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Author Interviews That Rock
The Flame in the Mist
Here’s to Kit’s Super, awesome, magical, mysterious, supernatural, exciting castle adventure!
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Check out Kit’s website. It’s gorgeous, thrilling! Click away.
I love this cover, Kit. It’s beautiful and mysterious! Want one of your own? Go on, click!
Okay Kit, please tell the readers a little bit about yourself & your book. What is the blurb on your book cover?
Well, I’ve just submitted a new version for the paperback. It’s a little more succinct than the original, so how about I give you that:
There’s evil a-coming from up on the hill. If the Mist doesn’t get you, the Agromonds will.
Fiery-headed Jemma, the youngest inhabitant of gloomy Agromond Castle, is not who she thinks she is. She has no clue about her supernatural powers, nor that a prophecy claims she is the one who will save her country from the evil Agromond rulers and the sinister Mist they create. But on the eve of her thirteenth birthday, Jemma discovers the dire fate the Agromonds have planned for her. The truth begins to unravel. Armed with a magical talisman and a mysterious book, she takes Destiny into her own hands and flees from the castle.
But the danger has only just begun. The Prophecy still broods. With her trusted friend Digby and her two telepathic golden rats, Noodle and Pie, Jemma faces both human and supernatural enemies. And then, the evil takes a nastier turn… Helpers, both seen and unseen, come to Jemma’s aid. But in the end, her own emerging powers may be the only hope for a kingdom in peril.
Just to get us started, how old are you?
Oh, you know. As old as my tongue and a bit older than my teeth.
Where are you from?
I was born in a village called Cobham, about 20 miles south west of London, where my mum still lives. It was pretty rural when I was a kid—mostly fields and farms and narrow country lanes—but these days is crammed with houses, and the road at the end of the lane is now a highway. Whenever I’m visiting and go for a walk in the nearby woods, I can hear the roar of traffic from every part of them. Progress.
How does being English affect your writing style?
Well, being English, I’m not aware that it does! But people often say how English the book’s narrative sounds, so I guess some Britishisms must sneak in.
What inspired you to write THE FLAME IN THE MIST?
Once I’d decided to take the plunge into writing kidlit, the 2 series that inspired me most were Harry Potter and His Dark Materials. Then, once I got going, all sorts of past influences fed into and shaped The Flame in the Mist.
The initial seed came from a workshop I took, where we were asked to imagine our childhood as a fairy tale. What came out was something like, Girl living in remote castle high on a hill…Um. Hello? Did I grow up in a castle? In England, yes. Castle, no. Is my family evil? Debatable. (Ha ha! Not really.). But we’re talking fairy tale, and our house being a couple of miles from our village, as I kid I was fairly isolated and didn’t see kids other than family on a daily basis till I went to school at 5. Hence the castle on a hill, miles from anywhere.
As the idea took root, teen imaginings that I’d been dropped into the wrong family morphed into Jemma actually being in the wrong family. The Mist popped into my mind as a metaphor for illusion—the veiling of Jemma’s true identity—as well as for the suppression of her country. The rest of the story grew from that premise.
Are you drawn to ghosts and creepy stuff?
Definitely! From an early age, I was fascinated by damp churchyards, dark towers, and old castles, and whenever I’ve been in ancient places I’ve loved imagining the generations of people who’ve been there. The thought of all those existences feels mysterious and magical to me. In my teens, I adored ghost stories (Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, for example, and anything by Shirley Jackson). Not that I’d particularly like to run into a ghost, though I once did, in broad daylight. Actually, it was a very sweet experience. (The daylight probably helped.)
Do you have an affinity for old castles?
Kit’s Scary Etching of Corfe Castle! Go ahead click it.
Well, as young as 3 years old, I remember a favorite day trip being to the ruins of Corfe Castle, in southern England. I loved it—and I was only 3! There’s something deeply familiar about such places to me. So, an affinity? Maybe. Sometimes I imagine I’ve had past lives there, and am drawn back to resolve some unfinished business.
Do you ever creep yourself out when writing dark, magical scenes?
No, not at all. Hmmm….maybe that should worry me! Though some of the scenes in the book – back story regarding what happened to kids in the past – were quite upsetting to write.
What made you want to write in the first place?
I was always an avid reader and loved making up stories. From as far back as I can remember, writing was one of my fav subjects at school. At 9, I wrote my first “book” (aka school notebook handwritten in pencil), a mystery adventure whose title I can remember, but is so bad I’m not going to share. No, not even for chocolate, so stop waving it at me! I also loved drawing and painting, and when I was about 13, wrote a picture book about a bee—a lost tale (probably just as well) except for a few paintings.
When mid-teens hit, copious angsty poetry and songs took over. My love of music trumped everything else and led to a long career in the music biz, mainly as a song writer. In my 20s I wrote a rhyming picture book with my artist sister, which planted a more insistent seed of writing for kids. That seed kept tickling my brain, but it took a while a for me to put make room alongside of music to begin nurturing it more seriously.
Do you have a theme in THE FLAME IN THE MIST that you find particularly important?
There’s a book within the book that my MC, Jemma, finds. Called From Darkness to Light, it contains wisdom that helps guide her. Its title sums up a driving theme for me: that of healing and transformation. So many of us carry wounds from our pasts that in some way limit us, and need to be examined and unraveled. But it takes help and guidance, which Jemma finds on many levels, human and supernatural—and animal, of course! Her rats, Noodle and Pie, are indispensible. We’re never quite sure where they came from. Along with Jemma’s supernatural helpers, that points to another theme: that there’s more to life than what we can see, a level of existence beyond the physical realm.
If you could transport yourself into your book, what/who would you be? What would you do there?
Oh, wow! Well, I would definitely align with the Solvays, not the Agromonds. And I love the idea of being able to heal people, like Jemma eventually can, so that’s what I’d do if I were in that world. But I don’t think I could face the things I’ve made her face! So I might choose to be Talon. She’s plucky, like Jemma, and has a blunt irreverence that I like. And in the future she’s going to take up the healing arts, so that would work.
Why Middle Grade?
The story just fell out that way, and I actually had no idea it was middle grade. It was one of my teachers who pegged it as such. Then, the more middle grade and YA I read, the clearer the differences became.
How do you get into your characters heads?
My inner actor steps up! Being alone a lot as a kid, I provided myself with a range of internal playmates, and always enjoyed pretending to be other people. And at school, I loved acting. To me, writing characters is much like that: becoming them to play a part.
What is most special about your protagonist, Jemma?
She’s the Fire One, the bringer of Light, the one—the only one—who can end the darkness of the Agromonds’ long tyranny. But she also needs her human qualities—her courage and strong sense of justice—to reach her supernatural potential.
Jemma has two pet rats, Noodle and Pie. How did you come up with those names and why rats?
Ah, the Rattusses! Well, though they’re also unique and also somewhat supernatural (where do they come from, after all? I left that deliberately open ended), I also wanted Jemma’s helpers to be down to earth, normal creatures, ones you’d find in a castle. I thought kids would enjoy the “ew” factor of rats, a disgust that I initially felt before falling in love with them! Them having golden pelts was a late addition. Originally they were common-or-garden – or rather, castle – brown rats.
They also started life with different names: for ages, they were Scurry and Flurry. Then I decided that was too cutesy, the kind of names a 6 or 7 year old would choose, not an 11 year old, which was Jemma’s age when they first turned up. So for a while they became Scurry and Squirm, but I couldn’t relate to Squirm. How I came up with Noodle and Pie, I don’t remember. But I adjusted to the names really quickly, and now can’t imagine them being called anything but.
What keeps you writing?
Sometimes, inspiration. Sometimes, white knuckling. Usually, something in between; a cross between routine, commitment and enjoyment.
Your cover art is so intriguing, spooky-fun! How did you feel when you first saw it?
Click the pic to see the trailer!
It first arrived as black and white sketches, which I loved! There were 3, and my editor and I agreed that one with Jemma holding her magical Stone, which glows through her hand, shows her in the strongest light. Then when the color rendering arrived…wow. A combo of my favorite hues of blue, deep reds, gold…it was like Chris Rahn, the artist, was channeling me! Chills…
What is the best piece of writing advice you were ever given?
Love what you write, and write what you love. You need that to sustain you through blocks and difficult times, which will definitely happen now and then.
What is the most important thing for a writer to remember?
Not to compare yourself, your work, or your journey, with that of other writers. We’re all unique, and the particular elements of your own path are what makes your story your story, and nobody else’s.
Do you belong to any cool writerly groups on or off line?
Online, yes. First, The Lucky 13s, who are all authors whose debut MG or YA release in 2013 (hence our name.) Then, I’m a member of the local Kidlit Authors Club, a group of published authors who do group events together—signings, etc. Another local group is the NJ Authors Network, which has many unpublished as well as published members (yes, some of us are from PA, but nip across the Delaware!). Those of us who are published also do group signings, panels, etc.
Offline, I don’t belong to a writing group at present. I rely on 2-3 trusted beta readers, and we exchange pages as and when we need feedback. With one, we exchange 30 pages a month.
Just for kicks… What are some of your favorite TV shows, movies?
TV shows: The musician in me still loves shows like American Idol and The Voice – it’s fabulous to watch talent emerging! Drama wise, there are PBS ones like America Masterpiece Theater, Masterpiece Mystery, Downton Abbey, and similar series on BBC America like Copper, Call the Midwife (now over, waaaa!), The Hour. Then there’s The Killing on AMC, and Burn Notice (also on its last season…Nooo!) …oh, I’m sure there’s others. I could go on.
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Movies: 2 all-time favs are Dead Man with Johnny Depp—Jim Jarmusch’s movies are generally great—and The Shawshank Redemption. I tend to go for dramas. I like a few Tarantino movies, esp. Pulp Fiction, and his most recent, Django Unchained. In the spook realm, The Others with Nicole Kidman was great, and an oldie, The Innocents (based on The Turn of the Screw). I don’t go for slasher stuff or horror, though.
Last movie you saw at the theater?
Ha ha! That’s easy. My husband and I hardly ever go, but when I was in England a couple of months ago I took my 8 year old niece and 5 year old nephew to see The Croods. Huge fun!
What is your favorite board game?
Scrabble. Or Monopoly. Or Cluedo (what you guys call “Clue”, I think.)
Do you listen to music while you write? If so what gets you motivated?
Never. Maybe coming from the muzo world, I prefer silence, or just the wind in the trees, or birdsong, the whirr of a fan…I can imagine writing to classical music, though. Bach, or Vivaldi.
Other than writing, what do you like to do for fun? Hobbies?
I love walking. Reading. Hanging out with friends. Swimming. Watching movies. I used to do a lot of yoga and tai chi, and am starting to pick up on both again. Hobbies….not so much. Crochet needles and I never really hit it off. J
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Kit’s got lots of wild-wonderful talent. Click here and check her out on Facebook!
If your protagonist could give one piece of advice to your readers what would it be?
Listen to your own advice!
How about your villain/villains? What advice would he/they give readers?
That would depend on which one. Nocturna and Shade Agromond would probably say, Steer clear of Jemma, and practice aligning with the dark side. Nox…I think he might say, Don’t marry a domineering woman! Though he might also say,
Any closing words of wisdom for other author-wannabees out there?
Keep at it! And to echo Nox Agromond, Beware of letting your emotions get the better of you…at least when it comes to pitching. During writing, though, let ’em loose, give your characters their heads and hearts and let them lead the way sometimes—but always remember who’s ultimately in charge, and keep your destination in mind
And there you have it! Personal and Real with Kit Grindstaff! Thanks for the super-cool, insightful interview, Kit.