Cynthia Hand believes in angels. She like the idea of them, although she’s not sure about the idea that we are constantly in the presence of a guardian angel.
“I think what’s cool about the idea of angels is that they are part of the divine and yet they also resemble and interact with humans,” Cynthia told Cracking the Cover.
Angels are the centerpiece of Cynthia’s Unearthly trilogy, which comes to a close today with the release of “Boundless.” The books, which also include “Unearthly” and “Hallowed,” follow Clara Gardner as she learns she is part angel and that she has a purpose that she was sent to Earth to accomplish.
Cynthia says the idea for the Unearthly trilogy was born from a mysterious firing of neurons in her brain. “One day I just started to hear Clara’s narrative voice, and I wrote it down, and then I started asking questions about her, and finding the answers, and the places, and the reasons, and the story unrolled for me like a long, rolled up carpet.”
That long, rolled up carpet started out as four books instead of three. Cynthia even wrote the third book that way, but “then my editor smarter suggested that I get things moving a little faster, so we ended up with three books and a novella (“Radiant”) instead of four books.”
And with each book, Clara’s story grows in scope — something that Cynthia says made it hard to pull all the elements together.
“Sometimes I felt like my narrative was a bit of a rat’s nest, because I had so many threads,” she said. “I did this thing where I wrote out the outline of the book (after I’d written it) and then highlighted the different threads in different colors and tried to see them distinctly, to figure out how I could weave them together better. Some days it was a nightmare. But all the sweat and tears and highlighter ink paid off in the end.”
In “Boundless,” Clara really comes into her own. She learns to fully embrace the angel part of her. Cynthia says she was written with room to grow.
“One thing that was great about Clara as she initially came to me was that she was a completely flawed little person,” Cynthia explained. “Sure, she was pretty and good at stuff, and part-divine, but she was also a tad self-absorbed and self-conscious and she cared a bit too much what other people thought of her.
“Flaws are important. In my early writing life, most of my characters were versions of myself, minus the flaws, as a sort of mental role-playing. But I grew out of that (or had it beaten out of me in grad school, not sure which) and my characters now have a pretty equal balance of strength and weakness. So there is room to grow. Clara grew so much throughout the series, until the very end when she chooses to stand up and take charge of her own destiny. I love that about her.”
Evolution is a normal path for writers, and Cynthia says she’s come far from where she started. In addition to writing her own books, Cynthia teaches writing at Pepperdine University, and every semester she lets her students read her very first serious adult attempt at a short story, which she says was “quite simply, horrible.”
“Every semester, it amazes me anew how far I’ve come. I have learned so much, through school, through grad school, through crazy, down-to-the-studs revisions, through publishing my first stories, and then, at long last, through writing the Unearthly novels. Every year, I figure out what works for me just a little bit more and grow in my confidence and take even bigger and better risks as a writer. And I’ve learned to guard my writing life and hold on to what I love about writing, which I think you have to do in this day and age where there are so many things to take you away from writing.
Cynthia says finishing the Unearthly books is rather like graduating from high school. “Now I get to stare in the bright beyond of my future and ponder, ‘now what?’”
Not that she doesn’t have plans. Cynthia is already working on a new project, which is a contemporary with a tiny supernatural twist. She hopes to have it completed in the spring.
Cynthia will be at The King’s English Bookshop, 1511 South 1500 East, in Salt Lake City, on Tuesday, Jan. 22, at 7 p.m., to read from and sign her new book, “Boundless.” She will be joined by Brodi Ashton, author of the Everneath series.
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