Friday, April 26, 2013

All About Middle Grade Interview: Kit Grindstaff (author of The Flame in the Mist)

This week I am very excited to welcome debut author Kit Grindstaff to talk about her book The Flame in the Mist. I hope y'all will give her a very warm welcome.

About the Author:

I'm Kit, I'm English, and I live in Pennsylvania, U.S.A., with my husband. I've written songs for a living for most of my adult life, and made some records along the way. I wrote my first book when I was 9. It was bad. This new one is a lot better. And there will be more!

You can haunt Kit Grindstaff at-
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1. Jemma sounds like a great fantasy heroine, what three qualities does she posses that will help her in her quest?

Thanks, Orchid! I think she is too J She’s brave, has a strong sense of justice, and is determined—the flip side of which is that she’s stubborn, which helps her too in a way.

2. So, Kit, do you think Jemma is ready for the truth concerning her past and future? 

LOL….Ready or not, it’s out to get her, so it’s unavoidable! She’s definitely a truth-seeker, so at heart always wants to know what’s really what. But she’s been a dreamer, feeling that something is wrong but never quite facing it until she has no option. For Jemma, finding the truth means facing a series of life-or-death situations which she has to take head-on—something she is definitely not ready for. That’s where those heroine qualities kick in.

3. What was your favorite thing about the world you created for The Flame in the Mist? Were any parts of the setting and world of your book inspired by other books you've read?

I love its similarity to England, where I’m from—a deliberate choice, of course! It was fun to imagine what my homeland would be like if it were permanently shrouded in mist and to create a mood that permeates throughout the book, like the Mist itself does across the land. I also loved creating Agromond Castle with its hulking stones, and the town of Blackwater with its dark recklessness, both of which to me are living entities—characters, not just sinister places.

Several books definitely inspired the setting and world. I first read Dickens’s Great Expectations when I was about 8 (an abridged version); the misty marshes where Pip meets Magwitch and the cobwebbed creepiness of Miss Haversham’s house both made a deep impression, and probably sowed the seeds of my being drawn to spooky settings. Then, later on in my teens, I read a classic post-war British series, Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy. Gormenghast Castle is a seething sprawl whose atmosphere stayed with me for years and lent some of its creepiness to (the much smaller) Agromond Castle. There are others that inspired me along the way, too, but those two are probably the most influential, setting-wise.

4. What are three of your favorite middle grade fantasy reads that you think everyone should read?

Oh, a tough choice…it’s so personal! There are books that others rave over and whose merit I totally get, but that just don’t gel with me. But three that I love and would thoroughly recommend…Well, His Dark Materials is YA, so I can’t include that.  Most people by now have read the Harry Potter books, but if they hadn’t, they’d be a definite must-read! The layering of Rowling’s story telling is amazing. (The later books, though, I think of more as YA.) Then there’s one of my fav debuts from 2012, Stefan Bachmann’s beautifully told, funny and heart-wrenching The Peculiar. An older one that I still adore—not high fantasy, and slightly different, for variety—is Natalie Babbit’s Tuck Everlasting. Lovely.  

5. I totally agree that Lyra and Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials is amazing. Are there any other authors that inspired you to get back into writing?

Well, when I realized I wanted to write for kids, I took a course in children’s lit at the New School University to get to know the landscape. That’s how I came across The Golden Compass (Northern Lights in the UK)—it was one of the books we studied. Other books on that course were also influential. I loved the soft eeriness of Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce, for example. Tuck Everlasting was another. That prologue! So beautifully written and inspiring. The other on that course that influenced me was Roald Dahl’s Matilda—a warm and funny read, but it was Matilda’s psychokinetic abilities that really sparked my imagination.

6. In my opinion, song writing and storytelling go together pretty well, so, which came easier; writing songs or building the world for your debut book?

That’s tough to compare, as they’re such different formats. But let me try. Well, you’d think songs would be easier, as they’re shorter; but for me, coming up with inspiration for songs is often the hardest thing. Occasionally they do pour out in a 10 minute rush of inspiration (often the best ones, IMO). There’s others I’ve sweated over and eventually wrestled into a shape I’m proud of, and others still where the wrestling hasn’t yielded anything.

Though writing a book is obviously a much longer process, and over all a lot more laborious—no comparison!—the world building in The Flame in the Mist came fairly easily. I got lost in it, and loved expressing it. So I’d say that songs, for me, is probably the harder of the two.

7. Since you have lived both in England and (now) the US, what would you say are the two biggest differences between both countries?  Anything you like more about one over the other?

One: The weather! I’m a sun addict, and sunshine is something you can never depend on in England. You might wake to blue sky and by mid-morning, nine times out of ten, the clouds have completely obliterated it. In the U.S. there are far more sunny days. Even in winter, we have crisp, clear, beautiful days, compared to a much higher incidence of gray, drizzle and low clouds over there. And not forgetting mist…
Two: Well, I can’t say “food” anymore! England has come up in the culinary department a lot since I left. And where the U.S. used to feel more like the Land of Opportunity compared to the Brit tendency to say “no” before “yes”, that too has changed in recent years. But one thing that really does strike me is that the Brits—and Europeans as a whole—have access to far better, less biased news media. Of course, anything is available on the web, but it’s not the same as its being more prevalent in the culture and at people’s fingertips.

8. The world has fallen to a robot invasion and only one heroine/hero can possibly save the day, who do you choose? 

Ouch! Can I in good conscience nominate Jemma? She’s good with evil Entities, but is she equipped, being from a historical setting, to take on mechanical baddies? I don’t think so. Each hero/ine to his/her own. I don’t reckon Harry could handle such robo-invaders, either. And certainly not Katniss, nor even kick-ass Jenna Strong from Emma Pass’s upcoming Acid. Um, for this, then, it might have to be Superman. He could hurl them into space.

9. Care to tell us about your writing cave (include picture if you want)?

My writing cave is a comfy chair upstairs, with French windows overlooking our yard. To my left are two mandala-style paintings that inspire me—the bottom one being a watercolor by an elderly French mentor who died years ago, so it’s particularly precious. She also crocheted the beautiful cushion you can see in the photo. Then there’s a side table that doubles as a bookshelf, with a row of books on top of it (part of my very patient tbr pile), with reference books below. The rest is an eclectic array of objects: a huge faux hydrangea, candles, a Tibetan bowl, a few crystals, a photo of my niece. But it’s the simplicity of the space I love. It’s airy, with a ton of natural light, and when evening comes the Ikea lighting sheds a warmth that feels really cozy. I love it. (pic attached) 

10. Any upcoming projects that you can share with us? 

No. Yes….No. A bit. That pile on the chair may be pages from a sequel…Then there’s my head, which is storing a couple of ideas, one of which has been scratching around for years, slowly forming. It’s in 2 POVs, and flips between current time and Tudor England. Other than that, I’ll say no more!

 Kit, thanks so much for stopping by and chatting about your book, The Flame in the Mist. I don't think I could ever live in England, I love my sunshine too much.

The Flame in the Mist by Kit Grindstaff, April 9, 2013. Published by Delacorte Press. 
Set in an imagined past, this dark fantasy-adventure is for fans of Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass. Features  Jemma, a fiery-headed heroine held captive in Agromond Castle, yet destined to save mist-shrouded Anglavia.
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.

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