By Cynthia Leitich Smith | Publisher: Candlewick Press | List Price: $16.99 | Pages 336 | Format: Hardcover, Paperback| ISBN: 0763627917 / 9780763627911
Quincie Morris has never felt more alone. Her parents are dead, and her hybrid-werewolf first love is threatening to embark on a rite of passage that will separate them forever. Then, as she and her uncle are about to unveil their hot vampire-themed restaurant, a brutal murder leaves them scrambling for a chef. Can Quincie transform their new hire into a culinary Dark Lord before opening night? Can he wow the crowd in his fake fangs, cheap cape, and red contact lenses — or is there more to this earnest face than meets the eye? As human and preternatural forces clash, a deadly love triangle forms, and the line between predator and prey begins to blur. Who’s playing whom? And how long can Quincie play along before she loses everything?
TANTALIZE marks Cynthia Leitich Smith’s delicious debut as a preeminent author of dark fantasy. Are you predator or prey?
As the door closed behind Kieren, the vampire chef raised his glass in a toast, leading all those gathered in doing the same. "I dedicate this drink to the countess of this fine establishment, she whose destiny is this dream."
Bradley Sanguini raised his glass to me.
Author Cynthia Leitich Smith lives in sunny Austin, Texas with her husband, author Greg Leitich Smith, and their four cats.
Cynthia's acclaimed books include JINGLE DANCER (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000), RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME (HarperCollins/Listening Library, 2001), INDIAN SHOES (HarperCollins, 2002), SANTA KNOWS (Dutton, 2006), and TANTALIZE (Candlewick, 2007).
Through college, Cynthia lived in Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma. She attended law school in Michigan, and also resided in Illinois.
Her professional background is in law, journalism, and public relations. She has graduated from The White School of Journalism at The University of Kansas, Lawrence and The University of Michigan Law School.
Q: What inspired the relationship between your young adult novel, TANTALIZE (Candlewick, 2007), and the gothic classic DRACULA?
A: In Abraham “Bram” Stoker’s novel DRACULA (1897), readers meet a hero named Quincey P. Morris, a Texan, described as “a gallant gentleman.” Ultimately, Morris helps destroy Dracula by plunging a bowie knife into his heart as Morris’ companion Jonathan Harker cuts Dracula’s head off. Though Morris dies, too, Harker and his wife Mina later call their infant son “Quincey” in their late friend’s honor.
Perhaps because I live in Austin, Irishman Stoker’s choice of a Texan for one of the novel’s heroes has long intrigued me. Though my mythology and sensibility deviate, the naming of my “Quincie P. Morris” is a tribute to one of Stoker’s original vampire hunters, updated and gender flipped.
Quincie became my twenty-first century hero—a young woman wrestling with an after-school job, first love, and one hell of a drinking problem.
Q: What nods to DRACULA may be found within TANTALIZE?
A: My overt nods to Stoker’s classic vary in degree and importance. Quincie confides that she was named for “some great, great (I didn't know how many greats) uncle. A Texas war hero.” My vampire chef's name is Brad, “‘[a]s in ‘Vlad,’ like the Prince of Transylvania,’” acknowledging Vlad (Tepes), “The Impaler.” A bowie knife—possibly the same one the historical Quincey used—hangs above Brad’s fireplace, and more than once, Brad paraphrases Dracula’s invitation to “enter freely and of your own free will.” Ultimately, it is Quincie’s will, her willpower that determines her fate.
But it’s still a long time from the 19th to the 21rst century, and a long way from Transylvania or London to Austin, Texas. Though I pay tribute to Stoker, the master’s tastes and mine differ on character, plot, fantasy construction, and cultural perspective.
Q: Is TANTALIZE a retelling of DRACULA? If not, how would you describe it?
A: One key question was when to embrace Stoker’s influence and when to shrink from it. I discounted the idea of retelling the story and chose to extend it instead. I hope to revisit the universe in future books and further develop this.
Q: How do the novels compare?
A: The original Quincey P. Morris doesn’t enter DRACULA until well into the book, and he’s a secondary character. My Quincie is the protagonist. She was the one in greatest jeopardy, and so I followed the stakes to her.
DRACULA asks hard questions about invasion, corruption, sexuality, and gender, but the characters start and end as essentially the same people. TANTALIZE touches on prejudices, corruption, sensuality, and gender—so there are parallels. However, my main characters do change and grow. Quincie herself changes in more ways than one—not entirely for the better, but in the end, for the greater good.
Q: What about other literary inspirations?
"My Fair Lady" is my favorite musical, but when I saw a production while writing TANTALIZE, the Embassy Ball scene struck me in a way that it never had before. Eliza's first triumph was in dancing with the prince of Transylvania, which made me think of the relationship between vampires and transformations in a more romantic light.
TANTALIZE and DRACULA (at least so far as its leading ladies are concerned) are transformation stories. So I nodded to Ovid's "Pygmalion" as well as its more contemporary descendants “My Fair Lady,” “Pretty Woman,” and “She’s All That.”
That said, TANTALIZE isn’t a classic “Pygmalion” story. The changes Brad and Quincie prompt in one another are largely external. Her internal growth is inspired by her struggle with love and addiction—as symbolized in her friend Kieren and the blood “alcoholism” Brad induces—to achieve independence.
Q: Are those the only literary references found in TANTALIZE?
A: The Ovid and Stoker, which again are both from the long line of transformation stories, were the overt influences in terms of story structure. However, classics fans may note the following minor references:
Q: Let’s return to the undead. How did choose from the various vampire mythologies to form your own? Did you return to the Stoker or draw from modern influences?
A: I decided my vampires, like Stoker’s, would be strong, potentially immortal, drink blood, transform humans into their kind, and walk in daylight, though it dampens their powers. (Vulnerability to the sun comes more from the film than literary tradition).
As far as weaknesses went, destruction via a stake, knife, or decapitation seemed too quintessential to discard, though I left the silver-bullet question open (because my world included shape-shifters). Plus, if only for its hellish connotation, I figured fire should be able to destroy anything.
Speaking of religion, I expanded the array of religious symbols available to vampire hunters to include those of non-Christian faiths. Garlic also stayed in play, if only because Quincie’s family restaurant was Italian.
Along the way, I added some limits to keep the conflict more fairly matched. Whether my vampires can turn into wolves, bats, dust, or mist depends on their age and experience. Their ability to enthrall is left open to future interpretation.
It’s unlikely that vampires as young as those in TANTALIZE can reduce their size, though, for the same reason they can’t turn into bats—the need for power to divert the excess mass. I discounted the concept of no reflection (and didn’t address that of shadows) because, given the way the eye actually works, it doesn’t make sense and seemed like a too-easy way to identify the undead. What’s more, I wanted to give my vampires a potential for moral vision, the ability to see themselves, that Stoker’s lacked.
There is some ambiguity as to whether an invitation is per se needed to enter a residence, but as mentioned, Brad seems fond of them, which is not to suggest my vampires have trouble getting around.
Though Dracula “can only pass running water at the slack or the flood of the tide,” at least of his own volition (he can travel by boat), I decided Austin’s bridges were sufficient for my vampires to cross the (dammed) Colorado River. Once turned, though, Quincie does express vague discomfort when in close proximity of Town Lake, one of the river’s dammed sections.
Q: You mentioned shape shifters. I don’t remember any of those from DRACULA. What inspired that expansion to your fantasy world?
A: Unlike DRACULA, the TANTALIZE universe includes vampires and shape shifters. That said, Stoker’s Count may take the form of a wolf or a bat, making him in a sense a shape shifter, too—an unnatural and unholy one.
Throughout the centuries, wolves and bats have suffered enough bad PR without my piling on more, but I still wanted to use those vampyric powers. So, I juxtaposed against them the concept of naturally-born werewolves and, beyond that, added a whole array of shifters that traced their lineage back to (at least) the Ice Age, a time of great beasts like this giant armadillo who inspired the character Travis.
Q: Earlier you said something about your “cultural perspective” varying from Stoker’s. Could you give us a couple of examples?
A: Though Dracula and Brad both share a bent for conquest, Stoker’s implications about his lead vampire as the "dark" foreigner, the threatening East, and all matters gypsy didn’t fly for me. I kept the setting to sunny Austin and discarded the need for vampires to sleep on their native soil. What’s more, my world is as diverse as our real one in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, national origin, religion, and sexual orientation, and that diversity is reflected among good, the bad, and the majority struggling in between.
Beyond that, in DRACULA, upper class women are cast as virginal saints, at least until they’re turned into vampires. Then it’s their sexuality that seems to constitute evidence of their unholy natures. Not surprising, given fantasy’s role as analogy. In the Victorian age, sexually assertive/healthy women—human or otherwise—were considered monstrous. In contrast, my modern Quincie as a human girl has typical teen romantic interests, directed mostly toward a boy she’s loved all her life. Her vulnerability stems not from desire but from her lack of faith in its object. From there, Quincie isn’t a protected character, but she isn’t per se tainted or made unholy by Brad’s blood. Instead, it is left up to her to lose or redefine herself—freely and of her own will.
Q: Let’s close the coffin. Is there anything you’d like to add?
A: I’m only the latest in what may be an eternal line of storytellers revisiting the vampire mythology, including Bram Stoker’s DRACULA. That classic lives on, so to speak, because of the questions it raises not about mythical monsters, but those within.
"An intoxicating romantic thriller… Quincie's longing for a physical relationship with her boy-wolf is as palpable as the taste of the food… Smith adds a light touch of humor to the soup, but the main course is a dark romance with all the gory trimmings."
"For those who enjoy the horror of the original Dracula or the heart-wrenching sorrow of Romeo and Juliet, Smith's book will be seen as a fresh, updated version of these timeless classics."
"Readers will be tantalized by this dark, romantic, and disturbing fantasy of vampires, werewolves, and a strong no-nonsense heroine. Fans of Stephenie Meyer and Annette Curtis Klause will eat it up."
—School Library Journal
"Quincie must make a terrifying choice in a heart-pounding climax that will have teen readers weeping with both lust and sorrow."
"If Joan Bauer took a crack at dark fantasy, the result would probably be something like this gothic-horror comedy...the immersion in food culture--including an overhauled menu, as grisly as it is gourmet--successfully builds on the sensual aspects of vampire mythology."
"…Quincie's sarcastic narration and take-charge attitude, will appeal to fans—both teens and adults—of Buffy the Vampire Slayer…readers will certainly be licking their lips at the end of the Tantalize, their appetites whetted for Smith's next enticing adventure."
"...delicious twists and turns to this story. Werecreatures, vampires, unsolved murders, and more are sure to satisfy readers who lust for blood lore and romance and mysteries. ...a lovely tale…"
—Teri Lesesne, The Goddess of YA Literature
"Full of unexpected, delicious delights that kept me guessing and turning the pages, TANTALIZE creates a froth of danger, suspense, and wit. This original book tantalizes the senses indeed, as it explores the border between attraction and disgust, and makes us question our perceptions. Who are you? Predator or prey?"
—Annette Curtis Klause,
author of BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE, THE SILVER KISS,
and FREAKS! ALIVE ON THE INSIDE
"Book of the Week:" "Tantalize is a seductive read, perfect to savor with it myriad twists and turns… This delectable novel is already creating quite a buzz among teen readers with good reason."
—Diana Tixer Herald of Genrefluent
"…we can say with confidence that if vampire novels are your thing, THIS is one book you must read."
—APL Teens (Austin Public Library)