Author Interview: Anne Marie Pace on Writing Gothic Picture Books & Vampirina on TV

By Gayleen Rabakukk

Today we welcome Anne Marie Pace to discuss her latest picture book, Vampirina At The Beach, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (Disney-Hyperion, April 2017) and it’s forthcoming animated series on Disney Junior. From the promotional copy:
When the summer moon is full, a beach trip is an epic way to spend the night.
With her signature poise, Vampirina gears up for a festive time at the beach. 

Keeping her ballet lessons in mind, Vampirina demi-plies on a surfboard, leaps for a volleyball, and finishes each competition with style, even if she doesn’t always come out on top.

What do you love most about the creative life/being an author? Why?

More than anything else, writing is like solving a puzzle for me, finding the right words to snap into the right place to communicate what I want to say in the right way. 

You know how when you’re working a jigsaw puzzle, there’s this huge jumble of pieces waiting for you to build the outer edge and then fill in the middle section by section? At first it feels overwhelming but the more you do, the faster you can move, and it becomes really satisfying to begin to see the art. 
With writing, the pieces are words, and you aren’t limited to 500 or 1000—you’ve got tens of thousands, and you get to design the outer edge and you get to create the picture. I find picture books very rewarding because every word—every piece—matters so much.

When and where do you write? Why does that time and space work for you?

I don’t have a set schedule the way some authors do. I heard Eileen Spinelli say at Chautauqua years ago that she taught herself to “write in the cracks” of the day, and that’s something I’ve worked on being able to do. 

I can see the appeal of setting aside a block of time daily in which you devote yourself to your writing, but with four kids (even though they’re pretty big now), I’ve never been able to count on that time, so it’s better that I simply write when I can, rather than assuming that a particular time of day when I must work will be available to me. 

I’m not saying there are never days when I sit and write for hours, because there are, but it’s not a regular thing for me the way it is for some writers.

And I mostly write these days on my green sofa. There’s room for my two cats and two dogs to sit with me, and it’s rather peaceful. They are with me as I type this.


Could you tell us about your new release?


Vampirina At The Beach is the third in the Vampirina Ballerina series. 
Vampirina and her family hit the surf in what I’ve referred to from the beginning as “Monster Mash meets Beach Blanket Bingo.” I even watched a lot of Annette Funicello videos on YouTube to get in the beach party mood while I was writing. 
LeUyen Pham’s illustrations are phenomenal in this book. The pages are chock-full of surprises for kids to find. And our first editor, Kevin Lewis, whom we dedicated the book to, is honored in the illustrations as Vampirina’s new friend, so it feels special in that way, too. I’m so tickled Uyen thought of that. 
Then again, I’m always tickled at the wonderful elements she brings to each book in the series.
What appeals to you about writing gothic picture books?


I’ve thought a lot about this because I’m not really a fan of vampire movies or books, or in fact, any kind of scary element (although my TV viewing does include a couple of police procedural dramas, so maybe real life is scary enough for me). 
So why vampires? Five of the six birthdays in my family fall in the autumn months, so as a mom,
October was always a very stressful month, with several birthday parties (even though I throw pretty casual, at-home parties) and four Halloween costumes to create for my kids. So I think Vampirina Ballerina has been a way for me to enjoy the Halloween season that I never enjoyed when my kids were little!

Anne Marie’s kids and few of their friends from a long-ago Halloween

Of course, now I’m getting to know Vampirina outside of her Halloween-y self, and that’s even more fun.


What are the craft challenges of writing a series like this?


There are a few craft challenges that come to mind. 
Of course, you want each book to be as inviting to children as the first. Subsequent books need to carry a sense of the familiar without being a complete retread. 
Uyen suggested early on that Vampirina grow not only in the course of a story, but over the course of the series, so the theme of making friends has carried throughout. 
In the first book, she feels like an outsider; in the second, she learns that she can trust her friends to love her for who she is; and in the third, she befriends someone who fears being seen as an outsider. 
The biggest challenge for me with the text is that a lot of the humor comes from puns and words with multiple meanings and I don’t want to be repetitive with either vampire/monster words or ballet terms. Especially with the vampire terminology, I need to be very careful not to cross the line into anything scary. But I want the language in each book to stay fresh.
Image from Disney Junior
Tell us about the Disney series. When will it be broadcast? How involved are you?

The Disney Junior series debuts this fall. I don’t know an exact date, but I follow Chris Nee, the executive producer, on Twitter, and at one point, she said it would be before Halloween. 

Actually, almost everything I know, I know from Twitter. I am not involved at all in creating the show—Uyen and I do our thing, Disney Junior folks do theirs—so I am watching it unfold like a fan. 
I know Chris said there is a “dream cast” so I’m anxious to know whose voices we will hear in October. A lot of the creative people involved have also worked on the award-winning Doc McStuffins, so I feel confident that the property is in the best of hands.
Cynsational Notes
Anne Marie Pace is the author of Vampirina Ballerina (Disney-Hyperion, 2012) and Vampirina Hosts a Sleepover (Disney-Hyperion, 2013), both illustrated by LeUyen Pham.

Publishers Weekly gave Vampirina Ballerina a starred review. Peek: “The underlying messages are familiar: there are no shortcuts to achieving an ambitious dream, and persistence and a sunny outlook (even when one is a creature of the night) pay off. But seldom have these lessons been expounded with so much charm.”

Anne Marie’s other books include Pigloo, illustrated by Lorna Hussey (Henry Holt, 2016) and A Teacher for Bear, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka (Scholastic, 2011). Forthcoming is Groundhug Day, illustrated by Christopher Denise (Disney-Hyperion, December 2017) and Busy-Eyed Day, illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon (Simon & Schuster, 2018).

She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, with her husband and four teenagers. 

Tantalize Launch Party

Thanks to all who celebrated with us in person or in spirit at the launch party for Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) on Friday, Feb. 23!

In keeping with the Sanguini’s motif (the fictional vampire restaurant in the novel), guests were asked to sign in as predator or prey.

We decorated in low-key Gothic colors, mostly with accents–including the framed Sanguini’s fangs-style logo in the foyer, black-and-red linens for the daybed, black tapers in the candlesticks, black votives in the tray display, black-and-red pillar candles in the fireplace, red drop crystals in the parlor chandelier, black coasters, and black table cloths. Off-limits rooms were marked with crime-scene and police-line tape.

We also set three tables with the matching linens on the front terrace for those who wanted to enjoy the bright, breeze, 70-something degree night.

So far as wardrobe went, I opted for a slinky black shell and pants, black cowbody boots, my snake-wrapped earrings, my antique gold watch necklace (originally grandma’s), and a full-length black net cape.

The previous day, Barbara Marin at Bo Salon on South Congress had taken my hair to a near black featuring a subtle dark blue sheen with red stripe accent streaks in front, and Kate Pham, also of Bo, painted my nails in alternating red and black. Many guests commented that they thought I should keep the ‘do permanently.

The to-die-for menu, from Primizie Catering, featured: antipasto; smoked salmon gravlox; fresh vegetable crudite platter; imported and domestic artisan cheese board with vineyard grapes and seasonal berries; fresh seasonal fruit; oven dried tomatoes finished with local goat cheese balsamic vinaigreette and snipped chives; Italian sausage “spiedini” with peppers and pecorino romano cheese; calzone with mushrooms and Italian cheeses; miniature stuffed and baked pizza pockets filled with Italian cheeses, wild mushrooms and charred tomato; cocktail sandwiches (wild mushrooms, garlicky spinach and artichoke herb spread on Italian flatbread); and stuffed porcini mushrooms. Absolutely delicious! The calzone and porcini mushrooms were especially popular with our crowd. Guest Anne Bustard graciously provided an Italian creme cake.

Colby Neal ‘s The Flower Studio designed the gorgeously gothic buffet flowers.

Candlewick Press co-sponsored a giveaway of the final book (guests were each welcome to take one). I pre-autographed the copies. A few folks also bought (prior to the party) and brought more for me to sign.

Door prizes included ARCs of the following 2007 novels by Austin-area authors: Brothers, Boyfriends, and Other Criminal Minds by April Lurie (Delacorte); Onaj’s Horn: the Silverskin Legacy (Book Three) by Jo Whittemore (Llewellyn); Runaround by Helen Hemphill (Front Street); and Wonders of the World by Brian Yansky (Flux).

We also gave away a basket filled with fixings for an Italian dinner from Central Market. Contents included: black squid ink pasta; pesto sauce with truffles; sun-dried tomatoes; parmesan; dark chocolate; Sanguini’s mug, sticker, mousepad, and magnet; wine biscuits; and a bottle of Travis Peak Cabernet Sauvignon.

We had a crowd of about eighty from throughout Central Texas, though with ebb and flow, there were usually only about sixty people inside the house at any given time.

Guests included such luminaries as writers Brian Anderson, Kathi Appelt, Anne Bustard, Janie Bynum, Betty Davis, Alison Dellenbaugh, Peni R. Griffin, Lila and Rick Guzman, Helen Hemphill, Frances Hill, Varian Johnson, Lindsey Lane, April Lurie, Mark Mitchell, Sean Petrie, Lupe Ruiz-Flores, Liz Garton Scanlon, Elaine Scott, Jerry Wermund, Jo Whittemore, and Brian Yansky, illustrators Gene Brenek, Joy Fisher Hein, Christy Stallop, and Don Tate, current and former Austin SCBWI RAs-authors Tim Crow, Meredith Davis, Debbie Dunn, Julie Lake, and Nancy Jean Okunami, as well as a bounty other book pros (teachers, school and public librarians, university professors of children’s/YA lit, and so on), including author-librarian Jeanette Larson, librarian-blogger Camille Powell, and a number of additional book lovers, friends, and significant others.

Kathi Appelt was kind enough to propose a toast!

I’d say about a third of the guests were writers or illustrators, about a third other book folks, and about a third significant others and additional guests, which made for a lovely mix.

My special thanks to the central Texas children’s and young adult book community for all of its enthusiasm and support. I’m so honored and thrilled to have such amazing people in my life.

Cynsational Notes

Thanks also to our servers, Anna and Eric! They looked fierce in their custom Sanguini’s T-shirts designed by Gene Brenek. Thanks to author Julie Lake for facilitating their hiring.

Thanks also to Michael Helferich for lending us his chainsaw. Because the weather cooperated, we didn’t need to have the outdoor fireplace on the terrace, but it gave us peace of mind to have it as a back-up plan.

Primizie Osteria – Italian Café and Wine Bar will open soon at 1000 E. 11th Street, Suite 200 in Austin.

See more party news and pics at GregLSBlog. Once the festivities started, we were too busy to keeping shooting photos, but I’ll be sure to highlight any other party posts that may arise. Speaking of which, check out Don’s “A tantalizing party” at Devas T. Rants and Raves, Liz’s “Community” at Liz In Ink, Camille’s “Friday Night Highlights” at Book Moot, “Tantalize Party” (with excellent party pics!) at Jo’s LJ, and Alison’s “A tantalizing weekend” at Alison Wonderland.

Illustrator Interview: Gene Brenek on the Logo for Sanguini’s from Tantalize

Gene Brenek on Gene Brenek: “Well I had to put on a little ‘ABBA Gold’ to gear up for this. Let’s see, I was born in Houston many moons ago, but not as far back as when ABBA was still in heavy rotation. I was an 80’s kid, more Prince back before he changed his name to a hieroglyph and way before he went back to being Prince. Why is my bio suddenly full of old pop artist references? Dunno, I guess that’s what happens when I’m left to my own devices.

“Let’s move this ahead a few years shall we? I’m currently a creative director for a big ad agency in Austin, Texas. In my spare time, I’m working on a master’s in writing for children and young adults at Vermont College, which is truly a great program. I also have been illustrating dummies for my own picture book ideas. Let’s just say I don’t sleep. And I’m waiting, PATIENTLY, to be discovered. Ahem.”

Thanks so much for designing logos for Sanguini’s, the fictional vampire restaurant featured in my gothic fantasy, Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007). What was your initial inspiration for the designs?

Designing a logo is a lot like creating a picture book in a way. You need a very simple idea. A logo can’t contain several different concepts at once and be effective. The ones with staying power are very iconic.

Certainly what separated the dead from the undead restaurants was the vampire mythology. So I started brainstorming and writing down anything that came to mind when I thought about vampires.

Usually I spend a fair amount of time trying out various color combinations but this assignment begged for two colors. Black, the color of night and red. Yes, black is the absence of color but when you’re talking to printers it’s still an ink color. Red seemed an obvious but essential choice: blood, wine, marinara.

One logo idea, that for better or worse got nicknamed “the girly one,” came out of Quincie’s, the protagonist’s, femininity. I loved the idea of blood draining off the gothic lettering and dripping down a flowering vine, as if elements of the restaurant were changing who she was.

I also kept coming back to puncture wounds. The other logo (see above) incorporated that idea. So thank you for coming up with a restaurant that had two i’s in the name, you made my job easy. If you ever write a book about a vampire-themed Ikea, I may have some leftover ideas for all those umlauted furniture names.

What considerations came into play when developing the logos?

I treated this project as I would any other design project. Before starting any sketches I had a few questions. What the owners were like? What was their vision for the restaurant? Who was their clientele? What cues could I get from the interior spaces? And while that may seem like a tough assignment, given that it’s a fictional place, I found that the writing was crafted in such a way that it was very easy for me to get a sense of all of these things.

I approached this as not a design project for author Cynthia Leitich Smith but for Quincie [the protagonist]. I tried to understand her as much as I could and what her sensibilities were. Now it could be argued that Cyn and Quincie are one in the same, certainly there are aspects of that, but they are different people.

What were the challenges in bringing them to life?

Honestly the biggest challenge was not getting to design the menu, interior, the matchbooks, the business cards –all the elements that go into shaping one’s identity.

What was your experience working with Printfection and CafePress? Why did you select those companies?

I went with these two companies because they offer so much flexibility. They print on demand, meaning that rather than doing a run of say 100 shirts in every size that I then had to store and ship, when someone places an order then it gets printed and shipped. They take care of it all. And I like the quality of their merchandise.

What advice would you give to folks trying to design and produce book tie-in promotions?

Think outside the box. Why not create items for a fictional vampire themed restaurant? But know that your reader is smart. Just because a tie-in isn’t physically in the book, it’s a part of the book. Initially I had envisioned staying away from a gothic typeface. I was leaning toward something more modern. Then I read a passage about the gothic lettering on the menu and it guided me away from something slick and contemporary. I needed to remain faithful to the book. It wasn’t an entirely blank canvas.

Restaurant items made sense; to me Sanguini’s was a prominent character in Tantalize. Designing items based around where the protagonist had gone to school would’ve made no sense what so ever.

More personally, do you count yourself among fans of the fanged ones? If so, what do you think is the appeal?

Of course I’m a fan. Vampires seem to have all the smarts. They also have big personalities, charisma. You want to hang out with them. Imagine a book where someone opens a tax-attorney-themed restaurant. Yawn.

What do you do when you’re not working for the undead?

What do you mean? I’m an art director for an ad agency. I’m always working for the undead.

Actually, I’m writing and illustrating a couple of ideas of my own in the picture book arena. Depending on who you talk to that particular market is either dead or undead. For my sake, I’m hoping it’s undead.

Cynsational Notes

Shop Sanguini’s at Printfection and CafePress; see the other Sanguini’s logo option.

Sanguini’s Shops

Austin illustrator Gene Brenek has designed two logos to celebrate Sanguini’s, the fictional vampire restaurant featured in my upcoming YA gothic fantasy novel, Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007).

The logos are now available on T-shirts, a mousepad, and a cutting board for sale at Printfection and on more T-shirts, a mug, a magnet, and a sticker at CafePress.

Cynsational Notes

Shop Sanguini’s at Printfection and CafePress.

Read a story-behind-the-logos interview with Gene and see the other Sanguini’s logo option.

More News & Links

Hurry, hurry! Zip over to Julia Durango’s LJ to enter her giveaway of Angels Watching Over Me, illustrated by Elisa Kleven (Simon & Schuster, March 2007). Read a related Cynsations interview with Julia.

Artist and Author Cynthia von Buhler Talks about Her Cats at CatChannel.com. Cynthia is the author-illustrator of The Cat Who Wouldn’t Come Inside (Houghton Mifflin, 2006).

A couple of bloggers have commented on my recent interview with Not Your Mother’s Book Club, specifically about my revision process. Check out Justine Larbalestier’s “Different Strokes” and Stephanie Gunn’s “suddenly my writing methodology doesn’t seem so strange.”

Thanks also to Elizabeth Garton Scanlon and Lara Zeises for cheering my new release, Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007), and return to blogging. Read Cysational interviews with Elizabeth, which was recently recommended by HipWriterMama, and with Lara.

Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith at Not Your Mother’s Bookclub

Read the latest interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith (me again) at Not Your Mother’s Bookclub. The topic is my new YA gothic fantasy title, Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007), and the Q&As are fangfully fantastic. Here’s a sneak peek:

“As for the long answer… It hardly seems possible, but I first began looking through magazines for photos to inspire characters and asking them to write letters to me in late 2001. I don’t know though that I did more than just flirt with the story in that first year. I was essentially gathering courage. In the couple of years that followed, I wrote short stories for a number of anthologies, taking full advantage of the opportunity to stretch my skills. Write stronger. Braver. Fangs out. Eventually, I sank in with a vengeance.”

More News & Links

Check out the latest review, this one from the Wordcandy Blog. Here’s a taste: “Tantalize features a genuine sense of foreboding, contrasted with the frenetic atmosphere of a major restaurant opening. This unusual combination made for a constantly surprising and highly effective horror story.”

The 11th Carnival of Children’s Literature from MotherReader.

2007 Oklahoma Book Award finalists include: Sharon Darrow for Trash (Candlewick); Molly Levite Griffis for Paradise of the Prairie (Eakin); and Tim Tingle for Crossing Bok Chitto (Cinco Puntos). See the whole list. Read a Cynsations interview with Sharon.

From Page to Screen: Gabor Csupo’s Bridge to Terabithia by Martha V. Parravano from The Horn Book.

Author Alma Fullerton offers new interviews with authors Niki Burnham and Mark L. Williams as well as agent Stephen Malk of Writer’s House.

Author Anastasia Suen has launched the Blog Central Guide, highlighting children’s authors and illustrators’ blogs. Read an interview with Anastasia.

Debbi Michiko Florence has launched her redesigned author site. See her new interview with Sally Keehn, author of Magpie Gabbard and the Quest for the Buried Moon (Philomel, 2007). Learn more about Debbi’s superheroic web designer Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys (who also is my web designer).

Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith at the YA Authors Cafe

The YA Authors Cafe offers its first interview at a new location. Cynthia Leitich Smith (that would be me) is the featured author, and I’m talking about Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007).

Here’s a sneak peek: “My world is eclectic, and (also unlike most genre fiction) reflects the diversity of our real one. Peel back the scary romp, and there’s depth there–thematic treatments of alcholism, feminism, race and class relations, all through analogy. But many YAs will just enjoy the marinara-baked chills, and that’s just fine.”

Read the whole interview. Leave a question in the comments today.

Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith is Now Available

Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, Feb. 13, 2007) is now available. Here’s a peek:

Classified Ads: Restaurants
Sanguini’s: A Very Rare Restaurant is hiring a chef de cuisine. Dinners only. Apply in person between 2 and 4 P.M.

Quincie Morris has never felt more alone. Her hybrid-werewolf first love threatens to embark on a rite of passage that will separate them forever. And just as she and her uncle are about to debut Austin’s red hot vampire-themed restaurant, a brutal murder leaves them scrambling for a chef.

Can Quincie transform the new hire into a culinary dark lord before opening night? Will Henry Johnson be able to wow the crowd in fake fangs, a cheap cape, and red contact lenses? Or is there more to this earnest fresh face than meets the eye?

As human and preternatural forces clash, a deadly love triangle forms and the line between predator and prey begins to blur. Who’s playing whom? And how long can Quincie play along before she loses everything?

Tantalize marks Cynthia Leitich Smith’s delicious debut as an author of dark fantasy.

Here are the official blurbs:

“Looking for something to read that will make your TV jealous? Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Tantalize has it all—hot vampires and wolf-boys, a super-cool heroine in cowboy boots, nail-biting suspense, romance, chills ‘n’ thrills, and Austin, Texas. What more could you want?”

Libba Bray, author of A Great and Terrible Beauty and Rebel Angels

“Full of unexpected, delicious delights that kept me guessing and turning the pages, Tantalize creates a froth of danger, suspense, and wit. This original book tantalizes the senses indeed, as it explores the border between attraction and disgust, and makes us question our perceptions. Who are you? Predator or prey?”

Annette Curtis Klause, author of Blood and Chocolate, The Silver Kiss, and Freaks! Alive on the Inside

In breaking news, we have new reviews:

“If Joan Bauer took a crack at dark fantasy, the result would probably be something like this gothic-horror comedy…” and goes on “…the immersion in food culture–including an overhauled menu, as grisly as it is gourmet–successfully builds on the sensual aspects of vampire mythology.”

–Booklist

“An intoxicating romantic thriller… Quincie’s longing for a physical relationship with her boy-wolf is as palpable as the taste of the food… Smith adds a light touch of humor to the soup, but the main course is a dark romance with all the gory trimmings.”

The Horn Book Magazine

“Quincie must make a terrifying choice in a heart-pounding climax that will have teen readers weeping with both lust and sorrow.”

–Kirkus Reviews

Check out all the buzz!