Success Story with Cynthia Salaysay
Cynthia Salaysay lives in Oakland CA. Her debut book Private Lessons comes out on May 12 from Candlewick Press. She has a bachelor's degree in English from UC Berkeley.
I stopped writing a little after college. I didn’t believe in myself, and I wasn’t sure I had a good story inside me. That may have been true – I was young and I didn’t know myself very well. Knowing yourself and the space you take up in the world takes time, especially when you grow up basing your value on the opinions of others. Believing in myself is now a practice that I have to repeat and relearn over and over again.
Things changed when I began to live for myself. There came a point when I chose myself over my romantic relationships, chose my city, chose my apartment, and chose my friends. I learned to stand on my own two feet and writing helped me grow stronger. One day, a friend suggested I write a story in which a teacher leads one astray, and Private Lessons was born.
One major lesson I learned in writing Private Lessons was that in order to finish it, I had to answer the questions I most avoided. Holes in characters, holes in plot, holes in setting – everything had to be answered. Answering difficult questions like, “What does it mean for Claire, my main character, that she is brown?” and “What is Claire’s true relationship with her mother?” gave the book its weight and meaning.
It took a long time to answer those questions! Writing Private Lessons took me eight years. It’s a coming-of-age story about a young girl who wants to become a competitive pianist. She becomes enthralled with an elite piano teacher named Paul, and she struggles for his approval, only to find herself in a compromising position and grappling with the dynamics of power and race. Ultimately she learns a lot about who she really is. Private Lessons is about healing and finding your voice, and I hope that it opens people’s hearts and gives people courage to be strong in themselves.
You can buy Private Lessons at: