Wednesday, February 14, 2007

TANTALIZE by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Award-winning author Cynthia Leitich Smith, writes fiction for everyone, from toddlers to teens. Her books include JINGLE DANCER (Morrow, 2000), RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME (HarperCollins, 2001), INDIAN SHOES (HarperCollins, 2002) and SANTA KNOWS co-authored with husband Greg Leitich Smith.

Her latest book, TANTALIZE (Candlewick, 2007), marks her debut into the world of young adult fiction. We are very honored and pleased to have her as our first guest at the Cafe.

Mary P: Tell us about Tantalize! What has you most excited about this story?

Cynthia: Tantalize is the story of Quincie P. Morris, 17, whose family owns an Italian restaurant in Austin, Texas. Just when the restaurant, Sanguini's, is about to relaunch with a vampire theme, her long-time chef is murdered and suspicions land on her hybrid werewolf best friend/first love. Meanwhile, Quincie's job is to "makeover" the dorky new hire chef--to bring him from blah to bite--in time to play a convincing "master vampire" for opening night. Before Quincie knows what's happening, though, real vampires swoop into the mix and clash with humans and shape-shifters as the question arises: who is predator, and who is prey? I'm most excited about the story itself, but I don't want to give too much of that away. Let's just say it's a genre bender, offering gothic fantasy, suspense, mystery, romance, and humor with a serving of blood-and-tongue sausages on the side. I'm pleased to have offered a strong, ambitious, female protagonist whose sensuality...unlike in so many horror what makes her human, not a monster. Beyond that, it's fun to share my gothic vision of near south and central Austin. My world is eclectic, and (also unlike most genre fiction) reflects the diversity of our real one. Peel back the scary romp, and there's depth there--thematic treatments of alcholism, feminism, race and class relations, all through analogy. But many YAs will just enjoy the marinara-baked chills, and that's just fine.

Mary P: What kind of research did you have to do?

Cynthia: I returned to the dark master, started with Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897). It was a secondary character, Quincey P. Morris, a Texan among Van Helsing's vampire hunters who had first set me on this course. As an Austinite, I longed to "bring home" the mythology and update it for the 21rst century--especially when it came to gender (Victorians wrote their women as virginal or fiendish, which didn't work for me) and clashing cultures (Dracula as a metaphor for the "dark, evil foreigner," which also didn't fly). It was intriguing, though, how those "dated" prejudices persist in the modern world and addressing them in my supernatural one.That said, to write in a literary tradition, you must know it. There's a difference between being derivative and making a contribution to a long conversation of books. So, I not only studied Dracula, the novel, but also other fictional works (film and literary) it inspired and related scholarly criticism. I offer a sampling of books and DVDs I considered via a bibliography on my official site at:
But vampires aren't the only fantasy creatures in Tantalize. I also included a variety of shape-shifters, drawn largely from the Central Austin setting (though there's nothing to prevent, say, a wereantelope, from hopping a plane). Consequently, I spent quality time reading and watching videos of such diverse characters as wolves and turkey vultures. I also camped out for a few days taking notes at the Austin and Nature Center. Some of the resources I consulted are listed at yet another bibliography on my site at:
Then it was a matter of dealing with real Austin, juxtaposing and synthesizing the worlds. For the fiction restaurant, Sanguini's, I interviewed restaurant pros, dined at every Italian joint in town (such a burden), scoured cookbooks, and enlisted my cook-in-the-family husband's aid with the menu. Moreover, I put together outfits for my characters at local boutiques. I went "house shopping" for each one, confessing my agenda to real estate agents (all of whom thought it was cool) and left with floor plans. I even walked the Fairview, South Congress, Bouldin Creek, and Old Enfield neighborhoods with a camera. Imagine me at Jo's Coffee on main street Texas approaching a large tatoo-covered man in much leather and many chains: "Excuse me, sir, I'm a horror novelist, and I think you'd be a wonderful model for a vampire. Would you mind if I took your picture as a reference?" He was enthralled.
Mary P: What is your favorite line, passage, or chapter from this book? (I always have favorites in mine but no one ever asks!)
Cynthia: The story includes a minor character, Meara Morales, who'd been a dear friend of Quincie's late parents and is the werewolf mother of leading man Kieren. Meara left her pack long ago to marry her human husband and now works as a wedding planner. When Quincie goes to visit Kieren, early in the story, Meara sits her down in the living room for "a talk." She begins, "It's time a woman explained to you the facts of life." Quincie, believing this is going to be about sex, is temporarily mortified. Although Meara is the closest thing to a mom she has, the boy of Quincie's desire is of course Meara's own son. But then Meara qualifies that she's referring instead to Kieren's need to leave them both and join a Wolf pack, both for his safety and everyone else's. This, to Quincie who loves him so much, is even worse. It's just one example of moments where the natural and supernatural blur in a specifically adolescent context, one that speaks to the YA characters (and hopefully YA readers) on more than one level while also advancing the story.

MaryP: What are you working on now?

Cynthia: I'm currently polishing another YA gothic fantasy manuscript, this one tentatively titled Eternal, to send to my Candlewick editor at the end of the month. The book is under contract but not yet scheduled. It's set in the same universe as Tantalize; however, there isn't any crossover between the characters. That said, if my muse and the market cooperate, I'm hoping to do that in the next book that follows. In any case, though it's not structured as a lineal series, readers should consider Tantalize an introduction to the world and its ending on the Sanguini's dance floor a spawning ground for more story to come.

Mary P: And what a world you have created! It drew me in immediately! Thank you so much for answering my questions, Cynthia! But I don't want to hog the floor--I hope you will answer a few more questions from blog readers now . . .
~~Cafe Note~~ As a regular part of our interviews, featured authors will pop back in for one week after their interview is posted to answer any other questions blog readers may leave for them. So if you have any questions, fire away! Cynthia will answer as many as she possibly can. And feel free to send congrats and confetti her way too.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

We're Back!

Welcome to our new digs! We've remodeled. Notice? We've gone to a new format that is less labor intensive than live chats. With live chats, we had to rely on the generousity of so many volunteers, and coordinating all that was a bit much for busy writers. We will still have interviews with YA authors, and in our new format, you will still have a chance to interact with those authors. For a period of one week after an interview is posted, our featured author will "chat" with you and answer as many questions as they are able. Besides interviews, we will also post YA related topics where everyone will have the opportunity to voice their opinion. Bring your own cup--we provide the coffee and chatter.