This week we've been spending lots of time outside working on potty training. We're not quite there yet, but we're doing pretty good. My daughter was on spring break last week, so it made it easier. Starting this week, both my husband and I will have to come home from work to let her out of crate and take her outside until she can hold it in for longer. Luckily, he comes home from work early afternoon. So if I don't visit your blogs quite as much for a bit, I hope you'll understand. Ellie Mae's taking a lot of my time. But it's so worth it!
So here she is!
And I have a winner to announce.
The winner of PLASTIC POLLY is Sara Bowers!
Congrats! E-mail me your address so I can send you your book.
Today I’m excited to have debut author Kit Grindstaff with us to talk about her book, THE FLAME IN THE MIST, that releases tomorrow. I loved the slightly creepy, fantasy world Kit created and Jemma is such a great, determined kid who you can’t help cheering on as she discovers who she really is.
Here’s a description from Goodreads:
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.
Hi Kit. Thanks so much for joining us.
Hi, Natalie! Thanks so much for inviting me.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer.
I’ve always loved reading and making up stories. I still have a couple of school books from when I was 8 or 9 with early tales scrawled in them. They’re carefully hidden away, though…
As an angst-ridden teen I began writing poetry. Music being another major passion, I wrote my first (pretty tortured) song at 16. I never looked back, and after school and college, during which time I was always in some band or other, I ended up in the music business. I’ve been a professional songwriter for years.
With my love of rhyme, when I was in my early 20s I wrote a rhyming picture book illustrated by my artist sister. We tried to get it published, with no luck—I can see now what its (serious) flaws were! Around that time, I became captivated by Maurice Sendak’s work, and eventually the bug to write for children nibbled harder, then gnawed, then bit, until I couldn’t ignore it any longer. You can see the teeth scars right here. (*Points to ankles…*)
2. Awesome that you write songs and that you’ve been able to pursue that professionally too. I’ve read that you grew up in England. Did that influence your world building, like Agromond Castle and the mist filled woods surrounding it, which I loved, and if so, how?
It absolutely influenced me! England has thatch and cobbles a-plenty, and the literary air I breathed as a kid was full of the atmosphere of Olden Tymes. Great Expectations was a favorite (I read the abridged version when I was 8), with all the misty mystery of the swamps where Pip first meets Magwitch. Oliver Twist was another, with London’s Victorian streets blanketed by fog and teeming with seediness. Mist…fog…yes, definitely an influence!
To add to that, I’ve been fascinated by spooky places for as long as I can remember. Damp churchyards, with their moss-and-lichen covered graves. Castles. The Tower of London. The evidence of England’s dark history is everywhere. Even the glamorous veneer of Henry VIII’s court, for example, had its murderous underbelly, he being a king that women literally lost their heads over. Those kinds of grisly tales grow into your bones, ready to seep onto the page in another guise.
But although I enjoy immersing my imagination in this chilly past, I am not a fan of British weather! Give me sunshine, any day. That might be partly why I need that light at the end of the tunnel, whatever I write. I don’t want to leave my readers shrouded in doom and gloom any more than I want to be shrouded in it myself!
3. I’d so love to visit England and all those castles. What inspired the central conflict between the Agromonds and the Solvays?
I started with the idea of a girl trapped in a castle, who’s never, as far as she knows, been beyond its
So there had to be a rationale for her being there, held virtual prisoner, as well as for the mist. I loved the “misfit in evil family” idea, and working backwards, came up with the basic back story of how Jemma—now named—got there, and where she’d come from.
The rest grew organically from tracing the back story to its origins. The must-have high concept ingredient of Good vs Evil emerged as a centuries-old vendetta between the two families, one craving power and dominion over all and aiming to clinch it with this magical child, the other wanting to bring healing and light to their beleaguered country. That back story comes to a head with Jemma, and is played out through her adventures.
4. I love hearing about your process. And it’s a great way for the rest of us to take our seed of an idea and really develop it. There are a lot of plot twists and revelations in THE FLAME IN THE MIST. What did you learn about plotting out your story from writing it? Do you have any tips for the rest of us?
The plot by no means arrived fully formed. I knew that Jemma had to get from A to Z, and roughly what would happen at each stage, including the ending. But beyond that basic skeleton, most of the twists, turns, sub-plots and revelations came as I was writing.
I think being prepared to ask, at any stage, “What’s the worst that could happen here?” and then answer by throwing a ton of adversity at your main character (and/or others) is one way to keep plotting fresh. It took me to places I wasn’t expecting. The whole Blackwater episode came that way, for example—A total surprise to me! Just as Jemma and Digby are about to rest for the night…well, I couldn’t let it be that easy for them.
Once there, that episode gave me a tremendous opportunity to up the ante against Jemma, to ramp up the ticking clock element, and also allow her to hone her healing powers. Plus, it added a new character who I enjoy a lot—and who, as it turns out, plays a far more prominent role in book 2.
The unexpected doesn’t have to be in the form of conflict, though. I’m thinking of a couple of revelations I don’t want to give away—a certain character’s identity, for example. (I think you’ll know who I mean!) I had no idea about that when I started writing the book. The only down side is needing to go back and work any such changes/revelations into previous pages, but that’s a small price to pay for how they deepen the story.
Another way to layer plot is to allow the characters similar leeway. There were times when, in mid-scene, I’d realize that someone was doing or saying something I hadn’t anticipated at all! Following their lead often shaped the story line in a different way. And I think if the author is surprised at what’s pouring on to the page, then the reader will be, as well.
There’s one caveat, though, which is to remember that such detours do occasionally need reining in. Otherwise, they can have the opposite effect and tangle the plot too much. For me, having some idea of the over all shape of where I’m going helps with that, as well as asking, “Is this ultimately serving the over all story?”
So these are a few guidelines I use—hopefully helpful ones—but there are no hard and fast rules, no right or wrong way. Some authors write totally to an outline; others are total pantsers. It’s a matter of preference and what works best for you. Either way, don’t worry at the outset about the layering. That’ll come once you get rolling.
5. I write like you and am just starting a draft of my new project. So this is really helpful. I loved the parts of the story where Jemma and Digby journeyed together. Share a bit about them as characters and who was the most challenging one to write. Why?
Having Digby keep Jemma company lightened things up considerably—for me and for her! His down-to-earth dry wit and directness was really fun to write, and gives Jemma something to rub against. I love that about him. He’s pretty uncomplicated, and as loyal as they come, but by no means boring. I think of him, along with the rats, as being Jemma’s voices of reason. He has a stability that comes from his roots, like an unshakeable oak.
Jemma, on the contrary, has led a much more complicated life, fraught with constant conflict. She’s had to face tremendous dangers on her own, forcing her to be quick-thinking and resourceful. She’s the more complex and contradictory of the two—smart, plucky, volatile and headstrong, which often leads her into trouble.
On the surface, that might suggest that Jemma was the more difficult one to write. But each had their challenges. For Digby, it was to have him be a grounding influence without making him predictable; and for Jemma, to have her flaws get in her way while also giving her consistency and focus. Their interplay helps define each of them: Jemma gives Digby the chance to exercise his wry humor, and he, by being her life raft in very dark waters, gives her the chance to step up and shine.
6. I read about your road to publication and it’s a little different than most I’ve heard. Tell us about it. Have you found it difficult not having an agent?
Once I (thought I’d) finished the manuscript, I started querying agents, the general rule being that without one, getting published by one of the (then) “Big 6” houses was a virtual impossibility. While fielding rejections, I kept honing the first chapter. Just as I was ready to bite the next batch of query bullets I heard about the NJ SCBWI conference with its amazing number of attending editors and agents, and the opportunity to sign up for critique sessions: an editor, agent and/or author would critique your first 15 pages, for an added fee. I decided to go for broke, and signed up for the max.
At that time, participants didn’t get to choose who they were paired with (now, I believe, they do), so based on my genre and the pages I’d sent, Kathy (Temean, then-RA of the NJ SCBWI) paired me with Michelle Poploff, VP and Executive editor from Delacorte. I liked her immediately, and at the end of our session she asked me to send the full ms. Yay!
I polished up the ms some more and sent it off, expecting a 3-6 month wait. 4 weeks later, I received an email, the gist of which was, “Love the world, the Mist, and Jemma; needs some changes”, quickly followed by my ms, completely marked up, and an editorial letter from Michelle. My middle suffered from major sag, which I’d known, but had no clue how to fix it. Michelle’s letter gave me fabulous guidelines. Months later, I sent her the much re-written ms. Within weeks, she responded with the offer of a contract. One of the best days of my life!
I’m still un-agented, and can’t say I’ve missed having one. Michelle has pitched the book to all the right places, including Listening Libraries, who picked it up as an audiobook. (Another Yay!) She’s a fantastically responsive editor, and always replies to emails within a day, if not an hour. If it weren’t for that, though, I daresay there would have been times I’d have wished I had an agent. And hearing from other soon-to-be-published authors how their agents help in different ways, I do feel it’s time to look again. For example, seeing their book onscreen is probably on every author’s wish list, and is certainly on mine! Very few make it, but one can dream, right?
7. That’s an awesome story. It’s a good reminder of what can happen at those SCBWI critiques. They’re so well worth it. You’re part of The Lucky 13’s (http://thelucky13s.blogspot.com), a group of debut authors whose books are releasing in 2013. That’s where I found out about you and a lot of the authors I’m interviewing this year. How did you find out about this group? How has it helped you through your debut year?
I’d been dipping into Twitter for a couple of months when I got a tweet from Alison Cherry, one of the
That was a huge turning point. Having fellow debut authors to navigate the pre-publication waters with has been invaluable. We share tips, marketing advice, support, lend shoulders to cry on, throw virtual confetti at triumphs. It really is true that there’s strength in numbers.
Opportunities have come through them, too: joint signings, requests for interviews from bloggers, etc. The kidlit world at large is tremendously helpful and supportive, and having the very specific community of Luckies, of which a good quarter of us are very actively involved, is a massive bonus. With our proboards, I have an immediate place to go to give and receive support. I’d recommend any author with an upcoming release to join a group if they can.
8. Yeah, I definitely want to join one of those. Marketing a middle grade book can be harder than marketing a YA book because there seems like there are less book review blogs with lots of exposure that spotlight middle grade books. What are your plans for marketing your book? Have you and any of the other middle grade authors from The Lucky 13’s shared tips or banded together? What advice do you have for us aspiring middle grade authors?
Though many YA blogs also have a middle grade section, and I have the sense that interest in mg is growing, it’s true that at the moment there are far fewer blogs spotlighting middle grade. Just as there are far fewer mg titles. We middle grade Luckies prove that: there are only 20 of us, compared with 100+ in the YA camp.
Those 20 of us do have our own group under the Lucky 13s umbrella. We do a monthly “Meanwhile, Middle Grade” post on the Lucky 13s blog, and we’ve also paired up to do interviews with one another which will be posted on release day. Down the line, we hope to set up group signings. Anything to get our presence felt as much as we can!
As for my plans, the promo I’ve done so far for The Flame in the Mist has been entirely online, mainly connecting with bloggers via Twitter and Goodreads. I’m currently doing a blog tour, including a few stops on YA blogs. I also have several more interviews lined up through May.
My other online tool is the trailer, which was blasted a couple of weeks ago. If you didn’t see it yet, you can check it out on YouTube—a search for it under the book title should reveal it. I’m thrilled with it, and hopefully it’ll draw people’s attention to the book. Nobody really knows if trailers help with sales, but to my mind any exposure is good.
Once the book is out, it’ll be time to get my physical presence out there too. Yep, marketing is about to take to the material world! I have a few signings lined up in PA for later this month, and am working to set up school visits here and in NJ. I’m also planning a mini-tour of stores wherever I have friends I can visit; so far NH is on the cards for mid-May. Then there’s conferences—in June, for example, I’ll be co-presenting a couple of workshops at the NJ SCBWI conference—and book fairs.
So, to condense the main points into simple advice: Get out there and connect! Online, and in person. Network. You really never know what will come of a chance meeting at a conference, or a chance Tweet. I’ve met people who are now some of my closest friends, as well as others who turned out to be bloggers or book reviewers. And as you pointed out, my being one of the Luckies is how I met you. That wouldn’t have happened without Twitter.
And while you’re out there, promote others. You’ll find them rallying around you, too. And don’t forget those editor/agent critiques at conferences! That’s how I got here.
9. That’s awesome advice and you sound really organized. What are you working on now?
I’m writing a sequel to THE FLAME IN THE MIST. It starts about fifteen months after the end of FLAME. Jemma is now 14, and…well, that’s all I’m going to say for now!
I can’t wait to read it. Thanks Kit for sharing all your advice.You've really given me a lot to think about.
You’re very welcome, Natalie. Thanks so much again for hosting me. It’s been fun!
You can find Kit at
and on Twitter @kitgrindstaff.
She’s also on Goodreads
Kit and her publisher, Delacorte, have generously offered an ARC of THE FLAME IN THE MIST for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment by midnight on April 20th. I’ll announce the winner on April 23rd.
If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. You must be 13 or older to enter. International entries are welcome.
Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays was started by Shannon Messenger. You can find the links to all the Marvelous Middle Grade Monday bloggers here .
Here’s what’s coming up:
On Wednesday I’m interviewing debut author Erin Bowman about her new YA dystopian TAKEN and giving away an ARC. It’s about a world where boys are heisted away to some mysterious future on their 18th birthday. This was so well plotted that I could not put it down.
Next Monday I have an ASK THE EXPERT Interview with a 7th grader and a giveaway of BLACK CITY, a YA dystopian/paranormal story, THE COLOSSUS RISES, a middle grade fantasy Percy Jackson fans will enjoy, MILO 2.0, a YA Sci fi story, and a cute backpack with goodies for one of your kids.
Next Tuesday I have a Tuesday tip by Stephanie Keyes and a giveaway of THE FALLEN STARS, a YA paranormal romance.
Next Wednesday I’m interviewing agent Jill Corcoran about her new A Path to Publishing workshops and of course I asked her what submissions she’s looking for right now. There’s a giveaway too!
And don't forget our Tuesday Tips and Casey's Thursday agent spotlights.
Hope to see you on Wednesday!