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Monday, February 1, 2010

INTERVIEW: Cynthia Leitich Smith

Aurora is pleased to welcome Cynthia Leitich Smith, acclaimed author of Tantalize, Eternal, and the upcoming Blessed. Tantalize was honored at the 2007 National Book Festival as well as being a Borders Original Voices Selection. Eternal was a YALSA Teens Top Ten nominee.

Eternal, a YA Gothic fantasy love story as well as a political thriller, is the story of Miranda, a shy wannabe teen actress, who is "adopted" by the king of vampires, and Zachary, the guardian angel who initially fails to save her from him. It's set in a multi-creature-verse and is told in alternating points of view. It's also part of a larger series and building storyline.

"The cast of Eternal will crossover with the cast of my previous novel, Tantalize, in Blessed which I’m revising right now," Cynthia told me. "The books are a conversation of sorts with Bram Stoker and other classic authors, though you don’t need to have read those books to follow my series. Readers will find strong elements of romance, mystery, suspense, and some humor, but big picture, these are contemporary horror novels per se. They’re also influenced by Joss Whedon’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer, especially with regard to its girl-empowerment subtext."

Cynthia is intrigued by young heroes, because everything they are going through is newer. And, because their experiences are fresher, the intensity involved is also much higher. "Consider a kiss," she said. "Then consider a first kiss. Then consider your first kiss ever."

When she's researching, she doesn't rely only on print and video media; she's very hands-on.

"Hands on and feet walking out the door," she explained. "If at all possible, I’m out in the middle of the setting and shootings photos of the landscape and interviewing folks with any sort of pertinent expertise. For Tantalize, I interviewed a chef and talked to living vampires. For Eternal, I walked Chicago’s Chinatown in -20 weather. Where my characters go, so do I."

"Did you always want to be a writer?" I asked.

"Yes. I started as a young poet and then quickly became a journalist. I was the editor of my junior high and high school newspapers, and I earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from The University of Kansas before continuing on to The University of Michigan Law School. It wasn’t until I was a twenty-something professional in Chicago, though, that it occurred to me that I could write fiction for a living. But it came at me with blinding clarity, and I immediately quit my day job and plunged in. (Don’t try the quitting your day job thing. It worked out for me, but there were a fair number of sleepless nights in the meantime)."

I wondered what Cynthia's husband thought about her writing.

" I’m married to Greg Leitich Smith, author of Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo. We have a new short story out together in Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd. So, let’s just say, he identifies."

Cynthia prefers to do her writing on her laptop. "I spent much of my teens and early twenties in newsrooms," she explained, "so I’m used to composing on a keyboard, both daily and on deadline."

She writes her entire first draft, two pages a day. Then when she's finished, she prints it, reads it, tosses it, and deletes the file. Then she starts over.

"That first draft is just an exercise," she said, "a way of getting to know the world, protagonist, and his or her story."

Cynthia shared with us a soundtrack she developed while she was writing Eternal. It includes a wide variety of songs: “Bad Moon Rising” by Clearance Clearwater Revival; “New Dark Ages” by Bad Religion; “Dead Man’s Party” by Oingo Boingo; “My Kind of Town” by Frank Sinatra; “I Want to Be Evil” by Eartha Kitt; “Princess of the Night” by At Vance; “Fate or Faith” by Julie Cruise; “In the Arms of the Angels” by Kristin Richardson; “Forever Love” by Anna Nalick. You can listen to it on Cynthia's MySpace page.

Finally, I asked Cynthia what advice she had for her readers.

" You are the hero of your own story. Honor that about yourself, respect it. Think about how you can use your power over your life to build the best possible future. And watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer on DVD. Repeatedly. Until you can quote it."

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