By Kim Briggs
Let’s welcome Kit Grindstaff, the author of Flame in the Mist!
|Watch the Trailer|
“Richly atmospheric” —Booklist
Kit and I met at the SCBWI Pocono Retreat in May 2013. We were in the whole novel workshop with Kathryn Erskine and let me tell you, the moment I heard Kit read her story–I was hooked! I couldn’t wait to interview her for the EasternPennPoints Blog!
Kit, when did you start writing?
I loved writing stories from an early age, and have always kept journals and written the odd rhyme and short story. But in my teens, music took over as my first love, and, in my twenties, became my career (song writing is still my official “day job”).
Somewhere along the way, though, I discovered Maurice Sendak, and a bug began gnawing my brain about writing for kids someday. Finally, about 12 years ago, the bug bit harder, and grew so insistent that I signed up to take a writing course.
How did you bring your story to life? How did the details of The Flame in the Mist evolve?
I started with an initial 3 or 4 sentence paragraph about this girl captive in a castle who discovers she was abducted as a baby. It grabbed me right then. I was intrigued! Why had this girl been stolen? Who was she, really? Who were the family who took her? The Mist came pretty soon after. What was it doing? Why was it constantly there? The answers provided the first layers of detail, then as I wrote, more details came: other characters (the life blood of any story), the “then what happened?”, and deepening the setting. Plot-wise, a lot came through throwing as much adversity at Jemma as I could.
As a new writer facing a blank page, it’s important to remember how much gets built in as you write. Plot gets more complex. The characters themselves start speaking to you in a deeper way. So you don’t have to have it all figured out at the outset – not at all! For example, it wasn’t until late in the process that Noodle and Pie became golden, rather than common-or-castle brown rats – so obvious, and integral to their personalities! As for other details, I don’t think I stopped layering until the last draft.
You told me you caught the eye of an editor first. How did that happen?
Through the SCBWI! Some readers may not know that at many of the SCBWI conferences, you can submit pages of a finished manuscript for critique with one of the attending agents and/or editors. That’s how I met my editor, Michelle Poploff from Delacorte Press, at the NJ chapter’s conference in 2010. Having had about 20 agent rejections, when Michelle asked to see the full manuscript, I literally had to stop myself saying, “You’re kidding, right?”!
Did you get an agent? Do you have one now?
I didn’t get an agent, and I still don’t have one. That’s possible with picture books (many pb authors are un-agented), and to some degree with middle grade. But because things moved fairly quickly with Michelle – after I submitted my manuscript, she responded fairly quickly, and we were off into extensive revisions – and by the time she told me she wanted to acquire the book, our relationship was well established. So at the point, I was nervous about bringing someone else on board.
However, when my next project is ready to submit to Delacorte (they have the option on a second book), I’ll definitely seek out an agent. Though Michelle was always very quick to respond (a dream, compared to what I’ve heard about some other editors), an editor’s first loyalty, naturally, is to the publishing house they work for. An agent’s first loyalty is to their author, and to strategizing that author’s career.
How did you handle contract negotiations? Did you research sample contracts?
I researched contracts to some degree, but coming from the music business where it’s second nature not to sign anything without legal advice, my main research was into finding a good, reasonably priced literary lawyer who’d done contracts with Delacorte before, and would be familiar with their boilerplate deal.
Once your deal was on the table, how many rounds of edits were there?
Between Michelle and me, I’d say 3 or 4 rounds over the next 3 months – fairly typical, I think, between editor and author.
What happened next in the process?
Once Michelle was satisfied I’d addressed all the points she’d raised, the manuscript went on to the copy editors. There were two of them, one in-house, one independent. The manuscript came back to me a couple of months later, and I had a month to address all their comments and concerns. I was amazed, after all the editing with Michelle, and prior to that, all the points raised by beta readers, how much the copy eds still caught!
How did you handle the criticism? Did you take all the editors’ advice?
My most dramatic reaction was to Michelle’s initial editorial letter, at the beginning of the process. Both she and her assistant , Rebecca (who’s now my editor, since Michelle is no longer at Delacorte), had scoured the manuscript with a fine tooth comb. Barely a page was without comment. Reading the 9-page editorial letter, my heart sank. I wondered whether I could do what they asked; it felt too huge. But I knew I had the proverbial “sagging middle”, with no clue how to fix it, and I knew the suggestions were good. My hubby read the letter, and said “You have a really good book now, but I think if you follow these suggestions, you’ll have a great book.” That sold me.
After that, nothing really fazed me. I looked at every suggestion – either from Michelle, or the copy eds – as an opportunity to improve the book. That was so clearly their intention too, that ego didn’t come into it. However, I didn’t take all the suggestions on board. But what I did do, when I wanted to keep something as it was, was to make sure there was a good reason for it, tweaking things to satisfy their concerns, while still working for me. Bottom line, it’s about making the best possible book you can, and at any stage in the process you need to be open to others’ comments and criticism.
How long between signed contract to publication?
Fifteen months – which is fast. However, bear in mind that Michelle and I had already done a lot of work on the manuscript, so by the time I signed the contract, my book was ready to go to the copy editing stage. After that, ARCs got printed (ready about 9 months before release date), after which a book goes through proofreading.
Did you spend a lot of time on social media pre-publication?
Yes, on Twitter and Facebook. Twitter is great for building connections, and Facebook is more about spreading the word about events. So with Twitter, I wanted to build up contacts with bloggers especially, as well as teachers and librarians. I did a cover reveal and ARC giveaway back in July 2012 with a fabulous blog called Icey Books. That helped get some attention for the book. Twitter is also where I met The Lucky 13s, a group of fellow kidlit authors whose debuts were all slated to come out in 2013 (hence the name). Groups like that are a tremendous resource for information, mutual cheering, and hand-holding, as well as for doing events together (see below).
You’re pretty active on Twitter. How much time do you spend on social media post-publication? And what platforms do you use other than that, and Facebook?
Way less than I did last year! When my book first came out, I was at least a couple of hours a day between the two. At least. Which for me, I have to admit, was to the detriment of writing. (Be warned…it can happen!). So now, I keep it to minimum. Maybe an hour tops, and by no means every day. And only on those two forums – thank goodness! I couldn’t handle more.
Where can we find you online?
Do you participate in many events? What type of events and who schedules them?
I thought once my debut year was done that events would peter out. Not so! I’m doing as many as ever: bookstore events (solo or group signings, or educator events where teachers come to a themed panel), festivals (usually by invitation, so you have initially to apply), school visits (mostly PowerPoint presentations to assemblies, though I’m now offering workshops as well), conferences (panels or workshops), and last but not least, library events (solo workshops, or group panels.)
It’s well known that these days, getting events is very much up to an author, especially newbies. So most of these have come about through my efforts – going out to meet booksellers, contacting libraries, submitting proposals to conferences. This year, though, I’m hardly doing any reaching out – most events are coming to me via the connections I made last year. Very little organizing, except to get there. Much easier!
But this is where the value of groups comes in: you keep each other informed, and invite each other to events. The first I joined was The Lucky 13s, children’s book authors whose debuts all came out in 2013 (hence the name). Though it’s worldwide, local groups sometimes organize events – for example, 7 of us Lucky middle grade authors organized a mini east coast tour last year, between VA and NJ. Huge fun! Then there’s a group of local published authors I belong to, the Kidlit Authors Club. Each of us endeavors to bring 2-3 events a year to the group, and puts the word out via our forum. Finally, I’m a member of the NJ Authors Network, whose main reach is to libraries. The grapevine is invaluable.
Do you try to stay local or are you willing to travel?
I love to travel! So far, I’ve covered a radius of about 5-6 hours by car: to the west, to Pittsburgh (I was invited to be on a middle grade panel at the PA Library Association conference in October ’13); to the south, Alexandria, VA (for the first leg of the Lucky 13s Middle Grade tour); and to the north, Keene, NH (I have friends there who helped set up 2 signings.) I’d be happy to go farther for the right opportunity.
What’s your event calendar like since your book release?
Very Busy!!! On average, I’d say at least 1 event a week, with some weeks being empty, and others chock full every day, like on the Luckies tour. I have an insane schedule coming up through early May, then very little over the summer. That’s typical, though. Schools are out, stores do fewer events.
Do you receive sale updates from the publisher? If so, how often?
I’ve had one royalty statement so far. I believe they’re due every 6 months. Other than that, publishers give authors access to an “author portal” where you can check sales, but the info is notoriously inaccurate, and very similar to what you can find on your Amazon author portal, anyway.
Were you in a critique group before publication? Are you in one now?
I was in several – though not all at one time! Some were local, some continuing from critique groups that were formed as part of SCBWI conferences. What’s evolved as working best for me, though, is to exchange pages with 2-3 trusted individuals. Two of whom are people I met through being in one of those SCBWI groups who have become dear friends.
Any tidbits of wisdom you would like to part with?
Write what you love – and who you love! You need that love of your story and characters to fuel you through challenging times when your ms won’t yield, or when editing is driving you up the wall, or when you simply feel blocked. It helps keep you centered, and focused on what’s important.
Inquiring minds want to know, what projects can we expect to see in the future?
At the moment, songs! I wrote very few last year, and consequently my income is way down. So I need to remedy that fast. However, there are other middle grade fantasies in the works (one fairly far along, three more outlined), and also, new ideas are pulling on me that aren’t middle grade at all, or fantasy – an interesting one! And maybe…just maybe…something that integrates writing with songwriting…
I’ll keep you posted!
Looking forward to it! Thanks for the interview Kit!