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2018 Literary Fellowship Recipient Cindy Baldwin

We’re thrilled to introduce the 2018 Oregon Literary Fellowship recipients with individual features on our blog! Out-of-state judges spent several months evaluating the 400+ applications we received, and selected eighteen writers and two publishers to receive grants of $3,500 each. The 2019 OLF applications will be posted at the end of April, and the deadline to apply will be Monday, July 9, 2018.

2018 Oregon Literary Fellowship Recipient
Cindy Baldwin

Young Readers


Cindy Baldwin is a fiction writer, essayist, and poet. She grew up in North Carolina and still misses the sweet watermelons and warm accents on a daily basis. As a middle schooler, she kept a book under her bathroom sink to read over and over while fixing her hair or brushing her teeth, and she dreams of writing the kind of books readers can’t bear to be without. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and daughter, surrounded by tall trees and wild blackberries. Her debut novel, Where The Watermelons Grow, is forthcoming from HarperCollins Children’s Books in 2018.

Q&A with Literary Arts

What are your sources of inspiration?

This is almost as difficult as trying to say where my ideas come from! Often the things that inspire me are ephemeral randomness, things that I noticed that tickle my funny bone or get me thinking. I’m very inspired by visual beauty, and my work tends to reflect that; writing that is immersive, vivid, and lush is what I’m always striving for. I’m also deeply inspired by other books and stories. Quite often, in my moments of doubt, the thing that will get me writing again is reading something that is so beautifully told or so provocatively plotted that it gets the blood pumping faster in my veins and makes me feel like I cannot not write. There are so many authors who have shaped and inspired me as a writer, and whose work I think of frequently as I create my own. Some of my enduring favorites are Madeleine L’Engle, Mary Oliver, Maggie Stiefvater, Laini Taylor, Katherine Applegate, Kate Dicamillo, Sarah Addison Allen, and Ali Benjamin. I love authors who use prose like poetry, and kidlit writers who tackle difficult topics with sensitivity and hope.

How would you describe your creative process?

It varies a bit from book to book, but typically I will get a seed of an idea from some random source (my debut novel was inspired bye singing to my daughter, and my current work-in-progress was inspired by, no joke, an autocorrect fail!), and then I’ll spend at least a few months thinking about it and turning it over in my head. I will figure out what characters go with that idea, and what they need, and where it is set; once I get to the point where I feel like I seriously might want to write it, I have a document on my computer where I make notes on potential future projects, and I’ll put some basic brainstorming into that. I am a character-driven writer, and so typically character and setting come long before the plot for me. Once I decide that I’m ready to sit down and write, I will typically do some outlining, and then dive into drafting. I try to be very efficient with my time, because I have a four-and-a-half-year-old daughter and so my time is fairly scarce and I have to be productive with what I’ve got! In general, I try hard not to be too precious about my creative process, and instead treat creativity as though it will come when I am putting in the work. In general, it usually does!

What is most exciting about receiving a fellowship?

It feels like serendipitous timing in a lot of ways. I developed a pretty bad repetitive stress injury in several of the nerves of my arms and wrists last fall, and so a little extra money has been wonderful to help invest in a healthier writing setup so that I can hopefully let my injury heal and keep writing for a good long time! As a stay-at-home-mom, it will also help so much with babysitting and keeping my house in order while I’m on deadline. On an emotional level, it was such a lovely, and needed, reminder that I’m on the right track with my work; I’m in that awkward stage with my debut novel where the editorial work is done but no advance reviews have yet come in, so it’s easy to feel like my little book is languishing in the forgotten wastelands of publishing, something that can really mess with an anxious writer’s brain! I was so stunned and honored to hear about the fellowship, and it was a boost of confidence and optimism at exactly the moment I needed it. It was also exciting to win it with the particular excerpt I sent, which is from a work in progress that very few people had seen at that point. It’s immensely validating to feel like that project is worth pursuing.

What are you currently working on?

I’m getting ready to start edits for my second middle grade book, which will be out with HarperCollins Children’s in 2019. In the meantime, I’m working on a third middle grade that I think is my favorite yet—a story about falling stars, sisters, magic, wishing for the wrong things, and what it means to have a true home. I also write young adult, and I have a few back-burner YA projects that have been needling at me and will definitely get some airtime in 2018.

What advice do you have for future applicants?

Send the work that you’re most excited about—the one that makes your heart sing. I’m a musical theater nut, and there’s a line in the 2005 musical of Little Women that I think of often in terms of creative striving: “Sometimes when you yearn, you burn the air / and someone else feels the flame you always knew was there.” That was the palpable feeling I had when I learned that I’d received one of the Oregon Literary Fellowships; I loved the work that I submitted so much that it felt like it made the air around me crackle. Don’t be afraid to send in the words most deeply rooted in your heart. And, possibly more than anything, apply! I am a wuss and rarely apply for things for fear of being turned down—but self-rejection will get you nowhere.

Judge’s comments from fellowship judge Nova Ren Suma:

“Mama always says that disasters are like blessings—both of them come in threes. This is the story of how I proved her right.” From the first moment we meet Cindy Baldwin’s twelve-year-old narrator, Ivy Mae Bloom, there is a spark of energy that promises a tale of possibility and hope. Ivy and her family live their lives on the road, crammed into Martha—their tiny Winnebago RV that lends the novel its title, The Little Winnebago—traveling the country selling wishes come true. As Ivy reveals, this is the story of three sisters, three fallen stars, and three disasters. It is also a story that sings, with passages of strong voice, memorable characters, and otherworldly elements grounded in the real world that make the opening chapters transcend and feel special. Ivy longs so deeply for a forever home, but as she crisscrosses the country in Martha, and as Mama grants wish after wish from strangers, Ivy’s own wish never has a chance of coming true. Baldwin has crafted a character that young readers can root for and connect with on a deep level. Ivy is asthmatic yet never weak—she is daring, willing to risk all to steal the jars of fireflies Mama keeps as wishes, setting the first disaster of the summer into motion. A middle-grade novel full of charm and heart always holds a distinct kind of magic—you just know it when you see it, and you read along with wonder, unable to keep from being transported. This was what the story of Ivy Mae Bloom, the daughter of a fallen star on a road full of wish-seekers, did for me.

Excerpt from The Little Winnebago

In stories, the number three is important.
Three princesses.
Three woodcutter’s sons.
Three tasks.
My story is the same, I guess.
Three sisters.
Three fallen stars.
And three disasters.
Mama always says that disasters are like blessings—both of them come in threes.
This is the story of how I proved her right.
  Everywhere we travel, word about the wishes gets around. You’d think that for a family who lives on the road one-hundred-percent of the time we’d have to advertise, but somehow we never do; we just show up to a town, park our Winnebago—Martha—and by that night we’ve already had at least one knock on the door. 
  They’re all different, the wish-seekers. Sometimes it will be a young mother with tired eyes. Others, a granddaddy with a cane and a tightness around the mouth. Every now and then it’ll be a teenager, shifting from one foot to the other on the RV front step like his shoes are full of fire ants.
But they all want the same things:
  Happiness. Peace. Resolution. And while Mama never sells a wish without first cautioning about how wishes have limits, and rules, and don’t always work out the way you expect them to—the wish-seekers always leave with a lighter step, like the world is finally turning their way. Sometimes we see them again; sometimes we don’t. Sometimes their wishes work out for the best; sometimes they don’t.
  But no matter where we go, they find us.
  The evening we pulled up in Silverwood, Tennessee, the visit came from a grandmotherly lady with short blonde hair and a way of holding herself that brought to mind the Queen. She wore a navy skirt and blazer without a speck of dust on them—the kind of outfit you could only get away with if you had a regular house with a regular closet, and a laundry room, and a full-sized ironing board. We’d barely had the chance to plug Martha’s power cord into the campsite’s adapter, but it didn’t matter. It never took long for people to hear about the wishes.
  There was no actual knock on the door this time, on account of the fact that we were all already outside: Daddy and Louisa were down at the lake fishing for our dinner, Elena and I were putting a tablecloth and dishes on the campsite picnic table, and Mama was crouched by the fire pit, laying logs with more precision than most people build houses.
  The visitor paused at the edge of our campsite, her feet together in their tan pumps, and cleared her throat.
  “Hello,” said Mama, standing up and wiping char from her hands. Her hair swished and sparkled in the afternoon sunlight. 
  Mama’s hair was long and white. Not stringy and white like an old lady’s, and not white like people say when they’re describing hair that’s so light a blonde it’s nearly see-through. Mama’s was bone-white, star-white, milk-white, shot through with glimmers of silver, so that sometimes when she moved it looked almost like water. Everywhere we went, people stopped to stare at Mama, at her golden-brown skin and white hair and eyes the clear grey-blue of moonlight on snow.  
Nobody in the world looked quite like my mama.
  “I’m Marianne Bloom,” said Mama, lifting a hand to shake the visitor’s. “And these are my daughters, Ivy and Elena. Can I help you?”
  The woman nodded, her head high and proud, but her eyes darted back at me and Elena once and then twice, like she didn’t want to say whatever it is she’d come to say where we could hear her. They were often like that, the wish-seekers, carrying their secrets in tight fingers.


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