– advises Cynthia Leitich Smith, a New York Times and Publishers Weekly best-selling author for children and young adults fiction. Cynthia Leitich Smith is best-selling author of Tantalize, Eternal, Blessed, Diabolical and Tantalize: Kieren's Story (Candlewick/Walker). Her award-winning books for younger children include Jingle Dancer, Indian Shoes, Rain Is Not My Indian Name (all HarperCollins US) and Holler Loudly (Dutton/Penguin US). 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. Here’s more about this talented children and young adult writer.
AABP: You have been an established children and young adult author for many years now. Describe your journey so far?
Cynthia: When I first began writing for young readers, I took the quintessential piece of advice we so often give to beginners: write what you know. For me, that meant contemporary stories of lower middle class, mixed blood Native American families from the mid-to-southwest. My first three books – Jingle Dancer, a picture book illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying Hwa Hu; Rain Is Not My Indian Name, a tween novel; and Indian Shoes, a chapter book collection of short stories (all HarperCollins US) – follow in this tradition.
While I continue to publish Native American short stories, I began diversifying from this focus some years ago, adding funny picture books (like Holler Loudly, illustrated by Barry Gott (Dutton/Penguin US) and YA Gothic fantasies to my areas of concentration. With regard to the latter, I’m the author of the Tantalize series, which includes Tantalize, Eternal, Blessed, the forthcoming Diabolical, and a graphic novel, Tantalize: Kieren’s Story, illustrated by Ming Doyle (published by Candlewick/Walker Books UK & Aus/NZ, among others).
In addition, I’ve published several short stories and essays, including Cat Calls and Haunted Love which are set in the Tantalize universe and available for free download from major e-retailers.
Beyond that, I frequently teach writing for young readers and enjoy speaking at schools, public libraries, festivals, teacher/librarian conferences, museums, and other venues.
AABP: When did you "know" you wanted to write professionally?
Cynthia: I started out as a journalist, already working in newsrooms by age 19. My shift to children’s-YA fiction came after I graduated from journalism school at the University of Kansas and The University of Michigan Law School. I was working as a law clerk in Chicago when I made the decision to quit my day job and write for kids full time.
AABP: In your opinion, what is the hardest part of writing a book? Why?
Cynthia: Rough drafts are especially challenging to me, in a hair-and-teeth pulling kind of way. Every word you put down is a decision, and every single one costs you energy. But first drafts also are exhilarating, like skydiving (not that I would ever skydive). I tend to have a few weeks of doubt, wondering if my idea is truly “novel worthy,” and then I see the threads start to flow together.
AABP: What factors are kept in mind while writing for children and young adults?
Cynthia: I recommend focusing on the characters and letting them lead the way. Where beginners most often get in trouble, I think, is in letting their inner parent, teacher or preacher get in the way. Yes, the perfect mom might well step in and solve the problem. But then Mom is the hero, and youth fiction is largely about the child hero. So, give your protagonist an imperfect mom instead. I can imagine the events as they unfold. I have a cinematic imagination.
AABP: What writing/publishing advice do you give to aspiring writers of any age?
Cynthia: If your manuscript is not under contract, give yourself a firm deadline and take it to heart. Finite tasks tend to fill the amount of time we allocate to them.
AABP: What was the book that most influenced your life - and why?
Cynthia: I’ll choose two – The Witch from Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Spear. As a young reader, I heavily identified with Kit, her love of reading, and her struggle to find her place in the world. I also have to give a shout out to Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause. Her girl-powered werewolf hero Vivian is much of the reason I write YA Gothics today.
AABP: What are your favorite books to give – and get – as gifts and what are you reading right now?
Cynthia: I tend to give signed titles by my author friends. It’s a way of sort of introducing people I care about to each other through the books. On the flipside, I like receiving books outside of my field that can be read purely for pleasure. Plain reads, if you will.
I finally read The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins and was vowed. The hype is well deserved. It’s a wonderful example of writing with purpose, and I can’t wait to see the movie adaptation. I also just finished a terrific middle grade debut, The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy by Nikki Loftin.
AABP: We live in a time when young people have numerous choices for entertainment. What would you like to say to children who may be hesitant about reading a book for "fun?
Cynthia: I’d focus on story instead. What kind of stories does the child enjoy? Does he love The Harry Potter movies? Has he read the books? How about other fantasies? Does she like monsters? Does she feel like an outsider? Then, how about Heather Brewer’s Vladimir Tod series?
AABP: What are your favourite pastimes?
Cynthia: My latest toy is my treadmill desk, which has been a boon to my work day. I’ve latched onto a couple of new (to me) TV shows – Supernatur1al and to a lesser extent, The Big Bang Theory. And I’m newly addicted to the vegetable drink V-8.
AABP: Which is the next book that readers can look forward to?
Cynthia: Diabolical will be released this year by Candlewick/Walker. It’s book four in the Tantalize series (though it can stand alone) and unites the previous heroes in the most thrilling, horrific, romantic and suspenseful of my books to date. I love the humor of my characters and their courage. It was a pleasure to write.
I’m also excited about my latest short story, Mooning Over Broken Stars, which appears in Girl Meets Boy, edited by Kelly Milner Halls (Chronicle). It’s a companion to a story by one of my favorite authors, Joseph Bruchac. I totally want to be Joe when I grow up.
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