When she was done, she read it again.
Now, 26 years later, that same shy kid who
couldn't read has written her own romance novel.
"I was the kid who asked to go to the
bathroom when it was time to read in class," Cynthia Simmons
40, of Farmington Hills, says today, shaking her head at the
"It was like, 'Please, please, please
don't call on me,' because I knew I'd stumble over every
Simmons, who understands the importance of
Friday's National Family Literacy Day, will be signing her
book, "Anything, My Love," at Barnes & Noble in Northville
on Nov. 9.
In her book, set in the Old West, Derinda
James is an eastern beauty who goes to the Arizona Territory
to meet her real father. He's killed by a man he helped
raise and Derinda vows revenge against Clinton Gage. The
pair, through trials, eventually come together in love.
Simmons says after discovering the romance
novel, she simply taught herself how to read.
"I started, and I thought to myself, 'I'm
not a total idiot. I can do this,' " she says.
She gained confidence, even without the
support of her family.
The author, who works in real estate
sales, grew up in rural mid-Michigan, moving around a lot of
the time. Her childhood was pretty awful, and included a
suicide attempt when she was just 11, she says, surprisingly
candid about her early experiences.
Her dad, now deceased, had a closed-head
injury and her mother simply wasn't prepared for motherhood
and couldn't show affection, she said. Nobody checked her
report cards. Nobody knew she was miserable at school,
Two days after she turned 17 years old,
she got married.
"It was at the courthouse and I was
wearing a sundress from Kmart that cost $12," Simmons says.
The couple, now divorced, had three
children, Jimmy, 21, Jonathan, 20, and Mistie Dawn, 18.
Simmons also has a dozen pets, including
ferrets, three dogs, three cats, a rabbit convinced that a
cat is his mother, three lizards and a bearded dragon.
Of her children, Simmons says she wanted
and gave them a different childhood from the one she had.
"I was going to get married and have the
perfect life and give them everything I didn't have," she
Simmons eventually earned her general
equivalency diploma and went on to college, where she earned
an associate's degree and made the dean's list. She read and
After she had her daughter, Simmons says,
she started writing at a little desk with a word processor
and a candelabrum for inspiration.
"I had read some of the most magnificent
things," she says. "But I didn't just want to read anymore.
I wanted to invent these characters and shape their lives."
Her first efforts were on a book called
"Horizon in the Mist," which she eventually hopes to publish
She kept going, working nights and
spending days volunteering at her kids' schools, coaching
their teams, helping out with Cub Scouts, giving them all
the love and attention she could.
She worked, too, at a jewelry business, at
a factory where she made robes for Sears, at Burger King and
at a race track.
But writing remained important to her.
About six or seven years ago, needing to take care of older
family members, she set all her work away in a cedar chest.
A few years ago, she dug it out.
There was "Anything, My Love" although it
hadn't been titled yet. Simmons decided to go for it and get
her books published. It wasn't easy; there were plenty of
rejection letters until she found a publisher.
Today, her books have to sell largely by
word-of-mouth because while they're available online, they
aren't available in bookstores.
Simmons is working on a sequel to
"Anything, My Love," and has ideas for other books. She's
taken vacations to some of the places she uses as settings
in her historical romances.
The author says she likes happy endings -
the idea of love conquering all.
Today, her desk sits in her bedroom,
filled with lace curtains and more candelabras - the perfect
setting for a little romantic inspiration.
"Do I want the fairy tale, too? Oh yeah.
If it's out there I may find it," she says with a little
She just smiles at romance critics who
dismiss the genre as trashy or silly.
"When people sit down to a television,
they don't have to spend every minute watching the Discovery
Channel," Simmons says. "Romances are just for enjoyment,
fun. I love mysteries, too, just not enough to write one."
Besides, one of those romances helped
change her life. She still has it, packed away for
"I can't imagine how I could function
today if I couldn't read or write," she says.