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17 Questions with Author Kit Grindstaff

April 5, 2013

We’re joined today by debut author Kit Grindstaff to talk about her new book, The Flame in the Mist, on sale next Tuesday, April 9th, as well as her writing process and what inspires her. Set in an imagined past, The Flame in the Mist is a dark fantasy-adventure sure to please fans of Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass. It features Jemma, a fiery-headed heroine held captive in Agromond Castle, yet destined to save mist-shrouded Anglavia.

Flame in teh Mist

What inspired you to write The Flame in the Mist?

The idea came to me years ago at a workshop where participants were asked to imagine their lives as a fairy tale. My childhood home felt fairly remote, and until I went to school at age 5, life was pretty isolated. I conceptualized that as a child living in a castle on a remote crag, dreaming of a wider world beyond its walls.

Years later, teen angst and rebellion made me imagine what I think a lot of kids that age imagine: What if this isn’t really my family? What if I was dropped here by mistake? Though family resemblance made it obvious that in my case the stork had got it right, the idea of displacement stayed with me. That, along with the castle on a hill from that earlier seed, began to shape Jemma’s story.

What book made the strongest impression on you as a child?

There are loads of books I devoured over and over, so I think it’s more a case of a lot of smaller impressions rather than one book in particular. A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh series was a huge favorite, and I’m sure that Milne’s rhymes (“Now We are Six”) inspired my love of rhyme—a particularly creepy one appears in Flame in the Mist.

When I was a little older, I read and re-read two series by Enid Blyton that most English kids will still be familiar with: the Famous Five, and the “Mystery” series, both of which sparked my love of intrigue. When I was a older still, one book that made a big impression was Friday’s Tunnel by John Verney – yet another mystery. So those stories are probably where the element of cloak and dagger in Flame was born.

What is one thing about you that would surprise your readers?

I’m 104 years old.

Ok, not true. Let’s see: I once climbed a mountain in the Andes to 16,000 feet. My main career has been as a pop songwriter, and I’ve played on a stage to an audience of 5000 or so. I once sang on a commercial for Pepsi Cola.

Do you use social media? If yes, how do you feel about the role social media plays in your writing life?

Yes, I definitely use social media! I love Facebook and Twitter, and am also on Goodreads. I haven’t yet ventured onto Pinterest, Tumblr, or any others.

Twitter in particular has been terrific way to connect with book bloggers and other authors. It’s also through Twitter that I met the group of 2013 debut authors, The Lucky 13s, of which I’ve since been a member. Writing can be such solitary work, so being able to share hopes, dreams and fears with this wonderful community has made all the difference to my life as a writer and soon-to-be-published author. Twitter is also a great way to broadcast news—as its name suggests! When I did my trailer reveal a couple of weeks ago, links to it went out across quite a few blogs at the same time, which increased its exposure way more than I could have achieved on my own. I believe it’s now up on the Random House website too—if not, readers can search for it on YouTube. And by the way, there’s a $30 giveaway that’s still happening until Friday April 12th! Anyone interested can hashtag THE FLAME IN THE MIST and it should come up.

The only problem with social media is that it can be quite demanding—and addictive!—and writing sometimes takes second place. I have to be especially disciplined to carve out time to actually sit down to my WIP. Pre-book release, with tons of guest blog posts to write (the tour goes till the 19th), I’ve gotten very little creative writing done!

What has your favorite event experience been so far?

As an absolutely brand newly-published author, I haven’t yet done any author events. However I have attended SCBWI conferences regularly for the past four years, which are definitely events – and very fabulous ones too. Of those, my absolute favorite was the on in NJ where I met my wonderful editor at Delacorte, Michelle Poploff. Without the opportunity that such conferences offer writers to sign up for critique sessions with editors and agents, I might not be sitting here today with my book release happening!

What was your favorite genre to read as a teenager?

I read a lot as a younger child, everything from fantasy to contemporary. But as a teen, I read less, and tended to limit myself to the books I was assigned for English Literature classes. Mostly, I remember Jane Austen – whose books I thankfully enjoyed, especially once I began to appreciate her wit –and Joseph Conrad; both classic British authors, so not surprising they’d be in our school curriculum. So, adult historical, I guess you could say –still a favorite genre. Who knows, maybe Pride and Prejudice influenced me setting The Flame in the Mist in the past.

What’s your favorite snack food when you’re writing?

Easy. One word: Chocolate.

Do you have a favorite place to write?

I do – well, 2, actually. I have a designated writing space upstairs, next to my music studio. (I’ve been a professional song writer for years, and still write and record.) It’s really just a big comfy armchair, with cool lighting, a couple of favorite prints on the wall, and a bookcase that holds part of my (enormous) to-be-read pile. In front of me, there’s a French window overlooking our yard, with trees and fields beyond, so it feels very tranquil.

In the summer, I love to sit out on the deck overlooking the same trees and fields. That’s probably when I write the most. On sunny days, once I’ve headed outside first thing in the morning and parked in the shade of our huge sycamore, just try getting me indoors and/or away from my laptop!

Do you have favorite music to listen to when you write?

I know a lot of authors write to music, but I need silence. So it’s just the birds and the breeze in the trees for me.

Do you plan to continue writing for children, or do you think you might write for adults at some point?

I definitely plan to continue writing for children. I have one middle grade well under way, another 2 outlined in my head (one of which might be a YA) and also a picture book idea. I also love writing in rhyme, as I mentioned, so that’s tempting to try, too.

I would love to write for adults as well, but am not sure if and when I’ll get around to that!

What is one piece of advice you would like to give to aspiring authors?

Love what you write. Don’t put effort into a book if you feel half-hearted about it—or even three-quarter hearted. You need passion for it to carry you through difficult times: days, weeks, months when your plot won’t yield, and then the angst of querying agents and/or editors. Besides which, I believe an author’s love for their book transmits to the reader beyond the words, like an energy that’s infused into the pages.

Do you ever experience writer’s block?

Well, I’ve heard some writers say they don’t believe in it; but I think that might be in part because “writers’ block”, IMO, is a misleading label. Are there times I literally can’t write anything? No. I can always sit down and let words flow, even if it’s a rant about feeling blocked! Are there times I feel blocked about a work in progress? Absolutely, if I hit a gnarly plot point that needs ironing out. Those are specific problems that need a specific solution, and can definitely take time to resolve, and make one feel blocked.

What was your favorite chapter, or part, to write and why?

That’s a tough question! I think any writer loves those parts which flow naturally, almost as if they’re coming through you rather than from you. They make the experience of writing a real delight. One that flowed for me in that way was after the Blackwater incident, when Jemma performs the healing in the swamps. (I’m being deliberately vague here for spoiler reasons!). I love that scene, and there was something magical about the way it felt to write. I changed very little of it afterwards.

Is it my favorite, though? I can think of so many that felt immensely satisfying to get down, even if they weren’t as easy to write. Jemma’s first escape attempt is one; the cave scene with Bryn is another. I adore him as a character, little as he appears. The confrontation scenes near the end are others. Those latter were particularly tough, to get in every detail and make the scenes flow naturally. In those cases, the triumph of having conquered the difficulty probably makes them as “favorite” as the ones that flowed.

Which character speaks the loudest, to you?

The loudest? Definitely Shade Agromond! She needs a lot of attention. But “loudest” in terms of how much of my heart they take up? Well, Jemma, of course…but I have a special love for Drudge too.

Do any of them demand to be heard over the others?

That would definitely be Shade!

What are you working on now?

At the moment, that’s a bit under wraps…The first draft is almost complete, though. Next in line might be another idea that’s been brewing for years, which will be told from 2 distinct points of view at 2 different times in history. I’m looking forward to delving into that.

Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers and fans?

Just a huge THANK YOU for finding Jemma, and for your support and enthusiasm! You taking her, Digby and the rats into your hearts is what makes everything worthwhile, and helps to energize me for the next project.

Oh, and if you think you’d like me to come to your school or a nearby bookstore, you can contact me via my website at www.kitgrindstaff.com, or contact my publicist at Random House, Kristy Hunter khunter@randomhouse.com, and we’ll see what’s possible.

Lastly, I hope you enjoyed this interview. Thank you too, Bobbie, for hosting me. It’s been fun!

Many thanks to Kit Grindstaff for joining us today on RAoReading, and thanks to our colleague Bobbie who worked on this great blog post!

Please share your thoughts in our comments section!

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One Comment leave one →
  1. April 5, 2013 3:13 pm

    I love your character names, Kit. This book sounds fantastic! I’m so glad I signed up for Kit’s workshop on the Dark Underbelly at NJ SCBWI this year.

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