Little Red Writing Hood: Cynthia Hilston

I share my writing journey with many beautiful souls, including the Horror Writers Association, the Ohio Writers Association, and my longest-running group, the Little Red Writing Hoods. In 1997 when I had a daycare in my home, I’d put the six, SIX toddlers down for a nap and hold a poetry workshop at my dining room table with two of the present Reds and another poet. (Yes, I was insane.) Years later in the fall of 2018, the Reds reunited and began meeting in my living room, sans toddlers.

Meet Little Red Writing Hood Cynthia Hilston. Cyndi and I met at the North Ridgeville Writer’s Group led by Scot Allyn. I instantly loved Cyndi. Her thoughtful, spot-on evaluations would be delivered in the kindest manner possible. She considered, not just the craft, but how her words/tone would affect the crafter. Whether she ever heard one of my favorite quotes, I don’t know, but the compassion she shows while imparting suggestions makes me know she gets it: A painter can hang his pictures, but a writer can only hang himself. – Edward Dahlberg

I’ve had the pleasure of reading all nine of Cyndi’s works and participating in the workshop process of eight of them. I asked Cyndi to share how she got into writing because I think it encourages aspiring writers to step out and JUST DO IT. Fifteen minutes a day was Cyndi’s first writing goal. Seven years later and she’s writing her tenth book! Well if that’s not an Atomic Habits success story, I don’t know what is.

The Scoop on Cyndi

One night in 2006, I woke with a name on my lips: Hannah Rechthart. I hadn’t been dreaming about her, but I knew who she was: she was to be a fictional character who represented my late grandma. At that point, I wrote fanfiction and poetry. The thought of writing a full-length original novel was daunting, but when I had that character name on my mind, I immediately wrote it down. I added other names, people based on my grandma’s family: brothers, sisters, parents, children, grandchildren, the whole bunch.

I was fortunate to have my grandma’s diary from when she was a young woman, some love letters she sent to my grandpa during WWII, a paper she wrote in high school about her life, and something she and her younger sister wrote later in life about what it was like growing up in the early twentieth century. I took notes on these documents, talked to my mom, and had my own memories. With that, I started writing a fictionalized version of Grandma’s life, beginning with her childhood.

I wrote a mere four chapters between 2006-2009, still greatly intimidated at the idea of writing a book. I told people I wanted to write this story, but I always had excuses, and I didn’t even have kids back then! By 2009, I became a mom, and two years later, I had my second son, so for several years, I was occupied as a mom with two young boys. By 2015, I still hadn’t written anything. Six years passed!

Finally, in March 2015, when the twenty-year anniversary of Grandma’s passing was upon me, I got to thinking about her, about her story, and about how I hadn’t told it. A big part of telling that story was to share the true account of a miracle that happened. When I knew Grandma was dying, I wrote her a letter, asking her to send me a sign once she reached heaven. From the day she died (April 8, 1995) to the day of her funeral (April 12, 1995), it rained. The evening of her funeral, the rain stopped. My mom called me to the front window. “Look!” Stretched across the sky was a lovely rainbow, and I knew this was Grandma’s sign, Grandma’s rainbow! That was originally the title of my book, which later was changed to Hannah’s Rainbow

So, with all that in mind, I told myself I’d write for just fifteen minutes a day until I finished her story. Even if I never shared it with anyone, knowing I wrote it would mean enough for me. Needless to say, once I started, I couldn’t stop! A couple of weeks after I began writing, I discovered I was pregnant! I knew the baby would be a girl this time, and she needed to bear my grandma’s name: Emma.

In the novel, the character who’s my counterpart names her daughter after her grandma (Hannah). By January 2016, I finished the first draft, and Emma was born on New Year’s Eve! She was my second miracle.

From that point, I didn’t know if I’d write more books. I had several friends and my mom read it and give feedback. I made changes, and deciding I needed to share the story, I self-published it on Amazon. At the same time the novel went live, I attended my first writer group meeting at my local library. For months, whenever I drove past the library, I saw the sign advertising the group that met every other Saturday afternoon. I had no idea what to expect, thinking there would perhaps be two or three people there. Imagine my surprise to enter a room with a dozen eyes all on me because I was new (and late)!

The rest is history, as they say. I began attending that group, and at the time, inspiration had struck out of left field for a second book (Lorna versus Laura). In the story, a young woman (Lorna) who lost her parents to a car accident and whose brother was drafted to the war (1940s) is trying to restart her life. She sells her childhood home, gets rid of everything, and moves to a new house, thinking it’s that simple to put her past behind her. Then she meets her eccentric widower next-door neighbor (Tristan) who seems to be hiding something, and when they start having feelings for each other, things get messy.

From there, my writing pretty much exploded! My third novel (A Laughing Matter of Pain) is a spin-off of Hannah’s Rainbow and tells her brother’s (Harry) story and explores what happens during the eight years he steps out of the picture in Hannah’s story as he struggles to overcome a tragic mistake caused by his alcoholism.

I’ve written other novels that aren’t directly connected to these, but all my stories exist in the same universe. There are little Easter eggs if the reader is paying careful attention and is familiar with my work. But my favorite characters (Hannah, Harry, Lorna, and Tristan) live in the first three novels, of which more novels have followed. Little did I expect to write series, but as an author, I’ve heard over and over how series are great ideas. If I love a character, surely my readers will want more of their story as well. And the characters take on lives of their own beyond the pages. I know these people like dear friends.

My current project is a sequel to A Laughing Matter of Pain (Laughing Matter series) called A Laughing Matter of Bliss. My upcoming release is the third novel in the Lorna & Tristan series (of which Lorna versus Laura is the first) entitled The Rock at the Bottom. Between the two series, there is a fair amount of crossover. The characters from each series meet each other at various times and eventually become friends.

But why do I love certain characters so much? Because they’re highly flawed, but they persevere. I love diving deep, exploring why they’re so messed up and how they can find redemption. Part of that always involves faith in God, even when they fight it. My faith matters to me, mattered to Grandma, and I believe God gave me the gift of writing, and I’d be sorely remiss to not use it.

Besides the stories themselves, had I never written, I would’ve never met so many fellow writers, many of whom are dear friends, Kelly among them! My writer friends and I are like-minded. We understand how people relate to each other through story, and story is a huge part of friendship. 

Cynthia Hilston, Author







6 thoughts on “Little Red Writing Hood: Cynthia Hilston

  1. “A painter can hang his pictures, but a writer can only hang himself. – Edward Dahlberg” – I believe it was Hemingway who said along the lines of: “Writing is easy: just cut your wrists and bleed onto the page.”

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