The clever New York Times best selling author Cynthia Leitich Smith was kind enough to drop by the blog for an interview. She discusses character development, childhood Halloween costumes, future projects and more!
Check it out:
As a child what did you aspire to be as an adult?
A magician, a teacher, Wonder Woman and Princess Leia.
What was your favourite Halloween costume as a child? Did you enjoy taking the role of someone else for a night?
As a tween, I dressed as a vampire in one of my mother’s 1970s gowns with epic, bat-like sheer sleeves. And yes—in fact, I still take full advantage of any excuse to dress up.
What is it about Bram Stoker’s Dracula that intrigues you so much?
Mina Harker. She’s smart, can work that newfangled gadget (the typewriter), comforts the soggy men and organizes the myriad of information after her own best friend’s murder and helps to track the monster through their psychic link. She may be at stake, but she’s far more than just “the girl” and that was saying something back in 1897.
At the same time, the idea that someone can penetrate you (with fangs) against your will and that makes you monstrous, that Lucy had to be staked through the heart by her fiancé and his friends to save her soul… That’s a lot about gender and power. I had something to say on the topic.
Which comes more natural to you, writing for children or writing for a YA audience?
It’s not about me, it’s about the protagonist. Jenna is a seven-year-old jingle dancer, so she should appear in a picture book. Quincie is a seventeen-year-old budding restauranteur, so she belongs in a YA novel. That said, the classic middle grade market (for ages 8 to 12) is where I first intended to write, and though I’ve published a couple of short stories for that group, it’s definitely not where I’ve landed. Apparently, some of my inner children are louder than others.
Most YA novels follow the same plot and storyline, the only difference being character names. Your novels are completely original, it is refreshing to see such a creative mind in the YA world. Where do you find inspiration for your writing?
Thank you! I do put a lot of effort into each novel, to keep it fresh—both for myself and my readers. I’ve found inspiration in classic literature (like Dracula), my real-life teen experiences (like working in restaurants), in my daily life (attending powwows), and by being present in my world. I keep my eye out for hirsute folks who might make terrific models for shapeshifters.
If I could say one thing to writers, it would be: put down your phone and plug into your surroundings.
What is most challenging about writing a series?
The inheritance of previous books in the series is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because you’ve probably left yourself plot and character crumbs that merit further exploration. A curse because everything needs to stay internally consistent, there’s more to keep track of, and you need to honor the characters’ respective histories, which limits your choices somewhat.
You have an ability to create characters that become so vivid they jump to life off the pages; how do you craft your characters?
Someone told me once that each character is the hero of his or her own story. Yes, you’ll have the occasional walk-on who’s nothing more than that, but secondary characters are not merely props to facilitate the plot or sounding boards for the protagonist. It’s important to think about how each mirrors or foils your hero and the agenda he or she brings to the mix. Secondary characters should surprise you.
We typically know who the hero is because that’s the person who grows and changes, but that doesn’t have to be the only dynamic character in the story.
Which of your characters would be your enemy? Which would be your BFF?
The vampire king Radford gnaws at me. He’s so sneaky and manipulative, spying on Miranda all the time and defining her in terms of what she means to him. Choosing one BFF is too hard—I dearly love Quincie, Kieren, Zachary, Miranda, Nora, Joshua, Harrison, Freddy, Aimee, and Clyde. Kieren is probably the character most like me. I’m the loyal, bookish sort myself.
You have a natural humour that other authors attempt, but fail miserably. How can you make a dramatic scene have elements of humour that work effectively? Are you just naturally a comedian?
Thank you. Humour has to arise naturally from the character and situation. My friends probably would say I’m funny, but on the page, it’s not about me. It’s about Clyde or Freddy.
That said, I do think an author’s world view impacts the stories she chooses to tell and how they’re framed. I’ve said before that if I was going to write a world with true monsters, then it had to have angels, too, and they had to be a force for good. Humor makes horror more resonant by contrast, and it’s a frequent go-to in the toolbox of anyone who’s a survivor.
If you could relocate anywhere in the world, where would it be?
I’m madly in love with Austin, Texas. I’m exactly where I should be. This is my home.
What are you currently working on?
Feral Curse, book two in my new Feral series to debut in 2013.
What can readers expect to see in the future?
Feral Nights, book one in the Feral series, will be released by Candlewick in January 2013, and Eternal: Zachary’s Story, a graphic novel adaptation illustrated by Ming Doyle will be released by Candlewick the following month (Walker editions of both TBA).
The Feral series is a spin-off of the Tantalize series. It will promote a handful of secondary characters and introduce new ones. The focus will turn more fully to the great variety of shifters—book one features a Tasmanian weredevil—and other naturally born creatures in the world, including pesky humans and one entirely new to readers.
Expect more action, new settings, humor, suspense, mystery and romance, but also nods to previous books (if only to blow a kiss to loyal readers).
The Eternal graphic novel is Eternal from Zachary’s point of view, plus some new scenes. Ming Doyle’s art is a wonder. It’s no small task to bring truly heavenly bodies to life on the page, but she accomplishes it with panache.
Thank you for your time :)
Cynthia Leitich Smith is the New York Times and Publishers Weekly best-selling author of TANTALIZE, ETERNAL, BLESSED, DIABOLICAL and TANTALIZE: KIEREN’S STORY (Candlewick). Her award-winning books for younger children include JINGLE DANCER, INDIAN SHOES, RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME (all HarperCollins).
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.