Meeting Mary

by Pat Janda

Meeting Mary Cunningham is an adventure in itself. Her sparkling blue eyes light up and crinkle when she begins talking about writing and her new book, Cynthia’s Attic: The Missing Locket.

“I dreamed it off and on for twenty years,” Mary remarked. “I couldn’t figure out why, in my dreams, I was climbing a creaky staircase to an attic. Sometimes it would be a pleasant experience, going through an ancient trunk and finding old letters and artifacts, and other times it would be dark and foreboding and I’d be afraid. I never knew quite why. There was also another set of stairs in the attic that led to an upper floor. In all my dreams I was never able to finish climbing to the top.

“Then, while visiting my best friend, Diana, I told her about this crazy dream. In the course of our long conversation, suddenly I had a ‘light bulb’ moment. ‘Why, it’s Cynthia’s attic,’ I told Diana. ‘Now I remember. Why has it taken me so long to remember? Cynthia and I used to go up there when we were little girls and play with all the old clothes and toys.’ ”

Mary went on to explain that she and Cynthia, her childhood friend, came into the world just three months apart. They lived on the same quiet sycamore-lined street and their friendship was as close as their houses.

“‘Hmmm…,’ Diana pondered, ‘Cynthia’s Attic. What a great title for a book.’“

“And so it was. From that day on I started writing about my childhood remembrances with a little fantasy and intrigue thrown in to add to the excitement. Cynthia’s grandmother and mine were friends more than fifty years ago, and that fact is brought into the story with mysterious consequences. Amazingly, some of the characters came to life before my eyes. At a particularly tense moment one day when I couldn’t decide what to type next, suddenly the phrase, ‘Clara, is that you?’ came into my mind, and from then on the story just seemed to tell itself. Perhaps only writers understand such an experience—but it’s true. Even more surprising, it was at that time my dreams abruptly stopped.”

Cynthia’s Attic: The Missing Locket will be published in December. It is the first in a series of three about the attic and the adventures surrounding it. The second title in the series is The Magic Medallion, due in June 2006 and the third, Curse of the Bayou, is a work in progress. “And who knows, there may be more!” Mary remarked with a twinkle in her eye. The books are especially geared to the young reader, 10–14 years old.

But more about the versatile author Mary Cunningham. She was born in Corydon, Indiana, and is the daughter of Paul Bulleit, a reporter for the Louisville Courier Journal for many years. Her dad was directly responsible for her love of writing, creativity and fantasy. When she was a child a night didn’t pass that her father wasn’t either reading to her from a favorite book or making up a story of his own.

In 2000 Mary and two friends authored a humorous lifestyle book, Women Only Over Fifty, WOOF. It is a collection of anecdotes, such as ‘Are We Barking Up the Wrong Tree?’ and ‘Doggone We’re Good,’ to mention a couple. Before they put their heads together in this effort, the three tried their hands at songwriting. One of the singles written by Mary and Diana was published and recorded, but, as Mary said, “It was terrible!”

Their homes at the time were only three hours away from Nashville, Tennessee, so they had dreams of becoming famous in the country music world. In their travels they met Debbie Hupp, who wrote music in her basement while her children slept. Hupp went on to compose ‘You Decorated My Life,’ one of the songs that made Kenny Rogers a star. Debbie gave advice and encouragement to Mary and Diana, but eventually Mary decided the music business wasn’t for her. Diana and WOOF co-writer, Melinda, however, have continued their songwriting careers.

Mary and husband, Ken, moved back to Fort Myers, Florida, in 2003, after having spent seven years in New Jersey. Their three children are grown and away from home, so now she has ample time to devote to her lifelong desire to be a writer. She is a member of the Gulf Coast Writers Association and has been published in their annual Anthology.

With her new series, Cynthia’s Attic, she has her work cut out for her. But it is a labor of love and her enthusiasm is contagious.

She received a ‘Thought for the Day’ from her publisher not long ago. It’s a quote she’d like to share from Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics: “If you think you can, you can. If you think you can’t, you’re right.”

There’s no doubt that Mary Cunningham can write a compelling story to hold the attention of not only 10–14 year olds, but adults as well. Cynthia’s Attic: The Missing Locket is testimony to that. Pick up a copy for yourself and a few for the young readers in your life. You’ll be glad you did! •

from the November-December 2005 issue

"I couldn't figure out why,
in my dreams, I was climbing
a creaky staircase to an attic. Sometimes it would be a
pleasant experience and
other times it would be
dark and foreboding."