Thursday, October 6, 2011

Cynthia Leitich Smith - "It's Our World, But..."

Cynthia Leitich Smith

World building is such a daunting term, and rightly so. It connotes a task for gods, not mere mortals.

Then again, doesn't the writing of every fantasy novel begin this way?

It's our world, but...

It's another world, and what if...

In the year 2000, I decided to write a spooky story, a Gothic fantasy, that would pay tribute to the old masters but also reach out to today's teens.

Drawing inspiration from Abraham Stoker's choice of a fictional Texan (Quincey P. Morris) as one of Van Helsing's original vampire hunters, I began to extend his mythology in Dracula (1897). I reinvented it, reinvented the world, for modern sensibilities.

I bought this notebook at BookPeople, Austin's great indie bookstore, and began scribbling notes.

Scribbling Notes in a Notebook

Here, we see the first hints that the story will be largely set in an Italian restaurant on South Congress. I even list a few Italian language catch phrases that might be sufficiently familiar to cross borders. Why Italian? Eastern European seemed too obvious. Perhaps, with Italian cooking, I could toss in a garlic joke or two.

I didn't only use my journal in world building. I dined at Italian restaurants, walked the characters' neighborhoods with a camera, researched folklore, shopped open houses, and put together wardrobes inspired by local boutiques and magazines.

But some eleven years later, with the first graphic novel -- TANTALIZE: KIEREN'S STORY -- and the fourth prose novel -- DIABOLICAL, coming soon (January 2012), it's a treat to flip through the notes that started it all.

Cynthia Leitich Smith is the NEW YORK TIMES and PUBLISHERS WEEKLY best-selling author of TANTALIZE, ETERNAL, BLESSED, and TANTALIZE: KIEREN'S STORY (all Candlewick). Her award-winning books for younger children include JINGLE DANCER, INDIAN SHOES, and RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME (all HarperCollins) and HOLLER LOUDLY (Dutton).

Cynthia's website at was named one of the "Top 10 Writer Sites" on the Internet by WRITER'S DIGEST and an ALA "Great Website for Kids." Her Cynsations blog at was listed as among the top two read by the chidlren's/YA publishing community in the SCBWI "To Market" column.

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