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.
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.
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.