If isn’t personal what the heck is it?
Author Interviews That Rock
Cynthia Leitich Smith
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and her thrilling young adult romantic-suspense series
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m a children’s-YA author, a writing teacher, a treadmill-desk writer, a mid-to-southwesterner, an Austinite, an urbanite, a Whedonite, a classic “Star Wars” fan, a person owned by cats, a mild germophobe, a lover of Craftsman architecture, a recovering journalist and legal scholar, a dancer and a klutz.
Tell us about your new book. What is the blurb on your book cover or your quick synopsis?
As for my latest novel: The second installment of New York Times best-selling author Cynthia Leitich Smith’s thrilling Feral series delivers danger, romance, and suspense in an all new action-packed adventure.
The adopted daughter of two respectable human parents, Kayla is a werecat in the closet. All she knows is the human world. When she comes out to her boyfriend, tragedy ensues, and her determination to know and embrace her heritage grows. Help appears in the lithe form of sexy male werecat Yoshi, backed up by Aimee and Clyde, as the four set out to solve the mystery of a possessed antique carousel while fielding miscast magic, obsessive strangers, and mounting species intolerance. Fans will go wild for this rousing second Feral adventure.
Just to get us started, how long have you been writing?
Writing at all? Early elementary school essays led to poetry, which led to junior high and high school journalism and then, in college, short fiction and professional news reporting. Writing for book publication? Since my late twenties—I had a two-and-a-half year children’s writing apprenticeship before my first sale, which was to HarperCollins. That picture book, Jingle Dancer, was released in 2000. Since then, I’ve sold 13 books as well as several short stories and a couple of essays. My apprenticeship was short because I’d long been an avid reader, had previously focused on writing, albeit not for young readers, and because I’d studied with living legend Kathi Appelt.
What inspired you to write FERAL CURSE?
FERAL CURSE is book 2 in the FERAL trilogy, which begins with FERAL NIGHTS (Candlewick/Walker/Brilliance), but the two novels can stand alone. The FERAL books are adventure fantasies and a spin-off from my previous TANTALIZE series (also Candlewick/Walker/Brilliance). One of the central mythology elements of FERAL CURSE is a haunted carousel. I’d written a previous, alternate-dimension fantasy manuscript using this element years ago and decided to shelve that draft in favor of TANTALIZE. However, the idea lingered in my mind. Meanwhile, I was horrified by the destruction left by recent wildfires in central Texas. I didn’t want to tell a story about the fires per se—it was far too soon and would’ve felt exploitive, but I did want to signal that teen heroes could (and do) come from communities that have suffered such devastation. I also was interested in featuring a small-town protagonist in the TANTALIZE-FERAL universe. The previously introduced heroes had been city teens or suburbanites or sent from heaven above. These influences came together to birth Kayla Morgan, a cheetah-like werecat from fictional small-town Pine Ridge, Texas, and her conflict with a haunted carousel at her small-town park.
Do you have a special affinity for the supernatural?
I live in a haunted house. Does that count?
What attracted you to the idea of shape shifting?
Shifters are a natural metaphor for adolescence. Think about it: a teen’s body, social construct and emotional range are all—sometimes wildly—in flux.
Of all the characters you’ve written, which is the most terrifying?
Lucifer, the fallen angel/hell king in DIABOLICAL (Book 4 of the TANTALIZE series). He has the ability to possess the innocent, and that total invasion—body and mind, leaving the soul in peril—is as scary as my writing gets.
Do you find yourself in any of your characters?
Like Yoshi, I was largely raised in Kansas and drove a classic car. Like Kayla, I was studious and overly preoccupied with being the good girl. Like Clyde and Aimee, I was (and still am) geeky and fond of pop culture. I also was a teenager who worked a lot—popping corn at a movie theater, waiting tables in a Mexican restaurant, as the cashier of a Phillips 66 gas station Most of my characters have jobs.
If you could be any character from a book or movie, who would it be?
Wonder Woman. (Me too! So I gift to you a virtual pair of my, feel-totally-awesome-I-can-do-anything-Amazonian-wonder shoes…)
If you had one question to ask Bram Stoker, what would it be?
Why do you associate evil in men with ugliness and evil in women with seductiveness?
Does living in Texas affect your writing? You know, everything is bigger in Texas…
I’m a sense-of-place writer. All of my stories have been set in places where I’ve lived or spent a substantial amount of time. So yes, the TANTALIZE-FERAL series’ home base is Sanguini’s, a fictional cos play “vampire” restaurant on South Congress in Austin. But the southwest also greatly influenced, say, my picture book, HOLLER LOUDLY (Dutton/IntoPrint).
What made you want to write in the first place?
It’s one of my three skills. I can read. I can write. I can talk. That’s it. I can’t cook. I’ve started three kitchen fires. I hate to drive. I’ll never be called a mathematician. But I play to my strengths, which not coincidentally, are what make me happy.
What is the best piece of writing advice you were ever given?
Compete only with yourself.
How do you discipline yourself to keep at the writing?
For me, the challenge is not writing. It’s difficult for me to step away, to rest. I’m predisposed to hard work, and the industry is always demanding more, more, more.
What is the most important thing for a writer to remember?
You are the hero of the story of your own life, too.
As a writing mentor what wisdom do you find most helpful.
Finish. For the most part, writers don’t improve our craft by toiling on the same manuscript for years. We get better by finishing one imperfect story and then moving to the next and so on and so on. You can always return to the story that’s so captured your heart once your writing skills are better. In fact, that may be exactly what you need to do.
Just for kicks… What are some of your favorite TV shows, movies?
TV shows: “Once Upon a Time,” “Bones,” “Castle,” “Glee,” “Supernatural,” “Agents of SHIELD,” “The Big Bang Theory,” “Grimm,” “Sherlock.”
Movies: “Captain America,” “Cabin in the Woods,” “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” the “Fright Night” remake, “Galaxy Quest,” “Stand by Me,” “The Blues Brothers,” “The Empire Strikes Back.”
As a kid what was your favorite book?
The Witch from Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare.
What is your favorite board game?
What is most special about your protagonist?
Kayla: her dignity, intelligence, and loving relationship with her family.
Yoshi: his open heart, charm, and ability to reinvent himself.
If your protagonist could give one piece of advice to your readers, what would it be?
Kayla: “Plan your journey, but don’t be afraid to change directions.”
Yoshi: “Don’t be limited by anyone else’s expectations.”
If your villain could do the same, what would it be?
Boreal: “Purchase products from MCC Enterprises!”
Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what gets you motivated?
I listened to a lot of Frank Sinatra and Eartha Kitt while writing the TANTALIZE series. With the FERAL books, it’s been more random—CNN and The Animal Planet TV stations on low volume in the background.
Other than writing, what do you like to do for fun? Hobbies?
I adore long one-on-one talks—over a great meal or iced tea (or both)—with my close friends. I enjoy summer blockbuster movies and visiting natural history museums and exploring old bookstores. I like long, sleepy weekends at quaint, country bed-and-breakfasts and visiting nearby shops and eateries. I enjoy lifting dumbbells while watching re-runs of “What Not to Wear” and running on my treadmill while listening to YouTube performances from “Glee.” I would like to play more. I feel like I’m reclaiming and reinventing myself right now. The future feels less certain than it’s been in a long time yet bursting with possibilities.
Any closing words of wisdom for author-wannabes out there?
Craft over career. Story over vanity. Courage over fear.
And there you have it! Personal and Real with Cynthia Leitich Smith! Thanks for the super-cool, insightful interview, Cynthia !
Like I always say, You Rock!