Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Birthday Celebration: Interview With Cynthia Leitich Smith!

Cynthia Leitich Smith is the author of many books for children and the Tantalize books for young adults.  The newest Tantalize book, Blessed, will be released on February 8, 2011 from Candlewick.

KBB: You have written some short stories and some novels. Which do you find easier to write? Which is more enjoyable?

CLS:  My story, “A Real Live Blond Cherokee and His Equally Annoyed Soul Mate” in Moccasin Thunder (HarperCollins), was published in almost first-draft form. It flowed out, seemingly effortlessly. Which isn’t to say that I haven’t sweated over other short stories. But that could’ve never happened with a novel. It would be impossible. At least for me.

All of my novels have taken at least a year and a half to write, though I’m dearly trying to tighten that timeline. I literally live in those worlds and am often long haunted by the characters.

The short story is something of a fling. The novel, a long-term relationship. But I love them both.

In fact, writing short has been a blessing to my longer works. It was through the short story that I first tried upper YA fiction, boy voice, humor….

It feels less daunting to take a risk in the short form, both in terms of the psychology and on a practical level. The success of the book isn’t wholly dependent on my byline. I’m just one of many contributors.

KBB:  Do you have a best and worst moment of your career?

CLS: Once a year, I used to “quit” writing. Theatrically. With tears and some stomping around the house and utter insistence that I meant it. I did this, oh, four or five times. But I can’t quit being a writer. It’s who I am. Besides, the best way to succeed is to not quit.

The best moment—or the new best moment—was when I was writing Blessed (Candlewick, Jan. 2011) and I realized the somewhat experimental thing I was doing probably wouldn’t please everybody (as if such a thing were possible), and I laughed at myself, and I simply didn’t care.

I’ve taken risks with my work before. I’m known for it. But now, I do so with more confidence. I’m convinced it’s key to stretch and that it’s just as vital to challenge, to unsettle a reader as to satisfy her. To respect myself and my audience enough to go for it. No angst involved.

KBB: Do you have any must-haves while you are writing?

CLS: Yikes! “Must” is a big word. But I prefer air conditioning, the company of my four bossy writer cats, a glass of iced tea, and the input of my husband and sometimes co-author, Greg Leitich Smith.

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KBB: The covers for your Tantalize series are gorgeous. Did you have any input in the choices? Are they how you pictured them?

CLS: All of the credit goes to the amazing design team at Candlewick Press. In fact, when I was first looking into a YA publisher, one of my major considerations was the production quality of the books. CP excels.

And I didn’t really have an image in mind for the covers. It’s hard. You’re so close to the story.

I did suggest changing the original cover concept for Tantalize itself though. The first proposed cover was more contemporary feeling with sharper photography. It showed a scene not in the novel, featuring a dark-haired guy lunging over a blond girl.

From an artistic perspective, it was terrific. But a lot of readers object to concept covers—they want to see that actual scene in the book, and I was worried it made my leading lady look too much like a victim.

Also, the coloring of the characters was reminiscent of Buffy-Angel, and as much as I love that pairing—I’m a serious Joss Whedon fan, I wasn’t trying to duplicate it.

KBB: Can you tell us anything about what you have in the works? Any more YA novels in the plans after the next Tantalize book?

CLS: Right now, the series is made up of Tantalize, Eternal, and soon Blessed (which crosses over the two previous casts and picks up right where Tantalize leaves off).

Book four, still untitled, is more of a sequel to Eternal.

The books are best described as Gothic fantasies—each more romantic and horrific than the one that came before. That said, I’m an optimist, and I love “love” even more than spooky-ness, so I suspect that the next two titles in particular will please those readers who lead with their hearts.

The next two books are also a bit more accessible. For plot/character reasons, both Quincie in Tantalize and Miranda in Eternal are somewhat erratic and unreliable narrators. But as “good” gains strength over time (and the overarching plot), the heroes become more grounded.

Beyond that, there are also two graphic novels: Tantalize: Kieren’s Story and Eternal: Zachary’s Story, to be illustrated by Ming Doyle, in the works. It’s beyond me to think farther ahead than that.

But I do have a children’s picture book, Holler Loudly, illustrated by Barry Gott, coming out this November from Dutton. It’s an original southwestern tall tale and, I hope, a great read-aloud.

KBB: What are your favorite YA reads so far this year?

CLS: The best I can hope to do is highlight!

I’m crazy about debut author Y.S. Lee’s Mary Quinn Mysteries—The Agency: A Spy in the House and The Agency: A Body in the Tower. They’re smart, spirited, romantic, and full of action. The historical setting reads like a fantasy novel—lush, gritty, and oh-so evocative. It’s easy to step into her world.

Truth is, I enjoy historical fiction, but it’s not the kind of book I reach for first. This series is converting me into an enthusiast.

I was also wowed by Brian Yansky’s Alien Invasions and Other Inconveniences. At times funny, at times jaw-dropping vicious, this is what we should be doing with YA science fiction. I absolutely believed in these characters and their much-changed earth. And I’m crossing fingers and fangs for a sequel.

KBB: I know exactly what you mean about Y.S. Lee’s books. I love them. I haven’t read Brian Yansky’s book yet but I will have to check it out.

Thanks so much for the interview, Cynthia! I can’t wait for Blessed!

Readers if you want to know more about Cynthia or her books you can find her around the web.

Website: http://www.cynthialeitichsmith.com/

Blogger: http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/

Livejournal: http://cynleitichsmith.livejournal.com/

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1 Comment

  1. Bere

    Wonderful interview, Katie! I have not read any of Cynthia Leitich Smith’s books but I will definitely add them to my wishlist. And I have to agree, the covers are really great! =)

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