Congratulations to Brigid Gorry-Hines, the 17 year-old, tap-dancing high school junior who has the honor of interviewing Cynthia Leitich Smith for the first in Café Skill's You Do the Interview series!
Amazingly enough, Brigid is also a writer, and she's got some big stuff happening right now: she submitted her manuscript for Walking Shadow to Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Award this year, and it's one of 250 in the quarter finals out of 5000 submissions. Wow. Congratulations Brigid! You can download an excerpt here: Brigid's Book: Walking Shadow
Before Brigid does the interview, here's a fun teenage Did You Know? quiz, full of interesting and unusual facts about Cynthia Leitich Smith. Did you know . . .
- Cynthia Leitich Smith is the New York Times and Publishers Weekly best-selling author of Eternal, a companion novel to Tantalize? (Candlewick) Click to watch the book trailers here.
- She is also the award-winning author of Jingle Dancer, Indian Shoes, and Rain is Not My Indian Name? (HarperCollins)
- Cynthia is a member of faculty at the Vermont College M.F.A. program in Writing for Children and Young Adults? And did you ALSO know this wonderful fact? . . .
- Her website at 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?
- And, 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?
BRIGID: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
But by second grade, I was writing poems and short stories. By sixth grade, I had a column in Mr. Rideout’s class newsletter (Dear Gabby, giving advice to the troubled and lovelorn). I went on to become editor of my junior high and high school newspapers and then major in journalism at the University of Kansas. I talk legal writing at the University of Michigan Law School, and throughout my higher education worked for small town and major metropolitan newspapers.
Not even a year into my law clerkship at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Chicago, I quit my day job to write full-time, though I have taken a couple of part-time writing tutor/teacher positions since (first at St. Edward’s University, then Vermont College of Fine Arts).
It’s as much an identity as a job, with all the pros and cons that come with that.
BRIGID: How do you come up with titles?
CYNTHIA: My book titles often—no wait, so far always--come from the text itself. With short stories, though, I’m more like to try to encapsulate the heart of the story in fresh words.
BRIGID: What authors are your inspiration? What author made you want to start writing?
CYNTHIA: I’m certainly inspired by my childhood favorites—Judy Blume, Katherine Paterson, Elizabeth George in The Witch of Blackbird Pond. More recently, Annette Curtis Klause’s, Blood & Chocolate was an inspiration, as was Joseph Bruchac’s body of work.
BRIGID: What books (s) have you been reading lately?CYNTHIA: The Less-Dead by April Lurie, Saving Maddie by Varian Johnson, Front Page Face-Off by Jo Whittemore. Looking at that, I notice they’re all Austinites with new releases. I’m so proud of this local community.
But turning to the wider world, of late, I enjoyed The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger and The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan.
BRIGID: What's the hardest part of writing for you?
CYNTHIA: It’s not the craft, it’s the life. Especially time. Most days I receive more than 200 emails, mostly from folks wanting something. It’s not the requests themselves, it the volume.
BRIGID: What advice do you have for young and/or aspiring writers?
CYNTHIA: Read. Relish being a writer before taking on the burdens of being an author. It sounds glamorous to have a book published. And it’s terrific in so many ways.
But there are also the pressures of deadlines, reviews, sales, and so forth.
BRIGID: How long does it take you to write a book?
CYNTHIA: It depends on the book. I started my first Gothic fantasy novel Tantalize in 2002 and finished in 2006. The companion Eternal was more like 2006 to 2008. My upcoming picture book, Holler Loudly, was written in spurts from 2002 to 2008, too. So sometimes there’s more than one book (plus short stories) going at one time).
BRIGID: How do you find time to write? What is your writing schedule like?
CYNTHIA: I work from 7 a.m. to about 9 p.m. almost every day, including major holidays. Not all of it is writing, though. That includes teaching, events, media, other promotion, answering reader mail, professional correspondence, blogging, etc. Probably 1/3 of my time is spent actually writing, and I’m trying to push back to create more.
BRIGID: What do you think makes a good story?
CYNTHIA: A strong hook, high emotional stakes, and a character that grows and changes in a meaningful way. Plus, writing wherein every word is earned.
BRIGID: What was your childhood like? Does it affect how you write now?
CYNTHIA: I was a mid-to-southwestern, lower middle class kid. A library kid.
My parents were high school but not college graduates. My public schools were solid, and my neighborhood was safe. I was involved in a lot of school activities and an honor-roll student in AP classes.
I worked baby-sitting from age 12 and then in summer/part-time jobs (as a waitress, a cashier, a popcorn popper) to make money for daily expenses and to contribute toward college. I was geeky—very into comic books and “Star Wars,” which I saw over 300 times. I drove a red 1968 Mustang Coupe. I miss that car.
If someone had told me then that I would get to do this now… I can’t even express how delighted I would’ve been. Just thinking of it now in that context makes me a little teary.
I write stories that reflect the kind of kid I was and the kind of hero I wanted to be. It’s the best job in the world.
BRIGID: What are you writing right now?
CYNTHIA: I'm finishing Blessed, which will crossover the casts of Tantalize and Eternal, and I'm reviewing sketches for the Tantalize graphic novel.