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Interview with Cindy Thomson


One look at the array of choices on the home page of Cindy Thomson’s website proves that her brand of “Writing the Stories of our Inheritance” is reflected in her life as well as her books.

Last year I interviewed Cindy for the second book in her Ellis Island series. Now she’s back with the final story, Sofia’s Tune, in which she writes about some of the harsher elements of early 20th century New York.

Cindy, when you came up with the series concept of Ellis Island, did you visualize the individual stories at the same time?

Yes, all three were in my head. Sofia’s Tune was only a rough outline, though. I wanted all three stories to revolve around living at Hawkins House, an immigrant home for single girls.

Do you include actual places or people in the Ellis Island series?
When I think of New York and institutions, I think of Blackwell, or Roosevelt Island. Was that part of your research or mentioned in your story?

I mention Blackwell Island in the story because that’s where Nellie Bly went undercover to expose the harsh treatment of patients at insane asylums. Workers at the factory where my character Sofia works talk about it, intensifying the dread Sofia feels about her mother possibly being sent to such a place. However, at the time of my story the asylum was on Ward’s Island, which is also in the East River of Manhattan, so Ward’s Island is where her mother is sent.

I do make use of a few real people in Sofia’s Tune. One, the writer known as O. Henry, was in Manhattan at this time and living close to where my character Antonio plays Vaudeville. I arranged a meeting at Healy’s, which is still standing and known as the pub where O. Henry penned The Gift of the Magi. It’s now called Pete’s Tavern.

I also incorporate a famous pianist of the time, someone nearly forgotten today: Ignacy Jan Paderewski (listen below). He was known for mentoring up and coming musicians, so I wove that into my plot. I believe with historical fiction the characters must blend into what was actually happening at the time. Average people rubbed shoulders with the famous just as they sometimes do today.

In Sofia’s Tune, your hero Antonio has a dog that is shown the cover. What breed is it and why did you choose it?

He’s a mutt that Antonio’s father had adopted. Everyone thinks he resembles the Victor dog (or what was later referred to as the RCA dog) because that advertising icon was just becoming popular at the time of my story. But in truth, it’s the way the dog listens to his master’s voice that leads people to associate Luigi with Nipper, the dog on the Victor label. Luigi is very loyal and well trained, but also street smart. The dog serves to remind my characters that listening to their Master’s voice is what has been missing in their journey.

I’ve read that Little Italy is used in reference to Sofia’s Tune. Can you describe it?

Little Italy is a neighborhood in Lower Manhattan once known for its large population of Italian immigrants. At the time of my story, about 90 percent of the residents were recent Italian immigrants, and it was the poorest area of New York City. However even within that block of a few streets people from different villages kept to themselves. Outsiders lumped them all together—they were all Italians—but they did not see themselves that way. A man from Sicily was a stranger to a man from Benevento, for example.

Suspicions ran high and so did prejudice. All Italian men were perceived by the public to be gangsters, when of course all were not. There were gangs, such as The Black Hand, that used intimidation to extort money from people (and violence if intimidation didn’t work). As is still sometimes the case, the actions of a few were projected on the whole. While America is thought of as an immigrant melting pot, it took the Italians several generations to assimilate.

Can this story be told in a ‘Little Italy’ in any city, or are there specifics that pertain to New York City?

New York City is unique because of Ellis Island. While some immigrants moved west, a great many stayed right in Manhattan because there were labor jobs available. This created the ethnic neighborhoods we still see today, although on a smaller scale. I imagine it was a little easier for immigrants to let go of the old world ways in places that were not populated with so many folks coming in just off the boat.

What message do you hope readers take away from this book?

That it is okay to let go of your plans and your preconceived ideas. That listening to the Master’s voice is the only way to find true wisdom. (Sofia means wisdom.) That family can be defined many different ways if we will open our hearts.

Where’s your favorite place to read?

In my big chair under a blanket with a cup of tea either in front of a window facing the woods behind my house or in front of the fire. Unless it’s summer, then my favorite reading place is in the hammock on my deck.

What’s your current writing project?

I’m working on a sequel to my very first novel, Brigid of Ireland. I hope to have it out this summer. The title is Pages of Ireland. I am planning in the near future to write a novella, which will be a prequel to the Ellis Island series. It will tell Mrs. Hawkins’s story. If you’ve read the series you know that she had a story that isn’t completely told, but referred to in Annie’s Stories. My plan is to make this available for free to my newsletter subscribers.

Any parting words?

I cherish each and every reader and would love to connect on Facebook or Twitter. Thanks so much for inviting me!


Anita Mae Draper is retired from the Canadian Armed Forces and lives on the prairie of southeast Saskatchewan, Canada with her hubby of 30 plus years and their youngest of 4 kids. She writes historical romance set in Canada and the United States.

Romantic Refinements, Novella 2 in the Austen in Austin Volume 1 collection by WhiteFire Publishing, released in January 2016. This 4-novella collection of stories set in historic Austin, Texas is based on the novels of Jane Austen.

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