In comparison to many other local writers on the internet, Cristy Zinn is everywhere. Pick a platform and she’s got the profile. This is great for me, because it makes tracking her down for an interview relatively easy.
Why though? Why is she so social media savvy?
“I’m a chronic procrastinator?” She suggests.
I suspect we are going to get along.
Zinn is one of the new additions to the South African Spec Scene (SASS (I just made that up (and now I’m going to use it all the time))). Her middle-grade fantasy novel, The Dreamer’s Tears, was released this year, courtesy of Fox&Raven.
“It’s about a town protected from fire-breathing beasts by a magical tower,” Zinn explains. “A curious girl becomes apprentice to the man who keeps the tower in working order. Did I mention, gears and magic?”
Sounds steampunkey, which is a little unusual for a local writer targeting young teens. Zinn bemoans the lack of middle grade fantasy writers in the country.
“We have amazing picture-book authors and brilliant YA authors, but there are very few writing for that middling age. If publishers are publishing books for this age group, they are making their authors very difficult to find. I’ve looked.”
Maybe that’s something an aspiring author should look in… *coughs* Anyway, Zinn claims she feels positive about the rising South African literary scene in general, even given its shortcomings.
“It’s a place of constant conversation and evolution. The more I hear about what people are doing, the more excited I get. I love how generous our literary scene is.”
Prior to this authoring gig, Zinn worked as both an English and Drama teacher. Interacting with children granted her insight into what they enjoy reading, as well as a passion to develop literacy projects and a reading culture amongst the youth.
“Those are pivotal years, the bridge between childhood and adulthood,” she says. “I saw kids go home at the end of the year and come back from summer holidays as entirely different human beings – sometimes enlivened and other times wrecked.”
In a scandalous move, Zinn confesses that Drama is probably more important than English. Gasp!
“I may be biased, but Drama is a crucial subject for any storyteller. You learn about dialogue, tension, subtext, conflict, body language. If I’m honest, Drama class helped me more than English class did – that’s probably why I have to spend so much time editing.”
Allow me to pause here and insert another illustration. The Artbeat team had a lot of fun this week playing with their crayons.
Zinn herself heads up a writing project for young people, called Write Start, which tries to encourage teens to try out storytelling for themselves. Describing herself as a “very average student”, Zinn is grateful to the teachers and mentors in her own life that spurred her to keep writing and take risks. Now she wants to offer that same encouragement to other aspiring authors.
“Even if they never become writers, I know the value of writing and how it helps us to process things, to deal with grief and disappointment, to help us understand people who are different and figure out how the world works. Writing, although difficult, is a gift – a lens to see the world through.”
In the same spirit of generosity, a large volume of Zinn’s shorter work is available online, free to read, no strings attached. She is fairly modest about it all.
“The works on my blog are a little raw and probably not as polished as they should be,” she admits. “When I was a new writer I was always hesitant to share my work, but I’ve since learned that the regardless where you are in your writing journey, sharing your work is the only way you will grow.”
“I also do it because I know there are far too many kids who don’t have a nearby library, or the money to buy books, and I still want them to be able to read my stories. I have to try and eke out a living, but I’ll share whatever I can.”
Actually, Zinn’s pretty generous about most things. I ask her about the five most important things in her life. She gives me six.
“Family. Faith. Stories. Music. Art. Education,” she rattles off.
As this is obviously crucial information, I enquire whether she owns a pair of writing pants.
“Not as such,” she answers, with some degree of confusion. Sometimes I pity my sources; they probably were expecting more intellectual, probing enquiry about their work and less…
“Describe yourself in three words, all starting with the letter C.”
Well, less of that.
“Creative, curious, contemplative,” she humours me.
“Favourite SA writer?”
“Cat Hellisen. I read her book, Beastkeeper, at the beginning of the year and it has been one of those stories that stayed with me for ages. She has a powerful way with words.”
Oh good. Cat Hellisen is on my hit list for interviews.
“Favourite book cover at the moment?”
“I’ll mention three that I’ve really liked recently: The Vengekeep Prophecies by Brian Farrey, illustration by Brett Helquist. Wildwood by Colin Meloy, illustrated by Carson Ellis. And finally, all of the new Harry Potter covers, illustrated by Johnny Duddle.”
Her first choice is actually Chris Riddle, but she didn’t want to come off as too obsessed, as she admits he’s also the person she would most like to co-write a novel with. The term “fan-girl” springs to mind.
“I just love his inventiveness,” she gushes. “I imagine working with him would stretch me incredibly as a children’s author. The book I am currently working on would lend itself beautifully to his illustration style…”
Hint hint, nudge nudge. It just so happens that Riddle will be at the Cape Town Open Book Festival this year. There was really no need for me to ask whether Zinn already knew this.
“I almost hyperventilated when I found out. Blush. So yes, I am flying to Cape Town to gush my heart out, get some books signed and hopefully wrangle a teeny doodle out of the genius. My kids are so jealous they’re on the verge of disowning me.”
I guess we’ll have to look forward to the upcoming Zinn/Riddle epic.