Cynthia Leitich Smith (1) visited Alamosa Books in Albuquerque in early March on her tour for Diabolical (Candlewick, 2012). Cynthia is the author of the YA Tantalize series (Tantalize, Eternal, Blessed, and Diabolical),  the Tantalize graphic novels, and several books for younger readers. She also has a story (co-authored with Joseph Bruchac) in the recent collection Girl Meets Boy: Because There Are Two Sides to Every Story (Chronicle, 2012), edited by Kelly Milner Halls.

If you’re an aspiring children’s writer and you haven’t visited Cynthia’s website or Cynsations, the blog that one might refer to as kindness itself for writers, well, you have a lot to look forward to.

I had seen Cynthia speak before, but this event was an opportunity to be part of a conversation on books and writing with a group of writers, many of whom have been part of my NM Centennial interview series (2). Here’s some of what came out of that discussion:

Early performance is not necessarily a predictor of eventual success: Cynthia mentioned getting a lot of ribbons for participation in poetry as a child.

Playing to trends is a crapshoot: she received rejection letters for early fantasy works that said children weren’t interested in reading fantasy anymore. And they still aren’t, right? What, who’s Harry Potter?

Don’t let others define you: when Cynthia wanted to write something other than contemporary fiction with Native American characters (Cynthia is a tribal member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation), she was told by an industry professional that her new fantasy writing “is not who Cynthia Leitich Smith is.” 

The Kill Draft: Cynthia has seen a lot of people cringe, gasp, and possibly burst into tears when she tells them that she throws away her first drafts and writes the entire manuscript over. No one else seems to want to do this! Cynthia says that  you can do “bigger, riskier things” if you get rid of that first draft, and you can begin again writing “in a looser way.”

We are always learning our craft: Cynthia mentioned Paula Danziger as a writer who showed improvement in every book throughout her career. Through the process of writing and learning, we can “earn courage.”

You will achieve everything you want in life if you watch Star Wars 384 times in the theatre.* Sadly, this option is not available for those of us who can’t travel backward through time.

*This may not be an exact quote. I can’t promise you everything. But this is the number of times Cynthia saw Star Wars in the theatre, and things have worked out very well for her.

Thanks to Cynthia for a thought-provoking afternoon, and to the staff at Alamosa Books for being wonderful hosts!

1. Visit Cyn’s website and blog.

2. To read the series so far, go here.

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