Guest Post: Cynthia Leitich Smith

Happy New Year…on, um, January 25th. Yeah. Been stuck in a wormhole. I have much to catch you up on in another day or two! But for now, I am nursing a lulu of a sinus infection. Ugh. So instead of hearing me whine about my mucus (yum!), you have the pleasure of spending time with today’s guest blogger: the fabulous Ms. Cynthia Leitich Smith.

What can I tell you about Cyn? Well, I don’t know if Everyone Loves Raymond, but everyone really does love Cynthia Leitich Smith. She’s an awesome Austin writer, teacher, interviewer, blogger, and cheerleader of other people. She is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels TANTALIZE and ETERNAL (Candlewick). Her award-winning books for younger children include HOLLER LOUDLY, JINGLE DANCER, INDIAN SHOES and RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME (HarperCollins). She is a member of faculty at the Vermont College M.F.A. program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Her website at http://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. She makes a bitchin’ spread of snacks and she has been known to take pals to Austin vintage shops to purchase yard gnomes. Just sayin’. (I am forever indebted to her for forcing me to write a weird little book I was scared to write called GOING BOVINE.)

If you haven’t yet discovered Cyn’s wonderful Gothic/Romantic/Funny/Offbeat/Scary/Sexy paranormal trilogy, well, now’s the time. ETERNAL introduced quirky Texas teen, Quincie Morris and her wolf-boyfriend, Kieran Morales, as they battled vamps (and cooked up linguini) in “Keeping It Weird” Austin, Texas. ETERNAL upped the Goth “to eleven” in a thrilling tale of vampires, werewolves, and fallen angels in Chicago. Now, Cyn’s back with the third novel in the series, BLESSED, which pulls together the casts of both TANTALIZE and ETERNAL into what she calls, “your basic sorta funny, kinda girl-powered, rescue-the-boy, kill-the-monster, save-the-world story.” I’m sold. But why just take our word for it? Kirkus Reviews calls it: “Wild and ultimately fascinating”…”..the pages fairly smolder in describing their [Quincie and Kieren’s] attraction to one another.” The Horn Book cheers: “A hearty meal for the thinking vampire reader. Bloomsbury Review says, “Cynthia Leitich Smith is the Anne Rice for teen readers.”

All this and she manages to use the word “coulrophobia” in her post. (Yeah, I had to look it up, too. And then I realized I also have this. In the extreme. No. I’m not going to tell you. Look it up, as my mother would say.)

If you want to catch Cyn on tour (and why wouldn’t you?), here’s the schedule: http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/2011/01/blessed-by-cynthia-leitich-smith.html

There’s also a giveaway: http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/2011/01/blessed-grand-prize-giveaway-truth-be.html

And while you’re on the Intramanets, why not watch some trailers?
TANTALIZE: http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=1205455452400
ETERNAL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GaBIoUEMWrg
BLESSED, here you go: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=pieAazPg_b0

And now, without further ado, here’s Ms. Cynthia. Take it away, Cyn.

GUEST POST: CYNTHIA LEITICH SMITH

Today I’m jazzed to tell y’all about the Texas teen who’s the hero of my latest novel, Blessed. She’s a smart, sassy, hard-working redhead with a rockin’ job at a hip Austin eatery. She’s also funny, upbeat, and a sensualist who loves….
At this point, you’re probably wondering: is it the story of a teen Libba Bray?
Alas, no, though raise your hand if you’d like to read that! We’ll all pay the big money, Miz Libba, please keep that in mind.
That said, my protagonist is Quincie P. Morris, from Blessed (Candlewick, Jan. 25, 2011), a romantic Gothic thriller that picks up right where my 2007 novel, Tantalize, leaves off.
My Gothics feature diverse (defined broadly) casts, mix humor with passion and spooky-ness, and take place in a multi-monster-verse populated by vamps, a variety of shapeshifters (werearmadillo anyone?), angels, ghosts…. You get the idea.
Some back story: Back in late 2001/early 2002, I was known to readers as a Native American children’s author. I’d been taking the advice that folks often give to beginners—write what you know. For me, that meant stories of middle class, mixed-blood Indian families in the mid-to-southwest.
I love Native lit (and still write it), but the time had come for me to build new creative wings. So, I latched onto the second piece of advice, pros give to beginners: write the kind of book you love to read. And I’ve always loved a spooky story.
I fault Stephen King for my coulrophobia and treasure my tattered copy of V.C. Andrews’ Incest in the Attic series. I was a Whedonesque slayer in a former life.
Beyond a handful of paperback series, the existing books that grabbed me were M.T. Anderson’s Thirsty, Vivian Vande Velde’s Companions of the Night, and both Annette Curtis Klause’s The Silver Kiss and Blood and Chocolate.
They were terrific, but pickings were slim. Back then, spooky-story lovers were seriously underfed. Edward wasn’t even a sparkle in Miz Stephenie’s eye, and my biggest concern was convincing a national publisher that girls would read books with monsters in them.
Then there the people who told me that Indians didn’t write horror novels. Ha.
I did my homework, studying Gothics for grown-ups, clear back to the 1800s, and the old oral stories that inspired those. I got stuck on Abraham Stoker’s classic novel Dracula.
What’s Dracula about? An unattractive, undead Anglophile with bad breath who wants to take over the world, and the heroes—including one Quincey P. Morris (a Texan)—who fight to stop him. I decided to gender flip that gallant gentleman, creating my own Quincie P. Morris, and brought the mythology “home” to Texas—specifically, artsy-techy-hippie-weird-neon-blue Austin, Texas, which is where I call home.
That was a start. But what’s the novel Dracula really about? A lot: invasion, the “dark” foreigner (which back in the day meant “Eastern European”), orientation, and gender dominance. Meanwhile, in present day, the news was all about war, the immigration and gay marriage debates, and…. Okay, let’s pause on the ladies a minute.
Stoker’s Mina Harker is a modern woman of her time. She’s the one who organizes all the information to track the monster. She’s the one who pulls together the weepy mess of guys after her own best friend dies. And she’s the one who can work that newfangled gadget, the typewriter. Granted, at one point her husband tells her to go to bed to protect her delicate sensibilities and she does. (Memo to my husband: good luck trying that.) But for the most part, given the era, she’s a hero to cheer.
Go Bram. At the same time, according to the mythology, if against his or her will, a victim is penetrated (by fangs) and/or bodily fluids are exchanged, that victim is damned. A monster in the eyes of humanity and the Lord God Amighty and, therefore, must be destroyed.
Harsh. Wrong.
But in our own real world, what too often happens to victims who—against their will—face the basic equivalent? Who’re attacked against their will? Do we as a society too often blame them, too? Um, that would be a big yes. Which is seriously lousy.
All of which is to say, that I wanted to talk back to Bram. It wasn’t that I disagreed with the dark master on everything (go, Mina). But I had my own point of view.
That said, a point of view isn’t a novel. Fortunately, my evolving characters quickly yanked the story away from me. I’m practically irrelevant to them at this point.
The first book sold in late 2004, I think (maybe early 2005?), and was released in 2007.
(I was working on YA short stories and books for younger kids at the same time, but yes, I’m doing my level best to write at least as well—and faster.)
In Tantalize, I drew on my own memories of being a teen waitress to create the fictional Sanguini’s: A Very Rare Restaurant, on Austin’s South Congress Avenue. It’s a vampire-themed restaurant, kitschy, all in fun, until some real bloodsuckers show up.
Then I jumped from Austin to Chicago in Eternal, a love story/political thriller, which zeroed in on a “slipped” (not “fallen”) guardian angel and the assignment/true love he failed to save.
Now, the two casts crossover in Blessed. It was a treat to revisit Quincie in this latest book. On the other side of her transformation, her red cowboy boots are more firmly on the ground.
Where Tantalize was an exploration of her losses, Blessed is a celebration of hard-earned gains.
Or, put another way, it’s your basic sorta funny, kinda girl-powered, rescue-the-boy, kill-the-monster, save-the-world story.
On second thought, Quincie may be Libba after all.

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