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JJ Barnes The Table Read

Written by JJ Barnes


I interviewed author Olivia Swindler about her new book, Cynthia Starts A Band. She describes what inspired her, her creative writing process, and her journey from idea to publication.

Tell me a bit about who you are.

My name is Olivia Swindler, I was raised in Spokane, Washington and now I live in Grenoble, France. I moved to France in 2016 after I graduated from Washington State University (Go Cougs!). I am a huge American football fan, and in France, I wake up at 2 am in order to watch my teams play.

Olivia Swindler, author of Cynthia Starts A Band, interview on The Table Read
Olivia Swindler, author of Cynthia Starts A Band

I love living in Grenoble because we are so close to the mountains. I try to spend as much time as possible outside, it refreshes my soul!

My love of writing came from a childhood filled with books. I will never be found without a book in my bag. Both my dad, sister, and I have at least four books on our nightstand.

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When did you first WANT to write a book?

I was raised as a reader. From an early age, I knew that there was something special about a book. As Stephen King wisely said, “Books are uniquely portable magic.” I wanted to be a part of creating that magic. I started writing from a young age and wrote many short stories.

When did you take a step to start writing?

In 2016 I was really struggling with culture shock after moving to France. I wanted to find ways to connect with myself again. I was miserable and felt so lost. I thought about the thing that helped me to feel the most alive, writing. As a mid-year resolution, I decided that I was going to write 1,000 words every day. They didn’t have to be good words, I just wanted to write something. I started and stopped a few different projects, but I believe that this practice helped me to be prepared when the idea for “Cynthia Starts a Band” came to me.

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How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?

I got the idea in May of 2020 and I wrote it in about 90 days. It will be published in October of 2021!

What made you want to write Cynthia Starts A Band?

I wrote this book while in lockdown in France. I wanted to write a book about a woman who overcomes a toxic relationship, but for years I had been missing the plot. I wanted to write a book that was empowering and encouraging. I had experienced a toxic relationship in my early twenties and writing about the experience was healing for me. It was only after I had processed through my own hurt through writing drafts of the story that were for my own healing that I was able to turn outward and write a story for the world. I wanted to write a story that was filled with hope in the darkness.

What were your biggest challenges with writing Cynthia Starts A Band?

Writing in all the descriptions! I am a really visual person, and as I was writing, it was easy for me to picture the scenes in my head. It wasn’t until my editor looked at the manuscript did I realize I hadn’t recreated what was in my head to the page. She was so helpful in helping me describe Eleanor’s world!

Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?

Olivia Swindler, author of Cynthia Starts A Band, interview on The Table Read
Cynthia Starts A Band by Oliva Swindler

I was inspired by all of the women I know who have overcome difficult situations. Eleanor is made up of the best pieces of all of us. She is still flawed, but she is willing to stand on her own two feet, even if it means she may fail. So many women in my life have been an example of that to me, and I wanted to honor them through Eleanor.

Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?

I intentionally named the Antagonist “Art”, because as I was writing that was what he represented to the story. So often when we hear stories about abuse, there is so much focus on the abuser. This was not a story about Art. This was a story about the perseverance of Eleanor and the deep love she experiences through her community. I read and listened to many interviews as I was building the character of Art, he is a mix of many people.

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What is the inciting incident of your book?

The disappearance of Eleanor Quinn on the night of her engagement.

What is the main conflict of Cynthia Starts A Band?

Eleanor fighting to escape Art as she attempts to start her life over and find her agency.

Did you plot Cynthia Starts A Band in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?

I knew where the story was going to start and how it was going to end. Because every other chapter takes place in a different timeline, this forced me to plot the book in advance, but there were so many details that came to me as I was writing. I tried to hold everything loosely and give the plot some freedom to grow on its own.

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Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Cynthia Starts A Band need?

I hired an editor! Her advice was invaluable. Though I had the plot points, she was really the one who made it beautiful.

What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?

Write. Set a goal and stick to it. A realistic goal looks different for everyone. It might be 10 minutes a day or it might be 500 words. Whatever your goal is, stick to it! It is amazing what a little practice every day does to your writing ability.

Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?

I am working on a book about women in sports right now, which is quite different from “Cynthia Starts a Band”. After a year of no sports, writing that book has been my coping mechanism!

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And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?

I am! It was a lot of work, but it is such an honor to get to share this story with the world. Even if the book would not have been published, it was worth the effort for my own healing.

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