Promote Michigan Blog

The Sweet Smell of Success…

When Cindy Birk was a second grader at Reid Elementary School in Grand Blanc, Michigan, she attended a Young Authors Conference at Oakland University in Rochester, and the seed was planted. Now, decades later, the budding author is celebrating the release of her debut novel, Finding Lilacs, set primarily on Michigan’s famed Mackinac Island.

A lifelong Michigander, Cindy was born an raised in the Flint/Grand Blanc area and currently resides in the metro Detroit suburb of Canton (which she notes has a fantastic library). She earned her bachelor’s degree in Industrial & Operations Engineering from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, sprinkling in electives like art history and ballet which curbed her creative interests. After college, she spent her professional career working for automotive suppliers in project management, marketing, and sales. Yet, her artistic side could not be suppressed.

Cindy Birk, author of Finding Lilacs.

“I wrote for fun in my spare time, mostly short stories and a bit of poetry, but never attempted a full-length novel,” Cindy admits. “In 2020, like many others at the beginning of the pandemic, I was downsized from my corporate job. I immediately decided it was the perfect opportunity to throw myself into writing for a while. I worked on several smaller projects before finally completing Finding Lilacs.

Cindy says she was working on another story project in 2021 when she saw a “call for artists” for the annual Mackinac Island Lilac Festival poster contest.

“I made a very brief attempt at some artwork but decided I would be better off writing a poem or a novel about lilacs instead,” she says. “I wanted to create something that captured my love of the island and reflected what a special place it is. To develop the plot, I drew from several personal travel experiences to Mackinac. For example, when I was very young my family took a photo at the entrance to the fort which I attempted to recreate on another visit many years later. A very fictionalized version of that photo reenactment became a key moment in Finding Lilacs.”

Author Cindy Birk at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island during the famous “Somewhere in Time” weekend.

While the bulk of the novel came together in about six months, Cindy says the editing and tweaking the storyline took twice as long and from start to finish it was about a year-and-a-half process.

“I didn’t mind though, because every day spent working on the book was like taking a little trip to Mackinac Island.”

Finding Lilacs centers around a young woman named Emma, who is forced to face a series of personal challenges alone – at the urging of her grandmother, Grandy – ultimately leading her to Mackinac Island, the iconic Grand Hotel and other familiar island landmarks as she searches for happy memories and new adventures in the symbolic (and often actual) form of lilacs.

“The lilacs represent what Emma is missing in her life,” Cindy says. “Sometimes what you need is right in front of you, but occasionally you have to get out there and do a little exploring.”

The story also focuses on the importance of following one’s dreams (even if you don’t exactly know what those are), getting out of your comfort zone, trying something new and not putting off the things you really want to do for “another day” because life can get in the way and things can quickly change. Much like Emma, Cindy discovered that “someday” is really “now” – and in writing Finding Lilacs she herself has fulfilled one of her own personal dreams.

“I would like to encourage people to actively pursue their dreams,” says Cindy. “We float too many things out there with the label ‘someday.’ Start taking steps, even small ones, toward whatever goal you want to achieve, whether it be career advancement or a dream vacation. Celebrate the small wins and enjoy the journey. In my book, lilacs are symbolic of happy memories and bold new experiences, so get out there and find your lilacs!”

The inaugural Walloon Lake Writer’s Retreat in 2022 featuring Cristen Hemingway Jaynes, great granddaughter of author Ernest Hemingway.

I first met Cindy in March 2022 at the Walloon Lake Writer’s Retreat, where she asked me if I would read the first chapter of her novel. Being a fan of Mackinac Island and lilacs, I was anxious to see what she had come up with and within paragraphs I was instantly drawn into Emma’s storyline. After just a few pages, I was left wondering what happened and how the plot would play out.

After the writer’s weekend however, the chapter slipped from my memory until later that fall when Cindy showed up at one of my book events at the library in Northville. She was excited to tell me that not only had she published Finding Lilacs, but she had launched her own publishing company: Picnic Basket Press.

“I originally started down the traditional path of finding an agent and publisher,” she says. “During the process though, I noticed that many agents were seeking authors with an established literary track record. I didn’t have a Fine Arts degree, a list of published works, a website, or a social media presence for my writing. I made the decision to set up my own publishing company to develop that presence with this novel, and it’s been a great experience. I’ve able to use so many of the skills that I acquired earlier my career and gain some new ones too.”

While the early months (years) of the pandemic afforded Cindy the opportunity to focus on her writing, publishing and marketing, there is a transition coming.

“Now that I have built up some momentum with my writing, I plan to transition back into the corporate world later this year and keep writing in my spare time.”

Next on her list is a children’s picture book called Butterflies on Daisies, due out in April. The story follows a caterpillar turning into a butterfly and was one of the pieces to come out of that Young Author’s Conference all those years ago.

A page from Cindy’s upcoming children’s book (originally written in second grade).

“I made a few minor tweaks to the text and added new illustrations based on my original crayon sketches,” says Cindy about the original copy of the story she recently found. “It’s been a very fun project, and it turned out even better than I imagined it would!”

She is also working on a suspense/mystery novel with lots of science-based elements, which she admits has been fun to research.

And what if Finding Lilacs were to become a movie (filmed on location of course)…who would she cast in the key roles?

“Grandy was such a fun character to create. I envision her as a blend of warmth and tenacity, kind of like Shirley Jones (the mom from the 1970s Partridge Family series) meets Dame Judi Dench. Perhaps Barbara Niven could be a good fit for that role. For Emma, I can see her being played by Candace Cameron Bure’s daughter, Natasha Bure, or Bailee Madison.”

In her spare time, when not creating her own storylines, Cindy also enjoys reading.

Cindy Birk with fellow Michigan author, Viola Shipman (Wade Rouse).

“Attending the Walloon Lake Writers Retreat last year deepened my interest in Ernest Hemingway’s life and work, and his connections to Michigan,” says Cindy. “Recently I’ve enjoyed reading several Viola Shipman novels and learning from the author’s (Wade Rouse’s) literary journey. He’s worked very hard to get to where he is today. I also think Amor Towles has a wonderful writing style.  His books, A Gentleman in Moscow and Rules of Civility are delightful to read.”

This spring, Cindy will be working to get Finding Lilacs in more libraries and bookstores around Michigan. It is also available through Amazon (although purchasing from local independent bookstores or the author directly is always best). At the end, she has included a Reader’s Guide / Discussion Questions making it well suited for book clubs.

Cindy is also scheduled for a book signing on Tuesday, June 13 at the Island Bookstore during the annual Mackinac Island Lilac Festival and will also be at the Frankenmuth Flower Festival in August. She is returning for the 2nd Annual Walloon Lake Writer’s Retreat in April (led by Ernest Hemingway’s grandson, author John Patrick Hemingway) to share her story and experiences with fellow attendees and hopes to secure a few other key events this summer as well.

If you have read and enjoyed Finding Lilacs as much as I did please submit a review on!