Mundie Moms

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith & Giveaway

We are thrilled to share our interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith, the author of
Tantalize and Eternal, as well as other Children's & YA books. I love supporting local authors and I was so excited when I found out Cynthia is local to me.

In three words, how would you describe your writing style?
Heartfelt, horrific, humorous.

What inspires you to write?
The really big questions-how do we stand on our own, value ourselves, find redemption, think critically? A love of character and suspense. A romantic, optimistic soul. The desire to belong to an ever-widening circle of storytellers that traces our history to the first fires.

Growing up, what author or authors inspired you?
My favorite book as a young reader was The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (Houghton Mifflin, 1958). I identified with how Kit felt out of place in New England after a childhood in Barbados, though I'd never made such a drastic move myself. I also identified with her love of reading and admired her courage and rooted for her romance with Nate. I see echoes of Kit in my heroines sometimes-they're very different girls, but there's a parallel sensibility.

I also read a lot of Stephen King and Dean Kootz, who may have put me on the path to spooky stories. And Judy Blume! I write-most of my generation writes-novels in the first person in large part because of the influence of July Blume.

If you could take a favorite literary character and add them to your series, who would you add and why?
I'm fond of the werewolf Vivian from Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause (Delacorte, 1997). I have the feeling my own wolf man character, Kieren, could really benefit from having a wolf girl for friend.

I've been told some Austin spots are mentioned in Tantalize. What local areas inspired your setting?
The biggest inspiration was the South Congress restaurant-shopping-entertainment district. It's there that I located the fictional vampire-themed restaurant, Sanguini's.

Scenes are also set in the Fairview, Bouldin Creek, and Old Enfield neighborhoods as well as along the hike-and-bike trail and the Congress Avenue Bridge over Town Lake/Lady Bird Lake.

I do a lot of setting work, walking the streets of the story with my camera.

For example, Eternal (Candlewick, 2009, 2010) is largely set in Chicago, and I flew up one February to take every step that my characters took on the sidewalks of Chinatown and up-and-down Michigan Avenue.

Did you always want to be an author? How long did it take you to write your first novel?
I always wanted to be a writer, but it took until my twenties for it to fully click that not all books were written by long-dead men in Europe. My first books were for children, a picture book, a tween novel, and an early chapter book collection of short stories.

So, it may help to break it down.

It took about two and a half years for me to sell my first book, a picture book titled Jingle Dancer (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000).

It took another two and a half years for me to write my first novel-for tweens-Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001).

Writing and selling the first young adult novel-Tantalize-was something else. My first notes are dated 2002, the manuscript sold in 2005, and it was published in early 2007.

Before writing fiction, I began as a child poet and then focused on journalistic writing until my mid-to-late 20s. Actually, my blog, Cynsations, has a somewhat journalistic style today.

Do you have any must haves when you write (coffee, chocolate, music etc)?
Cats-Mercury, Bashi, Blizzard, and Leo.

Iced tea is also nice. The company of my sometimes co-author and very cute husband, Greg Leitich Smith, is even better.

But kitties are required.

What advice do you have for inspiring writers?
If you write, you are a writer. Own it. Publication does not make someone a writer. Writing does.

Read like a writer-thoughtfully, asking questions, pondering alternatives. And read for fun, too.
Seek the company of fellow writers. You need people who understand what it means to be you in that way.

And if you want to be published, get a cat. Legend has it that if a cat sits on your manuscript, it will sell. (You can't just plop the kitty down on the paper. He must choose to position himself in that spot).

And yes, this will require periodically printing out your draft and leaving it somewhere cat-accessible. If the cat sits on the computer with the file in it, that doesn't count.
(Sorry, trees!)

How would you describe Tantalize and Eternal?
Tantalize is the story of Quincie P. Morris, a seventeen-year-old girl who's trying to help save her family's struggling Italian restaurant by re-launching it with a vampire theme. It's all in fun until some real vampires show up.

Eternal is the story of the guardian angel Zachary and Miranda, the girl (turned vampire princess) that he failed to save.

Big picture, the books are Gothic fantasies with strong romantic elements and some humor. They employ suspense and sophisticated literary elements like quasi epistolary elements, alternating point of view and the unreliable narrator. They're for advanced YA readers (relatively strong, experienced YA readers) who aren't easily put off by horrific elements or innovative plots.

They're set in a multi-monster-verse (like Joss Whedon's "Buffy") with humans, vampires, ghosts, a wide variety of shape-shifters, and angels (both arch and guardian).

The novels also are perhaps best described as "books set in a universe." The casts of Tantalize and Eternal will crossover in Blessed (Candlewick, Jan. 2011).

Readers may also want to look for two short stories set in the universe: "Cat Calls," which appears in Sideshow: Ten Original Tales of Freaks, Illusionists and Other Matters Odd and Magical, edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2009) and "Haunted Love," which appears in Immortal: Love Stories with Bite, edited by P.C. Cast (BenBella, 2008).

Do you have any projects you're working on now that we can look forward to reading?
Yes, I expect to see advanced reader copies of Blessed any day now, and I'm releasing a children's picture book, Holler Loudly, illustrated by Barry Gott (Dutton, Nov. 11, 2010) soon. Beyond that, I just turned in notes on the copy edits to Tantalize: Kieren's Story, a graphic novel (Candlewick, Aug. 2011) and am sending a draft of Eternal: Zachary's Story, likewise a graphic novel (Candlewick, forthcoming), to my editor this week.

I'm also working hard on another prose novel (untitled), due in January, set in my same Gothic fantasy universe, which will involve characters from the previous books.

Thank you Cynthia for taking the time to chat with me! If you'd like to learn more about Cynthia, Tantalize and Eternal, please visit her at the following links:

Cynthia's official site-

Now for our giveaway!! This giveaway is for 1 copy of Tantalize and 1 copy of Eternal.

Thank you Cynthia & Candlewick for the interview and giveaway!


  1. Cynthia is a fantastic multicultural author and we studied her work in library school often. Cynthia was even in one of my text books - nice! She has won numerous awards for her blog (one of the most comprehensive out there). Also, she is even great to meet in person. Everyone should read Indian Shoes and Rain is not My Indian Name!

    ~Jen Bigheart

  2. Heard Cynthia speak in Chicago last year - she's awesome! Thanks for the great interview!

  3. You guys are welcome :)

    Jen- Thank you for the recommendation. I'm going to have to find Indian Shoes and Rain is not My Indian Name!

  4. Thank you so much for the giveaway!

  5. I'm so glad to find Mundie Moms via Cynthia's blog today!

    I identify with Cynthia's 3 writing-style H words. And cats are my writing company, too. But if my husband steps foot in my office when I'm writing, I lose all concentration. I love him dearly but, keep out during biz hours!

    I haven't read Tantalize and would love to! Gorgeous cover, great reviews, fab author.