Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith, author of the Tantalize series

Can you tell us about your books?

Sure! I tend to write in float-y categories: YA speculative fiction; contemporary realism for all ages; and various short forms–creative nonfiction essays, stories, things pretending to be poems.

TantalizeBut focusing on my recent YA novel writing–I’m the author of the Tantalize series and its spin-off Feral trilogy, published by Candlewick in the U.S., Walker Books in the U.K. and Walker New Zealand and Australia (among other houses around the globe).

Together, the books are both in prose and graphic (illustrated) format, feature eight diverse protagonists, and take place in a multi-creature ‘verse with elements of mystery, suspense, romance and some humor. There also are a handful of short stories–“Cat Calls,” “Haunted Love,” and “Cupid’s Beaux”–set in the same world.

What are you currently writing?

I’m working on a realistic, contemporary novel, tentatively titled “How to End a Date,” that’s loosely inspired by my high school and college dating experiences.

How long have you been a published author?

Since 2000, with the release of Jingle Dancer (HarperCollins), a children’s picture book. But my first professional journalistic articles were published in 1988, and my first novel, Rain Is Not My Indian Name (also Harper) was published in 2001.

If you could give any piece of advice to unpublished writers what would it be?

Focus on the craft of writing and connect with well qualified, well published instructors in the format/age market/genre of your choice.

It’s said that no one can teach you how to write, and that’s hogwash. It’s not magic. And you shouldn’t build it up to the point it seems too elusive and intimidating.

You can learn a great deal about character, plot, dialogue, setting and so forth from a great teacher.

What no one can teach you is courage or determination or discipline–it’s up to you to get real and bring all that, but of course those traits can be thoughtfully encouraged by a mentor.

Who are your favorite authors?

The list is too long, but off the top of my head: Laura Ruby, Kekla Magoon, Will Alexander, Cynthia Levinson, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Libba Bray, Greg Neri, Y.S. Lee…

What are some of your favorite books to read again and again?

As a child, The Witch from Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare was my comfort book, an annual read. Annette Curtis Klause’s Blood and Chocolate inspired me to dive into writing for young readers. But for the most part, I’m so busy with MFA student work and keeping up with new releases, that I don’t have time for re-reads.

That said, I love Katherine Patterson’s books on writing and Art & Fear: On the Perils and Rewards of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland. I’m always recommending them to fellow writers, especially new voices.



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