Behind the Book with Naomi Ulsted

Boy Between Worlds: The Cabinet of Curiosities

This interview was conducted via email and Face Time conversations.

Naomi Ulsted: You have a new middle grade novel coming out. Can you talk a little about where your idea for Boy Between Worlds came from?

Cynthia Huijgens: The idea for Boy Between Worlds came to me while I was living in a suburb of Cairo, Egypt.  The story takes place in Egypt and some of the characters, like Mr. Professor, are drawn from people I met there. The protagonist is a twelve-year-old boy who, just a week before turning 13, is given an impossible task: locate his grandfather who went missing off the coast of Alexandria, Egypt. 

Naomi Ulsted: You travel quite a bit and have lived in several countries. How does travel affect your writing?

Cynthia Huijgens: I don’t write about the experience of travelling so much as trying to work the experiences I have as a foreigner into my writing.  The inability to communicate with someone in their own language means you have to rely on other things, like facial expressions and body gestures.  These are things I pay attention to in my own characters, as well as how they dress and how others may interpret their ‘normal’ habits when they’re not in their ‘normal’ environment.  I pay attention to details, especially tactile, and try to work that into my writing as well.

Naomi Ulsted: Let’s talk a bit about the writing process? How many revisions would you say Boy Between Worlds has had? Do you outline your books/stories ahead of time? If so, how detailed is your outline?

Cynthia Huijgens: I began writing this novel, which I called The Novice Collector, with no outline. After two years of constant writing I realized I needed a way to organize my story.  I read Save the Cat Writes a Novel, by Jessica Brody, based on the books by Blake Snyder, and that gave me a way forward.  I enrolled in Simon Fraser University’s The Writer’s Studio and revised chapter after chapter with my mentor Eileen Cook and cohort.  That was incredibly helpful and, by the time I graduated from the program, I realized that I had the second novel in my protagonist’s story.  So, I went back to the beginning, this time with an outline, and wrote Boy Between Worlds: The Cabinet of Curiosities.  I plan to release The Novice Collector as a sequel.  So, I guess that’s a long answer to your question ‘how many revisions’, probably a dozen, I stopped counting because it’s not very productive.

Naomi Ulsted: What is it about writing children’s literature that draws you in?

Cynthia Huijgens: When my youngest son was approaching 12-13 years old, he read the entire Pendragon series and everything written by Anthony Horowitz, Robert Muchamore, Susan Cooper, Darren Shan, Rick Riordan, you name it.  And then one day he just stopped reading.  We couldn’t find a book he was interested in.  I figured out he wasn’t ready for adult content but had outgrown the stuff he’d been reading.  At the time I thought, if I have the opportunity one day, I would like to write a book with loads of action and clever characters that he would have enjoyed reading during that in-between stage, the upper middle grade years.

Naomi Ulsted: What is one piece of advice you have for young writers?

Cynthia Huijgens: Don’t be afraid to put your stories out into the world.  There are millions and millions of readers eager to make a connection with your words.  Find yourself a supportive writing group, like my own Brussels Writers’ Circle, and start sharing!

Naomi Ulsted: Do you have advice about finding your people, and building a writing community?

Cynthia Huijgens: It’s almost like speed dating. Don’t get frustrated if you don’t find the right fit the first time. Sometimes it’s not a good fit and you try someone different. As writers we grow and develop and what we need at the beginning isn’t what we need later in our process. Sometimes we need a big group, and sometimes we need one or two writing or reading partners.  Have courage, try out different situations, let yourself grow, and keep sharing those stories.

Naomi Ulsted writes young adult fiction, personal essays and screenplays. Her work has been published in Mud Season ReviewThe Forge and The New Guard, among other venues. She lives in Utah with her husband and two boys where she writes and works in Job Corps program with under-served young adults. 

Cynthia C. Huijgens is the author of Boy Between Worlds: The Cabinet of Curiosities, part of the 2020 debut collection by Idle Time Press available wherever books are sold this October.


Behind The Books: Boy Between Worlds

Artist and Illustrator Nazli Tavili recently completed the cover art for upper middle grade novel Boy Between Worlds, due in bookstores July 2020. To celebrate this milestone, Idle Time Press asked Nazli a few questions to offer fans some insight into the art Behind the Book.

What attracted you to this project?

As a reader, I prefer illustrated covers and since children’s’ and young adult books are illustrated, I gravitate toward projects in this field. I liked the theme of the story, the adventure, discovery and suspension between two different worlds.

What imagery or ideas did you call upon when developing your design?

Ancient Egypt has many creative mysterious characters. I liked to show the image of the boy Max, who is the protagonist, surrounded by these shadowy characters of antiquity that play a very exciting role in the story.

What project(s) are you working on now?

I have several projects in progress; one is illustrating a very special poem by Jorge Lucan.

Where would you like to be in five years with your career as a children’s book illustrator?

I would like to have my books published around the world.