Monday, June 18, 2007

What's Fresh with Cynthia Leitich Smith's Tantalize

Are you predator or prey?
Quincie Morris has never felt more alone. Her parents are dead, and her hybrid-werewolf first love is threatening to embark on a rite of passage that will separate them forever. Then, as she and her uncle are about to unveil their hot vampire-themed restaurant, a brutal murder leaves them scrambling for a chef. Can Quincie transform their new hire into a culinary Dark Lord before opening night? Can he wow the crowd in his fake fangs, cheap cape, and red contact lenses - or is there more to this earnest face than meets the eye? As human and preternatural forces clash, a deadly love triangle forms, and the line between predator and prey begins to blur. Who's playing whom? And how long can Quincie play along before she loses everything? TANTALIZE marks Cynthia Leitich Smith's delicious debut as a preeminent author of dark fantasy.

Hello Cynthia, thanks so much for sharing with us at YA Fresh! Could you please tell us a little about your writing background and how you made your first sale?

Cynthia: Reading led me to writing at a very young age. My mother took me every Saturday to our public library, and once I was older, the school library became a favorite destination as well. In elementary school, I was a poet. In junior high and high school I was the editor of my school newspaper.

I went onto major in journalism at the University of Kansas. I was the first person in my family to graduate from college, and it made sense to me to pursue a writing career with a paycheck. For electives, though, I took a couple of children’s literature and fiction writing classes as well as a memorable course on Children and Television from a couple that had been involved in Children’s Television Workshop, the people behind “Sesame Street.”

At the time, newspapers were closing and merging across the country, so I decided to continue my education at The University of Michigan Law School (where my best friends included YA romance author Niki Burnham) with the idea that I would later become a media law professor at a journalism school or cover the court system for a metropolitan daily newspaper.

Instead, after graduation, I took a job in the Office of the General Counsel at the Department of Health and Human Services in Chicago. My husband (and sometimes co-author) Greg Leitich Smith had already accepted a position at a patent firm there, but unfortunately, the Trib and Sun-Times were both in the midst of hiring freezes.

I had just begun stringing for the Trib when children’s and YA books started calling to me. I remember spotting Annette Curtis Klause’s Blood and Chocolate in an indie bookstore, passing it by, and then hiking back in a snowstorm because I just had to have it. (Imagine my delight that Annette, along with Libba Bray, offered a blurb for Tantalize).

I found myself deeply affected by the bombing of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City. Much tribe and much of my family are in the area, and family members were among medical response and law enforcement on the scene. My great uncle was on his way to the building at the time of the explosion. It was a reminder that each day is precious. I wanted to offer more to the world. I quit my day job and began writing for kids. I joined SCBWI, attended conferences, read voraciously, and wrote with the determination of someone (a) living their dream (b) owing thousands in college debt.

My first sale, Jingle Dancer (Morrow, 2000), was a picture book to editor Rosemary Brosnan at Lodestar in 1998. Shortly afterward, the imprint was downsized as part of the Penguin-Putnam merger, my editor was fired, and my contract was canceled. Rosemary quickly landed at Morrow, and bought the book again. While the book was in production, HarperCollins bought Morrow and downsized the imprint. But they kept my editor and my manuscript and eventually published the book. Jingle Dancer is one of the few titles that was first bought by one major publisher, produced by a second, and released by a third. That was my rather nerve-wracking introduction to publishing.

Wow, Cynthia, what a story. And I understand about the hardships of publishing--thanks for sharing your experience! Readers and writers often like to get a behind the scenes peek of an author's writing routine. It would be great if you could please share your typical writing day schedule.

Cynthia: My routine has actually shifted in recent years. I used to only first draft between midnight and four a.m., but now I’m on a saner schedule. Assuming I’m not on the road or otherwise speaking, I get up at about 8 a.m. and spend an hour or so on online correspondence and posting to my blogs. Then I have breakfast (usually eggs with the previous night’s leftovers) and settle in on the daybed in my sunroom with my laptop, a glass of iced tea, and one-to-four cats. I write—with a break for lunch (soup or turkey hot dogs)—until about three, spend an hour walking to the soundtracks from “Teen Witch,” “Xanadu,” “Ally McBeal,” “Rocky II,” etc., and then wrap whatever’s come across my In box for the day. Greg is our cook, and dinner as a production runs from 5:30 to 7 p.m. or so. Then, because he’s a full-time writer with a day job, I write another couple of hours while he works on his manuscript until about 9 p.m.

Please tell us about your novel Tantalize and what we can expect from your characters.

Cynthia: Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) is an upper level young adult gothic fantasy. The novel is a genre bender, driven by a mystery-suspense plotline with strong romantic elements.

It’s the first-person story of Quincie P. Morris, who is trying to help save her family’s Italian restaurant by re-launching it with a vampire theme. Just as the reopening is on the horizon, though, the chef is brutally murdered. And suspicions begin to center on Quincie’s best friend and first love, who also just happens to be a werewolf-human hybrid.

Quincie is a smart, ambitious, narrator whose sense of humor may be her best defense. She’s not the most reliable of storytellers, though, and readers will see why as the book draws to a close.

Sounds really intriguing! What's up next? Do you have another project in the works? If so, please tell us about it.

Cynthia: I’m currently working like a fiend on revisions of another gothic fantasy YA to be set in the same universe as Tantalize. It features different characters, though careful readers may notice nods to the Tantalize, and my plan is to crossover the casts in a third book to come.

I also look forward to the release of a short story in Boy Meets Girl, Girl Meets Boy edited by Terry Davis and Kelly Milner Halls (Roaring Brook, 2008). It’s a companion to a story by author Joseph Bruchac.

Thank you again for sharing with us, Cynthia. I wish you the best with your writing career. Would you like to close with a writing tip?

Cynthia: Write at least one scene from the point of view of your antagonist.

Cynthia Leitich Smith is the award-winning author of JINGLE DANCER (Morrow, 2000), INDIAN SHOES (HarperCollins, 2001), and RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME (HarperCollins, 2001)(Listening Library, 2001). She is a member of faculty at the Vermont College M.F.A. program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Her website at 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 was listed as among the top two read by the children's/YA publishing community in the SCBWI "To Market" column. Cynthia's more recent titles are a picture book, SANTA KNOWS (Dutton, 2006) and a young adult gothic fantasy novel, TANTALIZE (Candlewick, 2007). TANTALIZE is a Borders Original Voices nominee, a Tayshas nominee, and a BBYA nominee. She makes her home in Austin, Texas; with her husband, author Greg Leitich Smith. Visit her website,

4 fresh comments:

TinaFerraro said...

Kelly, thanks for this fascinating interview!

Cynthia, your books sound terrific--and how fun that you're law school friends with Niki Burnham--and I look forward to reading your work and perhaps meeting you some time in the future!

Kelly Parra said...

Thanks, Tina! I'm definitely checking out Cynthia's book too! ;)

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

Thanks so much, Kelly! It was an honor. Thanks too to Tina for your interest. Yes, Niki is one of the world's coolest people. I'll hope to meet you sometime soon.

Kelly Parra said...

Thanks again for joining us, Cynthia! :) :)