Presence of Cyn – Interview with Sandra Barnes

Sandra Barnes has travelled around the world, collecting stories. She loves multiculturalism, and she honors differences in her writing to illustrate the sometimes not-so-obvious similarities of all people. Sandra lives in Southern Maryland with her husband and two teenagers. When she is not writing or traveling with family, she spends considerable time counseling teens and advocating for social justice in mental health. 

 What sparked the story for this novel? 

Sometimes doing the wrong thing can feel right in a twisted sort of way. And if we’re honest, the wrong thing can feel SO good … in the moment, that is. When I taught teenagers, I often used vignettes to help them unravel themselves from sticky situations when right and wrong seemed knotted together. My students would always say, “Mrs. Barnes, you should write a book!” Seems I found the right inspiration when I met a young girl who enrolled in our school because she had been expelled from her last school. 

Much like the main character in Presence of Cyn, trouble waited in line to box with this girl. When I started mentoring her, the mental and emotional duel became obvious. Her nonverbal language would scream conflicting messages like, leave me alone/rescue me; give me some space/stay close; you don’t care about me/don’t you care about me? I discovered that running track was the one thing that helped her cope with her turbulent life at home. It was also the thing our school couldn’t offer her.
Sadly, our relationship was abruptly interrupted. I arrived at school one day, only to learn that she was once again expelled because of mischief. I never heard her version of what really happened. 

One could say that Presence of Cyn is my vision for how that young girl’s story might’ve played out if she could’ve hung in there just a little while longer. 

Share a bit of your journey to publication. Was it short or long? 

The journey to publication hasn’t been linear for me. It’s been rather iterative, as in write/rewrite and edit/re-edit. It has also been more like stop, go, hurry-up, and wait. So, let’s see. In 2011, I attended my very first Christian writer’s conference at Mount Hermon, where I participated in the Headstart Mentoring Workshop. There, I met my three critique partners, who have been extremely instrumental in my journey. 

In 2012, while again at Mount Hermon, I enrolled in the Intermediate Clinic that was taught by Randy Ingermanson, the “Snowflake Guy.” Randy’s contagious passion for writing launched my ideas to another level. 

In 2013, I stayed closer to home and attended the Greater Philly Conference; and that’s where I actually met and acquired my wonderful agent, Jim Hart of Hartline Literary Agency. Within a year, May 2014, I signed a contract for a series of YA novels. 

A year later, May 2015, the first book in the series, Presence of Cyn, was released. So what’s that? 4 years? Almost half a decade? Depends on how you look at it, I guess. At any rate, the journey itself has been good. Chock-full of lessons, but good ones. 

What would you do if you didn’t write? 

If I didn’t write, I’d probably feel handicapped in some way. Writing is a natural extension of who I am … I’m a writer; therefore, I write. However, I don’t think that I have to necessarily write for publication. It’s a way to inspire and instill hope—not just for others, but to encourage myself as well. I can’t imagine writing not being an option, but if it weren’t, I’d continue doing something else therapeutic, like counseling teens. 

 What makes you struggle as an author? How do you handle it?

As a clinical psychologist, my eyes and ears are exposed to many troubling issues. As a Christian writer, I want to feature realistic characters with real-life burdens that aren’t necessarily easy for any of us to bear. However, I have to sensitively inject just the right dose of reality for my audience in a format that’s easy-to-swallow. Being delicate, yet authentic is sometimes a very difficult balancing act. 

Where do you write: In a cave, a coffeehouse, or a cozy nook?

NYC Algonquin hotel were famous writers’ groups like
F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway used to meet

Oh how I wish I had a dedicated space to write! As it is, I’m usually snatching snippets of time whenever and wherever I can. The bulk of the writing for Presence of Cyn happened in my martial arts studio, between my kids’ classes and my own sparring class. It’s not unusual for me to write during long flights; in hotel lobbies; while waiting for a particular service; or at night, sitting in my bed, and drinking a cup of hot tea. 

Do you prefer the creating or editing aspect of writing? Why?

Definitely creating! Conceiving a character and giving him or her space to live in my head for a while feels much more intimate and personal to me. Sometimes when I edit for ease of understanding, I think, “But that’s not how she said it!” 

Do you consider yourself a visual writer? If so, what visuals do you use? 

No, I’m not a visual writer. I’ve attempted incorporating visuals in my writing process, like photos of settings or individuals that resemble my characters; but the slight differences between the visuals and what I’ve creatively imagined are usually too distracting. 

What are your top 3 recommendations for a new writer? 

  1. Connect with a group of critique partners or beta readers to get feedback. 
  2. Learn as much as you can about craft and technique, but be true to your own voice and writing style so your writing doesn’t read formulaic. 
  3. Pray through the process. As Allen Arnold suggests, “Don’t simply write for God, but write with God.” 

Then what 3 things would recommend not doing? 

  1.  Do not become overly anxious or too ambitious. It breeds impatience and frustration. Remember, God’s timing is perfect. 
  2. Do not believe everything you hear from everybody. There are so many dos and don’ts and suggestions about what’s hot and what’s not, that it’s easy to get sucked in and pulled away from your real purpose for writing. Discernment is a must. Listen to God—He is NOT the author of confusion. 
  3. Do not become a hermit during the writing project. It’s easy to get lost in the writing world and lose contact with actual people. The individuals that God has placed in your life can be just as fun and interesting. And, they totally love you back! 

What’s next for you?

There’s more fun to come! Right now, I’m busy polishing book 2 in this young adult series, 28 First Kisses. You’ll see more of Cyndray and her new best friend, Janaclese, as they struggle with adolescence and the emerging phases of adulthood. 

About Presence of Cyn:

How can you win the race if you’re speeding down the wrong track? 

 CYNDRAY JOHNSON, a wild and unruly teenager, longs to become a track star but instead races against self-destruction. Falsely accused of a bomb threat traced to her cell phone, she’s expelled from St. Pious Christian Academy, ruining her chances of obtaining the one thing that really matters to her—winning a gold medal in the State Championship. 

Hardened by rejection, Cyndray enrolls at Unity High where she struggles to hide her identity from her new English teacher, Mrs. Samson, whom she recognizes as the lady whose purse she snatched as a prank. However, an impulsive stunt destroying school property forces them into a mentoring relationship where an unexpected bond ignites. 

Still longing for acceptance and tired of her strict parameters, Cyndray finds a way to meet with her old, rebellious friend, but lands in a situation that grows to dangerous proportions in a hotel. A terrified Cyndray has nowhere to run. For the first time, she contemplates her path and wants to change lanes. But when the lines between right and wrong keep merging in her sight, how can she get on the right track?

Testimonial  of Presence of Cyn

Presence of Cyn is a refreshingly honest look at the story of a young woman trying to figure out who she is. Disturbed by the dysfunctional family to which she belongs, she acts out by being wild, mouthy, and sometimes dishonest. Her only real love is running, but her history of misbehavior has bounced her from one school to another to another. As a result, her final school has denied her her love – until she picks up her grades and improves her behavior. How Cyndray, “Call me Cyn,” finds her way to being herself, and finds her way to Jesus as Savior, is an excellent story. Readers of all ages will delight in her journey! ~Deb Haggerty

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Ronie Kendig is an award-winning, bestselling author who grew up an Army brat. After twenty-plus years of marriage, she and her hunky hero husband have a full life with their children, a Maltese Menace, and a retired military working dog in Northern Virginia. She can be found at, on Facebook (, Twitter (@roniekendig), Goodreads (, and Pinterest (!

Ronie’s upcoming release, Falcon, received 4.5 stars from RT Book Reviews: Kendig blows away fans…Falcon is a must-read!