2.04.2009

Author Interview: Cynthia Leitich Smith


Stephenie Meyer... watch your back. And your audience. Because Cynthia Leitich Smith is stalking your territory. 

Truly, though, she's a lovely person, so who better to do so? CLS is the acclaimed YA author of Gothic fantasies Tantalize (2007) and the soon-to-follow Eternal (in a few days!) and the forthcoming Blessed (release TBD)— all from Candlewick Press—is writing books that Twilight fans will gobble up and then demand film after film. 

She's a fellow Texan, living in Austin with her hubby author Greg Leitich Smith, and was nice enough to answer a few questions for Cool Kids Read...


CKR: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

CLS: I've loved writing since I first put pencil to paper. That's what "being a writer" is, the actual writing. In terms of writing for publication, I started as "Dear Gabby" for Mr. Rideout's sixth grade class paper, moved from there to become editor of my junior high and high school newspapers, and went on to major in journalism at the University of Kansas.

I continued my education at the University of Michigan Law School, and it was at U of M that, after a break, I returned to reading comics and books for young readers.

My initial career plan was to become a journalist covering court cases, and then perhaps a media law professor at a journalism school.

As a law clerk at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Chicago, I began scribbling stories on my lunch hour and before and after work. I fell in love with Annette Curtis Klause's Blood and Chocolate (Delacorte, 1997) and was amazed that books for younger children had become more inclusive of ethnic diversity.

With conviction (and some foolishness), I took the plunge into writing full time at age 28 and both signed with my agent and sold my first book a couple of years later.

CKR:
What inspired the idea for Eternal?

CLS: Eternal is part of a larger three-set of companion books—including Tantalize and Blessed—that draw their primary inspiration from Bram Stoker's classic Dracula (1897). The nods to the Gothic master become increasingly more pronounced with each new novel.

However, Eternal was also inspired by Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities (1895), which students in my ninth grade English class read aloud in turn over the course of a semester.

CKR: I love it that both Tantalize and Eternal are set in Texas. Is there a specific purpose for keeping it in-state, so to speak?

CLS: Just for context, Eternal is set in Austin, Dallas and Chicago, as well as a fictional North Shore Suburb of the Windy City. You see, the protagonist of Tantalize, Quincie P. Morris, was inspired by one of Stoker's original vampire hunters: Quincey P. Morris, a Texan. Morris is the link to the U.S. in the classic itself, and I wanted to pay tribute to that tradition. So I named my hero after Stoker's, though I gender-flipped her into a girl and (hopefully) offered my readers more dual-gender appeal.

Also, I live in sunny and proudly weird central Austin, and as many Texans can fondly tell you, the idea that creatures of night walk among us seems wholly plausible.

Likewise, Miranda, the heroine of Eternal, is from Dallas. I chose Dallas because it's another Texas tie and because I just love it. I worked there one summer during law school while living with my great aunt Anne, to whom I dedicated my first book, Jingle Dancer (Morrow, 2000).

I've found that YA readers in Texas especially enjoy this aspect of the novels. It offers them another connection to the books, and besides, what could be more fun than a werearmadillo?

CKR: In Eternal, Matilda is a shy girl who dreams of an acting career. Have you ever dreamed of acting?

CLS: If I could change one thing about my past, it would be to have quit cheerleading and student council and to have joined my high school thespians group. Not because I wanted to take the stage myself, but because I wanted to be in that crowd. They were such vibrant, talented, wholly individual people.

When I think back on why I didn't, it has so much to do with being the "good little girl," fulfilling parents' and societal expectations. Thespians were artsy and out of the box and, my dad said, "weird" (and not in the affirming way). I can't imagine how much happier I would've been though, if I'd mustered courage to change my life in that way.

More recently, I do feel like I'm an actor in a way. I bring fictional characters to life and through only a few marks on the page. I get to see through others' eyes and think hard about points of view beyond my own. I get to be part of the magic of story.

CKR: Who was your favorite character to write in Tantalize?

CLS: I have a particular affection for Clyde, the werepossum from Tantalize and Blessed. He's initially more of a comic-relief character, but as the books progress, readers will see that he has layers. The majority of my reader mail comes from girls (along with suggestions for future books and attached photos of their kittens), but I've found that when I do hear from the fan boys, they often mention Clyde.

CKR: Can you give us a little preview of Blessed?

CLS: Blessed will crossover the casts of Tantalize and Eternal, picking up where Tantalize left off. While I may write other books in this universe, Blessed will bring this specific tribute to the Dracula tradition to a close and finish off the building storyline with a huge showdown.

CKR: Any other news you'd like to share?

CLS: There's a Tantalize graphic novel in the works, and I hope to be able to announce the illustrator soon. I'm also looking forward to the release of a couple of short stories in 2009:

"Cat Calls" will appear in Sideshow: Ten Original Tales of Freaks, Illusionists and Other Matters Odd and Magical, edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, July 2009), which is set in the same universe as my Gothic fantasy novels and "The Wrath of Dawn," co-authored by Greg Leitich Smith, will appear in Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd, edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci (Little, Brown, August, 2009).
Thanks Cynthia!
Go out and buy Eternal, everyone. It's out February 10th!
Here's the Book Trailer, to get you in the mood!

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