Please help Britbear’s Book Reviews to welcome Cynthia Port to today’s author spotlight with an interview about her books, Kibble Talk and Dog Goner.
Kibble Talk Book Description:
Once Tawny decides to do something, there’s no holding her back. So when her best friend dares her to eat dog kibble, down it goes. Little does she know how that dusty, tasteless lump will change her life. Suddenly she can hear what dogs have to say and talk back to them too! This might not be such a big deal, except that her own dog, an enormous Great Dane named Dinky, has a LOT to say. He lets her know right away that his fondest dream is to be a teeny tiny lap dog with all the accessories. Tawny promises to help him, and her life nearly goes to the dogs.
Buy Kibble Talk on Amazon.
Dog Goner Book Description:
Secrets will be revealed! Fondest wishes will be fulfilled! Permacrud will be . . . what the heck is permacrud, anyway? Find out in Dog Goner, the second book in the hilarious Kibble Talk series. Tawny and Jenny, along with their dogs Dinky and Gunner, have set themselves on a mission – or really, three missions. Gunner just wants to be clean, but it’s not as easy as it seems. Jenny is determined to find out the secret to Kibble Talking, and she’s prepared to feed kibble to the whole fifth grade if need be. Tawny wants a little brother or sister to make her family complete. But there’s someone else with a fondest wish, and they’ll do anything to get it. Dinky just wants to save the day before someone becomes a dog goner.
Buy Dog Goner on Amazon.
Hi, Cynthia. Your books all share a common theme. What’s your inspiration behind Kibble Talk?
Not too long ago my husband and I had a very big dog. A stunningly beautiful Alaskan Malamute named Kodiak, she was large even for her breed at 150 pounds. But for all her size, she was tiny in her heart. She desperately wanted to be able to curl up on my lap and get tucked into my purse. I wrote this story for her and for all large dogs who might rather be small.
Dogs figure prominently in both Kibble Talk and Dog Goner, yet nowhere on your Amazon profile does it say you are a dog lover. Do you have any pets? Is there a reason you write about dogs over cats or birds?
I’m glad you asked this, because I puzzle over it some too. As my previous answer shows, I do love dogs and have had them as pets most of my life, but I am really an equal opportunity animal lover. I even love bugs, the bigger the better! (The bigger they are, the more huggable, I always say.) Right now my life only has room for a cat, and she is a handful—very sneaky, very smart, very sweet. But I’m hardly alone as an author in choosing a dog as a talking animal companion for a child – there are almost too many talking dogs in children’s literature to count! Sure, there are a few cats, birds, crickets, horses etc., but mostly it’s dogs. I suspect that is because the way dogs interact with humans often looks and feels a lot like talking. The tilt of the head, the flick of ears, the eyebrow crinkle—they often seem to be trying to connect with us on a more human level. Dogs can also go more places with us than most other pets, which makes them a good companion in stories.
Is Tawny, the main character in Kibble Talk based on you or someone you know? What about Jenny?
Tawny is the “every girl” – not too girly, not too anything, just lots of fun to be with and ready to try anything (once) as she figures out the world and herself. Jenny is the perfect friend we all wish we had. Stubborn, yes, but only because she is smart as whip. She always has a plan, will always choose you over anyone else, and always always always has the snappiest comeback.
Your background is in Psychology. How do you use the knowledge from your degree in your writing? Is there a message you’d like for your readers to take away from your books?
My interests in Psychology and story telling all stem from the same source: a fascination with people. I’ve been an avid eavesdropper all my life. It’s actually a wonderful hobby, because even in the most boring work meeting or sporting event, you can always switch into people watching mode and have a great time. As for a message, be gentle with each other and yourself –we are all trying, we all come from pain and joy. I recently saw a Rumi quote I instantly fell in love with. It goes: Close your eyes. Fall in love. Stay there. You see, love on the inside can’t help but spread to others.
Your bio on Amazon says you have “enough hobbies for every day of the year.” What are your top 3 favourite hobbies and why?
My top hobbies are writing, cooking and singing, but actually my husband was referring to my neverending crafting. In terms of that it would be knitting, ceramics and jewelry making. Crafting appeals to me because I can imagine an object in my head and then make it actually exist in the world. I enjoy the process of figuring out how to make it as much or more than I do the finished product, so I’m always thinking about the next thing I will make!
Your novels are chapter books for a middle-grade audience. Why do you choose to write for this audience?
It’s true the Kibble Talk series is marketed to middle-grade readers (8-12), but I wrote it for all ages. I wanted Kibble Talk to be the perfect read aloud, which meant that it couldn’t just be “kid humor” (burps and farts and underwear) or kids constantly whining about grown-ups, or grown-ups always doing dumb things, or dead parents (so many dead and missing parents in this genre). I needed some of that, and it’s there (except the dead parents), but I couldn’t rely on that for its humour or storyline. In my reviews I’ve been pleased to see so many comments along the lines of “Why should the kids get all the best books?” and “Too good to be left just to the kids.” I love it when I read that because that was my goal.
That said, not all my books will be written for middle grade. I have a young adult halfway complete and another rolling around in my head gathering steam. As an author, I don’t think of myself as writing for any particular audience. I am telling a story, the complexity and subject matter of which sets the age level of its intended audience.
In your initial email to me you said you “recently gave away 20 print copies of [your] book along with a Classroom Book Party Pack.” Tell us a bit more about this party pack. What’s in it? How do you hope teachers will use it in their classrooms? How might people obtain a party pack of their own?
So glad you asked this, because I’m very excited about it! Because Kibble Talk is written first and foremost as a read aloud, I want to make sure it is used that way. It also upsets me (like, don’t-even-get me-started upset) that teachers spend on average close to $1,000 of their own money on teaching supplies!
I decided that, as a Christmas present to myself, I would give away 20 signed print copies of Kibble Talk to any elementary school teacher who agrees to use it as a read aloud in his/her classroom. Along with the book, I sent the materials needed to do a book celebration after the read aloud was done. These included a bookmark for every child, coloring pages of my main characters, supplies for a book-themed game, and a list of book-themed snacks, games and activities. I also offered a free Skype-based author visit. I’ve heard back from many of these teachers how much fun their class is having with the book, and I’ve so far done one Skype visit (with another in the works). It’s a great way to spread the word about the series while also giving back to some of the hardest working yet most underappreciated people in the world. I LOVE teachers!
What an amazing idea!
Speaking about fostering a love of books and reading with your books, where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?
I’ve always been a picky, picky reader. I know within three pages whether I’ll like a book. It’s all about the quality of the writing for me. That said, I never expected I could ever write one because I had little hope of meeting my own standards. But a few years back I was sidelined for four months by an injury. I don’t do boredom and I’m not that into TV and movies. My other hobbies require too much moving about for supplies, etc. I needed a hobby that came straight out of my head. I began writing for children and was instantly hooked. So far, I mostly feel as if I am meeting my own standards (though I can always do better), but once you publish, it’s not really my standards that matter anymore, is it?
Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
Oh, boy. Complicated question. My first book, a historical fiction novel entitled Honey Ant Girl that is set the Australian Outback, is not yet published. This is my best book, and it has my whole heart in it, but being historical fiction [and] middle grade, it is not particularly marketable to agents and traditional publishers. I had hoped the Kibble Talk series would be my “in,” and it almost was. I very quickly found a successful agent to represent the series, but it turned out that we did not have similar agenting goals. We parted ways amicably, but it all took so long that I decided to self-publish. I can’t actually recommend self-publishing for children’s authors. The marketing is a real challenge. But I can say that I’ve had a LOT of fun learning about self-publishing and have met many, many wonderful self-pub authors. As to Honey Ant Girl, I have promised myself that it will be published this year one way or another. I can’t wait to see what readers think of it.
Thank you for being so candid in this interview, Cynthia. Before we go, is there anything else you would like to say to your readers and fans?
Thank you!!! Tell your friends! Tell your pets! And tell me! I love to hear from you.
Here’s where you can learn more about Cynthia and her writing:
Living in the fossil-filled hills of Southern Indiana, Cynthia Port writes for the young and the stubbornly young at heart. When not writing her laugh-out-loud fiction, Dr. Port writes about science, assisting medical researchers across the US. She can also be found singing, cooking, petting her “advanced model” cat, or attempting every craft ever invented the moment it is invented anywhere around the globe. Dr. Port is currently working on book 3 in the Kibble Talk series, as well as a standalone historical fiction that takes place in the Australian Outback. Wombats, anyone?
Bonus Excerpt: Kibble Talk Chapter Three: The Death of Fishy Fish
Diving under my bed covers, I told myself over and over, “This isn’t happening. This isn’t happening. This is NOT happening.”
“Oh, but it is,” Dinky said with a lazy sigh. I felt him slump into a giant pile at the side of my bed. “Can I have my scratch now?”
I couldn’t believe I could hear another dog talking—and it was my own dog! I was also surprised at the type of voice Dinky had. Gunner had sounded like he should, which is an odd thing to say in the first place since we are talking about how a dog sounds talking. But Gunner looks sort of gross and gravelly and sounded that way. By that logic, Dinky’s voice should have been very deep and maybe elegant or something, like the prime minister of a fancy European country. It wasn’t though. Dinky’s voice was high pitched like a little kid, almost a squeak. His voice was, well, dinky.
“I can’t help my voice,” he squeaked at me. “Now get up and give me my scratch! Your mom and dad are on couch potato duty. That makes it your turn to entertain.”
I screwed up my courage and peeked one eye out from under my blanket. There was Dinky, staring at me with his usual huge, walnut-brown doggy eyes. I was about to dive to the bottom of my bed and never resurface when I thought of a way to test whether all of this was really happening.
“How do I know I’m not just imagining I can hear you talking?” I asked him nervously. “You haven’t said anything I couldn’t have made up myself.”
“Fair enough. Let’s see then,” he said, and gave his triangle ears an impressive waggle. “Oh, I know!” he said after a moment. “Your dad did NOT just find Fishy Fish dead one day in his bowl. He was changing the water and accidentally used hot instead of cold.”
I threw back the covers as I gasped in surprise. “What? He did? And he didn’t tell me about it? Are you sure?”
“I may be a talking dog, but I’m no liar. I saw the little orange guy go belly up, cooked like instant oatmeal. Then I had to listen to your dad’s guilty thoughts for weeks. He still thinks about it whenever your mom serves fish sticks.”