Cheryl Grey Bostrom writes vivid, surprising prose that reflects her keen interest in nature and human behavior. Her novel Sugar Birds has won more than a dozen awards—including American Fiction, Nautilus, Reader’s Favorite, International Fiction, and ACFW Carol Awards, as well as Christianity Today’s Fiction Award of Merit and Christy Award finalist honors. An avid photographer, she and her veterinarian husband live in the Pacific Northwest, near the settings for Sugar Birds and its sequel Leaning on Air, which early readers have called “a masterpiece” and “a reader’s dream.”

In this interview, Cheryl talks about her new book, Leaning on Air.

FF: Who or what inspired this story?
The characters, hands down. When I finished writing Sugar Birds, Burnaby and Celia hounded me to continue the narrative—and to write them as adults, together. “It’ll never work,” I told them. Until it did. In Leaning on Air, I planted them in the breathtaking Palouse hills, gave them nearly insurmountable differences and circumstances, then watched and listened and recorded as they dealt with life’s hard and wondrous stuff in ways I never expected.

FF: There are many years between the events in Sugar Birds and Leaning on Air. How has that gap in time impacted the characters?
Between books, both protagonists launch into academia at their respective universities, then into careers in animal science. But personally, they travel in opposite directions: Burnaby into self-awareness and relational growth, Celia into confusion and a string of lovers that set her further adrift. When the two reunite, the gap between them spans more than time.

FF: This book addresses many challenging topics such as miscarriage and marriage struggles. Why is it important to discuss these sometimes-taboo topics?
Grief festers in isolation. Loving community—which includes hearing and being heard—is crucial to guard against that infection. When Celia withdraws after tragedy, for example, she packs her sorrow alone and spirals to the depths. How she connects with others (or fails to) shapes the course of her healing.

FF: Burnaby, Celia’s husband, is a man with autism. What can readers learn about the neurodivergent community from him?
Oh, intriguing, unique Burnaby, as one-of-a-kind as every other person on the spectrum. If we’re wise, we won’t stereotype those with autism, but will instead explore our commonalities and learn new ways to connect. Neurodivergent perspectives can inform our own, just as Burnaby’s personal challenges, perception, and worldview stretch Celia and form the heart of their beautiful love story.

FF: Much of Leaning on Air revolves around Celia and Burnaby’s relationship. How is their love story different than others?
In the simple matter of touch, for one. Though few readers will have experienced Celia and Burnaby’s particular struggle, many will relate to the mystery and delight of physical connection, the loneliness and longing in its absence, and the challenge to understand and meet one another’s physical, emotional and spiritual needs.

FF: On your website, you mention that “Creation speaks daily.” What do you hope readers will extract from the Pacific Northwest setting in Leaning on Air?
By inserting readers into the rhythms and beauty of the land and sky and creatures in the remote, rural Palouse, I hope they’ll tumble into love for the natural world and that awe will point them to its Creator.

FF: Sugar Birds won several awards. You also write poetry and are a photographer. Please describe your creative process and what inspires you.
I’m profoundly inspired by nature and human resilience—and God’s hand in both. Therefore, I always begin a novel by choosing a setting that will whet my imagination and fuel me with wonder during the year or so I’ll be writing the story. Next, I brainstorm flawed, complex characters I hope to love, drop them into that landscape and ask them what they want and need. When they answer by moving or thinking, talking or interacting, I lay out the story’s arc and up the ante on their quests. Then I spy on them and get up early to write what I see and hear. I set word count goals and do rough edits as I go. Most weeks, I write six days out of seven.

FF: How did you decide to write novels?
Ha! The decision minced through the back door. I had wanted to write fiction since childhood, but couldn’t envision the path. Stymied, I instead wrote poetry, essays, devotionals. When I didn’t pursue publication of those, friends submitted them, invited me to write columns, and nudged me to write proposals that resulted in short-form publication and two nonfiction books. Stories heaped in my head after that, but fearing failure, I kept them there. Then my first grandchild was born, and I wrote a sketch about a girl who lights a fire. That’s when I decided. I cleared my slate of nonessential commitments, learned all I could, and wrote Sugar Birds.

FF: What advice would you offer aspiring authors?
Writing’s not like eye color. Put in the hours, and you can learn the craft. It’s never too late.

FF: Which authors have shaped you most as a writer?
Oooh. A feast of them, in no order at all: Wallace Stegner, Eowyn Ivey, O. E. Rølvaag, Willa Cather, Lisa Wingate, Jeffrey Lent, Annie Dillard, Harper Lee, William Kent Krueger, Alice Munro, Ivan Doig, Barbara Kingsolver, Louise Erdrich, Marilynne Robinson…

FF: What new projects are you working on now?
Novel #3—slated for publication by Tyndale in May 2025. It’s a braided, suspenseful love story set in the Elwha Valley in NW Washington State that continues to enchant me no end.

Leaning on Air
Cheryl Grey Bostrom
Tyndale House
Genres: Contemporary, Small Town/Rural Fiction
Release Date: May 7, 2024

ISBN-10: ‎1496481534
ISBN-13: ‎978-1496481535

Book Summary:
They last spoke as teens…

But on a country road twelve years later, a surprise encounter reunites ornithologist Celia Burke with veterinary surgeon Burnaby Hayes, and they plunge into the most unusual romance of her life.

After a decade of marriage, Celia and Burnaby have found a unique and beautiful rhythm. Then tragedy strikes while Celia hunts for the nest of a research hawk near the Snake River. Reeling with grief, she’s certain Burnaby won’t understand her anguish or forgive the choice that initiated it.

She flees to kindness at a remote farm in Washington’s Palouse region, where a wild prairie and an alluring neighbor convince her to begin anew. But when unexplained accidents, cryptic sketches, and a mute little boy make her doubt her decision, only a red-tailed hawk and the endangered lives of those she loves can compel her to examine her past—and reconsider her future.


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About The Author

For most of her life, Pacific Northwest naturalist, photographer, and author Cheryl Grey Bostrom has lived in the rural and wild lands that infuse her writing. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, currently including her column in the American Scientific Affiliation’s God and Nature Magazine and her blog: Watching Nature, Seeing Life. Now under the Tyndale imprint, her debut novel Sugar Birds has won multiple industry awards—with an ACFW Carol Award, Christianity Today's Fiction Award of Merit, Christy Finalist Honors, and American Fiction, Best Book, Reader's Favorite, Nautilus Silver and International Book Awards among them.