Pie-of-the-month-club – Cynthia Leitich Smith

My year of “pies” is rapidly drawing to a close, but not before I serve up one more special treat.  On the menu today — Cynthia Leitich Smith, who stopped by to tell us about her new, fresh-out-of-the-oven picture book!  And to dish about dessert, too, of course…

Cynthia Leitich Smith

What have you been cooking up for readers, Cyn?  Can you tell us about your new book, and how it came about?

Holler Loudly, illustrated by Barry Gott (Dutton, 2010) is a Southwestern tall tale about a little boy who’s so LOUD that the pecans fall from the pecan trees and the prickly pear cacti sprout more needles. So LOUD that every hound dog in the county rolls up his ears and tosses back his head to bay.

The book was inspired by loud children in the world. We’re no longer in an age where the theory is that kids should be seen and not heard, but making noise is like any superpower. It’s all in how you use it.

You and I are both primarily novelists.  I’m curious as to how you approach writing a picture book, and how you feel about handing over your “baby” to an artist.

Because my picture books tend to be character-driven stories (as opposed to, say, poetry or concept books), in many ways it’s much the same. I begin with a protagonist, his or her internal/external wants, and toss obstacles in the way until I hit that epiphany that triggers character growth.

I love working visually, and I’m thrilled to have my text partnered with art. I consider a key part of my job to offer a stage for the illustrator to play on and then get out of their way. I feel that even more now that I’m writing YA graphic novels, which is an intrinsically more collaborative format. Then again, from Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu on Jingle Dancer to Steve Bjorkman on Santa Knows to Barry Gott on Holler Loudly, and now Ming Doyle on my graphics, I’ve been blessed by having been paired with remarkable visual talents. Those folks raise up my words and heroes!

How about your favorite pie-in-the-sky moment as a writer?  Have you had one of those “I never dreamed it would really happen to me” moments that was special to you?

I hosted a private two-day workshop at my home in Austin for advanced writers, many of whom I’d worked with in critique groups or mentored or knew socially through the community. My motivation was for them to get to know each other better, to toss some glue at a community of quickly rising stars.

At the end, the group presented me with a painted and otherwise embellished (with dollhouse furniture) birdhouse on a platform. It included a reading chair and scattered books. I’ve added to it the squirrel that sat atop my grandfather’s candy dish until broken off in a move. That gift meant a great deal to me.

Has there ever been a moment in your career when you had to eat humble pie?  (I did, big-time, when as a fledgling author I showed up at a major chain bookstore for what I thought was just a signing and found to my chagrin was educator night – dozens of shining faces looking at me expectantly, and I hadn’t prepared a talk.)

I’d love to know what you did next!

Um, I tap-danced, metaphorically speaking.  Alas, I am a terrible dancer, even metaphorically.  My husband was there to witness the fiasco, and took me out for pie afterwards to cheer me up.  There are few things in this world more cheering than pie.  Except husbands.

So back to your humble pie experience…

The biggest challenge for me is remembering names and faces. When you’re center-stage, or the author greeting one reader after another in an autograph line, it’s much easier for folks to get a solid impression of you than vice versa. Even with event planners, if they’re hosting one author a year, but you’ve headlined or participated in a hundred programs since — well, let’s just say that these days I’m cautious about introducing myself first on the assumption I haven’t already met someone.

Now let’s REALLY talk pie.  What’s your favorite kind?  Do you have a favorite pie memory?

I’m fond of banana cream pie, probably because Grandma Dorothy would serve it sometimes. That said, I think most of those pies started out in the frozen foods aisle or were picked up at the Pippin’s counter.

My Aunt Nannie made pecan pie, though. I don’t remember reaching for it, but my dad always did!

This will sound a little strange, but the truth is that my favorite dessert is a bowl of shoepeg corn in butter sauce with a little salt and pepper. When I was growing up, I would walk away from the traditional sweets at the holidays. Instead, Grandma Dorothy would heat up some frozen corn in a little pot of water on her stove top in a Kansas City kitchen barely big enough to turn around in, serve it up to me and my cousin in bowls, and we run off by ourselves to a back bedroom to giggle and share stories and eat it by the spoonful.

I’m more inclined to microwave than use the stove top, I can’t imagine what it was like in the wood stove days. But I recommend Green Giant.  Heat it for two minutes–Grandma and cousin required.

Corn, huh?  Who knew?   Sounds good, though.  OK, Maybe not as good as PIE but then for this pie-fanatic, nothing else could possibly measure up!

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As part of an ongoing celebration for a pair of pie-related books of mine that debuted this fall (“Babyberry Pie” and “Pies & Prejudice” – learn more here), I started a pie-of-the-month club to showcase new books by friends and colleagues.

Other recent “pies” include Jane Kurtz, Toni Buzzeo, Lisa Schroeder, Jennifer Ward, Susan Blackaby, Jennifer Jacobson, Frederic HunterKimberley Griffiths LittleStephanie BurgisAndrea BeatySusan Fletcher, Amy Schwartz, and Debra Moffitt.