Friday, November 16, 2007

BOOK WEEK Pt. 5 Cynthia Wall

If I impress on anyone after a week of this topic,l it's that this subgenre really peaked in popularity in the 1920s. Walker A. Tompkins is dead, as are Gerald Breckenridge, John W. Duffield, W. Bert Foster, Elizabeth Dutton Ward and Leslie McFarlane. Each of the notable writers has made their contribution to the cannon and then passed on. If it were not for the ARRL revisiting the genre in the 1990s, I might not have known it existed at all.

I wanted to cover a living writer of juvenile fiction that focused on radio. I was lucky enough to find one, not just still alive, but a contemporary author. I found very little information onlie but caught a lucky break. A single review noted that her brother, Steve Jensen, W6RHM, has been the technical advisor on all the books. The Steve in question is the same Steve Jensen that owns Steve Jensen Consultants. He was easy to find. Steve was kind enough to put me in touch with Cynthia. And she was willing to fill me in on some otherwise unattainable biographical details. Were it not for that, I'd have very litle to tell you today.

There is more than one Cynthia Wall in modern literature. One is an author, consultant and therapist. She writes very dull touchy-feely new age books about "life-enhancement." The other Cynthia Wall, the one we care about writes books about radio for young teenagers and clearly is the superior word smith.

She wrote six books of radio-centric juvenile fiction. The characters Marc Lawrence and Kim Stafford are the focus of each of the books, but are more realistic than many other hams of the older texts. Their lives include amateur radio, but do not necessarily center around it. It makes her story lines much more contemporary than the other writers I've covered this week. She said "I wanted to convey the excitement that young people felt in communicating by radio; no, in that I tried to make them faster-paced, less sexist, and less corny. "

Wall, is not actually an engineer. She has a degree in English from UCLA. She moved to Oregon in 1974 and became a freelancer for local newspapers and writing for magazines. She was a regular contributor for The Community Press in Salem until Gannett sent it to the gallows. (That actually is it's own saga worth reading about here.

In the 1980s ARRL had been re-releasing the Walker Tompkins books. Lenore Jensen, her stepmother, saw an obvious partnership. Cynthia submitted a book proposal for Night Signals, and ARRL responded with a request for a series of four books in the same vein. The series was born. She went on to publish two others with a local publisher Dimi Press. Local artist Sheila Dianne Somerville provided illustrations on most of the series. It's titles are as follows:

Firewatch! - 1993

Night Signals - 1990

Easy Target - 1994

Hostage in the Woods - 1992

Disappearing Act - 1996
A Spark to the Past - 1998

Cynthia Wall is a ham (of course) uses the call sign KA7ITT. An Oregon group that provides
Recording for the Blind services helped her convert her books to tape. She and Robert Zeida provide voice duties. These are still available from from

Her cult following is such that her novel "Night Signals" were even translated into Thai courtesy of a request from
Ministry of Education in Thailand. It is also notable that her stepmother, Lenore Jensen was a ham radio amateur (W6NAZ) and helped to start her early interest. during the Vietnam war Lenore ran phone patches from South East Asia to enable soldiers to speak to their families. Cynthia arranged for Worldradio to publish Lenore's autobiography. It's available here.