Interviewed by Michelle Delisle
Hey WRNers! This month we bring you an interview with the very talented Cynthia Leitich Smith. We’ll be discussing her New York Times and Publishers Weekly best-selling books Eternal, Tantalize and Blessed. She’s also the author of award-winning books for younger children including Jingle Dancer, Indian Shoes, Rain Is Not My Indian Name and Holler Loudly. She’s a member of faculty at the Vermont College M.F.A. program in Writing for Children and Young Adults.
Her website at www.cynthialeitichsmith.com was named one of the top 10 Writer Sites on the Internet by Writer's Digest and an ALA Great Website for Kids. Her Cynsations blog at cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/ was listed as among the top two read by the children's/YA publishing community in the SCBWI "To Market" column.
Hi, Cynthia.Whew! You’re a busy person. We feel very lucky and grateful to have you with us so soon after the release of Blessed, the third book of your multi-creature-verse novel series. Just to give our readers a quick rundown. In Tantalize, the main character Quince is in danger of becoming a vampire while running her family restaurant and this creates problems with her werewolf boyfriend Kieren. In Eternal, a guardian angel, Zachary, must protect Miranda from a “daddy” of a vampire, the new Dracula himself. And, in Blessed, these characters are thrown together in a save-the-world-please story! Wow! There I think I did that without spoilers. I just want to say these are so good, so well-done! So, let’s get started.
Of course, our readers want to know whatcha’ reading now?
On the fiction front, Flutter by Erin Moulton (Philomel, 2011) and, on the nonfiction front, The Many Faces of George Washington: Remaking a Presidential Icon by Carla KilloughMcClafferty (Carolrhoda, 2011).
Great to know.Now for your books.This series is so different – so original –when compared with other paranormal romances that I’ve read. One thing that makes it unique is the structure – two seemingly separate stories that blend together in the third book. Did you plan it that way? Or did it evolve on its own?
My thought was that it would be interesting to write a series in which each book inched closer to the inspiration novel, Dracula, and likewise inched closer to the heart of the fantasy constructs of the world. So, in Tantalize, we have nods to Stoker's novel in name choices, themes, and mythology. Then in Eternal, we consider the Count's legacy, those eternals seeking to emulate his example. And most recently in Blessed, we invite Stoker's villain himself on stage.
I loved the incorporation of Dracula. He’s inspires dread. Your angel character Zachary played a key role in fighting his evil. I’m really hoping Zachary has more work to do. Are there any other books coming with these characters?
Yes, there's at least one more prose novel, as yet untitled, which is more of a sequel to Eternal in the way that Blessed was more of a sequel to Tantalize, though the early casts are thoroughly mixed by now. In addition, I'm working with illustrator Ming Doyle on two graphic novel adaptations, Tantalize: Kieren's Story and Eternal: Zachary's Story, both of which feature new scenes and fresh perspectives on pre-existing ones.
Tantalize: Kieren's Story will be released by Candlewick in August 2011. I'm reviewing the final art this weekend, and it's gorgeous, evocative, storytelling. I'm thrilled.
That sounds awesome! I can’t wait to read more of the boys’ perspective. Your books have two fabulous romances: Quince/Kieren and Miranda/Zachary. Both of these guys are swoon-worthy!!! Which one of them your favorite?
Favorite? I love them both for different reasons. Kieren is brainy and brave. Zachary charming and relatable.What they have in common, though, is unflinching love for and faith in their respective leading ladies. They both are examples of the good guy who treats you right being the one who's right for you.
It’s great that you created two very different 3-D heartthrobs. Speaking of that, I always admire books that have wonderfully 3-D secondary characters,too, and yours do. My favorites were Nora, because she’s both nurturing and oh-so practical, and Clyde, because, well, he’s just Clyde! Do you have any that you grew especially fond of? Any that might get their own books?
Those two are standouts. Nora embodies a lot of the qualities in my grandmothers and great aunties. Clyde is a terrific comic relief character with an agenda all his own. As for others, I'm especially fond of the twins, Harrison and Freddy, one of whom is attracted to the eternal world and the other repelled by it. Meghan, the pre-school age hybrid werewolf, and Mitch, the homeless vampire with creative signs, also are reader faves.
Oh, Mitch! I was scared sick about Mitch’s fate. You definitely have written books that are both heart-racing scary and laugh-out-loud funny at the same time. That is not easy to do! Are there any books, movies, or TV shows that you would credit with shaping your writing in that way?
Definitely Joss Whedon's "Buffy: The Vampire Slayer" TV series is a huge inspiration--both in terms of those qualities and its girl-powered-ness. Beyond that, I think you can find shades of "Teen Wolf," "Lost Boys," and even "Ginger Snaps."
Everybody talks about Buffy and I’ve never, ever seen it! Gotta’ look for it on DVD or something. Anyway….there are a lot of unusual “shifters” in your books with armadillos, cats, possums, etc. I’m probably partial to the bears, even though I really like Kieren a lot. What type of shifter would you hang with?
I love them all, though the Turkey Werevultures are on the creepy side. If I have to pick, though, I'm going with the werecats as there are four resident felines at Casa Leitich Smith.
Yep. Turkey Werevultures = creepy. You might have the only book with that as part of its cast! It’s typical of the original world you created. All three books have unique, imaginative settings – Sanguini’s, the castle in Whitby Estates and New Schwarzwald, Michigan. Was there anything special that you did to fully imagine and build these worlds?
Whitby Estates is loosely based on a quite affluent suburb on Chicago's north shore and pays heavy tribute to the city's craftsman architectural tradition. I've lived in Chicago before, and in writing Eternal, I traveled back to walk every step that my characters took, at least in those parts of the setting that aren't wholly imagined.
New Schwarzwald is inspired by small German towns in Michigan, where I went to law school, and here in central Texas. It's not the first time I've set a story in a historically German town; there's also Hannesburg, Kansas, the setting in my debut tween novel Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001).
Okay, and so Sanguini’s, a vampire-themed, Italian restaurant seems like the best idea ever. I’d probably be a PIA customer and want to order a little off the Predator menu and a lot off the Prey. But there’s no way I’d order the baby squirrels – thank God. And, it made me wonder, what is your favorite themed restaurant? Have you ever seen two menu options like Sanguini’s offers?
Sanguini's menu is very much a product of my household imagination. My very cute husband (and sometimes co-author) Greg Leitich Smith and I took our inspiration from Italian, southwestern and Eastern European cookbooks--historical cookbooks--to create a fusion that screamed: Sanguini's.
I adore a variety of themed restaurants--everything from Musashino, offering Japanese cuisine here in Austin, to T-REX Café at Disney World.
That’s cool! Okay so here’s a weird question, but one that’s been nagging at me. You mention in Blessed that Stoker’s novel is loosely based on the truth. How loosely? (Depending on your answer I may hang garlic in my house. LOL.)
Blooming garlic is the most effective, in theory anyway, though that varies from vampire to vampire. That said, there are stories of bloodsuckers from cultures around the world. Dracula has endured and been often reinvented without a break since 1897. Coincidence? Seems unlikely.
Blooming garlic, huh? It’s going on the grocery list! Who’d want to be a vampire? Because one big theme that runs through the books is the idea of being damned – which the vamps are – versus being redeemed. It’s not heavy handed, but it is a huge stake for your characters. Was it a struggle to write that for any of the characters?
Miranda from Eternal is the real heart breaker. To write the ending that was true to her and ultimately in her best interests, I knew I'd leave some teen readers screaming. But I suspect that all will be forgiven with book 4.
Oh! Good to know about book 4. I’m glad we’ll see more of Miranda. This has been great! And now we need one random thing about you because our readers demand it. LOL. Well, um not demand it. We know how Quincie can get when someone makes her do something against her will. No flaming swords, please. But you know what I mean, they’d like to know.
One of my favorite possessions is a Cherokee friendship pot, which I gave to myself. That's totally counter-intuitive, I know. You're really supposed to give them to someone else. But given my community-oriented predispositions, it serves as a reminder to take some time for me. I'd recommend something like that to all writers, especially those who take leadership roles, have demanding day job or family responsibilities, or struggle with health issues.
That’s a really lovely idea and thank you for sharing it. We hope you take a break from your busy schedule for yourself and thanks so much for contributing to our e-zine.
Hey WRN?’ers, if you want to know more about Cynthia or her books Tantalize, Eternal, and Blessed you can find it here (http://www.cynthialeitichsmith.com/) or view book trailers at http://www.cynthialeitichsmith.com/cyn_events/media_kit/book_trailers.html.
And, BTW, if you’re a fan of Sanguini’s, you can find some totally cool, and I mean cool, stuff here (http://www.cafepress.com/sanguinis).