Moments – It’s a bit of a flash. NPR Interview with Cynthia Rylant


Cynthia Rylant is the prolific author of over 100 children’s books. When asked about her writing process, she simply  believes it is a gift, the gift of language, she’s been blessed with…

“I really can’t explain it. When I first started writing, you know, I tried picture books. And, you know, I soon discovered that when I write, it’s a bit of a flash. It’s all of a sudden and kind of inspiration. And that’s true for all of the picture books. The poetry books, I’ll write a book of poetry in a day, and I’ll be done with it.”

In a “moment” an idea for a poem or book comes to her, which she sets to writing. If a short piece, the storytelling process may take only a day to complete.

The following is an excerpt from her November 10, 2013 interview with NPR host Arun Rath, How Cynthia Rylant Discovered The Poetry Of Storytelling”:

NPR -Cynthia Rylant is a renowned author who has written for all age groups and been honored with both Caldecott and Newbery prizes for her work.

Her latest book, God Got a Dog, is a collection of poems that only took her one day to write.

“One poem … just came out of the blue, and I sat down and I wrote it. And then after I finished writing it, I got an idea for another God poem, and so I wrote that one. And so it started in the morning and then by the end of the day, I was finished writing the book,” she tells All Things Considered host Arun Rath.

Driven by these bursts of inspiration, Rylant says her talent was “bestowed” rather than learned, and shares how her modest and isolated childhood shaped her work.

Here is the audio recording in full (6 mins 38 secs): NPR’s Arun Rath Interviews Cynthia Rylant.


While sorting through books on my library shelf deciding which ones to keep and which ones to let go of, I came across a book about birds that I had bought at a used bookstore over ten years ago. I found it about the same time I found a quiet, reflective voice within for writing prose and poetry. At the time, I was in the midst of doing internships and working towards a degree in Journalism and Cultural Resource Management.

Then serendipitously later this week , as I was rifling through a stack of old papers stored in a cardboard box, I came across the prose Bookaburra I had written, inspired by reading the book BIRDS – Their Life, Their Ways, Their World.




The book smelled like an old cedar chest. A handwritten note pressed between the pages read, “conical eggs are often laid by waders and gulls, always pointing inward to minimize the surface area occupied.”

Small gray feathers fell out from amongst the loose pages. I watched them crisscross, lazily floating toward my feet. For a moment, I felt as light as a feather tracking the pattern of their descent, but the weightiness of the book drew my attention back to the open page.

I was unfamiliar with the words pennae, plumulae and rachis, but I did recognize names of birds whose feathers were colorfully illustrated – emu, woodpecker, kingfisher, peacock and sparrow hawk. As I read on, I learned that the Ruby-throated hummingbird has about 950 feathers while the Whistling Swan has over 25,000, and the weight of a bird’s plumage can be more than twice that of its skeleton.

There are songbirds that can sing a complexity of 80 notes per second. A bird’s sensitivity to individual notes is three times greater than that of a human. Although largely a male dominate characteristic, there are female singers and duetting couples. There are birds like the Laughing Kookaburra not recognized as a songbird that have a beautiful, complex call.

This old book about the life of birds puts a song in my heart. I find the scent of its paper, glue and ink to be nesting materials for the hatching of fresh, new thoughts.

The feathers and note remain pressed between pages 80 and 82 of BIRDS – Their Life, Their Ways, Their World written by Dr. Christopher Perrins and illustrated by Ad Cameron. Published by Abrams, Inc. New York. 1976

If you love and are fascinated by birds, I encourage you to visit David Attenborough’s The Life of Birds website and watch his extraordinary series.

For more about the life of birds, visit Not One Sparrow – a christian voice for animals.

The birds of the air nest by the waters; they sing among the branches. Psalms 104:12

There Are No Words

There Are No Words – I read the synopsis, was intrigued by the premise, ordered two autographed copies, and as soon as my book arrived I read mine in two sittings. At first, the protagonist’s intelligence and command of language caught me off guard, challenging my perceptions. As the story unfolded, I became quite taken with Jaxon, the development of the characters’ friendships and the suspenseful twists of their fate.

Mary Calhoun Brown’s awarding winning book There Are No Words is a truly unique work of fiction about a 12 year-old, nonverbal autistic girl raised by her grandparents, whose future and fate of her and her friends are interwoven with a terrible disaster that actually happened. A train wreck at Dutchman’s Curve, which took place July 9, 1918, is the setting where their fate hinges upon trust and the outcome of their actions.

Here is  a recent interview with Mary Calhoun Brown by J.W. Coffey, reposted with the author’s permission. – February 16, 2010 Lexington Literature Examiner J.W. Coffey

Author Mary Calhoun Brown, a West Virginia native, and her husband received the news in 2001 that their eldest son, William, had been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome–a mild form of autism. Rather than let the news get the better of them, Ms. Brown left her job to homeschool William and learn more of his disease. She also turned the experiences and knowledge into the fodder for her first novel, There Are No Words. The novel, published by Ohio’s Lucky Press LLC, has been receiving rave reviews as well as publishing awards, with the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) calling the book an “Outstanding Book for Young People with Disabilities 2011.”

– Tell us about your latest novel.

There Are No Words is the story of Jaxon MacKenzie, who is autistic and nonverbal. One night she falls into an old oil painting in her grandparents’ parlor and lands in 1918 where she can speak for the first time. Jaxon’s mission in this world of horse-driven carts and prejudice is to try to stop the worst train wreck in US history. Ultimately Jaxon must decide whether to stay in the past or move on to her own future without words.

This is the summary I always give when asked about the book. But There Are No Words is more than that. I wrote it as a message about the value of friendship with people who are different. Recently CNN’s Kiran Chetry aired a segment about a young athlete who befriended an autistic boy at his high school. Oh. My. Gosh. I was literally in tears when I watched it. No one knows the value of a friend unless you’ve never had one. That’s why I wrote the accompanying curriculum guide that I give away free to teachers. Peer education is the key to building friendships. The teacher assigns the book, the students read the book, and maybe one child will offer the hand of friendship to another.

– Do your characters come first or does the story?

In the case of There Are No Words, the character of Jaxon came first. I searched for an historical event that she could visit. The same is true with my new project. I know these characters. I just have to find the right story for them. I like to think Jane Austen used the same approach. Clearly she KNEW the people she wrote about. They are so true to life that I wouldn’t be surprised if Austen spent her time watching those around her, even taking notes on the eccentricities of those in her acquaintance.

– Do you ever start with one concept and see the story deviate into something else? Is the finished product close to the concept you started with?

Again, with There Are No Words, I wasn’t sure until the very end whether Jaxon would end up staying in the past or moving on to her own future without words. If she chose to go back, I wasn’t sure how that could happen. If she decided to return to Bartlett, I wasn’t sure how that would work out, either. I also didn’t plan on the crush Jaxon develops with Oliver Pack, either. Sometimes you have a story in mind, but the character leads you someplace better.

– Do you have a favorite character in this book?

I love Jaxon, of course. I spent quite a bit of time walking around in her shoes as I wrote the book, but I have to say that I adore Oliver Pack. Ahhh! I love the way he materializes out of no where and leads with his smile and dimples. I also like Mrs. Hale’s snootiness. She was fun to write.

– Do you have a favorite scene or chapter?

You know, no one has ever asked me whether I have a favorite scene or chapter. I have a few favorites. I love it when Jaxon watches the raindrops, because I think it says a lot about her. I also like the transition from present time to 1918. I added that after the first draft, and now I can’t imagine the book without it. And there’s one last scene between Sarah and Jaxon and the Grandmother that I love, but to tell you about it would spoil the ending.

– What do you have in mind for your next project?

My next project will be a series of letters from an imprisoned mother to her two children, explaining why she committed the crime for which she has been convicted. She will tell the story of her life, her adopted “twin” sister and the events that caused her to do the unthinkable.

– What’s some good advice for those starting out? What would you tell other aspiring writers?

For aspiring writers I would say this: finish your story. All too often, writers start a project, tire of it and then begin something else. You can’t get published unless you actually finish your story. The same qualities it takes to write, re-write, correct editions and get published are the same qualities it takes to be successful at anything. Toughen yourself up for rejection. You will be rejected. Over and over. Get over it and move on. If your story is worth telling, someone will relate to it and embrace it. Join Writer’s Market. It’s worth the money. Learn how to write a good query letter. It will represent your work, so it needs to be fabulous. Unless you are J.K. Rowling or Stephen King, you really don’t need an agent, no matter what the agents say. Make a web site and a blog and get on Twitter. Social media is the most valuable tool you have. Learn how to use it and make it work for you.

And by all means, buy my book.


Mary Calhoun Brown, is the award-winning author of There Are No Words. Brown tells stories about things that matter, weaving colorful and sensitive characters into history for a generation that prefers to be entertained rather than educated.

Brown is an advocate for children and adults with autism. She also partners with educators to create curriculum guides for her novels so teachers and home-school parents can meet state requirements while making the most of classroom and planning time. She is a professional speaker and loves to spend time with students, parents and teachers.

Mary Calhoun Brown lives in beautiful Huntington, West Virginia, with her husband Cam and three sons, William, Harrison and Dewey.