Cynthia Collins was well into her music career, working administratively for ASCAP and in performance while living in New York City.
She was thousands of miles away from her native Jefferson City, a place she first cultivated a passion for music during piano lessons she started at 5 years old and encouragement from a mother and aunt who still play piano and organ, respectively. She received her Bachelor of Music and Bachelor of Arts degrees from Drury University in Springfield and wanted to become a classical choral composer, studying German and music history in Salzburg Austria at the University Salzburg Summer School and then for graduate studies at Mannes College of Music in New York.
When Collins wasn't working in the music industry, she spent her spare time frequenting the New York Harbor, watching the ships.
"I became fascinated by them, because they would have all these visiting historic ships come in from all these other countries, plus South Street Seaport Museum (at the harbor) has several 19th Century ships. Finally I just ditched the music," she said with laughter.
Giving up a 30-year stint with music, Collins began a new pursuit in two longtime passions: history and writing. This newfound career led her to compose more than 200 non-fiction articles about historic landmarks, ships and museums that appear online and in journals, earned two first-place people's choice awards for short stories "The Signature" and "A Season for Christmas" in the quarterly writer's journal "The Storyteller" and recently published a revised young adult novel "The Unicorn Tree" and a tale called "The Grass Patters" in a short story collection "A Lazy Day Anthology-1" this summer.
In 2004, she got her start in her new career path by volunteering at one place that fed her fascination of history: the South Street Seaport Museum. She then took a job writing about the museum's handful of historic 19th Century ships.
"I have always liked to write," she said, noting she was part of Jefferson City High School's newspaper while attending her alma mater. "I was able to combine my love of history with writing and ended up writing. One of my biggest challenges at South Street Seaport Museum was to put together a retrospective of all the old ships there their history, etc. for the purpose of getting a grant. It was a major undertaking and I just loved it."
Her sail training also led her to volunteer aboard a 19th Century schooner that would take interested passengers on voyages near New York City and volunteering dockside for the New York portion of the 2006 Godspell sail to commemorate America's 400th anniversary.
"For me, to be out on the water you get a completely different view of New York City, not just a physical view but an emotional one," she said. "You understand what people saw when they sailed passed the Statue of Liberty, you get that feeling of what that immigrant saw when they came here."
Her historic in ships and historic homes also led her to work for about two years at the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum, a small historic house museum in New York City, as well as being a part of the Working Harbor Committee of New York/New Jersey. Her work in non-fiction writing and historical research prompted her to concentrate on her young adult book, "The Unicorn Tree." She came back to her hometown and began expanding a brief short story she had completed during a writing class into a full novel. Naturally, the story involved ships at sea.
The book follows a high school senior, who is assigned to pick a historic site, take a full tour, go in-depth in its research and write a report about it in 30 days. The young lady visits an old house of a sea captain, which appeals to her because her brother is on a Trans-Atlantic voyage aboard an old clipper ship.
"While she's there she sees this portrait of this woman who is the wife of the sea captain and she gets this instant feeling that this woman is watching her," Collins said. "All throughout the book, she senses that something is going on."
This woman also kept a diary, often talking about the unicorn tree that made her feel closest to her husband because it overlooked the ocean. The tour guide said the tree had never been located and could possibly be fictitious. The high school student also starts reading the sea captain's diaries, and after she and her family learn about her brother's ship losing communication after a storm and becoming lost at sea, she taps into these historic figures' tales to find out what is going on with her brother.
"That was originally published in 2012 with a different publisher. When the contract had ended, I decided to tighten up the story a little bit and make a few changes, got a new cover (by artist Ada Frost) and self-publish it, which came out in May this year," she said. "(Readers) like the story. Some of the comments on 'Goodreads' say the adults really like it, too."
About a month later, Collins' short story "The Grass Patters" was included in "A Lazy Day Anthology," which is a collection of short stories by members of a Facebook writers group or those asked to include their stories, like Collins. Currently available on Kindle, the book also gives its proceeds to children's medical research in the United Kingdom.
Another fictional piece, "The Grass Patters" follows a woman who keeps noticing her neighbors are constantly patting grass because they are planting flowers.
"I was driving around and it seemed like there was somebody in every block that was doing that. I thought this is getting to be funny. It turned out to be a cute story," she said. "The anthology is very diverse. There is one story about the Holocaust, some are sad, some are humorous. Older children through adults would like this collection of short stories."
Collins wants to continue writing fiction, hoping to have a first draft of an Edgar Allen Poe-style new adult novel completed by the end of August. She also continues her non-fiction, historical works, writing a monthly blog on her website about a different landmark, site or event, such as the San Antonio missions, Statue of Liberty and Lincoln University.
"I also have been asked to write a lengthy essay about Thomas Jefferson and music for an upcoming history journal that will come out in November," she said.
Even though she still keeps music in her life having written several classical music history articles for CMUSE.org, a music news website, she encourages anyone interested in writing to pursue their dreams and know it is never too late.
"Even if you don't start out to be a writer, like in my case I went into music first, if it is something you want to do don't just dismiss it because it wasn't your chosen area," she said. "Keep trying and doing."
"The Unicorn Tree" is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites. For more information, visit Collins' website at cynthia-collins.com.