of the novel had been in my head a long time. The details of the minor characters and their struggles took a little longer to develop.

You integrate actual historical figures in your fiction. Any tips on how much/too little information to include?
In order for fictional characters to be believable they have to move about in the setting the way real people would have. So my characters react to President McKinley’s assassination. They know about the Astors and Rockefellers. They know who the police chief was and where the parks and popular public hangouts were. I can’t imagine writing historical fiction without those accurate details. But you are right to point out that it can be overdone. Those events and people still have to relate to the novel plot. My advice is to ask yourself if what you want to include moves the story forward. If it has a purpose. Don’t drop in your research just because it’s interesting. (And I know how easy it is to do that!)

Your website links to many core articles on general genealogy research as well as the Irish-Scottish connection, and the Great Lake states. As someone who is ¼ Scot and an amateur genealogist, I value those links. Do you teach genealogy workshops as well?
Not so far, but I have written many articles for genealogy magazines. I did teach a summer workshop once for kids where they took some of what they could discover about their genealogy and wrote about it. It was a writing workshop. I’m an amateur genealogist too, but I enjoy sharing whatever I know.

Have you found many of your ancestors who went through Ellis Island en route from Ireland or Scotland?
Actually no. As far as I’ve been able to discover all my ancestors came over too early for Ellis Island. I have found many of them, however, and I’m fascinated by their stories and experiences. I’m sure I’ll be writing about them at some point.

Many authors include questions about their books for book club discussions, but your website goes further and includes, “Ten Ways to Use Grace's Pictures for Teachers and Homeschoolers”. Will you include a similar list for Annie’s Stories?
I most likely will. I hope teachers and homeschoolers find that helpful. I believe fiction can teach history sometimes in a more engaging manner than non-fiction. I am a former teacher, so writing these questions was really fun for me. I’d love to hear if readers are using them.

A New York student once contacted me through my site during a history class. As a former teacher, how did you spice up history for your students?
I love using books for that purpose. I didn’t teach the upper grades where I would have done more of that, but I know as a kid I loved reading historical fiction because it pulled me into the world of the past in a way that nothing else could.

I know some teachers use re-enactment to teach history. I think acting out the life of someone in the past is a great way to engage students as well.

Do you travel often and have you been ‘across the pond’ yet?
Not as often as I’d like! I have been to Ireland twice. I’ve also been to New York and Ellis Island. There is nothing that feeds a writer’s creativity like experiencing the setting. I did not realize that when I wrote my first novel, Brigid of Ireland, before I had been to Ireland. I will not say it’s absolutely necessary. Writers are creative, and there is so much you can learn by reading and researching. But given the opportunity, I will go back, God willing. Possibly Scotland and Wales next time.

Is there a third book in the Ellis Island series?
Yes, but it’s not contracted as of yet. Still, I am actively working on it.

What books are on your nightstand right now?
I have a Kindle there at the moment and there are more books on it than I have room to list here! I’m currently reading Cathy Gohlke’s Saving Amelie.

Finish this statement: If I am blessed to attend the Genre Dinner at the ACFW conference in St Louis this September, I will be wearing ....
....something blue.

Any parting words?
It’s an honor to be interviewed on the ACFW blog. It’s my first time. I love and appreciate the association so much. I’ve learned so much since I first started and I hope to give back as the opportunity arises. I hope you’ll all come visit me online!

Thanks for sharing with us, Cindy.

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