Cynthia Hand is the New York Times bestselling author of several books for teens, including the Unearthly trilogy, The Last Time We Say Goodbye, The Afterlife of Holly Chase, The How & The Why, and With You All The Way. She also writes the Jane books with fellow authors Jodi Meadows and Brodi Ashton: My Lady Jane, My Plain Jane, My Calamity Jane, My Contrary Mary, and My Imaginary Mary. Before turning to writing for young adults, she studied literary fiction and earned both an M.F.A. and a Ph.D. in fiction writing (although please don't refer to her as "Dr. Hand," because that sounds like a cartoon supervillain.) She currently resides in Boise, Idaho, with two kids, two cats, one crazy dog, and a mountain of books.
I grew up in southeast Idaho, just outside the town of Idaho Falls. From as far back as I can remember, I loved books and reading, and wrote my first short story (about a fairy being born in a tulip) when I was around six years old—pretty much as soon as I could write. My second grade teacher, Mrs. Widdison, told me that I'd be an author some day, and I believed her. I kept writing stories all through grade school, most of them wildly fantastical musings on supernatural beings or creatures, none of which ever won the annual short story competition where the writer got to meet Kenneth Thomasma, the author of one of my very favorite books, Naya Nuki. I learned early on that if you wanted to win the writing contest, you should write stories about that time your parents got their car stuck in the snow on the side of a mountain just before dark. You should not write about a group of unicorns fighting to take over an island from an alien invasion. I kept writing about unicorns anyway.
In middle school and high school, my friends and I formed a writing group that wrote fan fiction about our favorite novels and movies. Each person in the group invented a new character in the decided-upon world (we wrote about Elfquest, Vampire Hunter D, X-Men, Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar series, Anne McCafferty's Pern series, Star Wars, and SeaQuest—anyone remember SeaQuest?) and wrote exclusively from that character's point of view, sharing our writing as we went, collectively shaping what happened to these characters. Early on I was appointed the "editor" of our work, meaning that I collected it all, typed it, and edited it. I loved and possibly abused my power with the red pen.
In middle school and high school I also, on top of all the fan-fic writing, took piano lessons, danced tap and ballet, raced on the Kelly Canyon ski team, acted or teched in every school play and several plays for the community theater, sang in the school choir, took AP classes, and somehow managed to find time to eat and sleep enough to stay alive. There was a period during my junior year when I arrived at school at 5:30 a.m. and didn't get home until around 10 p.m., five days a week. I took the words insanely busy to a whole new level.
I went to college at the College of Idaho, where I majored in English (because I still loved to read, dangit) with a pre-law emphasis. I kept writing, as a hobby, I told everybody (especially my dad, who wanted me to have a solid, well-paying job) but focused on classes in constitutional law and international politics. I kept this up until the beginning of my senior year, when one day, neck deep in the law section of the library, I had this thought: I don't want to be a lawyer. I want to be a writer. So I broke the news to my parents and my advisers, who were all dismayed but tried to be understanding (especially my dad), and started to work on applying to M.F.A. programs in creative writing. I was lucky enough to get into Boise State University.
Even More Schooling:
At Boise State, I was determined to become a "serious writer," to the point where I cut out pictures of my favorite literary authors (Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Alice Walker, Jane Smiley, Harper Lee, Tobias Wolff, Andre Dubus, Rick Bass, Joyce Carol Oates and many others) and taped them to the edges of my computer screen, so that I'd be reminded of greatness every time I sat down to write. No pressure or anything. It was in Boise that I learned to appreciate literary fiction, which I wrote exclusively for the next nine years, and where I fell head over heels in love with teaching. Just when I thought I was finally figuring out how to be a writer, I got kicked out (okay, not kicked out, I graduated with an M.F.A. in fiction writing). I wanted to keep studying, so I applied for Ph.D.s around the country, settling eventually on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In Nebraska, two hugely important things happened: I published my first short story, and I connected with my agent, the lovely Katherine Fausset.
Fast forward five years. I'd settled into "real life," (teaching, motherhood, etc.) but something was missing: writing. I was just not feeling it. I had an agent, but I'd been working on the same half-finished literary novel for years, going nowhere. Then one fateful night the first lines of Unearthly started stirring in my mind.
It's been a wild ride since then. In the twelve years since Unearthly was published, I've written thirteen more novels for HarperTeen. I have made so many wonderful friends within the writing community, including my bffs Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows, and now we write books together as the Lady Janies. I get to travel and see the world, and I also get to stay home and do what I love best: write. It's a pretty good life.