Meet Cynthia Toney, Author of 10 Steps to Girlfriend Status

10 Steps to Girlfriend Status

By Cynthia Toney

Alzheimer’s is a cruel prison that held my dear mother-in-law in chains for approximately three years, taking her freedom and her mind until it finally took her body. I understood little about the disease before watching a once brilliant, witty, and loving lady wither before my eyes.

I was shocked by how quickly my mother-in-law forgot how to communicate with me and then forgot who I was. We’d had so many interests in common that our conversations had always been easy. I missed her intelligence and laughter, and she no longer spoke the customary “I love you” in parting. But if I was saddened and worried by her condition, my husband and his brother were devastated. They had to learn to manage the life of the matriarch who’d always done the managing for our family and had handled it as well as she had her jobs as a bank vice-president and a high-level position in state government.

The emotional toll that this reversal of fortune for her had on the rest of us needed to be fully expressed. I decided to write about Alzheimer’s and its effects on both victim and family by using one of the characters in my fiction series for teen girls.

Mrs. Villaturo first appears in book one, 8 Notes to a Nobody. She is the healthy, elderly next-door neighbor of my main character, Wendy, who is a young teenager. Mrs. V (as Wendy calls her) becomes a surrogate grandmother to the girl, who grows to love her neighbor. In book two, 10 Steps to Girlfriend Status, Wendy is in high school, is forming a romantic relationship, and is becoming part of a blended family. During the changes all this brings, she discovers something wrong with her beloved Mrs. V.

Through Wendy’s eyes, the reader experiences the emotions I felt over the slow but unstoppable progress of Alzheimer’s. Wendy tries to understand what’s happening to Mrs. V and to help her, including an effort to stop Mrs. V’s real family from taking her away.

Readers of this novel relate to the loss of a loved one, whether from Alzheimer’s or another disease. The story particularly helps young people understand the changes in personality they witness in an Alzheimer’s victim. As I wrote about Mrs. V and Wendy, I also was better able to accept and understand what my mother-in-law and our family endured.

One detail in the plot that came directly from our family’s experience involved the giving away of valuable items to near-strangers. Prior to her diagnosis, my mother-in-law never got rid of anything unless she first asked if anyone in the family needed it. Another detail in the story reflects the hallucinations of friends or loved ones “visiting” my mother-in-law in her home.

Wendy, the main character in my novels, is caught in the middle of a drama created by Alzheimer’s disease that she is as poorly equipped to deal with as I was. I hope through 10 Steps to Girlfriend Status and its sequel, 6 Dates to Disaster, readers young and old will recognize themselves or their loved ones in my fictional characters and find comfort or guidance for the challenges of Alzheimer’s.

About the Author

Cynthia ToneyUnlike many authors, Cynthia didn’t grow up thinking she had the ability to write fiction. She took a circuitous route to her first published novel as a teacher, newspaper artist, marketing director, and interior decorator. She first wrote advertising, catalog, and mail copy, as well as a newsletter about using salvaged materials in decorating.

Now she writes novels for preteens and teens because she wants them to know how wonderful, powerful, and valuable God made them. Her contemporary and historical fiction has twisty plots with elements of mystery and romance—because life is complicated. Ask any teen!

Cynthia’s Bird Face series (so far) includes 8 Notes to a Nobody, 10 Steps to Girlfriend Status, and 6 Dates to Disaster. Before her beloved mother-in-law had a chance to see any of the books published, she died as a result of Alzheimer’s.

Cynthia has a passion for rescuing dogs from animal shelters and encourages others to save a life by fostering or adopting a shelter pet. She enjoys growing herbs and studying the complex history of the friendly southern U.S. from Georgia to Texas, where she resides with her husband and several canines.

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2 Responses

  1. Thank you for allowing me to express my feelings about Alzheimer’s on your blog. I am also grateful to learn of the many good books listed here, and I look forward to reading them.

  2. Thank you for this, Cynthia! While my mom didn’t suffer from Alzheimer’s (she had “the other kind of dementia”) I know the pain families experience — so heart-wrenching.

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