Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Profile on Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith

By Dianna Hutts Aston, originally published by SCRIBE the Writers' League of Texas newsletter.

Once upon a time, in a land called Kansas, there lived a dreamer-girl, Cynthia Smith, who imagined herself as Batgirl a.k.a. librarian Barbara Gordon… a reader-girl who was mesmerized by The Witch of Blackbird Pond, and a curious-cat girl who wondered about the identity of the naked lady in the old painting in the basement.

And during the same once-upon-a-time, a few faraway lands over (in the Ravenswood Manor neighborhood of Chicago) there lived the girl’s kindred spirit, Greg Leitich, a boy who enjoyed math and science, and even opera… a boy who liked Thanksgiving Day football games but was more fascinated by the family stories the cooks told in the kitchen.

Years later, after they’d collected their first round of college degrees, the two met on the campus of the University of Michigan, where they were enrolled in law school. Intrepid journalist-in-the-making Cynthia wasn’t looking for a prince to date, much less marry—not when the eccentricities of the American legal system begged for a voice of clarity—but there Greg was one August night, “heaven in blue jeans,” she says.

“I decided I had to have him at first sight, would marry him once I found out he cooked, and knew I was head-over-toes in love with him when I called him in the middle of the night during a Paris rainstorm from a street corner booth,” Cynthia says. Greg accepted the charges.

Later, the two took their law degrees, then their vows, and followed a roundabout road that led to children’s and young adult literature. Cynthia became a full-time writer; Greg, too, although he kept his day job. Today they share their historic Austin home with four cats and a parade of visiting literary types.

With her journalism and public relations background, Cynthia knew early on that publishing their work would require much more than writing, revising, and basking in accolades. Together, they’ve become a master marketing team which travels the country, promoting not only their books, but also children’s and young adult literature in general—at schools, public libraries, museums, festivals, universities, state and national educator conferences, community events and more.

"My mom was an engineer,” says Greg, “and in my day job as a patent attorney, many of my clients are women. Imagine my surprise when all marketing efforts deemed my science-comedies 'boy books.' But what happened was that, with my technical background, the emphasis has always been on getting girls into the sciences whereas, in literature, it's on getting boys to read. I'm reaching girls now, but I have to remind people all the time not to gender stereotype girls' interests so that work like mine can reach them."

In addition to speaking, Cynthia uses her web site, www.cynthialeitichsmith.com, as a marketing tool—and again, as a venue for promoting children’s and young adult literature. It was named one of the top ten writer sites on the Internet by Writer’s Digest.

Cynthia is the author of three books for young readers: JINGLE DANCER (Morrow Junior Books)(ages 4-up); INDIAN SHOES (HarperCollins)(ages 7-up); and RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME (HarperCollins and Listening Library)(ages 10-up) She has also published middle grade short stories in recent Harper anthologies. Her next release will be the young adult short story, "A Real-Life Blond Cherokee And His Equally Annoyed Soul Mate," THE MOCCASIN TELEGRAPH: AMERICAN INDIAN STORIES FOR YOUNG ADULTS edited by Lori M. Carlson (HarperCollins, fall 2005), which is set in South/Central Austin. She has also signed a contract on an upper level young adult/adult gothic fantasy novel, slated for fall 2006.

Greg’s first novel, NINJAS, PIRANHAS, AND GALILEO, was released last year. It was named a Junior Library Guild Selection and a Parents’ Choice Gold Award Winner. His second novel, TOFU AND T.REX, a companion to NINJAS, is scheduled for release Spring 2005. More about his life and work may be found on his site at www.gregleitichsmith.com.


Dianna Hutts Aston is the author of WHEN YOU WERE BORN, illustrated by E.B. Lewis; LOONY LITTLE, illustrated by Kelly Murphy; and BLESS THIS MOUSE, illustrated by John Butler.

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