Daily Archives: December 11, 2009

Kyra Interviews Cynthia Leitich Smith . . .

Cynthia Leitich Smith is the award-winning author of JINGLE DANCER, INDIAN SHOES and RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME (all HarperCollins). Her more recent titles are a picture book, SANTA KNOWS (Scholastic Book Club), and two young adult fantasy novels, TANTALIZE and ETERNAL (both Candlewick). She is 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. Cynthia makes her home in Austin, Texas; with her husband and sometimes co-author Greg Leitich Smith.

Rain Is Not My Indian Name was the first book I ever read written by Cynthia. {Look! we’re on a first name basis already 😉 } I saw the book sitting on our shelf in our library. I pulled it out and fell in love with the cover.  Back then, before I read any book, I would ask my mom if she had read it, and if she’d liked it. When I took Rain upstairs I still remember saying, “Mom! Look at this great cover. Have you read this?” and her telling me “Yes. My friend wrote that book. I really liked that book. And I’ll tell Cynthia you like the cover.” {I doubt she ever did. So I guess I will. Cynthia, I LOVE that book cover. But I love the book even more.}

I read Rain is Not My Indian Name in one evening. And like I stated above, I loved it.  It was a sad but compelling story.

At the beginning of this year I went to ALA with my mom and scored an arc of Eternal, Cynthia’s most recent book.  I had doubts I would like this book, because, let’s be honest here–vampires have been a tad bit disappointing the past few years. But WOW did Eternal make me love vampires again! The book was edgy, sexy and all around an awesome read. It was well-written and actually made me feel like I was in the story. {And to make a confession here–Zachary, the guardian angel, sounded like a total hottie, ha ha!} I won’t go on anymore with this, because I’m reviewing the novel next week.

Anyway, enough from me. Here for all your viewing {or reading} pleasure, I have an interview with the famous Cynthia Leitich Smith.


1. What sparks a story for you?

Every story idea I’ve had has come to me in a slightly different way.

Indian Shoes (HarperCollins, 2002), for example, is about young Ray and his grandfather and their sometimes humorous, sometimes touching adventures in Chicago and back home in tribal town, Oklahoma.

Growing up, I was especially close to my own grandfather. Though Ray and Grampa Halfmoon and their stories are fictional, the love and respect between them is a reflection of the real-life emotions from my own intergenerational relationship.

In contrast, my current YA Gothic series was inspired by Bram Stoker’s classic novel Dracula (1897), both because its heroes include a fellow Texan, Quincey P. Morris, and in light of how many of its themes—gender-power dynamics, the “dark” foreigner, invasion, and plague—still resonate today.

2. What’s the best editorial advice you’ve ever gotten?

Once you have a whole draft, all of the answers to the novel are already hinted at in your manuscript. Your subconscious is always a step ahead of your conscious mind, so it’s important to learn how to read your own writing carefully. Over the years, I’ve heard any number of folks say this in different ways, most recently author Tim Wynne-Jones.

3. What the best marketing advice you could give to a published author?

It’s advice that was given to me years ago by author Jane Kurtz. She basically said to think of marketing like sprinkling seeds. Some will grow, others not.

Try to do at least one thing a week—no matter how small—in support of your books. If you do more, fine. But strive for consistency over quantity.

4. What’s your biggest writing fear?

I’m somewhat stunned to realize that I can’t come up with an answer to this question.

I’m, after all, a horror novelist and a person of several delightful phobias—heights, enclosed spaces, germs, children under three,* and lettuce.**

I will say, though, that time is my biggest adversary. I enjoy public speaking and promotion and mentoring and teaching and business correspondence, but all of these activities compete to varying degrees with writing fiction.

5. What are the top three books you’ve read in the past three months?

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (Schwartz & Wade, 2008)(Yearling, 2009). A humorous chapter book with terrific voice.

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia (Amistad/HarperCollins, 2010). A remarkable middle grade historical novel with vibrant and appealing characters. I already have my fingers crossed for a Newbery Medal on this one.

Saving Maddie by Varian Johnson (Delacorte, 2010). A compelling, sexy, faith-filled YA from GenYs answer to Walter Dean Myers.

6. Why did you stop being a lawyer {or have you?}

I never was a lawyer, nor did I intend to be. {Well! I guess Mom was wrong about that!} But I am a graduate of The University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor. I’m also a graduate of the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas.

My original plan had been to be a media law professor for a journalism school or a legal reporter for a metropolitan newspaper. But I became a children’s-YA author instead.

7. How do you have time to write, teach at Vermont College, do visits, market yourself and others, be a spouse etc?

I mentioned “time” earlier, as my greatest adversary. That said, I’m a big believer in reevaluating and changing things up, and I anticipate doing both in the near future.

8. What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing or teaching?

I love to visit museums, watch old movies, eat sushi, play with my four kitties, and sleep.

9.What made you decide to write Eternal?

Eternal (Candlewick, 2009, 2010) is part of a larger series, which started with a novel called Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008) that is set in the same universe.

To a large extent, the books are a conversation of sorts with Bram Stoker, though you don’t have to have read Dracula to enjoy them.

Eternal is more of a love story and political thriller. Tantalize is more of a murder mystery with strong romantic elements. But both are girl-empowerment stories with male leads who’re genuinely nice people. {Finally a thriller with a Nice Male lead. I’m sick of the mean ones. and that’s not even a joke.}

10. What are you working on right now?

At the moment, I’m working on Blessed, which crosses over the casts of Tantalize and Eternal and picks up where Tantalize leaves off. You can look for it in spring 2010 from Candlewick Press.

*With regard to children under three, my fear is not of the children themselves but rather dropping them. Someone told me that when babies are born, their skulls have not yet totally grown together. I’m not exactly sure when the skull pieces are locked in, but I’m very reluctant to pick up anyone under age three, just in case.

**With regard to the lettuce, it’s not the leaves themselves, but what may be lurking on or between them.

Look for a review of Eternal by Kyra next week . . . .


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