Friday, October 17, 2008

Getting to Know: Author Cynthia Simmons

Cynthia L. Simmons grew up in Chattanooga, Tennesee and graduated from Erlanger School of Nursing. For almost a year she worked as an R.N. at T.C. Thompson Children's Hospital before she married. Now she lives in Georgia with her husband, Ray, and teaches a women’s Sunday school class. She enjoys studying the Bible, growing orchids, arranging flowers, playing the piano, and singing. She has five children ranging from 16 to 28, all of whom she homeschooled through high school. Her youngest child has a form of autism. However, in spite of the severity of his disabilities, Cynthia decided to tackle his learning issues at home. With research and extra college classes, she learned how to handle and teach a disabled child. At times, discouragement and frustration with his special needs made her want to quit. But it was her historical research about suffering believers who lived hundreds of years ago that encouraged her to keep going. As soon as Cynthia fell in love with a historical character, she often followed up her research with a trip to that character’s homeland in order to learn more. She believes God desires his children to share with others the encouragement He has given to them. In order to do that, she chose to write. In 2004 Cynthia joined the Christian Authors Guild (CAG) in Woodstock, Georgia. The next year she and the members of CAG compiled a book of short stories. Three of her stories appeared in their book, The Desk in the Attic. A year later she was published in another CAG anthology, No Small Miracles. Since then she has written for The Wave, CAG's newsletter, Chattanooga Regional Historical Journal, NATHHAN NEWS, Georgia Right to Life News, and Catholic Exchange. Since 2004 she has served as chaplain and conference director for Christian Authors Guild. At present she serves as 2008 president. Cynthia and her family reside in the northern Atlanta area, where they have lived for the past 30 years.

Simmons was asked about her recently published book "Struggles and Triumphs":
What is it about these women that drew you to write about them?
Each of them had something that made me feel a connection with them. For instance, I particularly liked Princess Alice, daughter of Queen Victoria, because she was a nurse (I was also a nurse). She had some serious questions about her faith and found answers. On the other hand, her sister, Princess Victoria, turned away from her faith, and I believe she suffered for her choice.
How did you get interested in history?
Years ago I visited the Smithsonian and went through an exhibit on how women have impacted politics. Usually history revolves around men, so my curiosity was aroused. Since then I've read diaries and letters of women from various time periods.
You started homeschooling your children before the nationwide movement began. If you had to make the decision all over again, would you still choose to homeschool?
When I started homeschooling, people actually asked me if it was legal. Others asked me if I was able to teach well enough to educate my children. I would still make the same decision to homeschool today. In fact, I would be much less fearful about failing. I have one daughter with a Masters Degree in Accounting who works for Pricewaterhouse Coopers, another is working on her Ph.D in philosophy. My son is at Georgia Tech studying electrical engineering.
Why did you decide to homeschool your disabled child?
There are lots of problems educating disabled children in government schools. It's hard to get the consistency they need since personnel move away or change jobs. Besides, one-on-one tutoring is always better. I took courses and researched so I could understand his issues and feel competent to direct his therapy.
Why would a modern day woman want to read your book?
Watching these women rely on the power of God will inspire the modern woman to trust God in their daily lives too. In contrast, they will see how much better off they are than women without faith.
What is historical and what is fiction in these stories?
Each of the women actually lived, but I got inside their heads and wrote their thoughts based on letters or diaries. I filled gaps in their stories with my imagination, and I made decisions about the thoughts of the people who surrounded them. For instance, Katie Luther has only two surviving letters. In her case I used her husband's letters, and I visited their home in Wittenberg, Germany.
Which story is your favorite and why?
I particularly like Frenzied Flight, a story about Catherine, Duchess of Suffolk. She and her husband faced being burned at the stake when Queen Mary ascended the throne in 1553. Cathy was wealthy enough to have influence in England, and she was promoting Protestant interests. In fact some historians called her the first Puritan. Mary was Catholic and wanted to return England to Catholism.
Which woman was the most difficult to write about and why?
Princess Victoria, daughter of Queen Victoria, was my least favorite. After her father died she turned away from Christianity and tried to live based on the teachings of philosophers. It is hard to see how hard she tried to cope and how much she suffered.
Give an example of how women have suffered oppression in the past.
Prince Leopold of Germany convinced Caroline Bauer to marry him secretly because she reminded him of his deceased wife. He promised her a life of luxury. Instead she got seclusion. The entire time he was married to her, he looked around for a royal wife and a European throne. When Caroline found out his plans, she felt used and angry.
What do you hope to accomplish in the lives of your readers?
Reading about people who tried to live according to their faith encouraged me in hard times, and I want to pass that encouragement to others. On one occasion, my husband changed jobs and I knew he'd have to travel quite a bit for the first month. I sat down in my bedroom one afternoon and picked up a book of letters by a lady in the 1800's. The book fell open in my hand to a passage where she talked about how long her husband had been away from home. She said the Lord had sustained her for over six months, but she looked forward to his homecoming. At the time, I faced being alone a mere two to three weeks. It was just what I needed. I knew I could make it. More than anything, I want women to come away more convinced that faith in Christ improves the lives of women. And I want them to long to know Christ better.

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