Home    |     Bio    |     Books    |     DBAW Tour    |     News    |     Press    |     Events    |     Contact

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Story Secrets: ETERNAL by Cynthia Leitich Smith + Giveaway!

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!

Welcome, Cynthia!


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!

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:


  1. I love Gothic lit, from those in the true historical period (starting in 1764) all the way to the present day. Would love to win this contest, but also wish that Cynthia could list some of the Gothic novels that she read, which as she said "influenced" Bram Stoker. Has she read The Castle of Otranto, The Mysteries of Udolpho, The Monk, etc?

  2. I read Eternal and LOVED it! I enjoyed the interacting of vampires and angels, the good side and the bad side, and the convergence of both. I didn't know about Tantalize, and after reading this, found it so I could be ready for BLESSED!!

  3. So brave of Cynthia to toss that first draft--WOW! I couldn't do it. It would hurt too much. I bet it does make a better book though.

  4. Melissa, I've read The Castle of Otranto!!! The hood...the hood! A long time ago, though (I studied Comparative Lit). Such a fun period.

    Becky, thanks for the ETERNAL shout-out!

    Melissa Walker, YES. I couldn't, either. Although...maybe small bits at a time, through which eventually the work would be made new.

  5. Great interview! I have had Eternal on to read list for a little bit now and it would be great to get a copy to accomplish that goal! If I wrote an urban fantasy it would take place in Gotham with possibly Batman taking on some vampires.

  6. I would love to get my hands on a copy of this book. As an aspiring YA author, I try to keep up with the newest YA lit, and this sounds like a great book!



  7. This book looks so great. I love angels. Not so sure if I believe in them, but I think they're a good idea. Especially the warrior of god type of angel as opposed to fluffy wings and wants to do good all the time. And I read Tantalize a while ago and I don't think I ever realized that this was connected to it.


  8. I've heard great things about this book. I'd love to read it!

  9. Terrific interview. Especially interested in Cynthia's writing process. Loved the back story behind Zachary. Wowed by her gall to toss the first draft! Thanks for setting up this interview with her Holly.

  10. Thanks for stopping by, everyone! It's fun to be doing something a little different today, my first angel book!

  11. If I were going to write an urban fantasy novel, I'd definitely have it set in D.C.

    Thanks for the great interview and contest!


  12. I would love to read Eternal because I am intrigued by its premise.


  13. I'd have my urban fantasy take place in New York or Paris. I LOVE both those places. Of course, I've never been to either, so preliminary research must occur first.

    ~Enna Isilee

  14. Indeed, Enna - any excuse to expense Paris or New York would be a good one!

  15. Do I believe in angels? ABSOLUTELY! There are so many bad things out there that it'd be WAY too scary to not have something watching after us.

  16. I also read Tantalize and really enjoyed it - I've been looking forward to Eternal for, well, I won't say it...! As a side note, I do believe in angels and if I was going to write an Urban Fantasy, I would set it in Boston, MA.


  17. I would love to read Eternal because I enjoyed Tantalize so much. I think I believe in angels, but the verdict is still out. If I was going to write an Urban Fantasy novel it would take place in Chicago.


  18. I just love Cynthia's books! If I were to write Paranormal I would either set it in Chicago or Indianapolis - just because those are the closest cities - and the ones I've been in the most. :)

    dragonzgoil at gmail dot com

  19. I would like to read Eternal because I read Tantalize and it was awesome!! I don't know if I believe in angels, per se, but I definitely believe in energy or something. Hmm.
    If I were to write an urban fantasy, I would set it in Madison, WI!

  20. I'd love to read Eternal, because it sounds awesome! ;) I absolutely believe in angels.


  21. I've read Eternal (you don't need to include me in the drawing) and LOVED it. And I do believe in angels - except I think they walk among us.

    And even this slightly seasoned writer shudders every time I hear Cyn talk about her first draft toss-out!

  22. I do believe in angels and haven't read any books about them, I think this one sounds like a good start :) I'm on the waiting list at the library I work at.

    - Rachael

  23. mlcassotto@aol.comMay 23, 2010 at 4:38 AM

    Love your trailer...met Annettte Curtis Klaus at an ALA convention.

  24. I would love to read it because any author who mentions being inspired by Joss Whedon must be worth reading!

  25. Hi, Holly!

    I would totally love to read this book. I, too, am an aspiring YA author (who isn't?) and I definitely believe in angels!

    My email addy: cyndesgotthewritestuff(at)gmail(dot)com

    Cynde (Cynde's Got The Write Stuff)

  26. Hi, Holly! Have fun at BEA! I want to read Eternal because it sounds amazing and I love the trailer. I believe in angels because all of these things in the world happen that we can't explain, so I figure there has to be something out there that my little human brain just can't comprehend. Thanks for another great round of Story Secrets!

  27. I loved her piece in Geektastic and would love to read and review one of her books.