I'm very excited to welcome author Cynthia Leitich Smith to the blog today to chat about ETERNAL, now available in paperback and which debuted on the NYT bestseller list! Congrats, Cynthia!
Cynthia is not only a popular and beloved YA author, but she is a champion of literature. She runs a fabulous industry blog for Children's and YA at Cynsations - definitely worth a few hours of fascination!
ETERNAL (Candlewick 2009, 2010) is the story of shy, quiet Miranda, who dreams of being an actress but withers on stage, and Zachary, the guardian angel whose job it is to watch over her. When Miranda’s life is in danger, Zachary breaks the rules and shows himself, unintentionally triggering events that result in a far worse fate for “his girl,” becoming “adopted” by the vampire king.
This Gothic fantasy novel is two parts love story and one part political thriller. It takes place in a multi-creature verse that includes not only angels and vampires, but also various kinds of shape-shifters.
I love to hear the stories behind the story – from where did the idea for ETERNAL come?
ETERNAL is part of a larger series, which debuted with TANTALIZE (Candlewick, 2007, 2008), and the two casts will crossover in BLESSED, which picks up where TANTALIZE leaves off.
The books are largely inspired by Bram Stoker’s DRACULA and Joss Whedon’s “Buffy: the Vampire Slayer” and incorporate a number of classic themes, including gender-power dynamics.
As for the idea of ETERNAL specifically, I wanted to show a different part of my fictional world than readers met in TANTALIZE, which deals with more everyday characters—high school students, their vice principal, restaurant workers, university professors, a wedding planner, etc. So in ETERNAL, we go to the hierarchy on both sides—the vampire royalty and the angels who fight on the side of “the Big Boss.”
As a character, Miranda came to me fairly easily, and in some ways reflects my own inner teen. I too longed to be involved in school theater and was somewhat (albeit unintentionally) overshadowed by a darling and dynamic best friend. Miranda also probably has the strongest arc—most growth and change—of any of my characters to date.
Zachary was more problematic. He started off as a completely different character, an elf named Topher. But he skewed too innocent, which gave the book a “younger” feeling than its age 14+ market niche.
My editorial team suggested trying an angel instead—one with a sword, they said. That resonated with me, and so I started completely over.
Looking back, it was one of the best suggestions I’ve ever had. Zachary is one of my most popular characters and will be appearing in future books.
Have any favorite books have inspired you and your writing?
All of my life, I’ve been an avid reader. I was extraordinarily shy as a young child, an only child, and my family was on a tight budget. Library books were among my best and most reliable friends. So, definitely reading—the conversation of books over time--has had a huge influence on me.
When it came time for me to write fantasy, I really did my homework. I studied the preceding Gothic YAs, like BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE by Annette Curtis Klause and THIRSTY by M.T. Anderson.
I poured through the classic literature—not only DRACULA, but all the way back to the short story writers who influenced Stoker.
And I took a look at the mythologies surrounding vampires and shape-shifters from around the world, the role of angels or other messengers in various faith traditions, and so on.
The idea is to pay tribute, to honor what has come before, and put in the thought and care necessary to in some small way advance the body of literature, to make a fresh contribution.
Beyond that, I’m highly inspired by places. All of my books and most of my short stories are set in places that I’ve lived. It’s not that writers can’t do the research necessary to employ whatever setting they choose, it’s simply that, for me, this is how story comes.
For example, there’s a scene in ETERNAL where Zachary gets turned around on the El and ends up in Chinatown. I flew to Chicago in February and took every step he took. I gobbled down the “same” egg roll. I caught the “same” cab.
Everyone loves to hear about writing process - what is yours?
I do something that absolutely horrifies a lot of beginning writers. I draft out the whole novel, print it, read it, delete the file, and then throw the draft away.
The purpose of the rough draft, at least for me, is simply to explore. I get to know the characters and world. The exercise greatly informs future drafts, but its initial result is usually fairly shaky, nothing I’d want to build the final book on.
Do you talk with anyone about your ideas as you are writing, or do you keep them top secret?
I sometimes brainstorm with my very cute husband and sometimes co-author, Greg Leitich Smith. (We published a recent short story together, “The Wrath of Dawn,” which appeared in GEEKTASTIC: STORIES FROM THE NERD HERD, edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci (Little, Brown, 2009)). He’s also my first reader.
But I’m not the type to publicly discuss the details of my works in progress; they’re pretty changeable anyway.
Have your ETERNAL characters been inspired by anyone you know?
Occasionally, a character will emerge who’s something of a composite of a number of folks I’ve known. Nora from ETERNAL is someone like that. She’s an older lady—the chef at the castle, nurturing, likes to treat trouble with a hot meal, and is always willing to listen. She’s a tribute of sorts to my grandmothers and aunties.
Beyond that, ETERNAL is very much a story about redemption and second chances. I think that’s something we can all relate to.
I love stories about redemption - they capture my heart like no other. Thank you, Cynthia!
THE ETERNAL GIVEAWAY:
We have one copy of ETERNAL to give to a lucky commenter - just leave a comment below about a) why you'd love to read ETERNAL, b) whether you believe in angels, or c) if you were to write an urban fantasy, where it would take place!
Since I'll be in NYC next week for TAC, BEA, and BoW, the contest CLOSES NEXT FRIDAY at 5pm PST, please leave a way to contact you.
Readers, check out the cool ETERNAL trailer: