The Obscured Vixen

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Book Review & Author Interview – Tantalize: Kieren’s Story, by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Posted by The Obscured Vixen on August 30, 2011

4 of 5 stars
Genre(s): Graphic Novel, Young Adult, Fantasy

As a hybrid werewolf, Kieren is destined to join an urban Wolf pack and learn to master his shift. Soon, he’ll leave everything behind: home, school, his family, and Quincie, his human best friend . . . who’s beginning to be a whole lot more than a friend. For years, Kieren has managed to keep his desires— and his wolf— at bay. But when the chef at Quincie’s family restaurant is brutally murdered, Kieren resolves to be there for her, even if it means being framed. Even if it means watching Quincie’s beloved restaurant morph into a vampire lair. But when the new chef begins wooing her, how long can Kieren control his claws? How long can he protect Quincie— and himself? In an elegant graphic edition featuring cinematic sequential art by debut artist Ming Doyle and lush, romantic cover art by Sam Weber, bestselling author Cynthia Leitich Smith re-envisions her delicious dark fantasy through wolfish eyes.

My Review
If you’ve read Tantalize, you must check out this graphic novel!  (To read my 5 star review of Tantalize, click here.)

The only bad thing I would have to say about Tantalize is that there is not more of Kieren in it.  My prayer has been answered!

This graphic novel is Cynthia Leitich Smith’s version of Tantalize from Kieren’s point of view.  It is great to see what Kieren is doing while Quincie is so involved with Sanguini’s.  It is also very interesting to see the thoughts that go through his head.  Kieren still goes to school and is worried when she never shows up.  It is great to see these aspects of the story rather than hearing them through conversation with Quincie.  We also get to meet Kieren’s parents, and see more of cutie pie Meghan.

There are scenes depicted in the graphic novel that we do not hear about in the novel.  Kieren runs into Brad a few times (at a high school football game, outside of a bar), and gets threatened by him.  When some of Kieren’s classmates stand up for him, it later explains why those certain students have gone ‘missing.’

The graphics are a very well representation of the story.  The best scene is when Travis and Clyde are going through Quincie’s underwear drawer!

It was very cool to see the same story from two different perspectives, and everything that went on behind the scene on both sides.  A definite recommend!

About the Author

Cynthia Leitich Smith is the New York Times and Publishers Weekly best-selling author of Tantalize, Eternal, Blessed, and Tantalize: Kieren’s Story (Candlewick). Her award-winning books for younger children include Holler Loudly (Dutton).

Her website at www.cynthialeitichsmith.com 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 cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/ was listed as among the top two read by the children’s/YA publishing community in the SCBWI “To Market” column.

Author Interview
I was reading Tantalize: Kieren’s Story and a ton of questions kept popping into my head.  I gave it a shot and reached out to Cynthia to see if she would be willing to be featured on my blog (not really thinking I would get a response).  Sure enough, Cynthia is a total badass!  She responded to my email, and was more than willing to answer any questions that I had.  Cynthia is an absolute pleasure and totally awesome.

The Obscured Vixen: I loved Tantalize, and was thrilled when I heard you were doing a story from Kieren’s point of view. What made you decide to do this?
Cynthia Leitich Smith: I’m so glad. The very first draft of Tantalize—keyed out a decade ago—had been from Kieren’s point of view, though he was called “Killian Morales” back then. Get it? “Kill” vs. “Moral.” Such a lame name, I know, but the glory of writing is in the rewriting. And, perhaps most importantly, it gave me a place to begin.

Anyway, as I got farther into that early draft, the stakes kept leading back to Quincie. I didn’t want to write a story about a guy saving his true love. I wanted her to save herself. So, I shifted the focus to her perspective. As time went on, however, I gained a better understanding of what Kieren was doing off-screen and realized that he still had a separate but parallel story—or two—to tell as well.

TOV: Why did you decide to make Kieren’s side of the story a graphic novel? Is this something you’ve been interested in doing for a while?
CLS: I first learned to read on both picture books and comics. My dad would drive me to the local convenience store on Sundays, and I’d load up on mostly superhero and science fiction stories, plucked from the comic rack. So, by the time I seriously considered a graphic novel from Kieren’s point of view, I’d already clocked my share of years as a comic reader. Or put another way, the format called me home.

Shifting to a comics approach also was a way of challenging my writer self to do something new. It helped a lot that I was already a picture book author—experienced in writing visually—and well acquainted with the structure of a prose novel.

TOV: Where did you get the idea for Sanguini’s, a vampire wannabe restaurant?
CLS: Whenever you’re writing in a longtime popular mythology (like vampires or shape-shifters), you want to both nod to what’s come before and add a fresh twist to the tradition. People tend to think of vampires as more drinkers than diners, so a restaurant struck me as an interesting idea.

Beyond that, I’d worked as a waitress when I was a teen—first at a chain Mexican restaurant and then at the restaurant in an athletic club. More than once I’d thought about how restaurants were great stages for drama. Think about it: you have thematic décor, menus, costuming. Sometimes people even burst into song. The concept was ripe for a story with otherworldly elements.

TOV:  The ending of Tantalize was extremely refreshing for me. I found it realistic that you did not to not include a happily ever after. Did you always know the story would end this way?
CLS: Thank you. Looking back, it was a brave ending. Very not commercial at a time when genre romance expectations were becoming all the rage.

I’m a fan of genre romance writers, and my YA novels are sometimes marketed within that category, but really, they’re more Gothic fantasies with romantic elements.

The central question isn’t how will the male and female lead get together? My books relate to traditional old-school Gothic themes like: dependence vs. independence, redemption, defining oneself, second chances, the “dark” other, gender and power, etc. All of which are still pertinent to the lives of young readers today.

Consequently I’ve never viewed a happily-ever-after romantic ending as key to rounding off my storylines. Instead, I’m looking for some kind of resolution to the type of questions mentioned above.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against a happy romantic ending, and some of my books do have them. Others like Tantalize and Rain Is Not My Indian Name are more bittersweet. But big picture, I can’t help chafing a bit against the message that love is only real if it lasts forever or that every first/young love should ultimately involve a life partner.

I have fond memories of the boys from my adolescence, but I didn’t meet my very cute husband until I’d been a grown woman for a while. Furthermore, I know a lot of strong, independent, single women who are quite happy (and heroic) without a significant other.

Whether in a romantic relationship or on their own, I want my readers—regardless of gender—to know that each of them is enough, by themselves, to be the hero of his or her own stories.

TOV: You cannot include as much information and detail in a graphic novel than you can in a regular novel. How did you decide what to include in the graphic novel?
CLS: So much of the process was about taking out the connecting tissue (the descriptions, transitions, and emotion) that could be—and eventually was—so evocatively shown by illustrator Ming Doyle in the art.

From there, I trusted my instincts. What I knew about the characters, the pacing, and the sensibility gleaned from a near lifetime of reading stories in graphic format.

The experience was quite intuitive, especially once the art came into play. My mantra was: Get out of the way of the illustrator.

TOV:  How was it seeing your characters come to life and working with Ming Doyle?
CLS: An absolute pleasure! My editor, Deborah Wayshak at Candlewick, had sent me links to various artists’ online portfolios, and Ming’s samples grabbed me right away. I love her ability to convey emotion and illustrate across cultures and the care she takes with our characters. Along the way, I had the opportunity to comment on her progress, offering the occasionally suggestion but mostly cheering her on.

TOV:  Are you going to be doing graphic novels for Eternal or Blessed?
CLS: An Eternal graphic novel is in the works, and we’re at the full-manuscript sketches stage. It doesn’t have as many new scenes as the Tantalize graphic, but there are a few, plus scenes that were originally told from Miranda’s perspective are of course different when told from Zachary’s. It’s too early to think seriously about Blessed or Diabolical graphics yet, but the idea certainly sounds tempting.

TOV:  I’m eagerly anticipating the release of Diabolical. Do you have any information that you can share with us about it?
CLS: Thank you! Yes, Diabolical is just through the pass-pages stage, so I hope to be able to share the cover art soon. Diabolical will reunite the protagonists from the previous books in a story set in and outside Montpelier, Vermont, where I teach in the MFA in writing for children and young adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts (though I’m on extended leave right now due to deadlines).

I haven’t been cleared to go live with the storyline yet, but I can say that this is the first of my books to give me actual nightmares. I don’t know that the final execution is so creepy, but it has a bit of mind-bending-ness to it that apparently freaked out my subconscious.

It’s a bigger story than the previous ones—bigger in stakes, mythology, action, and the heart. We also have a chance to see our heroes’ growth tested and to celebrate the ups and downs of their journeys to date.

Having started with Quincie and Kieren back in 2000 (according to my earliest notes), I totally went for broke in an attempt to do them justice, offer one last ride to the readers and come to terms with finally letting them go. (Cross fingers for more graphics!).

On the prose front, I’m drafting a new title, Smolder, set in the same universe, which introduces new characters and promotes a couple of the secondary ones to leading roles. It’s a quirkier, more unexpected story than the rest, and one major challenge is just shifting gears from a heaven-and-hell level story to one that’s more grounded on the street, so to speak. Here, the shape-shifters as a community will have a bigger role than in the previous books, and this novel is in many ways a response to reader requests.

Check out Cynthia Leitich Smith’s other YA novels in the Tantalize series.

Tantalize trailer: http://youtu.be/subaxSxSFXc   |   Eternal trailer: http://youtu.be/GaBIoUEMWrg   |   Blessed trailer: http://youtu.be/pieAazPg_b0

Cynthia is also hosting a Tantalize: Kieren’s Story Howling Great Giveaway.  Make sure you enter this awesome celebration!

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9 Responses to “Book Review & Author Interview – Tantalize: Kieren’s Story, by Cynthia Leitich Smith”

  1. Great interview, you go girl! I read Eternal and i have blessed sitting on my shelf but i didnt read tantalize, I am so totally out of order.

  2. OV, thank you for your thoughtful questions and the opportunity to visit with your readers! It was an honor.

    Melissa, events in Blessed should be clear enough without having read Tantalize. However, just for fun, you might try picking up a copy of Tantalize at your local public library. If it’s not on the shelf, just talk to the librarian about ordering it or getting it in on loan. Happy reading!

  3. bookster said

    I will have to start with tantalize because I hate it when they talk about things that happened in a book before 😦

  4. so I checked out Eternal at my library and noticed that there are 2 other books…i was wondering which to read first and what order are they in?

  5. […] Tantalize: Kieren’s Story, by Cynthia Leitich Smith […]

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