Agent Ginger Knowlton Interviews Author Cynthia Leitich Smith

Ginger Knowlton represents authors and illustrators of children’s-YA books in all genres, as well as a few adult book authors.

Her list includes Newbery Medalists, Newbery Honor and Printz Honor winners, Edgar and Lambda winners, a Sibert and Orbis Pictus winner, New York Times bestsellers, and a host of other delightful and talented clients.

Ginger started working at Curtis Brown in 1986 as an assistant to Marilyn Marlow, one of the first literary agents to specialize in children’s books in the 1960s. Working for Marilyn was a rite of passage, affectionately referred to as Curtis Brown’s “Boot Camp.”

Before joining the company, Ginger worked in the field of early childhood education in Sacramento and Mendocino, California.

She has served on the Board of Directors of the Association of Authors’ Representatives and currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Friends of the Library in her hometown in Westchester County.

Ginger says one of her favorite memories is of her first phone conversation with Cynthia Leitich Smith in 1998 about picture book manuscripts that sing—in particular, “Jenna, Jingle Dancer” (which became Cynthia’s first book, Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow, 2000)).

Cynthia dedicated her latest book and first graphic novel, Tantalize: Kieren’s Story, illustrated by Ming Doyle (Candlewick, 2011), to Ginger.

GK: As a young reader, what was your history with comics? 

CLS: When I was growing up, my dad worked six days a week, often until 9 p.m. When I was little, that was before or about at my bedtime. So, our father-daughter moments were spent mostly only Sundays, while he also was juggling the rest of family and many to-dos.

Every now and then, he’d load me up in the Oldsmobile and drive us to the local convenience shop where I’d pick up superhero, science fiction, and the rare horror comics.

Coupled with trips with Mom to the public library, these jaunts provided the picture- and graphic-format books that laid the foundation for a lifetime of reading and, ultimately, writing.

GK: What about Wonder Woman in particular appealed to you? 

CLS: Wonder Woman is the perhaps the most iconic female superhero and proudly so. In the DC Comics Universe, she has a place right next to Superman and Batman.

Though her uniform has never made much sense (at least from a combat perspective), Wonder Woman is both physically and intellectually strong. She’s magically blessed by the goddesses, but has also worked hard to train and educate herself.

Diana is more about action than reaction. She was born a princess but left behind that life of privilege and comfort to help others. Yet she’s still loyal to her fellow Amazons.

When I was a young reader, most depictions of women showed them as victims or trophies, largely defined by traditional gender expectations and the men in their lives.

In contrast, Wonder Woman had always been a major hero in her own right, and she regularly emphasized that girls and women could stand tall in their own red boots.

GK: Could you tell us about your comic reading in law school? 

CLS: I graduated from The University of Michigan Law School and had a wonderful experience there, but the language of the law can be ponderous at times.

I occasionally took refuge from case law (and its culture) at a local comic book shop in Ann Arbor. It was during this time that I returned to comics after a break in college.

GK: What can you tell us about Kieren Morales, the hero of Tantalize: Kieren’s Story, illustrated by Ming Doyle (Candlewick, 2011)?

CLS: Kieren is the firstborn child of a werewolf mom and human dad.

His mother, Meara Morales, first came to the States from Ireland for college, and his father, Roberto Morales, is from a family that’s lived in Texas under all six flags.

The Moraleses also have a five-year-old daughter, Meghan, who’s very close to her big brother.

The family is firmly middle class, with Mom working as a wedding planner and Dad as a university professor of engineering. They make their home in a relatively new McMansion in the Fairview neighborhood of near south Austin, Texas.

It’s traditional for urban Wolves to join a pack when they come of age, and the typical way in is either brains or brawn. Because of his mixed heritage, Kieren isn’t as strong or fast as a full Wolf, though he’s much more formidable on both counts than a human. So, his plan is to enter a pack as a scholar, specializing in Wolf history and lore. Kieren is one smart puppy.

More personally, because he knows he’ll be leaving soon, Kieren has held off from acting on his growing romantic feelings for his best friend, Quincie Morris.

GK: Why did you decide to retell the Tantalize prose novel in graphic format and from a different (Kieren’s) point of view?

CLS: The very first draft of the prose novel had been from Kieren’s point of view. I switched to Quincie’s in large part because I was intimidated by the idea of writing a novel from a male perspective.

However, in the years since, I’ve had the opportunity to write from a boy’s point of view in short stories and as an alternating voice in prose novels. That built my confidence.

Also, I wanted to offer something new to my readers—new scenes, a new perspective. Tantalize: Kieren’s Story is more of a companion than a straight-up adaptation.

Beyond that, as I got to know Kieren and more fully developed my fantasy construct, it became clear that he had a compelling story of his own to tell.

As a human-werewolf hybrid, Kieren’s position in mainstream society is precarious. In my universe, shape-shifters are naturally born, not supernatural. They can trace their origins back to the Ice Age. Nevertheless, they’re the targets of prejudice and discrimination. Their legal rights are unclear.

In Tantalize: Kieren’s Story, our hero is being framed for murder by the true killer. That would be bad news for anyone, but it’s doubly bad if you’re a young werewolf. Not only his freedom, but the secret of his family’s dual heritage is on the line.

GK: How was the process different between writing the novel and the graphic novel?

CLS: From the prose novel, I already knew my characters, setting, and had a fairly solid idea of what Kieren had been doing when he was off-screen.

So, my focus was translating the prose scenes to graphic format—taking out the connective tissue and description that would be provided in the art—and adding in Kieren’s perspective on existing and previously untold events.

GK: Are the characters represented visually as you saw them in your head when writing the books? If not, how are they different?

CLS: They’re better—the facial expressions, the body language. Illustrator Ming Doyle is a genius. I love that Quincie looks like a real girl. The multicultural nature of the cast is also clearer visually than in the text alone.

GK: What can your readers expect to see from you next?

Adaptation in progress!

CLS: I look forward to the release of Diabolical, the fourth prose novel in the Tantalize series, which will be out in January 2012.

Diabolical is partly set in Austin but mostly takes place in Vermont. It draws inspiration from unresolved events at the end of Eternal, shines a light on all four of the previous protagonists (Zachary, Miranda, Quincie and Kieren), and introduces several new characters and creatures.

Diabolical is by far the most action-packed of the prose quartet to date but also possesses the horror, romance, and humor of the previous titles.

In its final execution, it’s not that scary (depending on your level of sensitivity), but it is a mind bender and literally gave me nightmares early in the drafting process.

An Eternal graphic novel is also in the works. I’ve seen the early sketches, and as much as I love Tantalize: Kieren’s Story, I think this second graphic will be even better.

Beyond that, I’ve written an essay, “Isolation,” which will appear in Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories, edited by Megan Kelley Hall and Carries Jones (HarperCollins, 2011).

On the fiction front, I’m excited that my YA short story, “Mooning Over Broken Stars” will appear in an anthology, Girl Meets Boy, edited by Kelly Milner Halls (Chronicle, 2012). It’s a companion to a short by acclaimed Abenaki author Joseph Bruchac and features Native American characters.

Cynsational Notes

Audio excerpt from Listening Library.

This interview is one of a week-long series of posts, celebrating the release of Tantalize: Kieren’s Story (Candlewick, 2011) after which we’ll return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Agent Interview with Ginger Knowlton from K.L. Going. Peek: “Smart, funny, and engaging letters catch my eye. It’s best to include at least a first page of a longer manuscript with your query, and an entire picture book if that’s what you write. Let me see what you want me to sell.”

Enter to win the Tantalize: Kieren’s Story Howling Giveaway, featuring an author-signed copy of the graphic novel, myriad of shifter-inspired puppets, adult-size costume bat wings, more books, DVD, and much more!

Guest Author Cynthia Leitich Smith: How to Tantalize as a Graphic Novel from The Other Side of the Story with Janice Hardy. Peek: “I opened the book again, and began translating the existing scenes in which he appeared into a script format, shifting the point of view.” Note: post includes excerpt of the prose novel and the corresponding graphic script.

Teens are now invited to vote for YALSA’s Teens Top Ten List! Vote here, and see the annotated list. Note: Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2011) is among the 25 titles nominated for YALSA’s Teens’ Top Ten! The novel picks up at the very scene where Tantalize leaves off.

Cynsational Screening Room

Kieren tracks vampire chef Brad to the 4th St. Warehouse District.

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