Chatting with Cynthia Leitich Smith

Today I’m chatting with Cynthia Leitich Smith, who is well-known in children’s literature for both her books and her informative blog. Here’s a chance to get to know her better — and to win an advance reader copy of BLESSED, due out January 25.

Cynthia Leitich Smith is the New York Times and Publishers Weekly best-selling author of ETERNAL, TANTALIZE, and BLESSED (forthcoming), all Gothic fantasies from Candlewick Press. She also has written several YA short stories as well as books for younger readers. TANTALIZE was a Borders Original Voices selection, honored at the 2007 National Book Festival, and The Horn Book called it “an intoxicating romantic thriller.” A graphic novel adaptation of TANTALIZE is in the works. ETERNAL was a YALSA Teens Top Ten nominee, featured at the Texas Book Festival, and Publishers Weekly said, “…readers should be hooked by this fully formed world, up through the action-packed finale.” It debuted at #5 on the New York Times best-seller list and #13 on the Publishers Weekly best-seller list.

Wow, that’s an impressive bio. Cynthia, please tell us more about your books in your own words.

TANTALIZE is the story of Quincie P. Morris, a teen who’s trying to help save her family’s struggling Italian restaurant by re-launching it with a vampire theme. It’s supposed to be kitschy, all in fun. Then some real vampires show up.

ETERNAL is the story of a one-time guardian angel and the girl, turned vampire princess, whose life he failed to save.

BLESSED crosses over the two casts, picking up where TANTALIZE leaves off, and an additional novel is in the works.

I am also is in the process of writing two graphic novel adaptations, TANTALIZE: KIEREN’S STORY and ETERNAL: ZACHARY’S STORY.


Why did you choose to write in this genre? What inspires you?

I write Gothic fantasy, which is basically old-school horror, though my books are set in present day. These are stories with make-believe monsters, touching on timeless themes/circumstances like alienation, plague, invasion, gender-power politics, and the “dark” other (which, in Abraham Stoker’s day, translated to “Eastern European.”)

I’m writing for my young reader within. As a teen, I was an avid reader of Dean Koontz, V.C. Andrews, Stephen King, and mysteries—everything from Nancy Drew to true crime.

I remember my parents leaving me home alone in my early teens (I was old enough to have already begun babysitting). It was a dark and stormy night. Really. And I was reading King’s IT.

Is anything scarier than a clown? I don’t think so.

The house was quiet, and I was spellbound, reading in bed, hiding beneath the covers. I turned a page, half convinced that It was lurking on my own street, in the storm drain, when my dad leaped into the room and shouted, “Boo!”

I mean, really! “Boo.”

I screamed and jumped into the air, the book flying up to collide with my canopy.

Now, that’s effective writing.

Beyond that, I’m a huge Whedonverse fan and especially adored the girl-empowered, take-back-the-night theme in “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer.” (Which is still required viewing, if you want to write Gothics for teens.)

And I learned how to read on picture books and superhero comics.

In sum, call me a Geek Girl. I’m happy to own that.

See the Eternal book trailer

Are there special challenges in writing speculative fiction? How do you deal with them?

World building is one of the biggest. In crafting my fantasy landscape, I did my homework. I studied the related YA novels and many of the adult novels that preceded them. I took a look at the films and pop culture representations. And from there, I dived into the classics and the traditional stories that inspired those. I compared, for example, shape-shifters from various cultures, looking for distinctions and commonalities.

But it wasn’t all book research. I also stepped directly into my fictional world. I took a camera and went to open houses, picking out places for my characters to live. I went to the Austin Nature and Science Center and interviewed the animals.

Of course there’s more to it than that. Measuring the cost of the magic. Making sure the monster is earned. But those are posts unto themselves.

Have you found any special challenges in finding publishers? In reaching readers?

Not really. TANTALIZE sold quickly, and Candlewick Press has been my principal YA house ever since. I’m in excellent hands. At CP, on every front, the quest for quality reigns supreme.

Prior to publishing Gothics, though, I was best known as a Native American author, and for some folks, it was an adjustment to think of me doing any other kind of work. I lost count of the people who warned me that Indian readers would be insulted by my “defection” to additional types of work.

They couldn’t have been more wrong. Many of my most enthusiastic readers are from the Native community.

It was odd. My Native characters were consistently praised for their diversity of interests, so I’m not sure why it surprised anyone that I’d want to do more than one kind of thing, too. But in any case, it makes me a stronger writer, shifting between formats, age markets, and genres. It’s also great fun!

If you could live in a sci-fi or fantasy world not of your own making, which would it be? Why?

“Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.” Maybe it’s the Kansas girl in me, but I clearly remember thinking once, when something terrible happened: I wish there was a Superman.

What would readers find surprising or interesting about you?

My favorite actors are Harriet Samson Harris (Bebe Glazer, “Fraiser;” Eve, “The X-Files,” etc.) and the late Lane Smith (Perry White, “Lois and Clark;” Jim Trotter, “My Cousin Vinny,” etc.).

Also, I strongly feel that Aquaman is shockingly underappreciated.

Visit Cynthia’a website or her CYNSATIONS blog for interviews with writers and editors, plus news and insights on the world of children’s literature. And don’t forget to post a response for a chance to win an advance reader copy of Blessed! The winner will be posted on Sunday. ETA: This giveaway is now closed. Try again in our next giveaway.

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23 Comments

Filed under Interviews

23 responses to “Chatting with Cynthia Leitich Smith

  1. I read Cynsations often so it’s nice to see Cynthia on the other side, as interviewee :)

    I haven’t read any of these books (I’m not a big vampire fan) but I’ve heard so much about this series that I had to check it out. I just ordered Tantalize from my local indie. I’m looking forward to reading it!

  2. I’ve heard so many wonderful things about Tantalize, and after reading this, I’m definitely going out to get it – I mean, how could I not? She’s a Lois & Clark fan! Thanks for this great post, and for the giveaway!

  3. Deb

    Very much looking forward to reading this one! Thanks for the give away and the interview!

  4. Natalie Aguirre

    Great interview. I love Cynthia’s blog Cynsations. It’s great to see her interviewed for a change. I agree that world building is a hard part of speculative fiction. Great idea to take a camera around to find settings.

  5. Mable L.

    I’ve read “Eternal” and I absoulutely LOVED it, especially Zachary. At the end of the book, I cried my eyes out. I can’t wait to read “Blessed” and find out what’s in store for the characters. I really hope there’s a happy ending to this one.

  6. Dana Carey

    Interesting and fun interview. Thanks!

  7. Milly

    I am so glad and excited for Blessed. I’ve been waiting for a few years for a sequel to Tantalize! Can’t wait!

  8. Just finished TANTALIZE and loved it. I’ve already bought ETERNAL and am looking forward to reading it. Great interview!

  9. Fabulous interview with an amazing and lovely writer.

  10. Emily brown

    Omg so awesome!!! I LOVED Eternal!!!:)

  11. Vivien

    Love this series to death. I just re read it in anticipation for Blessed and fell in love with the characters and world again. Can’t wait to read Blessed. I love how unique this series is.

    Vivien
    deadtossedwaves at gmail dot com

  12. Carol M

    I enjoyed the interview and I can’t wait to read Blessed!

  13. Stacy

    Great interview. I can’t wait for Blessed! I am so impressed with the range of genres Cynthia covers, and that she writes all of them well.

  14. Love your other stories and your website because you do so much to make the world of books more diverse and multi-colored; so even though I’m not that into vampires (i think the Twilight hype turned me off) I’m now curious to try these.
    Happy writing!

  15. I really enjoyed ETERNAL and TANTALIZE is in my TBR pile. I’d love to get the ARC of BLESSED though – Cynthia obviously puts a ton of effort into her projects!

  16. Ashly Ferguson

    I loved Tantalize as well!

    Can’t wait for Blessed to come out.

  17. Haven’t tried this series, but would love to, please count me in, sounds excellent!

    Dottie :)

  18. These sound awesome , haven’t read any of the series but definitely sounds right up my ally – reading wise.

    Thanks for the great giveaway and interview.

  19. Pam

    I can’t wait to read it!

  20. Brandee Joy

    I have been the biggest fan of Cynthia since I sat down and read Tantalize all in one sitting in the matter of a few hours. I was so hooked on her literary style and how beautifully she makes her words jump off of the page and I couldn’t be more excited over Blessed.

    I can’t wait another month Cynthia!! The torture will kill me…

  21. Kelly M

    Great interview!!!! Thank you for sharing. Would love a chance to win!!!!
    Thank you

    Kelly M
    crazyforbooks@comcast.net

  22. Zachsgirl

    Just got done reading Blessed!!!!!!! Every page like Quick Sand, every time i tried to put it down i just got sucked in. Cynthia has really proved her self as a writer and a mentor. I loved how she put the old classic Dracula with a modern turn. My fav. character is the all time seductive Bradley Sanguini’s, i should shut up now don’t want to spoil any more things about the book

  23. Great post – looks like everyone’s really appreciated it. I love these interviews with authors, they share so much depth into the writing process and character development.

    I’ve put a link to your post on my blog. http://zombie-dinosaurs.blogspot.com/2011/03/and-heres-page-34-of-tomb-of-undead.html

    Keep up the good work.

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