The Tantalize series features YA Gothic fantasy novels in both prose and graphic formats. These stories, set in the Tantalize-Feral universe, are suspenseful with high action and include romantic elements as well as some humor.
The first novel was released in 2007.
The Feral trilogy is a spin-off of the Tantalize series. The books are set in the same universe and feature many
overlapping characters and settings.
The Tantalize heroes appear and/or are mentioned in Feral Pride, which caps all nine books.
The novels are centered on a fictional restaurant, Sanguini’s, located on South Congress Avenue in Austin.
I began working on first book, which had a working title of “Brad: The Impaler” in 2000. The original concept behind all the books is that the events in Bram Stoker’s classic Dracula (1897) are loosely based on truth and my stories take a look at how that legacy manifests in present day.
They’re set in an international multi-monster verse, populated with vampires, a variety of shapeshifters, angels, ghosts, demons, faerie, and more.
Both series are originally published in the U.S./Canada by Candlewick Press and in the U.K. by Walker. Various other editions are available around the globe.
What an honor to be interviewed for a podcast also featuring author Pat Mora and author-illustrator Don Tate by Professional Book Nerds.
Peek from my segment:
“It [writing for kids] was a heart decision, not a head decision and part of that heart decision wasn’t just about my work.
“It was about the power and importance and necessity of bringing goodness into the world, specifically goodness for kids, and so I was going to do what I could to uplift all storytellers and young readers.”
About Professional Book Nerds: “We’re not just book nerds: we’re professional book nerds and the staff librarians who work at OverDrive, the leading app for eBooks and audiobooks available through public libraries and schools. Hear about the best books we’ve read, get personalized recommendations, and learn about the hottest books coming out that we can’t wait to dive into.”
What are you supposed to do when your debut novel releases in paperback?
b) Heave a sigh of relief
c) Let everyone know
d) All of the above
Ahhh, the conundrums of marketing.
Guess what? There is no prescribed method for marketing our books. There is no must-do, have-to do, should-do list. There is no recommended amount of time you spend doing marketing.
And guess what else? Marketing is counter-intuitive to every thing we love to do as writers: stay home in comfy attire and create imaginary worlds. Marketing is a little too real world, right?
So of course, I was tempted to let the paperback release of Evidence of Things Not Seen (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2014) slip into its soft cover without much fanfare.
I chose not to do that because I’ve always had this vision of Evidence passing from hand to hand in the hallways of high schools and I always saw it happening in soft cover format. Certainly the paperback price point made that vision more attainable.
So what to do?
Lindsey & Cyn at the Turkey Trot in Austin
Because I live in Austin, I have the luxury of going out to lunch with friend, mentor, colleague and super kidlit guru Cynthia Leitich Smith.
“Why not reblurb it?” she said.
“Wait?! I can do that?” I asked.
She explained that because Evidence has been out since 2014, lots of other writer pals have read it, liked it and probably want to support it.
I loved this idea because part of what makes sense about marketing for me is building community. No community is better than the children and young adult literature community. We cheer our releases, our successes and our causes.
“This is the kind of book you tuck in with and escape into, and it will stay with you long after you finish the last lines. Haunting and beautiful.”Jennifer Mathieu, author of The Truth About Alice (Roaring Brook Press, 2014), Devoted (Roaring Brook Press, 2015), Afterward (Roaring Brook Press, 2016) and the forthcoming Moxie (Roaring Brook Press, 2017).
“The narrative jiggers between unexpected opposites—joy and fear, love and violence, grief and hope—all the while holding forth the constant idea that the world offers us credible evidence of what seems impossible if we only know where to look.”J.L. Powers, author of Amina (Allen & Unwin, 2015), This Thing Called The Future (Cinco Puntos Press, 2011), and the forthcoming Broken Circle (Black Sheep, October 2017).
What happened after I received those new blurbs was like sprinkling fairy dust on me and my book. I got reinvigorated.
Let me explain.
When your book debuts in the world, it begins a journey, which is somewhat separate from me (think kid going off to college). People would ask me how Evidence of Things Not Seen was doing. Other than royalty statements, I didn’t know.
I imagined my book toddling around the world perched on book shelves, cradled in someone’s lap or passed to a friend with, hopefully, an urgent recommendation. Yes, I had school visits, speaking engagements and signings but really after your book is out in the world, it has its own experience with readers.
After receiving those blurbs, I researched advertising and book tours.
Advertising is a bit of a gamble. One time in Publishers Weekly or Booklist is hugely expensive. But Facebook is doable. It’s cheaper, effective and targeted. If there is one reason to have an Author page, it is being able to run these kinds of ads.
I’d been receiving their newsletter for a few months and noticed that their content and readership was growing. It was also Texas-based and helmed by women (always a plus).
Because Evidence is set around Blanco alongside US 281, I decided LoneStar Literary would be a great fit. For a very affordable price, I had a 10-stop tour, which included four new reviews and a giveaway.
It was a blast. Great exposure. A lot of fun. Terrific support on Facebook and Twitter. Apparently, it
was a successful tour because Evidence had the most giveaway entries so far for a LoneStar Book Blog Tour. Here is a link to the complete tour.
Promoting the paperback release of Evidence was like taking a honeymoon trip with my book. Even though I am currently engrossed in a new world and its characters, I remembered why I wrote Evidence and why I loved that world and its characters.
Putting together a little hoopla for the paperback release was unexpectedly fun. Highly recommended.
She lives in Austin, Texas but loves to travel, especially to the ocean. She loves books, films, good food and her cadre of dear friends. Her idea of a perfect evening is having a dinner party at her home with friends from around the world and discussing everything under the sun while eating, drinking, and laughing.
As a spec fic writer, I’ve so often been told that it’s “unusual” or even “strange” for an Indigenous person to be writing in this genre. Why do you write speculative fiction? Do you think there’s advantages to the genre that aren’t found in other genres?
Yes, the industry must move past the tendency to put creatives in genre boxes as well as to underestimate Native authors and authors of color.
We are not here to exclusively write books about landmark historical events with obvious social studies tie-ins. We can rock those stories, but we can also do so much more and do it spectacularly.
If not, you may want to look into ordering online for international delivery. (Or check out the e-novella, Rose Eagle–should be an easy download.)
As for me, I take the advice we so often give to beginning writers. I write what I know. I write what I love to read. I saw “Star Wars: A New Hope” (before it was called “A New Hope”) 384 times in the theater. Of course I write speculative fiction.
My Tantalize–Feral universe is genre bending, incorporating elements of Gothic fantasy, urban fantasy, mystery, suspense, humor, and science fiction.
The fantastical offers writers the ability to speak to our real world at a slant. At that slant, you can—ironically enough—hit the real-world themes harder.
Let’s say I wrote a realistic novel about a teenage girl who gets involved with an older guy who plies her with red wine, takes over her family’s business, socially segregates her, kidnaps her, imprisons her, assaults her, frames her best friend for murder and kills her best friend’s dog. Yes, his dog. Overkill? (Possibly. I’m still getting distraught reader mail about the dog.)
On the other hand, if he’s a vampire, the reader is far more likely to buy into the story. (And, thankfully, I had the discretion to subvert genre expectations and make it a girl-empowerment story.) With spec fic, we can dig deeper into the theme without seeming heavy handed.
My latest realistic short fiction, “All’s Well,” appeared as a chapter in Shaun David Hutchinson‘s Violent Ends (Simon Pulse, 2015), which is centered on a school shooting.
Coming up, I’ll have a poem written as a child featured in “Dreams to Write” in Our
Story Begins: Children’s Authors and Illustrators Share Fun, Inspiring,
and Occasionally Ridiculous Things They Wrote and Drew as Kids, edited by Elissa Brent Weissman (Atheneum, 2017). I do a little creative nonfiction, too. Basically, I have either great range or a complete lack of focus.
You put time and effort into promoting the work of other writers. Why is this important to you?
When I decided to write full-time rather than practice law (or work as a journalist), it was more of a heart decision than a head decision.
By the time I was eight or nine years old, as an avid reader, I’d learned that I never wanted to open a book with an American Indian on the cover (or any hint of Native content), even if it was by the author of my favorite novel.
While we have far to go, I’ve seen progress and felt the pride in community that comes with it.
Books are where I belong. Story is what has always helped me make sense of the world and find my place in it. And my place in it is informed by media and the law–a longing for justice bolstered by the education and tools to help achieve it.
I want to do what I can to ensure that children’s-YA literature welcomes all kids in a positive, nurturing way. That’s not just about me. It’s about what we do as a community of book creators, publishers, gatekeepers, booksellers, child care givers… The team effort.
Light a candle. If that doesn’t work, light a bonfire.
How did I get here? By the standards of the time, I entered children’s-YA publishing as a very young author.
This was the late 1990s, and I was in my late twenties/early thirties. It’s different now. Debut authors younger than I was then are no longer unusual. But back then, editors weren’t taking many chances on new voices. There weren’t as many younger voices writing either. (Hello, Potter effect.)
Almost everybody I knew was at least 15 years older and had much more experience. People frequently commented to me that I was their children’s age.
My inner fourteen-year-old was–still is–spinning over the moon.
What I did have to offer the community was enthusiasm, a commitment to what then was called “multiculturalism,” and a background in journalism. I embraced the possibilities of the Web and began signal boosting in a big way.
Now, I’ve been in the business nearly 20 years and am finishing my fifteenth book. Though I still have much to learn, I’m honored to share what I do know, especially with Austin and Texas authors, my VCFA family, new voices, diverse voices and of course Native writers and illustrators.
Along the way, I keep believing, signal boosting, mentoring, teaching, writing and cheerleading.
Spreading the word that good books matter.
Does law influence your storytelling in any way?
Definitely. Law gives me an analytical skill-set that is priceless for plotting and world building. If you look, for example, at the Feral trilogy, the legal status of shape-shifters plays a significant role in the story construct.
By that, I don’t mean that my characters are citing case law or pontificating on legal history but rather that the socio-political-legal structure in which they struggle has been thought out and fully integrated.
On a more obvious level, I’ve written lawyer characters—Cousin Elizabeth from Jingle Dancer (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000) and, in my current work in progress, the protagonist’s mother is a law student.
When I write Native stories in particular, that heightened awareness comes into play because of the role of law in our nations’ histories and its ongoing importance to our survival today and beyond.
You’ve written that you felt compelled to write for young readers in the wake of the Oklahoma City Bombing. Why for young readers rather than adults?
I feel that hope, too. That faith. I believe in it enough to invest my life’s work.
It’s not that I don’t think adults can grow and change. Of course we can.
But when I close my eyes and imagine a world of heroes, most of the faces I see are those of elders and the young.
Maybe that’s because I was raised close to my grandparents, my great aunties and uncles. They faced Indian boarding school, the Great Depression, the second World War.
My first heroes were my elders, starting from the time the were young. Their influence is defining.
What’s the story you’re proudest of, and why?
I want to say that I don’t process my books and shorts in terms of
pride, but only moments ago I was telling you about the pride I feel in
the progress we’ve made in children’s-YA literature.
So, okay, I’ll close my eyes and keep typing and resist the urge to edit afterward.
I’m most proud of my novel in progress, tentatively titled “How to End a Date” (Candlewick, fall 2017), by which I mean I’m proud of the protagonist.
How she navigates, less and more successfully, all the crap that’s routinely tossed at Native teens and, for that matter, at girls on a day-to-day basis and how she takes refuge in her sense of humor and her loving family and her community and, most of all, how she fights, true to her heart, even when her biggest obstacle is herself.
And since it’s loosely based on my own adolescence, I guess I have to say that I’m finally proud of my own inner teen.
So there, Cindy Lou. I believe in you.
Author Interview: Joseph Bruchac on Killer of Enemies from Lee & Low. Peek: “…what really helped me begin to develop this story was the combination of seeing the ways in which building technology into people has become more and more of a reality and the idea that then came to me about how those modified people would be affected if electricity (including circuits implanted into human bodies) suddenly stopped working.”
Lately, I’ve been talking to Ambelin Kwaymullina, “an Aboriginal writer and illustrator from the Palyku people” of Australia, about own voices, representation, appropriation and writing across identity elements.
At first glance, when it comes to protagonists and point of view, we may seem to be on opposite ends of a spectrum–her advocating against writing as an outsider and me in favor.
It’s more complicated than that. As we compared notes, we found ourselves agreeing or at least empathizing more than you might assume.
I’m a Muscogee Nation citizen, and I’ve written protagonists who share that identity as well as those who, unlike me, are respectively Chinese American, Mexican American, Italian American, English American, Seminole, and Cherokee. The non-Indians appear in alternating point-of-view novels.
(I’m a Cherokee descendant, not a Cherokee Nation citizen. That translates to shared ancestry and cultural touchstones, but there’s a difference. To clarify: I’m likewise Irish American. However, I am not a citizen of Ireland. I am Muscogee and American, a citizen of both Muscogee Nation and the United States of America. Native identity is about culture and heritage, but it’s also about law and political status.)
More broadly, when it comes to race, religion, culture, gender, age, orientation, body type, and socio-economics, I write inside my personal experience.
Likewise, I write outside my personal experience. I speak on and teach the subject of writing, including writing across identity elements, on a regular basis.
As I’ve mentioned before, the question of writing outside one’s lived knowledge and most immediate stakes with regard to protagonists (or, in the case of nonfiction, focal subjects) is a very personal one.
Today I’m going to share a glimpse into my own, nuanced process for deciding who and what to write and why. Yes, of course your mileage may vary. It may evolve. Mine has evolved.
I’ve committed quality time, scholarship and tuition dollars to Freedom of Speech.
I’m well aware that rights come with opportunities, costs and responsibilities. And I’m well aware that restrictions on speech tend to hit disempowered people first and the hardest.
I’ll restate that:
Restrictions on speech tend to hit disempowered people first and the hardest.
Sometimes I exercise my right to speak. Sometimes I exercise my right not to speak.
As a one-time Native child who couldn’t watch “Super Friends” every Saturday morning without also seeing “Elbow Room”every Saturday morning, I fret the impact of erasure (to a cheery tune) and of the single story (in that case, the “helpful Indian”).
Watch this and, if it’s not your inherent perspective, try to do so–with your writing cap on–from a Native or POC point of view.
(2) The vast majority of children’s-YA authors must, to varying degrees, write outside our own experience—at least with regard to secondary characters and major historical events or societal topics. This is necessary to reflect the full range of our humanity in the past, present and future.
In a sweeping book about the U.S. Civil War or The Great Depression or the Industrial Revolution, I’m looking for inclusion when it comes to the participation of and impact on Native people, people of color, women, etc. Ditto that contemporary realistic chapter book set in a minority-majority nation or that YA dystopian novel.
Ducking that content isn’t a neutral decision. Again, effectively writing Native people off the continent–out of the past, present, and future–isn’t a neutral decision. Over the body of literature, it’s a minimizing one. An erasing one. Silence speaks. It contributes to adverse real-world impact.
After every U.S. election, we actually have to educate the new Congress about our continued existence. Please don’t make it harder for us to protect our nations, our land, our children. Remember, we are still here. And we should be reflected in the pages of children’s-YA literature.
So, to recap: (1) I’m well versed in freedom of speech. (2) Every children’s-YA writer must, to some degree, write outside our immediate frame of reference. Still with me?
Back to protagonists and nonfiction topics. Bookstores vary the titles they stock. Libraries vary their collections. Publishers vary their manuscript acquisitions, and agents vary their clients.
Otherwise their books would compete with each other, and they wouldn’t be able to offer the selection necessary to stay in business.
Choices that heavily favor slender, straight, able-bodied white kids are the norm. Those books are viewed as standard. Viewed as universal. There’s no industry predisposition to limit them.
But every day, other well-written stories are rejected for being “too similar” to an already stocked, purchased, acquired or signed project that’s perceived as similar enough to compete.
Let’s say there’s already one middle grade with an Asian boy protagonist. Will another one be turned down for potentially competing?
“I just acquired an Asian boy middle-grade novel, and, unfortunately….”
Writers get rejection letters to that effect all the time. I’ve read them. Quite a few of them because I teach and mentor and so other writers come to me to discuss such things.
And, granted, stories won’t be rejected just because of common identity elements. It could happen because they’re deemed “too similar” in other ways.
My kitty, Gali-Leo
“I just acquired a novel about soccer, and, unfortunately….”
What is the societal impact of limiting to one book about soccer?
What is the societal impact to limiting to one book about Asian-American boys?
Or one book about Asian Americans–period? Especially since “Asian American” is an umbrella term.
Heaven forbid two Asian-American boy characters in two different stories both happen to play soccer.
Sure, even with mainstream heroes, there are limits:
we’re already publishing a half dozen dystopians…”
Here’s the thing: Writers often panic over new releases that might be “too similar” to our own works in progress, particularly if our own manuscript is well along. We anguish over whether to read the competing title to gauge whether our project is in the clear or not. With nonfiction writers, you’ll often hear talk of “getting there first” in the marketplace.
Remember when I mentioned the right to speak and the right not to?
This is what I personally do with that reality:
Halloween decoration that inspired my novel, Feral Curse
I love cats. I love carousels. I’m intrigued by cryptids.
In the Feral series (Candlewick/Walker), I write about werecats, demons, magic and furry cryptid hominids.
The stories take place in Austin, in a nearby small town, in the suburbs, at a resort, and on a tropical island.
These YA books are heartfelt, funny, action packed and teeny bit sexy (if I do say so myself).
The trilogy metaphorically tackles diversity, social justice, and what it means to be human.
No way would the entire cast look like it had been raised by Carol and Mike Brady. Or be depicted simply as white kids from different social groups a’ la “The Breakfast Club” (remember when that was a diversity ground-breaker?).
The Feral series’ question is: “What does it mean to be human?” My answer isn’t: “Let’s check in with the all-white heroes to find out.” (Although white co-protagonists are certainly included in the mix.)
The series is told in alternating points of view by four co-protagonists, including Kayla, a werecheetah, who presents as Black American, and Yoshi, a werecougar, who presents as a biracial (Japanese-white) American. They’re homo shifters rather than homo sapiens, and they live among us. Within the genre bending, it’s a sci-fi-ish fantastical construct.
Now imagine this. An editor reads my manuscript and says: “Too bad! I just signed a story about a smart, small-town, Black Texas teen–the daughter of the mayor–who’s able to turn into a werecheetah, and is being haunted by her ex-boyfriend’s ghost, which is trapped in a carousel. And, wouldn’t you just know it? Both stories feature a Eurasian co-protagonist/love interest, raised in an antique mall by his homicidal grandmother.…”
Really? If another author also independently came up with that specific idea, we are soulmates.
But only one of us is probably going to sell that oh-so-similar book to that one YA fantasy editor at that house. Or sign with that manuscript to that one genre-bendy and cryptid-loving agent.
Libraries and bookstores will stock one or the other. (Unless there’s a major motion picture involved.)
We’re safe to say the Feral series (Candlewick) is an idiosyncratic, diverse spec-fic YA adventure. This is a benefit of a quirky writing nature (Werearmadillos, for example. I may have invented them. That level of quirky.)
Kayla, as one of four co-protagonists, isn’t going to knock a book with another Black girl hero out of contention for anything. And the lived experience that’s most on point is what it’s like to “pass” or not. On that point, I do have lived experience to bring.
Nifty. Green light.
Now consider this: I love the music of Eartha Kitt. I am fascinated by Eartha Kitt.
I believe that Eartha Kitt was the best Catwoman.
The. Best. Catwoman.
Nobody could purr like Eartha Kitt.
She was inspiring, talented, formidable. For years, I’ve longed to write a biography about Eartha.
She’s not a household name or an automatic tie-in to the Black History Month curriculum.
There might be room for one Earth Kitt biography for kids (or teens). I could see that getting published. I can imagine some bookstores and libraries stocking it.
As much as I love Eartha, I can’t imagine them embracing two or more.
So I’m not writing it. But if I weighed all
that and moved forward, I would talk to Eartha’s family first for
permission and consult with Black author friends, too.
Magazine cover of Eartha in my dining nook
All the while owning that my book could be blocking one by a member of Eartha’s own community.
Would I love that reality? No, but I couldn’t ignore it or dismiss it or explain it away either. And I couldn’t wrap myself in the First Amendment and leave it at that because I have the right not to speak, too.
I would have to hold myself to the highest possible writing standard and expect others, especially those with a closer kinship, to do the same.
What’s more, I’d have to acknowledge that I was starting at a serious deficit. There are writers with so much more to bring to that manuscript–Black writers, especially those with a strong background in singing and acting, who’d have knowledge and insights to illuminate the awesomeness that was Eartha in important ways that I’d never imagine.
I’m not planning to write that biography of Eartha. But up until a year or so ago, I was seriously considering it.
He and I have more in common. We’re both mixed-blood citizens of southeastern Native Nations now based in Oklahoma. I want Native kids to learn about him, to be inspired by his story. I want non-Indian kids to learn about him and rethink the “primitive savage” stereotypes they’re fed.
Still, writing about John would’ve required me to write as an outsider.
I’ve met him in person in Oklahoma!
I’m not Chickasaw. “Native American” and “American Indian”
are umbrella terms. Again, being Muscogee doesn’t make me Chickasaw.
Are there shared ties and history between some Native/First Nations
people and nations? Yes, more so within regions. But we’re not one
in the same.
I hate to say it, but, as with Eartha, there’s probably not room in the market for more than one nonfiction picture book about John Herrington.
Native people are not meaningfully included in the U.S. curriculum. To the extent we’re mentioned, the focus isn’t on our achievements in space exploration. (Cough.)
There’s no way I would’ve put down a word of John’s story without his permission. As a First Amendment student, I know that I have the right to do so. As a Native woman, I believe in cultural property but, more to the point, as a human being, I believe in respect and courtesy.
John’s story is not my mine to take. It’s certainly not mine to take for profit.
Besides, to do a good job with it, I would’ve needed not only John’s blessing but also his assistance because the greatest living authority on John is of course John himself.
And if John thought it was a wonderful idea for me to write the story, I would’ve been honored and proceeded from there. (Yes, I would touch base with Chickasaw children’s writers, too.)
Many of the best books written by outsiders come from a place of deep connection and respect, prioritizing impact on young readers–both those directly reflected by the book and those who’re not.
These titles were born in the wake of the September 11 attacks after Bethany, a 9/11 survivor, heard Arun give a speech and found personal solace and healing in it. Later, they worked together to share Arun’s stories with kids. He chose her as his co-author.
As writers, we succeed when we set aside the self-absorption of intent and entitlement in favor of respect and commitment.
We succeed when we come from a deeply felt place, like Bethany did after 9/11 and like she does every day when she cradles her own Indian-American baby son.
Bottom line: I never actively began writing the manuscript about John Herrington. It was merely an idea. I had other projects to finish first. I hadn’t yet contacted John to discuss it.
But now I’m absolutely delighted that John’s children’s book, Mission to Space, was recently published by Chickasaw Press.
Imagine if bookstores and libraries didn’t pick it up because another children’s writer (like me) had already gotten there first and with a publisher that has a larger, more powerful industry presence.
Ambelin mentioned that she doesn’t want to see outsiders writing first- or deep third-person point of view. She’s told me that she feels that way in part because she hasn’t seen it done well and in part because of the systematic exclusion of Indigenous voices, own voices.
She doesn’t “want anyone occupying that space until there’s something resembling parity of representation of Indigenous writers (and other own voices).”
I’m deeply sympathetic to her perspective and a strong ownvoices advocate myself.
At the same time, when it comes to Native content, I’m more open to outside voices than Ambelin.
It’s a blessing for Native kids, all kids, that books like those are published, and I’m thrilled to champion them whenever I can.
Moreover, as a southeastern American Indian, considering our history and current ties with Black Americans, I particularly long for more of their voices in the related conversation of books, especially with regard to the intersection of Black Indian tribal citizens.
Big picture, being open to outside writers is no small or unqualified leap of faith.
There is a long and damaging history of outsiders telling “Native” stories, having approached us in the guise of ethnographer, of anthropologist, of writer, of friend. A long and damaging and ongoing effort to mislead, gain trust, and then misrepresent Native lives and narratives. Usually for profit, power or both.
When I say “damaging,” that’s not hyperbole. I’m talking about real-world legislation, persecution, and impact on the daily life of every Native person. We are peoples of Nations defined by sometimes hostile law and profoundly affected by that law. Public opinion, education and miseducation affects the making and enforcement of those laws. And then there’s the psychological impact on citizens of our Nations, especially on our children and teens.
If you don’t know enough to understand why we’re skittish, suspicious and/or non-responsive, please step back and do more homework before starting that manuscript. Our feelings, actions and sometimes silence are based on real-world experience and concerns.
Of late, I’ve heard a lot of folks speaking in broad terms about the question of who writes what. We talk too often in broad strokes when brushstrokes apply.
It’s a much bigger, broader conversation than race, though of course that’s a critical component. It’s also persistently framed as primarily about white writers’ fear and failures.
As if no white writers weigh the responsibilities and costs of appropriation and respectfully seek the appropriate permissions
and insights like Debby, working with her husband to share his story.
As if diverse writers can’t stretch to successfully write across identity elements like Rita, who can certainly be trusted to respectfully conceptualize, research, frame and integrate story elements and, for that matter, feedback as needed to revise.
As if diversity conversations should default to focus on white, able-bodied, cis-gender, straight folks. That’s taking the idea that this isn’t all about them and responding with, “But wait, what about them?”
Of course all writers belong in this conversation, but own voices must be prioritized and centered. Meanwhile, the question of “which ideas are right for me?” is something every writer must consider.
By the way, even when you’re writing within identity elements, you still need to do research and engage in thoughtful related conversation. My work in progress is quasi-autobiographical, and I have a three-inch thick (and building) research binder. I’ve consulted with several friends and colleagues about the content and how it rolls out within the context of the story.
When I’ve cited, say, Rita and Debby among my go-to examples with regard to Native content, often the reply is something to the effect that I’m setting the bar sky high. And, yes, that’s true.
The bar is and should be sky high. Maybe we’re not all at Rita and Debby’s level of craft (yet), but we must emulate their gracious humility, their conscientiousness.
We must strive to create the best books for all kids.
Scholastic Book Club will soon be offering my debut tween novel, Rain Is Not My Indian Name, as a diversity selection through book clubs.
Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins and Listening Library, 2001)(ages 10-up). Available as an unabridged audio download. From the promotional copy:
The next day was my fourteenth birthday, and I’d never kissed a boy — domestic style or French. Right then, I decided to get myself a teen life.
Cassidy Rain Berghoff didn’t know that the very night she decided to get a life would be the night that Galen would lose his.
It’s been six months since her best friend died, and up until now Rain has succeeded in shutting herself off from the world. But when controversy arises around her aunt Georgia’s Indian Camp in their mostly white Midwestern community, Rain decides to face the outside world again — at least through the lens of her camera.
Hired by her town newspaper to photograph the campers, Rain soon finds that she has to decide how involved She wants to become in Indian Camp. Does she want to keep a professional distance from the intertribal community she belongs to? And just how willing is she to connect with the campers after her great loss?
In a voice that resonates with insight and humor, Cynthia Leitich Smith tells of heartbreak, recovery, and reclaiming one’s place in the world.
“Tender, funny, and full of sharp wordplay, Smith’s first novel deals with a whole host of interconnecting issues, but the center is Rain herself. What’s amazing here is Rain’s insights into her own pain, and how cleanly she uses language to contain it.”
— Kirkus Reviews
“There is a surprising amount of humor in this tender novel. It is one of the best portrayals around of kids whose heritage is mixed but still very important in their lives. It’s Rain’s story and she cannot be reduced to simple labels. A wonderful novel of a present-day teen and her ‘patch-work tribe.’”
— School Library Journal
“…readers will feel the affection of Rain’s loose-knit family and admire the way that they, like the author with the audience, allow Rain to draw her own conclusions about who she is and what her heritage means to her.”
— Publishers Weekly
Note: the trailer–while long and old-fashioned by today’s standards–was cutting edge at the time, and I still love the sweetness of it.
Over the past couple of weeks, children’s-YA author Cynthia Leitich Smith put out a call for questions from readers on Cynsations and Twitter. Here are those she elected to tackle and her responses. A few questions were condensed for space and/or clarity.
See also a previous Cynsations reader-interview post from November 2010. Cyn Note: It’s interesting how the question topics shifted, both with my career growth and changes in publishing. Back then, readers were most interested in the future of the picture book market and online author marketing.
What’s the one piece of advice you think would most benefit children’s-YA writers?
Read model books across age levels, genres, and formats. For example, a novelist who studies picture books will benefit in terms of innovation, economy and lyricism of language.
Writing across formats has its benefits, too. No, you won’t be as narrowly branded. But you will have more options within age-defined markets that rise and fall with birth rates. You will acquire transferable skills, and, incidentally, you’ll be a more marketable public speaker and writing teacher.
Are you in a critique group? Do you think they’re important?
Not right now, but I have been in the past.
These days, I carry a full formal teaching load. Each year I also tend to lead one additional manuscript-driven workshop and offer critiques at a couple of conferences. That leaves no time for regular group meetings or the preparation that goes into them—my loss.
For me, participation offered insights (by receiving and giving feedback) as well as mutual support related both to craft and career.
From a more global perspective, considerations include: whether the group is hard-working, social or both; the range of experience and expertise; the compatibility of productivity levels; and the personality mix.
The right combination of those ingredients can enhance the writing life and fuel success. A wrong one can be a serious detriment. If you need to make a change, do it with kindness. But do it.
Beyond that, I improved my children’s writing at various independent workshops, most notably those led by Kathi Appelt in Texas.
That said, you will likely develop your craft more quickly and acquire a wider range of knowledge and transferable skills through formal study.
My own writing has benefited by working side-by-side with distinguished author-teachers. Only this week, I heard Tim Wynne-Jones’s voice in my mind—the echo of a lecture that lit the way.
You’ll want to research which program is best suited to your needs.
Your questions may include:
Do you want a full- or low-residency experience?
What will be the tuition and travel/lodging costs?
What financial aid is available?
Are you an author-illustrator? (If so, Hollins may be a fit.)
Are you looking for a well-established program or an intimate start-up?
What is the faculty publication history?
How extensive is the faculty’s teaching experience?
How diverse is the faculty and student body?
How impressive is the alumni publication record?
How many alumni go on to teach?
How cohesive–active and supportive–is the alumni community?
Talk to students and alumni about the school’s culture, faculty-student relationships, creature comforts and hidden expenses.
Across the board, for children’s-YA MFA programs, the most substantial negative factor is cost.
In terms of marketing, what’s one thing authors could do better?
Provide the name of your publisher and, if applicable, the book’s illustrator in all of your promotional materials, online and off. If you’re published by, say, Lee & Low or FSG, that carries with it a certain reputation and credibility. Also, readers will know which publisher website to seek for more information and which marketing department to contact to request you for a sponsored event.
Granted, picture book authors usually post cover art, which includes their illustrators’ names. But we’re talking about the books’ co-creators, and they bring their own reader base with them. Include their bylines with yours and the synopsis of the book whenever possible. It’s respectful, appreciative and smart business.
What’s new with your writing?
I’ve sold two poems this year, one of which I wrote when I was 11. How cool is that?
I’m also working steadily on a massive update and relaunch of my official author site, hopefully to go live for the back-to-school season.
What are you working on now?
I’m writing a contemporary realistic, upper young adult novel. It’s due out from Candlewick in fall 2017.
Like my tween debut, Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001), the upcoming book features a Muscogee (Creek)/Native American girl protagonist, is set in Kansas and Oklahoma, and is loosely inspired by my own adolescence.
Meanwhile, if you’d like to take a look at my recent contemporary realism, check out the chapter “All’s Well” from Violent Ends, edited by Shaun David Hutchinson (Simon Pulse, 2015).
What’s next for your Tantalize-Feral books?
For those unfamiliar with them, the Tantalize series and Feral trilogy are set in the same universe and share characters, settings and mythologies. These upper YA books are genre benders, blending adventure, fantasy, the paranormal, science fiction, mystery, suspense, romance and humor.
Feral Pride, the cap to the Feral trilogy, was released last spring. It unites characters from all nine books, including Tantalize protagonists.
I don’t have immediate plans for more stories in the universe, but it’s vast and multi-layered. While I’m focusing on realistic fiction now, I’ll return to speculative in the future.
How do I make sure that no one will go public with a problem about my diverse book?
First, you can’t (and neither can I).
To fully depict today’s diverse world, we all have to stretch–those who don’t with regard to
protagonists will still be writing secondary characters different from
Writers of color, Native
writers and those who identify along economic-ability-size-health-cultural-orientation spectra are not exempt from the responsibilities that come with that.
I’m hearing a lot of anxiety from a lot folks concerned about being criticized or minimized for writing across identity elements. I’m also hearing a lot of anxiety from a lot of folks concerned with “getting it right.”
For the health of my head space, the latter is the way to go. My philosophy: Focus on doing your homework and offering your most thoughtful, respectful writing.
Focus on advocating for quality children’s-YA literature about a wide variety characters (and their metaphorical stand-ins) by a wide range of talented storytellers.
I make every effort to assume the best.
By that, I mean:
Assume that when people in power say that they’re committed to a more diverse industry and body of literature, they mean it and will act accordingly.
Assume they’ll eventually overcome those who resist.
Assume that your colleagues writing or illustrating outside their immediate familiarity connect with their character(s) on other meaningful levels.
Assume that you’ll have to keep stretching and connecting, too.
Assume that #ownvoices offer important insights inherent in their lived experiences.
Assume that being exposed to identity elements and literary traditions outside your own is a opportunity for personal growth.
Assume that a wider array of representations will invite in and nurture more young readers.
Assume that your voice and vision can make a difference, not only as a writer but signal booster, advocate and ambassador.
If only in the short term, you risk being proven wrong. You risk being disappointed. At times, you probably will be. I’ve experienced both, but I’d rather go through all that again than to try to effect positive change in an industry I don’t believe in. I choose optimism.
I’ve been a member of the children’s-YA writing community for 18 years. Experience has taught me that I’m happier and more productive when I err on the side of hope and faith.
I can’t promise that every children’s-YA literary agent prioritizes or, in their heart of hearts, considers themselves fully open to your query. But those who don’t aren’t a fit for you anyway.
When you’re identifying agents to query, consider whether they have indicated an openness to diverse submissions and/or take a look at who’s on their client rosters. This shouldn’t be the only factor of course, but one of many that you weigh.
On your blog, you feature a lot of trendy type books (gay) we didn’t have in the past.
Not a question, but let’s go for it. If I’m deciphering you as intended, I disagree with the premise. Books with gay characters aren’t merely a trend or, for that matter, new in YA literature.
Cynsations coverage is inclusive of books with LGBTQIA characters. In addition, gay and lesbian secondary characters appear in my own writing.
The blog was launched in 2004. Over time, I’ve noticed fluctuations in social media whenever I post LGBTQIA related content. I lose some followers and gain others. Increasingly, I lose fewer and gain more. My most enthusiastic welcome to those new followers!
(Incidentally, I used to see the same thing with regard to books/posts about authors and titles featuring interracial families or multi-racial characters.)
You sometimes tweet about TV shows. What do you watch?
Cynsations will officially return from winter hiatus in late January.
In the meantime, consider this an invitation to query me about potential future interviews, guest posts, giveaways, book trailers, and more.
Cynsations was launched in 2004 and is considered one of the flagship blogs of the children’s-YA literature industry and community.
The national Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, School Library Journal, The American Library Association and Writer’s Digest have recognized it for its large, consistent readership and/or quality. On a less formal basis, the blog is assigned in various children’s-YA literature classes and cited in academic papers and both national and university critical review publications. Where the number of active blogs (and readers) has slowly decreased across the board, Cynsations continues to attract a steady increase with each passing year.
Cynsations’ audience is made up of a spectrum of devoted readers from
children’s-YA literature core community as well as layperson fans and
young readers–especially teens with a strong interest in reading and
writing. The tone is upbeat. Sensitive topics are welcome. Profanity is not.
Posts should be inspirational or informational with real writer/illustrator/reader/gatekeeper takeaway. My focus is the children’s-YA book market only, by which I mean the international market with an emphasis on North America. While I agree that many books published for grown-ups may be enjoyed by teens, they are outside my area of concentration.
Interested contributors (or their representatives) should contact firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss possibilities.
Posts are scheduled on a rolling basis once all text, links and images are received (in the same submission) and approved.
I reserve the right to edit, largely for consistency of style, however no additions will be made without express approval of the contributor. I seldom decline a post, though it has happened, either because the topic was not a fit or the overall quality fell short. I do occasionally ask for minor revisions.
Traditionally trade published debut children’s-YA authors, illustrators and author-illustrators are eligible for the New Voices/Visions interview series. These posts involve a choice of available questions and a request for a couple of tie-in images in addition to book creator(s) photo(s) and book cover. Independently published debuts also are eligible, but require a more extensive vetting process.
I also routinely feature interviews with more established children’s-YA book creators as well as agents, editors (corporate and independent), translators, critics/commentators, marketing/publicity/PR professionals, book event planners, teachers, librarians, university professors of library science and education, creative community and conference/workshop leaders, MFA educators and administrators, literacy and literacy nonprofit advocates, diversity advocates, children’s-YA literature bloggers, and other book lovers/leaders of all stripes.
These interviews can be long (two-part), short (two thoughtful questions and answers) and various lengths in between. They may be conducted by me or another member of the youth literature community. For example, authors may interview each other, especially if they have, say, books with related topics or set in the same historical time period or featuring the same diversity element. A new author may interview her writing mentor (or vise versa). An established author may interview his agent (ditto). An up-and-coming illustrator may interview her art director (capiche?). The combinations are endless.
Guest posts may be submitted by those in the above mentioned categories as well. These should run approximately 500 words.
Topics related to the craft of writing, techniques of illustration, the creative life and heart, the business of publishing, and literary diversity–defined broadly–are especially welcome.
Pitches may also be submitted for a week-long or occasional series of posts on, say, YA horror or children’s poetry or the faculty of an upcoming workshop or winners and honor recipients of a particular award.
In addition, the blog also features book trailers, cover reveals and giveaways for new releases as well as links to quality content similar to its own (including links to reader/teacher guides and classroom activities and various online tie-ins (like, say, an interactive map of a high-fantasy setting).
Thank you for your consideration. It’s an honor to participate in the conversation of books for young readers. I look forward to rebooting in a few weeks.
While all the books can stand alone, there’s likely best appreciated in concert.
This finale unites protagonists of the two series and brings back a number of other fan-fave characters.
What’s more today’s paperback release of Feral Curse by Candlewick means that all but that last book in the series are available in paperback from Candlewick (plus, they’re all available in e-format and most are available on audio).
So to sum up, we’re talking nine novels (including two graphic novels, illustrated by Ming Doyle) and three short stories set in the Tantalize-Feral universe.
The early notes on the first book are dated 2000 and the last novel is out today.
The whole shebang totals out at 458,169 words (and I write tight).
Thanks to all who’ve joined and supported me along the way!
“Kayla is only baby steps into recovering from the death of her first boyfriend and Yoshi, who has legendary experience with ladies, is suddenly faced with the first one with whom he could have a real relationship, a real future, if they both survive.”
Anti-shifter sentiment is at an all-time high when Kayla’s transformation to werecat is captured on video and uploaded for the world to see.
Suddenly she becomes a symbol of the werebeast threat and—along with fellow cat Yoshi, Lion-Possum Clyde, and human Aimee—a hunted fugitive.
Meanwhile, a self-proclaimed weresnake has kidnapped the governor of Texas and hit the airwaves with a message of war.
In retaliation, werepeople are targeted by law enforcement, threatened with a shift-suppressing vaccine, terrorized by corporate conspiracy, and enslaved by a top-secret, intelligent Cryptid species.
Can Clyde rally his inner lion king to lead his friends—new and old—into battle against ruthless, media-savvy foes? A rousing blend of suspense, paranormal romance, humor, and high action.
The explosive finale to the Feral series by New York Times best-selling author Cynthia Leitich Smith.
“Smith’s ability to mix the paranormal and the divine with sexy, wisecracking humor, youthful optimism, and fast-paced action has been a hallmark of this entertaining series.
Fans will not be disappointed.
“HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Smith’s fantasies have earned her an army of fans, and this trilogy-ender—that connects two series, no less—will have high visibility.”
“…the wickedly funny, quickly paced style is anchored by the novel’s underlying theme of the marginalization of people and its effects, both those obvious (‘Our legal rights are slippery,’ explains Kayla) and more insidiously subtle (like the wedge driven between Clyde, a werepossum/werelion hybrid, and his human girlfriend, Aimee, because of her father’s prejudice).
“…witty, smart and moving—sure to satisfy…”
“Since this Feral trilogy–ender also wraps up its companion series Tantalize, several major characters from those books appear here, but Clyde, Aimee, Yoshi, and Kayla ably carry this series right up to its bittersweet conclusion. Kayla’s full acceptance of her animal self, and the courage she gains in that acceptance, is particularly compelling. With its sharp humor and fully realized characters, this urban fantasy will leave readers hoping for another series from Smith—and soon.”
-The Horn Book
“Smith once again weaves an action-packed plotline with campy alternating narration by Clyde, Aimee, Kayla, and Yoshi, all while dealing with the complex themes of acceptance, tolerance, freedom, and self-esteem. All this is done in a nonpreachy style to which readers can easily relate. A successful conclusion to a thought-provoking series.”
-School Library Journal
“…the chance for alternative interpretations of who the shifter community could represent
any group reviled by those who consider themselves mainstream —
make this series as meaty as it is entertaining.”
-The Austin American-Statesman
Enter to win one of three copies of Feral Pride in hardcover or Feral Curse in paperback (both Candlewick, 2015). Publisher sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. only.
Before I sign off, I want to share the review of Feral Pride (Candlewick, Feb. 2015) from Booklist. It reads in part:
“Smith’s ability to mix the paranormal and the divine with sexy, wisecracking humor, youthful optimism, and fast-paced action has been a hallmark of this entertaining series. Fans will not be disappointed.
“HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Smith’s fantasies have earned her an army of fans, and this trilogy-ender—that connects two series, no less—will have high visibility.”