Interview with New York Times Bestselling Author Cynthia Leitich Smith

Tantalize_CW_pbGet to know Cynthia…

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 Harper Collins) and HOLLER LOUDLY (Dutton).

Her website 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 listed as among the top two read by the children’s/YA publishing community in the SCBWI “To Market” column. 

Let the conversation begin!

How do you recharge your creative batteries?

I’m fond of visiting museums – history is all about story, after all. I also love to peruse random used bookstores, stuffed to bursting with out of print gems. And I can’t see enough movies—arty or summer blockbuster, it all depends on the season and my mood.

But if I have writer’s block, my go-to cure is the soundtrack from the 1980 motion picture “Xanadu,” starring Olivia Newton-John.  I highly recommend cranking the title track and dancing with wild abandon in front of your cats. 

Is any material in your books based on real life experiences or purely imagination?

I would go so far as to say “experiences,” but there are bits and pieces borrowed from my real life. Taking the Tantalize series, for example, I worked in restaurants as a teen, though unlike my character Quincie, I was a waitress, not the inheritor to the family business. I was fascinated by how restaurants are such great stages for drama—with thematic décor, costuming, menus…sometimes people even burst into song. I saw great fictional possibilities in all that. What else? I lived one summer in the North Dallas suburbs—with my great aunt while covering “high profile” figures and high fashion for The Morning News. That area later became home to the character Miranda, and like Kieren, I enjoy researching legends and lore from around the globe. It’s interesting how alike we all are when it comes to what scares and heals us. 

Best writing advice you’ve ever received?

“Write like your fingers are on fire.” – Kathi Appelt. By that, she means to get out of your own way and let it flow. Stop being so self-conscious, and tap into your inner genius. Or at least that’s how I interpret it. 

Cynthia Leitich SmithIf you were handed free opera tickets, would you go or sell them?

Go. I’m usually open to new experiences, and my husband is an opera fan. I even gave him antique opera glasses one year for Christmas. 

Will you have a new book coming out soon?

Yes, the first book in my new series will debut in January—we’ve yet to announce the new title, but there is one (thank heavens!). And Eternal: Zachary’s Story, a graphic novel adaptation of Eternal, illustrated by Ming Doyle, will release in February. I also have a new release, Diabolical, which is book 4 in the Tantalize series. 

What was the best thing that happened to you this year?

I took four whole days off of work. 

When was the last time you did something for the first time? What was it?

I went to Utah for the first time last week. I taught a fantasy-writing workshop, and then I stayed an extra couple of days to visit various attractions in Salt Lake City. I found the mountains gorgeous, the people friendly, and the dinosaur museums first rate. 

What is your definition of a productive day?

Four hours of the business of publishing, seven hours of writing. 

What is your definition of a relaxing day?

One hour of the business of publishing, three hours of writing. 

What was your favorite thing to play with as a child? Why?

When I was very young—say, age 10 and younger—I lived in a Spanish-style ranch in a middle-class subdivision that bordered a large field owned by I-have-no-idea-whom. This was in the Missouri suburbs of Kansas City. I would hike and catch tadpoles and crawdads and play make-believe games with the other neighborhood children. It was my Narnia/Hundred-Acre-Wood come true. 

If you could be any animal in the world for 24 hours, which animal would you be? Why?

An eagle—I’m risk adverse enough to stay at the top of the food chain, but I’d love to know how it feels not to be afraid to fly. 

Name a turning point in your life that makes you smile.

I quit my day job at age 28 to write children’s-YA books full-time. I had law school debt, and I’d yet to put down a single word on the page. But I’d had a heart-to-heart with some ducks in Lake Michigan the day before, and they all had agreed it was the right decision for me. Ducks are wonderful listeners. 

If someone rented a billboard for you, what would you put on it?

Open your teeth and howl.

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