Craft, Career & Cheer: Cinda Williams Chima

Learn more about Cinda Williams Chima.

How do you define artistic success?

For me, artistic success is a moving target. It is always painful to read my books after they are published because, in hindsight, I can always think of ways they can be improved.

I want to go out to bookstores and libraries and put sticky notes in with all my changes.

Kate DiCamillo once said, “Understand and accept that you’ve lost half your audience the moment you open your mouth.”

I understand it, but I don’t always accept it.

I love to explode assumptions about genre. So far, my published novels have all been young adult fantasy. I love to surprise and engage people who don’t think of themselves as fantasy fans.

Whatever kind of fiction it is, the author’s first responsibility is story and the characters that live through it. That’s why I always cringe when I hear someone say, “I want to write novels for teens because I want to teach them X or impress upon them the consequences of Y.”

Really good fiction always teaches, but story comes first.

I sometimes get those emails from teens that say, “Can you tell me the theme of your book in 150 words before tomorrow?” And it gets me to thinking–what is the theme? Writing fiction is kind of like I imagine therapy to be–things surface unintentionally.

When I read over my books, the common element is transformation. If my main characters are the same at the end of a book as they were at the beginning, I’ve failed. I love the notion that I can transform myself–and I have, over and over. I’m still not finished. That’s what teenagers do–transform themselves into who they are as adults.

Given the fact that I write for teens (and remembering my own sons when they were teenagers), I am always conscious of pacing. I think one key to pacing is to leave room for the reader. You don’t have to include absolutely every detail.

Fiction is a partnership between writer and reader–you must trust your reader to do his part and contribute to the final story. Anything else is condescending. And boring.

What do you love most about being an author? Why?

I love being with book people–writers, librarians, editors, bookstore owners, reviewers, bloggers, illustrators, and readers. All my life, I’ve felt out of place. I am a day-dreamer, a wool-gatherer, always focusing on the stories in my head.

When I’m with book lovers–at book fests, book clubs, conferences, conventions, school and library visits, signings, etc—I feel so in context. Like we all have the secret password. We may differ in politics, religion, race-ethnicity and socio-economic class, but we all have this one thing in common. And usually more than one thing, because books change you.

I still can’t believe I get to do this.

In your own words, could you tell us about your latest book?

The Demon King (Hyperion) comes out Oct. 13, the first book in a new fantasy series set in a place called The Seven Realms. It’s medieval high fantasy, unlike the Heir books, which were set in Ohio.

One anxious librarian wrote to me, saying, “Oh, dear, I just know there’s going to be a map in the front.”

There is a map in the front, and we’re not in Ohio any more. Sorry.

Two viewpoint characters intertwine in this series.

All of his life, street thief Han Alister has carried a demon’s curse, signified by the silver cuffs that bind his wrists. When Han takes an evil-looking amulet from Micah Bayar, the High Wizard’s son, he soon learns that the powerful Bayar family will stop at nothing to get it back.

Meanwhile, Princess Raisa ana’Marianna chafes against the constraints of court life and the prospect of a political marriage to a foppish noble with a big palace and a tiny brain. Her mother Marianna is weak, and the thousand-year war between wizards and the Spirit Clans threatens to rekindle. Raisa aspires to be like her ancestor, the legendary Queen Hanalea, who defeated the Demon King and saved the world.

When the lives of Raisa and Han intersect, they find common interest as they struggle to survive in a treacherous time. And transform themselves.

A Video Interview with Cinda

In the video below, Ed Spicer interviewed Cinda. She talks about her books, her writing process, and especially revision. See also Ed Spicer’s Teen Book Reviews.

Cynsational Notes

Read the first chapter (PDF) of The Demon King.

The Craft, Career & Cheer series features conversations with children’s-YA book creators about positive aspects of their creative and professional lives.