FAQs: character queries

Why are so many of your protagonists' parents dead?

I'm pleased to report that the protagonists in SANTA KNOWS, co-authored by my husband Greg Leitich Smith, illustrated by Steve Bjorkman (Dutton, 2006), ETERNAL (Candlewick, 2009), and HOLLER LOUDLY (Dutton, 2010) all have two living parents.

Do you prefer “Native American” or “American Indian”?

I prefer “Cynthia”—“Cyn” to my pals. Or if it helps, the most specific citizenship answer would be my tribal affiliation, which is the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, though I'm also biracial (of Euro-American heritage).

With my characters, their backgrounds, personalities, and voices result in different answers to that question. Uncle Leonard, down home on the Okie lakes, from INDIAN SHOES (HarperCollins, 2002), might say “Indian” while Cousin Elizabeth, a young attorney, from JINGLE DANCER (Harpercollins, 2000), might prefer "Native American."

For me, it's a character question, not a political question.

Are all of your stories about Indians?

My first three books and a few of my early short stories focused on Native characters and themes. It's an honor to craft stories that reflect today's Native people, and I'm grateful for all of the enthusiasm and support from the community and our friends. I'm sure such tales will continue to appear among my published works.

However, I'm a writer of diverse interests, and I can only grow by experimenting. My first foray into non-Indian fiction was "The Gentleman Cowboy," from PERIOD PIECES: STORIES FOR GIRLS (HarperCollins, 2003).

My more recent books are non-Indian in focus. TANTALIZE (Candlewick, 2007) and ETERNAL (Candlewick, 2009) are both upper-level YA gothic fantasies. SANTA KNOWS, co-authored by Greg Leitich Smith (Dutton, 2006) and HOLLER LOUDLY (Dutton, 2010) are both humorous picture books.