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Local author featured at Bud Werner Memorial Library debuting new novel

Local author Susan Cunningham will talk about her debut novel “Crow Flight” at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 13, at Bud Werner Memorial Library. (courtesy photo)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — From small-town reporter to sock-sourcing manager to data analyst to full-time mom, Susan Cunningham has worn a variety of hats in her career.

There’s one, however, that has been ever present: writing.

The local author, who was also a former reporter at Steamboat Pilot & Today, has finished her debut novel “Crow Flight” with Amberjack Publishing. It is set to be released Tuesday, Dec. 11.

Cunningham will share her story and the new novel at an author talk from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 13, at Bud Werner Memorial Library.

“Crow Flight,” she explained, is a contemporary young adult novel about how the curious flight patterns of crows lead a teen computer programmer down a path of mystery and romance. It’s a timely read given the push to encourage girls to pursue fields in science, technology, engineering and math.

Steamboat Pilot & Today: How and when did the idea for this book emerge?

Susan Cunningham: It all started when I was researching crows and ravens. And, I became fascinated by how intelligent they are. They can complete multistep puzzles using various tools, recognize human faces and even mourn their own dead.

Suddenly, I had this image of two teenagers standing on a wintry field, trained crows flying around them. And though that isn’t the opening scene of the book, it’s the first one I wrote.

SP&T: As a writer, how do you determine whether a thought or story in your head will become a story for a book?

SC: I suppose it’s when the spark for a story grabs my attention so deeply I want to write more and discover what’s there. When I start to write a book, I have a basic sense of what should happen. But, that changes a lot through the first draft. Then I go back and revise. And revise and revise.

If you go

What: Susan Cunningham author talk
When: 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 13
Where: Bud Werner Memorial Library

SP&T: What is it that draws you to write? Is it an inherent need? To inspire change?

SC: It’s a great question and, honestly, a hard one for me to answer. I’ve always dreamed of being an author, but for years, it didn’t feel like something that was entirely possible. But, I love writing and do feel compelled to write. Maybe that’s how art often is — it may not be logical, and yet, we have this deep need and desire to create. And, if my stories can engage or enthrall or encourage readers, then really, there’s nothing better.

SP&T: Can you remember back to the moment you knew you wanted to be an author? Was it a particular novel? An author you look up to?

SC: I remember in the third grade or so, I loved this book called “Wait Till Helen Comes.” And then, I got the chance to go to a talk by the author, Mary Downing Hahn. She even signed my book. I was so blown away to see that this author I admired was just a regular person. I think that’s when I felt the first very small hope that maybe I could do that, too.

SP&T: Was there ever a moment where you hesitated to write this story? Even when you had a number of rejections, what was it that kept you going?

SC: For me, writer’s block is intertwined with a fear of failing. Even if I have a great idea for a story, I worry my words won’t capture the excitement and beauty and adventure of my idea. And guess what? They never will, at least not in the first draft. But I write anyway. And eventually, after lots of revising, it gets better. The trick is finding a way to do the work, knowing it isn’t ever going to be perfect.

SP&T: When did you officially finish the book? How did it feel once it was released?

SC: I started writing the book four years ago, got an agent two years after that and signed off on a final version of the book for the publisher a few months ago. It’s been a long process with lots of ups and downs, but it’s magical to see what was once a big Word document on my computer turn into a final book. I feel overwhelmingly grateful that readers will get to enjoy it.

SP&T: Why did you want to write “Crow Flight”?

SC: The crows hooked me from the start. But also, I wanted to explore how a smart teenager who relies on logic a little too much could learn to trust her instincts and even fall in love.

SP&T: What do you hope your readers will walk away with after reading “Crow Flight”?

SC: First, I hope they enjoy it — there’s nothing like stepping into the world of a story and getting pulled along by it. And second, I hope they leave feeling curious about the science behind the book, maybe even to the point that they want to learn more about these super smart birds or computer models that predict love. Some readers have said they don’t look at crows the same way after reading my book, which is so fun to hear.

SP&T: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?

SC: One of my best pieces of writing advice came from my mom when I was in elementary school. I had just received an assignment to write a journal from the perspective of a child living in the 1800s. As I sat at the kitchen table, moaning about the size of the project, my mom made a suggestion: just write a little every day.

There is power in the small steps. And though I have to remind myself constantly to take the first one, I’m always grateful when I do.

To reach Audrey Dwyer, call 970-871-4229, email adwyer@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @Audrey_Dwyer1.


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