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Cynthia Leitich Smith

It's my understanding that we are going to be seeing more from the TANTALIZE (Candlewick, 2007, 2008)(Listening Library, 2008) universe. aCan please tell us about some of your current and upcoming projects?

Let's see… The next book will be ETERNAL (Candlewick, March 2008). That story goes to the heart of the universe's vampire hierarchy, further develops my "conversation" with Abraham "Bram" Stoker, and is told in alternating male and female points of view. It also features different main characters (though careful readers should watch for cameo appearances).

A sneak peek of ETERNAL is available in the about-to-be-released TANTALIZE paperback (July 22). Big picture, though, ETERNAL is somehow more horrific and more romantic than book one—set briefly in Austin and Dallas, but mostly in the Chicago area.

A global storyline is building, and members of the TANTALIZE and ETERNAL casts will crossover for a soon-to-be-announced, climatic third book.

What I'm writing isn't a traditional linear series, but rather "books in a universe," which are interconnected. Book three will end what I'm informally thinking of as the "Dracula's Legacy" storyline.

I have ideas for more novel-length books in that larger fictional construct, but right now, I'm focusing on one (or two) at a time.

Speaking of which, I'm currently in the midst of adapting TANTALIZE as a graphic novel, which will tell the same story (with many new scenes) from the point of view of Kieren, the hybrid werewolf hero, as opposed to Quincie, who narrated the prose version.

Beyond that, I've written two upcoming short stories set in the universe. "Haunted Love," a small-town Texas ghost-vampire story, will appear in IMMORTAL: LOVE STORIES WITH BITE edited by P.C. Cast (BenBella, August 2008)(exclusive to Borders), and "Cat Calls," set at a spooky carnival in rural Oklahoma, will appear in CABINET OF CURIOSITIES, edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2009).

Do you think you will continue to mainly write horror? Do you have any projects that are not in that genre?

I do plan to continue writing horror, and I'm long-term committed to YA fantasy readers. But I also write realistic fiction and books for young kids.

My next realistic YA piece will be "The Wrath of Dawn," a short story, co-authored by Greg Leitich Smith, that will appear in GEEKTASTIC: GEEKY STORIES, edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci (Little, Brown, 2009). I'm honored to have been considered geeky enough to merit an invitation to contribute to the anthology.

My next title for young kids will be an original tall tale picture book to be published by Dutton, HOLLER: A VERY LOUD BOY.

For those who are not familiar with TANTALIZE can you give a brief description? Also one of the most unique aspects of Tantalize is Sanguini's, the only gourmet, vampire-themed restaurant in Austin, Texas. What was the inspiration?

TANTALIZE is the story of Quincie P. Morris, a 17-year-old struggling to save her family's Italian restaurant by re-launching it with a "vampire" theme. When the long-time chef is murdered, she's left wondering whether her hybrid werewolf best friend (and first love) or a vampire in wolf form is the killer.

The vampire restaurant grew out of a juxtaposition of two of my long-term desires, to write a story set in a restaurant and to write a horror novel.

I worked a couple of summers in restaurants—before my freshman and sophomore years of college—in Overland Park, Kansas; to make money for tuition.

Restaurants are perfect stages for drama. Think about it: you have thematic décor and menu, mood music, servers in "costume," and, occasionally, people bursting into song. Moreover, with the sights, smells, tastes, and textures, they're characterized by deep sensory and sensual detail. And of course the shifter and vampire traditions are nothing, if not sensory and sensual.

Coming from another direction, I began my career by writing what I knew—contemporary stories of Native-interracial families from the mid-to-southwest. But after finishing INDIAN SHOES (HarperCollins, 2002), I knew it was time to try something else. I'd always enjoyed horror novels as a reader and was a huge fan of Joss Whedon's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," so it was a natural direction to take.

We tend to think of vampires in particular as drinkers, not diners, but that opened up the possibility for a fresh twist on the tradition. Why would a vampire want to feed humanity, as opposed to just feed on it? The story expanded from there.

You're fond of recommending books by other authors. What new voices in horror would you recommend to your readers?

Wow, the field is just bursting with great talent and titles! I'll highlight a few…

I just finished an advance copy of LAMENT: THE FAERIE QUEEN'S DECEPTION by debut author Maggie Stiefvater (Flux, October 2008), which is smart, musical, romantic, and reinvents the faerie tradition.

I also enjoyed Brian James' ZOMBIE BLONDES (Feiwel and Friends, 2008), which has welcome touches of humor and girl-powered-ness.

Zombies appear to be hot on the scene. For those with strong stomachs and a taste for gorier horror, Christopher Golden's SOULLESS (MTV Books, fall 2008) is fierce and fascinating.

On a lighter note, fans of vampire-werewolf stories may enjoy the upcoming mystery trilogy by Marlene Perez, beginning with DEAD IS THE NEW BLACK (Harcourt, fall 2008). The titles to follow will be DEAD IS A STATE OF MIND and DEAD IS SO LAST YEAR.

Turning to speculative fiction more broadly, Mary E. Pearson's horror-sci fi THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX (Henry Holt) may well be the best novel of 2008. You can see shades of FRANKENSTEIN in it, but the story will still appeal to thinking readers who like a certain elegance to their fantasies.

Another top notch writer is Printz honor author A.M Jenkins. I greatly enjoyed both her ghost story in verse and prose, BEATING HEART (HarperCollins, 2006), and her demon-driven ALA award book, REPOSSESSED (HarperCollins, 2007). I also just finished her take on the "vampire" and road-trip traditions, NIGHT ROAD (HarperCollins, 2008), and it'll be a big hit with fans of M.T. Anderson's THIRSTY (Candlewick 1997).

I also want to send up a cheer for Deborah Lynn Jacobs, whose POWERS (Roaring Brook, 2006) and CHOICES (Roaring Brook, 2007) are among the strongest of science-fantasies for the YA audience.

What tip do you have for those interested in writing horror?

If it's horror-fantasy, make sure you have "earned your ghost" or other monster.

From a literary perspective, it's not enough to take a realistic character and just slap a set of teeth (or claws) on her. Instead, consider how the specific mythology tradition has developed in books over generations. Decide what your contribution will be, and then make your approach to the fantasy element pay off in terms of character, theme, and plot.

According to author Deborah Noyes, Gothics bear the burden of their history. Bear it with a style all your own.

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By Cynthia Leitich Smith
Release date: 2007-02-13
  • Thank you!

    It was a great pleasure to participate in the interview. Thank you for featuring my thoughts and for all you do to cheer books and reading!
  • Kudos on the interview, ladies. SOULLESS is most excellent, Cynthia - Woo hoo to your blurb!
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