Cynthia Leitich Smith is an American author for children and young adults whose books have often been on the New York Times bestselling list. She was born in Kansas City, Missouri but now lives and writes in Austin, Texas. In this interview she talks about her books, reading and writing…
Voicu Mihnea Simandan: You have been a published author for more than a decade. How has your writing evolved over time?
Cynthia Leitich Smith: I’ve written across age levels, formats and genres–picture books, chapter books, novels, short stories, and graphic fiction, both realistic and fantastical. Each demands transferable skills–an economy or lyricism of language, an understanding of story arc, a sense of closure that can be brought to the next project.
VMS: Summing up (until now!) three books, your novels of gothic fantasy Tantalize (2007), Eternal (2009), and Blessed (2011) have proved quite popular with young adult readers. Where did the idea for your Tantalize series come from?
CLS: It was a combination of influences, foremost Bram Stoker’s classic novel Dracula. I wanted to extend that universe, updated for modern young readers. I also was interested in writing a story set in and around a restaurant because I’d worked as a waitress as a teen. Beyond, that I find Gothic themes like alienation, gender-power, and plague fascinating and as timely today as they were to the Victorians.
CLS: I still write books for younger kids like Holler Loudly. That said, I find switching age markets comfortable enough. I apparently have a number of inner children–ages 7, 10, 12, 14, 17, and 22.
VMS: Do you employ similar skills when writing books targeted for an older readership?
CLS: The craft of storytelling is the same. Switching from a Native American to mainstream sensibility/literary tradition is more challenging.
VMS: Illustrations are a very important factor in any children’s books. One of your more recent children’s books, Holler Loudly (2010), was illustrated by Barry Gott. What was your work relationship with the illustrator?
CLS: Picture book authors and illustrators work through our editors and art directors. I had the opportunity to comment on sketches, but for the most part, the final art was a gift to me. It was different with Jingle Dancer, where I was a cultural expert, offering feedback and with the graphic novels, which are more collaborative.
CLS: It’s good to have a presence, to be find-able, if you will. Beyond that, it’s up to each individual writer’s skill level, comfort zone, and competing priorities. It’s great to have an active, well-read blog, but it’s not more important than getting your next book done.
CLS: Of late, I had a teenage boy hold up a tattered copy of Tantalize and tell me it was the first novel he’d ever finished. I’ve had girls tell me that they’ve left abusive boyfriends because of the example set by my character Quincie. I’ve had more than one teen of color point to someone like them in that way and comment on their inclusion in the story–we like to see aspects of ourselves reflected in the world of books.
VMS: Do you still read children’s books and young adult fiction?
CLS: Every day.
VMS: What book are you working on right now?
CLS: Smolder. It’s set in the Tantalize universe but involves new protagonists.
VMS: What is your writing routine?
CLS: I write in the afternoons, early evenings, and on weekends when I’m not speaking.
VMS: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
CLS: Read. Focus on story first, the craft of writing. Publication isn’t writing. It’s what may or may not happen afterward. What’s more important is the process of putting together the text.
VMS: Thank you for your time.
CLS: Thank you!
Watch a book trailer for Blessed!
Voicu Mihnea Simandan
October 28, 2011