Cynthia Leitich Smith is the author of TANTALIZE and ETERNAL, as well as the upcoming BLESSED. Other books of hers include JINGLE DANCER, RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME, and INDIAN SHOES. She's published a variety of short stories. She's maintained Cynsations (also available on el jay and MySpace) for more than ten years, providing all sorts of information about YA and children's books.
She's very intelligent and easy to talk to, so I loved being able to interview her again. She's written fantasy and realism and does both well.
1. Your YA gothic fantasy series follows an interesting structure. The casts of TANTALIZE and ETERNAL are separate (and the events in ETERNAL come first), then the two casts unite in the third book. Why did you decide on this structure? When you started ETERNAL did you realize it would occur chronologically before TANTALIZE?
The overarching story that unites the three books is a "big" one--large in scope and large in terms of impact on the fictional world. This structure allowed me to show the relatively everyday folks in TANTALIZE and then those at the center of the power structures in ETERNAL before the final showdown. It also underscores that they'll have to cross lines and forge new alliances when it becomes clear that a larger threat looms over them all. Beyond that, I've always had an affection for non-linear storytelling. I come from a Native writing tradition, where it's more common. With this particular story, it's important for reader identification and character arc reasons as well.
2. I enjoyed the nonlinearity and hope to see it in more series. I know I love it in Darren Shan's Demonata series because it's fun to figure out how the pieces will fit together. Since you have experience in the Native writing tradition, are there any books/stories you would recommend?
Everyone should read Chickasaw writer Linda Hogan and Muscogee (Creek) poet Joy Harjo.
3. What do you think are the biggest differences between writing realistic fiction and writing fantasy?
In fantasy, you have to succeed at everything you would in realistic fiction, plus make the fantasy elements hold together logically and earn their place in terms of character, plot, and theme. Beyond that, you can in some ways go more dramatic with your theme because the metaphor dilutes the risks of it being too on the nose.
4. Do you ever worry about the metaphor becoming too obvious? (Of course, this is contingent on how obvious you want it to be.)
You know, I used to. But I've found that too many readers don't go beyond the surface plot and struggle to deal with more sophisticated elements like, say, an unreliable narrator. It worries me, actually. I don't think we pay enough attention to the development of critical-thinking skills. I suspect this may be augmented by the emphasis on standardized testing and memorization-based curriculum. But in any case, it has tremendous real-world implications from personal relationships to political choices.
5. You've been published for nearly a decade and you recently celebrated the ten year anniversary of Cynsations. What is one of the best things to happen to you due to your involvement in young adult and children's literature?
I'm part of a whole new world. When I was a little girl, I read all of the Newbery books. Now many of my best friends write Newbery books. If someone had told me when I was a kid or teenager, that growing up would be this fun... Wow. Let's just say, getting bullied by the queen bee or dumped for another girl would've seemed...okay, still lousy. But through it all, I would've had stars in my eyes.
Cynthia is giving away a copy of her new release, ETERNAL. Rules are available here. She'll be signing books at BookPeople on April 11th, so if you're in the area stop by. You just might meet me as well as her.
Any responses to the interview? Do ya'll have any differently structured stories to recommend?