The Why of Writing: Kit Grindstaff

So I put out some feelers to some of my fellow debut authors, wondering why we write what we write. and in response, I got this wonderful post from Kit Grindstaff, author of a creepy-awesome middle grade called The Flame in the Mist.  Enjoy!

From the Dark Depths of Childhood Tales.

Hi, Dancing with Dragons readers! I’m Kit, guest posting for Miriam today. When Miriam put word to The Lucky 13s for authors to talk about why they wrote the books they wrote, I leapt at the chance—expecially for Halloween, since my upcoming book The Flame in the Mist is full of scare. What drew me, she asked, “to spooky, to spiders, rats and creepy atmospheres”? Well, for a start, the book is set in Anglavia, a fantasy version of England (where I’m from), in medieval-ish times. And who can think “medieval England” without thinking of castles and dungeons, or “dungeons” without rats, bats and arachnids? Not me.

So, perfect to ponder the week when ghosts wander freely from the Otherworld to their earthly haunts…

For as long as I can remember, ghosts and ghouls have fascinated me. Growing up in England, where castles and cobbles, thatched rooves and half-timbered houses are commonplace, it’s hard to avoid an eerie sense of the generations who have lived—and died—there. Spooky is everywhere. Quaint old villages breathe it, with their ancient little churches (usually freezing inside) complete with creepy graveyards (also somehow colder than anywhere else around) with worn, lichen-covered gravestones hundreds of years old, under which real, once-living people lie. Brrr. And look…so many of them were infants! As a child, when you read epitaphs to children as young as or younger than you, you can’t help wondering, How did they die? What was it like to live then? Do their ghosts still roam the churchyard…?

Ghosts your own age, when you’re five, six, seven…? Imagine that! You develop a sympathy for them, identify with them just as surely as for any character in a book. Their possible stories run rampant in your mind. And as you stand there shivering (from cold, or…what?), some of the damp, shadowy chill that goes along with those poor children’s imagined fates begins to creep under your skin and live inside you. So did any of that also creep into The Flame in the Mist? Oh, for sure!

But as well as everyday spookiness, there’s also England’s history, full of blood and guts. We’re talking the land where King Arthur supposedly roamed, and where other less mythic but equally legendary Kings certainly did. The most famously gory is probably Henry VIII, with his penchant for having people’s heads lopped off—after he’d had them thrown into the Tower of London to await their fate behind bleak stone walls and portcullisses, watched by the beady eyes of black ravens hunched everywhere like sinister guardians of doom.

British literature is also full of it. For centuries, Shakespeare, Dickens, the Brontes, Wilkie
Collins, et al, have fed us stories of ghosts and gloom whose chilly, misty settings literally get into your bones. (And yes, capital-M Mist features in my book, too.) And from an early age, any story-loving English child gets its daily dose of darkness from the brothers Grimm, with their folk yarns full of wicked witches and poison apples. (H.C. Anderson was a lot nicer.) There’s also Strewwelpeter, a Victorian-era book of cautionary tales (like Grimms’, from nearby Germany) in which Little Suck-a-thumb has his thumbs cut off and left as bleeding stumps, and little Harriet, who will play with matches, sets herself on fire and ends up as a sorry pile of ash next to her shoes (which mysteriously survive). Oh, and so many more that are probably foisted on Brit kids to this day. Scary? You bet. And I lapped them up, ready to regurgitate in some other form years later.

Perhaps at some level these gruesome tales spark the question, where is the edge between safety and danger? As a child, I generally played it safe (though I did once set my hair on fire, plus I was an avid thumb-sucker, so I guess I was quietly testing the limits), but maybe that’s why danger, and creepy, and terrifying—with a spattering of humor—come out full force in my writing.

But for all that explanation, quite simply, scary stories are immense fun to write! I loved dreaming up the vile menus in The Flame in the Mist (entrail stew with spleen and pancreas? bees-in-syrpuwater? Yum!), and throwing monsters, ghosts and ghouls at my heroine, Jemma—none of which I’d like to eat or encounter, thank you very much. But on the page, they’re harmless, and I can explore in safety while making Jemma be brave for me—and hopefully, for the reader too.

Beware what you write, though. One detail in the book had an unexpected outcome: the choice of two rats as Jemma’s companions. I wanted them to have an initial “ew” factor for kids—they certainly did for me. But since writing them…I now love rats. (The fact that hers are golden, and more palatable, was a happy afterthought. They were originally ratty brown.) So maybe I can learn to love ghosts too. Or maybe I’ll just leave them to whisper in the British wind, chilling and thrilling as they’ve done for eons. Wooooo….

Happy Halloween, everyone! And thanks so much, Miriam, for having me here as a guest, and singlehandedly getting me over one of my biggest fears: Fear of Blogging!

Want to know more about The Flame in the Mist? Check out the Goodreads page and Kit's shiny new website! Her book is also available for preorder at IndieBound,  Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

My Review Policy

This is going to be one of those "post so I can link to it later" sort of things. Not very relevant right now. But Harper is starting to send out ARCs of City of a Thousand Dolls to bloggers, and I thought I should say something about reviews.

So here it is, my current official review policy.

1. Say whatever you want. 

Seriously. I love the passionate discussion of books. I have books I love and books I hate with the fire of a thousand suns. And the whole idea of only saying good things in reviews feels... squicky to me.

(I mean that in a general way. Personally I try not to speak online about books I don't like because I have enough awkwardness in my life and the idea of sitting on a panel with someone whose book I've eviscerated makes me anxious. But that's me.  I think it should be an individual decision, and I would much rather see conversations that contain vivid discussion and a wide range of opinions rather than an endless stream of bland praise.)

So say whatever you like in whatever form you like to review in. HOWEVER...

2. I will not respond to negative reviews. 

Not even if you tag me on Twitter or send it to me in an email. And if you deliberately send me a negative review--especially if you do it more than once--I reserve the right to block you. But I will not respond. I will also do my best to make sure that the people close to me know about my no response policy and follow it.

3. I reserve the right to respond privately to serious accusations. 

People say all kinds of crap on the Internet. I know that and I'll do my best to ignore personal attacks. But if you accuse me of bigotry or robbing banks or throwing puppies out of airplanes, I might--if I feel the situation is serious enough--send you a polite email asking if we can discuss the subject.

If the issue is a serious one that involves my book--such as discussions of racism or misrepresentation--I may do a general blog post in response.

4. I will try to respond to good/fair reviews if someone sends them to me. Otherwise, I won't.

This one is the trickest one for me. There's a line between being an accessible author and invading into the reader's space that I don't really have figured out yet. So I've settled on this one. If you tag me on Twitter or otherwise alert me to your fair review, I will try to respond, even if it's only with a thank you. But any reviews I stumble across by accident are out of bounds.  Basically, I'll only come into the conversation if I've been invited.

So that's it! Go forth! Read my book! (or don't) Review it! (or don't)

And know that I will do my best to be respectful of my readers. I'm not perfect, and I'll probably make mistakes, but I do want to be as professional as someone who likes to post gifs and cute animal pictures can be.

Because the book isn't mine anymore. It belongs to you. Have fun.

More thoughts of mine on reviews and reviewers:

No, just no (a post on the Stop the GR Bullies awfulness)
Why I am a reader and why it matters

Note: Any and all feedback and suggestions on this policy is appreciated. Thank you! 

Here's a question...

So I've been sitting on a post about my review policy for most of this week. I'd really like to have something I can point to to say, "This is how I handle reviews of books I've read, and this is how I plan to handle reviews of my work when I see them, response policy, general feels about reviews, etc."

Is that a dumb thing? I really want people to feel secure in reading and talking about my books online and I thought having an official policy would help.

What do you think?

(Also, this is me when I see people getting excited and passionate about books.)

I have returned!

I'm back from my trip to the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association trade show! It was FANTASTIC. I wandered around a glass-art themed hotel and stayed with friends who fed me pasta and brought home so many good books and heard Lani Taylor speak and signed City of a Thousand Doll ARCs until they ran out and then I read for almost the entire ten-hour car ride home.

Now it's time for slee....

*falls over*

*snores lightly*

On story autopsies and watching Revenge.

So I recently started watching Revenge. I'd heard about it all last season and it sounded interesting, but no really my cup of tea. But I was bored a couple nights ago, and so I went to Netflix and watched the first episode.

And then the second.

And then the third.

Now I'm hooked. That show is SO MUCH FUN. But it's also really annoying because I can't figure out why it's so much fun.

See, I like to analyze stories. I've actually stopped in the middle of books and flipped backwards, just to see how the author pulled that reveal off.  I like to pick apart stories and television and find out how they work, how the writers and actors made me think exactly what they wanted me to think. 

It's like an autopsy, not only of the story but of the story experience. Why am I rooting for that character? Why don't I trust this guy over here? When did I stop shipping those two and start shipping these two? And why? 

And I haven't been able to figure Revenge out yet. I want to know what makes it so addicting and I don't. But I will. I WILL.

Has anyone else seen the show? Do YOU know why it's so addicting? 


This week is going to be total crazysauce. Seriously.

First, this went live late yesterday:

Goodreads Book Giveaway

City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster

City of a Thousand Dolls

by Miriam Forster

Giveaway ends November 16, 2012.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

It's running for about five weeks, and it's completely international and everything! Go enter!

Second, City of a Thousand Dolls is out in FOUR MONTHS.  I think my feelings about that can best be expressed thusly.

Third, I have all kinds of writerly things this week that are super scary. Like I'm going to a Jr. High book fair tomorrow as a bookseller, but they asked for a bio and then I asked if they wanted the whole writing thing in there and they got really excited and said put it in the bio, so I'll be there as a bookseller and kind of as a writer and I don't know how to do that.

*deep breath*

Also, I'm going to the Pacific Northwest Bookseller's Association Fall Trade Show this weekend, partly as a bookseller, but also definitely as a writer AND I'll be signing ARCs on Sunday, which makes me really nervous because it's my first signing and my handwriting's kind of crap and what if no one wants to talk to me?


So that's me. What are you up to?

Contest winners!

Hi all! Sorry about the lack of updates. Real life is eating my brain in a quite spectacular manner. But I do have winners for you!

Since most of the entries for my latest contest were emailed in, I sadly won't be doing another list. But to make up for it, I have a picture of adorable evil for you.

Evil cat stalks you from above!

Now for the winners!

The winner of the ARC of City of a Thousand Dolls is...

And the winner of the Nobody But Us ARC....

Congratulations guys! Send me your addresses and I'll pack those up for you!

October's contest will be announced in a few days, so keep your eyes open. (Especially if there's an evil cat stalking you. I'm not saying there is, but you never know...)

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Fabric art in the header by Carol Riggs.