Monday, January 24, 2011

Blessed: In Which I Interview Cynthia Leitich Smith

The Tantalize Trilogy - by Cynthia Leitich Smith
Cyn in sunglasses - love it

Today I welcome my friend and mentor, Austin's own Cynthia Leitich Smith - author of many, many wonderful books including the Tantalize series - the third of which, Blessed releases this week on 1/25. (which is either tomorrow or today, depending on when I press publish post!)
The world of children's publishing is by and large a friendly, generous place. But let's face it, when you're new, people don't really have to go out of their way. So when authors do, we newbies always remember. Cyn's that person for me - the one who didn't have to go the extra mile, but somehow always has. She is special beyond the telling and a phenomenally talented writer. The Tantalize series makes me laugh and gives me creepy goosebumps all at that same time. And as I tell her frequently, I am forever her humble minion. (Cyn likes the word minion, by the way.)
In honor of Blessed's release, we chatted about vampires and other paranormal stuff. Enjoy the interview. Then check out the Blessed book trailer. After that, get yourself a copy of Blessed, and if you haven't read Tantalize and Eternal, get those, too. You will be soooo happy that you did!
First a little bio:

Cynthia Leitich Smith is the New York Times best-selling author of ETERNAL and TANTALIZE (both Candlewick). Her award-winning books for younger children include HOLLER LOUDLY, JINGLE DANCER, INDIAN SHOES and RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME (all HarperCollins). 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. In January 2011, Cynthia is celebrating the release of BLESSED, the third novel in the TANTALIZE series. Kirkus Reviews calls it: "Wild and ultimately fascinating"…"..the pages fairly smolder in describing their [Quincie and Kieren] attraction to one another." The Horn Book cheers: "A hearty meal for the thinking vampire reader."

And now our q & a:

Joy: Your publisher’s blurb describes Blessed (the latest installment of the Tantalize series, combining characters from Tantalize and Eternal) as “a wink and a nod to Bram Stoker.” Can you explain your homage to Stoker’s Dracula in this series? Do readers need a working knowledge of that classic to best read Blessed?

Cyn: Dracula was the inspiration novel for the series. In doing my homework, I read the preceding YA Gothics like Vivian Vande Velde’s Companions of the Night and M.T. Anderson’s Thirsty.

(This was back in late 2001/early 2002 before the paranormal craze kicked off.)

Then I turned to horror and paranormal romance novels published for grownups, going all the way back to the classics and the ancient oral stories that inspired those.

I found myself obsessing over Stoker’s Dracula, the quintessential vampire novel. So many of his themes—gender dominance, the “dark” foreigner, religion, plague, conquest, orientation—are still very much in play today.

I took note of the fact that, in Stoker’s mythology, vampires could take the form of wolves, and I thought it might be interesting to write a murder mystery in which the central question was whether the murderer was a werewolf or a vampire in wolf form.

From there, I gender flipped Quincey P. Morris, a Texan who was one of Van Helsing’s original vampire hunters, and brought the mythology “home” to Texas.

Each of my books inches closer to Stoker’s classic, and a fourth (still untitled) novel—in progress now—draws on the Count’s back story.

That said, no, you don’t have to have read Dracula for my series to make sense, though it’s perhaps an even more fun read for those who have. I made every effort to provide sparing connective tissue to the classic where necessary.

Joy: Why do you think vampire stories have continued as an ongoing presence in literature, particularly pop culture?

Cyn: A good “vampire” story is a good story—period, one that resonates in our own real world. It’s all about the metaphors—the other, the outsider, addiction, dominance, passion, fear, friendship, love…. What happens when we die? What would happen if we didn’t? And perhaps most of all, what does God have to do with it?

Joy: I know that you and I share a love of all things Joss Whedon and therefore Buffy, but beyond – and including – BTVS, what are your favorite vampire stories – books, movies, television - and why? Favorite fictional vampire?

Cyn: Buffy, yes! Whedon’s “Buffy” TV series to be specific. Beyond that, I have a particular affection for “Lost Boys” and “Fright Night.” My inner 1980s adolescent may be showing, but I think horror works best when juxtaposed against humor.

You need some light to appreciate the darkness.

Joy: And since the above question has touched on it – favorite Buffy episodes?

Cyn: I’m fond of “The Zeppo,” which is framed from Xander’s point of view. I especially enjoyed the melodramatically filmed Buffy/Angel love scenes from his perspective. Very funny.

Beyond that, “Hush” was fantastic, authentically scary, and “The Body” quite affecting. I also adored any Willow-centered episode. If Willow cried, I cried.

Joy: Tell us a little bit about your vampires. What’s uniquely Cyn Leitich Smith about the vamp mythos you’ve created for this series?

Cyn: I should probably start off with the caveat that I see my books as set in a multi-creature verse rather than as vampire novels per se. Main characters also include angels, ghosts, and a wide variety of shapeshifters. You'll even find a pesky human or two.

That said, one of the reasons that I began writing them in the first place was to nod to, but also talk back to Bram Stoker. I’ve always had a problem with the long-time supposition that someone attacked by a vampire—penetrated (by fang) against their will—was automatically considered a monster and literally damned.

It reminded me too much of the way rape victims are still too-often viewed and treated today. Though, it’s subtle and handled through metaphor, I address that traditional view in Blessed.

Beyond that, there are a number of smaller, contextual tweaks. I’ve created a vampire society with its own history, political structure, and system of laws as well as, say, architectural predispositions. The undead, for example, are big fans of the Arts and Crafts movement.

Joy: How does your use of a restaurant setting mesh with a vampire tale?

Cyn: Restaurants are tremendous stages for drama. You have thematic d├ęcor, menus, costumes, people bursting into song. It’s like entering another world. And sure, folks tend to think of vampires as more drinkers than diners, but I thought that would generate some of the fresh blood I wanted to infuse in my series.

Joy: Van Helsing vs. Buffy?

Cyn: Buffy + Giles would trump Van Helsing. But the doctor knows his spooky stuff.

Joy: Chicago vs. Austin?

Cyn: Austin winter, Chicago summer.

Joy: The perfect meal to accompany a reading of Blessed?

Cyn: Wasabi deviled eggs, West Texas rattlesnake ravioli, three little javelina chops with lamb’s liver, followed by kumquat sherbet with frozen eyes of newt, garnished by a newt-shaped butter cookie!

Joy: Is there anything you'd like to add?

Cyn: Tantalize: Kieren's Story, a graphic novel to be illustrated by Ming Doyle, will be released by Candlewick Press in August 2011.

Want to meet Cyn? Check out her Blessed tour schedule here:

Til next time...

1 comment:

Janet Fox said...

I am such a fan of Cyn's! And she is one of the most generous souls in the kidlitosphere.

Can't wait to get into Blessed! :)