Texas Book Festival 2018: Cynthia Leitich Smith

Bookworms! You have a chance to meet LOTS of authors this weekend at Texas Book Festival in downtown Austin! Including New York Times best-selling young adult author Cynthia Leitich Smith!

Cynthia Leitich Smith (pronounced “lie-tick”) wrote the award-winning Tantalize and Feral series, published by Candlewick Press. Smith has also written children’s books, such as Jingle Dancer, Rain Is Not My Indian Name, and Indian Shoes, all published by HarperCollins. Her latest novel to publish is YA contemporary novel Hearts Unbroken, featuring a Native American protagonist.

Read our interview to learn more about Smith and her passions! 

You written many books for young adults and children for years! What/how did you decide you wanted to become an author?

Sometimes I joke that I only have three skills: reading, writing, and talking. But I’m sincere when I say I maximized them. After earning degrees in journalism and law, I began writing book manuscripts in my late 20s and sold my first shortly thereafter.

Story is how I make sense of the world – from the kitchen-table tales told by elders to the adventures waiting on bookshelves at my childhood public library and far, far beyond.

Add to that the magical privilege of calling book lovers “my community,” and wow, I don’t know that I ever had to decide to write so much as to take the next natural step on my bookish, story-loving creative journey.


You’re currently based in Austin. Are there any local places you visit to get inspiration for a book or to write in general?

Austin pops up a lot in my writing! My Tantalize and Feral series are largely centered on Austin, especially the South Congress district, and on surrounding areas (near Bastrop and San Antonio in particular). In Hearts Unbroken, the protagonist has recently moved to suburban northeast Kansas from Cedar Park, Texas, which is in the greater Austin

I lived for many years in the Old West Austin neighborhood, and I still on occasion walk those sidewalks to soak in the soaring pecans and historical architecture.

I’ve also repeatedly made my home in the funkier near south, and occasionally seek inspiration on the hike-and-bike trail and at locally owned restaurants, galleries, and shops. What else? BookPeople is always on my weekly schedule. I enjoy our museums and festivals. Big picture, I’m enamored of our quirks, our proud weirdness, the college crowd, hipsters, Bubbas, techies, activists, artists, entrepreneurs, innovators. Characters are everywhere.

Your most recent book Hearts Unbroken released on Oct. 9. Can you explain the story behind writing Hearts Unbroken?

Hearts Unbroken began as a long-overdue apology to a high school boyfriend (with his blessing) for a conversational misfire. It’s also a book informed by my experience growing up as a Native teen in the suburbs and reflects a lot of typical experiences of Indigenous kids who’re navigating culture clashes and code switching. Basically, it’s a lot of writing what I know. A lived-experience story.

Are you going on a book tour anytime soon?

Yes, the lovely folks at Candlewick Press are sending me to several events, and I’m an active author-teacher at workshops and conferences, too.

  • Texas Book Festival, Oct. 27-28, Austin, TX
  • Colorado Teen Book Con, Nov. 3, Littleton, CO
  • YALSA Young Adult Services Symposium, Nov. 4, Salt Lake, UT
  • Kansas/Missouri SCBWI Middle of the Map Conference, Nov. 9-11, Overland Park, KS
  • Assembly on Literature for Adolescents Workshop (ALAN), Nov. 19 (keynote), Houston, TX


How would you describe your writing process?

I do a lot of pre-writing. If possible, I visit the setting, talk to people there. Then, I collect or create maps. I prepare menus and watch documentaries and read research books. I take a lot of photos. In sum, I submerge.

Then I write myself a loose letter about what I think the story will be. Next comes a draft wherein I’m trying to get to know the characters and their hearts. After that? Another letter, and then I start the story again, better equipped with all that early thought and care.

Truth is, I dislike writing first drafts. Revision is my passion.

At Geek Gals, we always like to ask our interviewees: Do you consider yourself a geek or nerd?

Geek. I think of nerds as having more technical skills and geeks as belong to fandoms.

What are some of your favorite fandoms? (TV, film, gaming, anime, etc.)

So many! I saw Star Wars (the original) in the theater 380+ times. I love superhero comics, especially Wonder Woman and Spiderman. I’m all about the MCU movies (Thor: Ragnarok!) and the DCU TV shows (Supergirl!) on the CW.


I was an X-Phile from the start, and I’ve seen every episode of Supernatural– my favorite is the crossover with Scooby Doo.

Do you have any upcoming projects for 2019?

I have multiple projects under contract and in progress, but I think the earliest releases will be in 2020. More than one is oh-so Geek-Gal-ish, but I’m honor-bound not to announce them…yet!

You can see Cynthia Leitich Smith at Texas Book Festival this weekend in downtown Austin! The event is free and open to the public.

You can also follow Cynthia on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.


Featured image credits: (Left) Nesha Humes/U.S. Air Force; (Right) Candlewick Press

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