I am honored to have the chance to interview my friend, pub-mate, editor-mate, and confidant Kit Grindstaff on this the release day for her stellar debut THE FLAME IN THE MIST. You simply must read this book. The story’s heroine, Jemma, will capture your heart with her spunk and determination and flame-red tresses.
Set in an imagined past, this dark fantasy-adventure is for fans of Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass.
Fiery-headed Jemma Agromond is not who she thinks she is, and when the secrets and lies behind her life at mist-shrouded Agromond Castle begin to unravel, she finds herself in a chilling race for her life. Ghosts and misfits, a stone and crystals, a mysterious book, an ancient prophecy—all these reveal the truth about Jemma's past and a destiny far greater and more dangerous than she could have imagined in her wildest fantasies. With her telepathic golden rats, Noodle and Pie, and her trusted friend, Digby, Jemma navigates increasingly dark forces, as helpers both seen and unseen gather. But in the end, it is her own powers that she must bring to light, for only she has the key to defeating the evil ones and fulfilling the prophecy that will bring back the sun and restore peace in Anglavia.
Yay, Kit! I’m so happy this day has arrived at last. You’re now a bona-fide author. Is it everything you imagined it would be? Is there anything about being published that is different (better or worse) than what you’d imagined?
Hang on a sec while I “Yay!” along with you, and jump up and down, and squeal a bit…Thanks.
Yes, today is Book Release Day, long and eagerly awaited! I began to feel a shift from “writer” to “author”, though, the day I received the email from Michelle Poploff, my editor (our editor!), saying she wanted to move forward with the book. I was away in Europe, and hadn’t expected to hear anything at least until I got home. But Michelle wanted to let me know right away, which is why the news didn’t come via phone. Reading that email was one of the most thrilling moments ever! I read it over and over in the following days, each time feeling the same elation.
That was a definite turning point in the way I thought of myself, which has continued in subtle increments since then. I felt as though a huge weight was lifted: someone—a VP and executive editor at a major publishing house, no less—thought my book was good enough to publish! Up until then, my belief in the book had been shared by a few friends and family members whose opinion meant a lot to me, but now, that belief was officially confirmed! So, scores 1 for the “different-better” side.
With the change came new commitment: being answerable to someone else, and deadlines. I actually enjoy working to deadlines, which I think most people don’t—it’s ok, you can hit me! However, at times the “published author” label felt a bit alien, as though I’d stepped into new shoes that were too large and floppy, and took some growing into. Now, they fit me a lot better, and I love the increased boost from having pushed through. So despite growing pains, that ultimately scores as a second big “different-better”.
Is anything worse about being published? The pressure, for sure. The wondering if I’m doing enough to help my baby’s release into the world. But then, before I had a book deal, there was the pressure of wondering: “Will it ever happen?” I know which of the two I choose!
I imagine that over time, my book actually being out there will make me feel different again. Never having done any signings and school visits, for example, I’m nervous about those I have coming up (listed on my blog). But I’m sure I’ll grow into them, and hopefully in a year they’ll be as easy as falling off a log. Meanwhile, my nails suffer…
Ha! I hear you about the nails. Loud and clear.
My favorite thing about FLAME is the distinct narrative voice and the unique dialects of the individual characters. Did the narrative and characters’ voices come naturally, or did you need to craft it?
When I read early drafts, I see hints of the narrative voice there—I suspect some of its character comes from being a Brit. But it developed a lot more through writing, revising and honing. Not having taken any advanced writing courses, I was learning en route, attending writing workshops and seminars whenever I could, and soaking up hints as I went.
As to the characters, though, their voices and dialects came much more easily. I tend to see a story unfold in my mind’s eye, and describe what I see. The same is true for my characters, so once I’d defined who each was—their role and personality—they sort of spoke to me in my mind’s ear. I sometimes feel more like a transcriber than anything!
There were two characters whose voices I really needed to craft, though: Rue and her son Caleb. Not that I couldn’t hear them in my head—I could, very clearly. But the book’s copy editor had loads of questions about the spelling of certain words, like “yer” for “your”, and should it also be used for “you’re”? I literally spend days working out the rules of Rue’s grammar so that the spellings would be consistent! For Digby, Marsh and Talon, though, whose dialects are more subtle, I had no problem—and neither, thankfully, did the copy editor.
Though the process was painstaking, the end result is wonderful! Speaking of editing, as you were writing and revising FLAME, did you have to kill any darlings?
Several, yes! Part 1 of the book used to be quite a bit longer, and included a chapter where Jemma and Drudge are in the castle kitchen cooking up a cockroach stew. Then Digby arrives to make deliveries with his father, and Jemma wants desperately to tell him that something seriously weird is going on, but it’s impossible because Drudge keeps appearing, and she doesn’t want him to overhear. That went. And much as I loved it, I was surprised the hatchet was dry. The book didn’t need those scenes at all.
Another scene I cut was between Jemma and a magpie that steals her Stone—her magical talisman—while she’s trying to find it. She has to climb a tree to retrieve it. There’s a moment when she mesmerizes the bird, not realizing what she’s doing, and she is able to grab her stone from its nest.
I’m sure there are smaller dead darlings, too, but those are the main two that spring to mind.
The evil in FLAME is supremely evil—dark, creepy, unapologetic evil. Did writing in that mindset each day ever leave you feeling withdrawn or depressed?
Some passages were very upsetting to write, for sure. The news is full of terrible things happening to children, and to me, nothing is more gut-wrenching to hear about. So without getting too spoilerish about the content, I think you’ll know what I’m referring to when I say that the scenes touching on children having been hurt would often have me on the edge of tears.
Thankfully, though, those emotions didn’t stay with me. One major reason, I think, is that I knew that positive forces would prevail, because I was going to make that happen! In the bigger picture, I believe that fiction is mythic in this regard. It can provide guidelines, a map by which certain situations can be navigated, a hopeful outcome. I’m thinking especially of the increase in books about bullying, which I think is a fantastic thing. It’s we authors of course who creates those outcomes, but I think doing so can shift something in our own consciousness as well as our readers’.
Fantasy is also a little different in that it’s more distanced from the events it describes. There’s a thicker layer of “this didn’t really happen”—a kind of safety barrier. But those mythic maps can still be very much there, and in another way, can be driven home harder in the context of a larger-then-real-life world. Harry Potter, for example, doesn’t merely wave a wand; he and his cohorts are learning valuable human lessons that their readers and fans also learn by. In Flame, I hope that Jemma’s resourcefulness will resonate with kids, as well as the way she learns to focus her intention and trust her instincts. Fantasy setting or not, those are very real human qualities that help in real life.
You mention human qualities in regard to Jemma. All the characters were very real to me. As their creator, do you have a favorite character and why?
Oh, so hard to say! I love Jemma, of course. Why? She’s my MC! I love her courage and gutsiness, and covet those qualities. At her age, I wouldn’t say boo to a goose. Well, maybe a goose, but not much more. So in a sense she’s an idealized me, perhaps my map of what I can aspire to.
But also…Drudge. I adore him. I can’t say much about why, though, without a big spoiler alert. He’s possibly my favorite. And in a funny way, the book is as much about his journey as it is Jemma’s. He underpins the whole thing.
Other than writing (books or songs), what do you most enjoy?
Oh…another tough one! I love reading, walking and going for bike rides. Add in sunshine, and any of those can be utter bliss. Then writing being such a solitary activity (less so with songwriting, as one often collaborates with other songwriters), it’s great sometimes just to get out and hang with friends, doing whatever—going to the movies, eating a meal together, anything at all—just being with others I love. There’s loads more things too: yoga classes, swimming in the ocean when there’s big waves (which involves a bit of a drive from where I live, granted!), dancing, meditating—any one of those might win out, depending on my mood. But at the end of a busy day or week, there’s nothing I enjoy more than flomping on the sofa watching TV with my hubby. It’s essential for battery recharge!
It’s true, there’s absolutely nothing better than a battery recharge. But don’t take too many breaks because I am eager to read your next book! I have no doubt it’ll be just as phenomenal as THE FLAME IN THE MIST. Loads of congratulations again on your debut!
For upcoming author events, please see Kit’s blog at http://kitgrindstaff.blogspot.com/ You can also sign up for her newsletter on her website and/or keep track of events on her Facebook author page.
Also, see her fabulous book trailer here!
AND – there are 3 more days remaining in Kit’s Goodreads Giveaway! Enter to win one of three copies of The Flame in the Mist! Ends 4/12.
Anyone living in the vicinity of Doylestown, PA is welcome to attend Kit’s book launch party at the Doylestown Bookshop, Friday April 19th, 7-9 pm! There’ll be a reading, signing, food, swag… Don’t miss it!
Kit Grindstaff was born near London, England. After a brief brush with pop stardom (under her maiden name, Hain), she moved to New York and became a song writer. Kit now lives with her husband in Pennsylvania. The Flame In The Mist is her first novel.