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MIT Sloan alum succeeds in business ... of fiction

The covers of Dead Canaries Don't Sing and Hare Today, Dead Tomorrow
The covers of Dead Canaries Don't Sing and Hare Today, Dead Tomorrow
Cynthia Blair
Cynthia Blair

Procrastination has paid off pretty well for Cynthia Blair, an alumna of the MIT Sloan School of Management.

Back in 1977, when Blair was supposed to be working on her master's thesis, she instead spent winter break scratching out the opening 50 pages of a novel.

That first book, "Once There Was a Fat Girl," was published in 1981, inspiring Blair to quit her job to write full time. She managed to churn out 29 young-adult books and 13 women's novels between the early 1980s and the mid-1990s.

"It really snowballed into a writing career that kept me going financially," she said. At least it did for a while.

Mobile vet

In the mid-1990s, Blair's steady writing career stalled. Smaller publishing houses were gobbled up by larger companies, and the new conglomerates focused on featuring fewer books by big-name authors. Blair had a following, but had not made a commercial breakthrough. Her publisher, Ballantine Books, dropped her.

Blair picked up the pieces from the fallout, and for a while she tried other types of writing. But she missed fiction.

Then, inspired by a friend who's a veterinarian with a clinic on wheels, Blair decided to base a mystery series on a traveling vet.

Her latest book, "Hare Today, Dead Tomorrow," is the fourth in her Reigning Cats and Dogs Mystery Series, which she started in 2004 under the pen name Cynthia Baxter ( Blair chose to publish under a pen name because she was writing in a new genre, and didn't want readers to have preconceived notions based on her previous work.

The successful series features persistent veterinarian Dr. Jessica Popper, who finds herself solving murders in fictional Long Island settings. The fifth book in the series, "Right From the Gecko," is due to come out in spring 2007, and Blair plans to write at least two more books featuring Popper. Other books in the series include "Lead a Horse to Murder" and "Dead Canaries Don't Sing."

A head for business

If fiction writing and an M.B.A. from MIT Sloan seem incongruous, Blair points out that as an author it helps to know something about the outside world. Her first few books were set in a business environment. "Working in business gave me an understanding of how the world works," she said.

Now 53, and living on Long Island, her memories of MIT are some of the happiest of her life, she said. She experienced a lot of firsts living in Cambridge--first apartment, first time living in a city and her first time living independently. "Cambridge was such a vibrant place. There were so many clubs at MIT--yoga, ballroom dancing, drama. I couldn't believe how much there was to do."

Last year, Blair added travel writing to her resume. She's done several travel pieces for and has traveled to Tahiti and Bora Bora. But she said she enjoys fiction writing more than any other kind of writing. "Nonfiction is easier, because it's fact. But, in fiction writing, you create your own world ��� it's almost as much fun as reading, and you are in control. I find it really exhilarating."

Blair and her husband, Michael Bell, live in Stony Brook, N.Y., and have four adult children between them. Blair is on the board of the MIT Long Island Alumni Association and is also president of the New York/Tri-State Chapter of the national writers' organization, Sisters in Crime.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 4, 2006 (download PDF).

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