When we're growing up, books are just wonderful stories. We fall in love with them, we live inside of them, and we wonder what kind of genius it takes to create such brilliant worlds full of incredible words.
But when we grow up we realize how hard it is to actually write a book. Because of our own journeys as writers, we see how much blood, sweat, and tears each novel truly represents.
The more I've learned about publishing on my own writing journey, the more I've wanted to know about the heartache, struggles, and obstacles behind all of my favorite stories. I love discovering the author stories behind the stories because each time I learn about another author's journey to achieving their dreams, I feel inspired to keep working towards my own.
For that reason I'm starting an interview series on this blog so we can all be inspired and learn the valuable lessons other authors have to share.
The last post in this series was an interview with the author of my all-time favorite novel, Kristen Cicarelli. In it, she talked about her ten year journey to her book deal and all the obstacles she had to overcome along the way.
Today I'm extremely excited to introduce you guys to Kester "Kit" Grant, an incredibly talented author who just got an equally incredible book deal for her YA trilogy. I got the chance to read the first book in her series and it really captured my heart so I know it'll capture the hearts of endless readers when it comes out!
Kit has had to overcome some really unique obstacles on her journey to a book deal and she has some great writing wisdom to share. So if you're ready to be educated and inspired, give her awesome interview a read.
TA: Alright Kit, let's get into it. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
KG: As soon as I learned to talk, I started ‘telling myself’ stories’ out loud. My mum thought I would get teased for talking to myself so she forced me to stop. But all that accomplished was making me tell myself stories in my head and I think that gave them time to percolate and mature. My love for storytelling grew and I spent my childhood and adolescence living inside the sprawling epics in my mind.
I also grew up in a house with books lining the walls and started reading when I was 11 months old. As I grew up I would read all day and under my quilt by torchlight at night. I couldn’t get enough of it. My parents even had to take my copy of Wuthering Heights away because they worried it wasn’t right for a 9-year-old to re-read it so many times.
Ultimately, books and stories have always been my passion. Therefore the idea of being able to write them was the clear career goal of my life even before I even knew what careers were.
TA: I'm laughing right now because I'm picturing the 3-year old version of you running around the house shouting "Once upon a time" while your mom tries to get you to stop. That's a hilarious story! I can definitely feel your passion for stories in themselves so what do you love most about writing them?
I believe that storytelling is a calling and stories demand to be told. There’s a strange and violent delight when a new world unfurls before you in all its shimmering wonder, darkness, tragedy and heart-break.
When that’s happening on the page rather than just in your head, when you’re able to distill the essence of the story into ink on paper so that others can shiver and weep and laugh as you do…well there’s nothing quite like it.
When you're frantically scribbling and feel like you're doing that tale some shred of justice, that’s what I love about writing. That’s what gets me through the difficult chapters or drafts.
TA: I feel like that perfectly captures the most fulfilling parts of writing. I always love when I learn that a certain line made a reader laugh or a scene got out a few tears. I see that your stories tend to be YA Fantasy. What draws you to that genre? What is your favorite thing about it?
KG: As a reader, I love SFF, historical and mysteries. My first reads skipped from picture books straight to adult fiction and classics I stole from my parents shelves.
The only YA or children’s books I grew up reading were Narnia and much later, Tamora Pierce. But as I grew older and went to university, I found the majority of my favorite reads were happening in the YA space and the stories I wrote just automatically fell into the genre. Maybe I never grew out of the compelling nature of a YA protagonist. The extremes of their emotional loyalties, idealisms and experiences really appeal to the way I write. I think I also gravitate towards writing historical-based stories and classical retellings because I grew up on a steady diet of classics. They are almost all I read for my entire childhood.
TA: I feel the same! Those are some of the things I love most about the genre. Okay, let's get into the heavy stuff. Did you ever have a period or circumstance in your life that made you think writing was impossible or not a realistic goal?
I have a form of dyslexia called dyscalculia. Because of it, I don’t grasp the rules of punctuation and grammar. It’s so bad that readers of my work often cannot see past the errors and think I have no writing skills or that I’m simply stupid.
Because of all the writing struggles I faced growing up with dyscalculia, I am often fearful of showing my work, blogging and tweeting. I had to face these fears head on to enter Pitch Wars with my novel.
I ended up swapping chapters and queries with fellow entrants, and posted my first page in an online public critique. But the whole time I wanted to vomit because lifelong terrors swelled up and chanted ugly choruses in my head.
When I was going through that time period, all I could taste was fear. But once I swallowed that fear, spoke out, admitted I was a dyslexic, and asked for help, I found most people, entrants, mentees and mentors to be kind, encouraging and supportive. My best friend even agreed to edit my entire novel for grammar before my entry.
As a dyslexic you often have to work harder than your peers, but that’s not a crutch, it's a challenge. I’m currently working on the areas I in struggle the most.
Though it’s been several years with this struggle, I actually feel like I might be getting better. I can’t say for sure, but I no longer let the fear of not mastering this weakness stop me. I can't. There are too many untold stories in me that need to be written.
I am lucky enough to have wonderful supportive peers, friends and family, but even if I didn’t, I would keep going because I’m painfully aware of how many dyslexic kids or kids with other challenges who are out there and would love to be writers and yet self-reject. I know I need to push through my challenges so that they know it’s possible to push through theirs.
TA: That’s incredible! Truly – as writers we have to overcome so many internal challenges, so to see how you’ve persevered through a physical challenge is extremely inspiring. Are there internal writing struggles you’ve had to deal with? And if so, how did you learn to overcome that struggle?
KG: My biggest internal writing struggle has been discipline and drive. I could have been writing from a much younger age if I’d had more focus and procrastinated less. I am the type of person who puts things off and prefers to dream and plan rather than complete.
Both of my biggest personal and writing successes have come when I had an external deadline. The first was NaNoWriMo, which taught me that I could complete the first draft of a book in a month. The second was Pitch Wars, when I wrote a book from scratch in 6 weeks to submit to the competition.
Even though I struggle with dyscalculia, I can write fast, and have plenty of material and ideas. But clearly I need a writing schedule, deadline, and a whole bunch of discipline! It makes me sad to look back and think I might have written so many more books if I’d have had that discipline earlier in my life.
Also, just because I can write in crazy 24-hour binges to last minute deadlines, doesn’t mean that is healthy behavior. I suffer from an auto-immune disease and have a family so I know its not the best thing for my condition to be under the stress and long hours of a deadline.
I’m hoping to learn to be more disciplined with my writing because discipline would help me channel my talents, better use my time, and perhaps get even more done than I currently am. I desperately want to train myself to divide my writing (research, social media and reading) or ‘Work’ into proper work hours i.e.: 8am to 5pm to give myself boundaries and a framework of routine. That’s my aim for 2017.
TA: *Nods Aggressively*. I’m hoping to achieve the same thing, so hopefully we can keep each other accountable! Okay, let’s move on to the journey to your book deal. A lot of our readers are on that journey, whether it’s finishing that first book, revising, in the querying trenches, or on submission. What’s your advice to writers on that journey?
I have a gigantic amount of things I learnt from my journey to publication and from others going through it at the same time as me. (I am happy to share if anyone wants to reach out - see below for how you can get in touch with me)
But to keep it short, my best advice is to find others in the same situation as yourself, speak to people who have been through it before you, prepare for the best, and expect the worst.
TA: Oh that's great advice. It captures so much of the writing journey in such a great way! Since we're on the topic of your journey to your book deal, let's talk more about it. And if possible, can you tell us about your current WIP?
KG: I’m writing the sequels (book 2 & 3) to A COURT OF MIRACLES, which is an alternate historical reimagining of Les Miserables and the Jungle Book via Six of Crows. It tells the story of a young cat-burglars attempts to save her sister from a ruthless slave-lord, in a Paris divided between vicious nobility, and underworld criminal guilds. Book 1 comes out in fall 2018, here’s the Publishers Marketplace announcement:
The sequel follows the adventures of the main characters amidst a complex web of political intrigue, revolution, criminal underworld, divided loyalties and civil war. I am absolutely LOVING diving back into this insane morass of cray cray story. Everything in the first book has room to expand and grow, the stakes are raised, and it’s just a high-octane relentless ride to write it.
TA: Oh, that's awesome! I loved the first one and was so excited by all the possibilities at the ending, so I can't wait to read this one! And while I'm thinking about your first book, there's a question I've been dying to ask you: how do you create such incredible world-building? You truly made the city of Paris come alive and I feel like I highlighted half your book because I was trying to figure out how you build such incredibly vivid worlds! What world building tips can you share with us?
KG: Oh, thank you! I think world-building is super important to get right and while I like where the book’s world is right now, I’m excited to keep finessing it with my editor.
My first draft was all action and zero world-building, everything was generic Victorian slum-city. But while I was drafting I read a LOT of historical research books on Victorian cities and realized that my superficial idea of that era was actually not as detailed as I had thought. For that reason I made a massive encyclopedia of people, trades, geographies, industry, crime, illnesses, and anything else I thought I might use in my book. I then did another revision pass at the book and wove the details I’d learned in everywhere. For example, instead of beggars on a street, I now had ‘Grubbers’, children who search the cobblestones for bits of metal that they can sell to scrap-yards. I love my encyclopedia and it will be essential as I write the sequels.
So that gave me a good start, but as I kept revising I still longed for the world to stand out more and feel ‘different’ and ‘fresh’. I wanted something more ‘otherworldly’ to make my setting stand out. I think as examples of Rowling’s Diagon Alley, Dahl’s Chocolate Factory or Bardugo’s Rakva. I wanted to create a place that wasn’t a bland well known setting and yet I was firmly tied down to a real historical era and a real place.
That’s where the Jungle Book elements came in. I tried to describe the city and its denizens in language of a dangerous jungle, peopled with the same animal packs that inhabit Kipling’s work. I made the underworld and especially our protagonist Nina, who is based on Bagheera, think and act in a very ‘cat’ or ‘panther’ like manner. I tried to create a counter-culture with its own rich mythology, laws, festivities, rituals and beliefs that were ‘different’ to the norm.
Another thing I have always loved is the device one of my favorite authors Terry Pratchett uses in his Discworld series, he describes the City of Ank Morpork as if she is an actual character. My admiration for Pratchett influenced me to create something similar, (though with substantially less comedy), where my MC sees the City as a living breathing thing, and a mother to her.
I hoped that the mish-mash of these different elements would create a vivid world, so I’m glad it’s working! I’m excited to inject even more into my world-building before the book hits shelves in 2018!
TA: That's incredible advice! This whole interview has been full of it. I'll wrap it up with one final question - I always tell my readers one of the best ways to become a better writer is to read. What books are you reading right now?
KG: AHA! I had heard a LOT of advice from other writers on interviews saying that authors needed to read extensively, and also outside of their own genres. So being the intense nutcase that I am and since I read really fast, I made a reading challenge for myself this year, a writers' reading curriculum if you will.
I’ve got a massive spread-sheet and I’m attacking books in other genre’s, as well as poetry, plays and non-fiction. I’ll still let myself read YA and Mystery, which I love, as I don’t want reading to become a chore.
I’ll be posting my reads on the hashtag #Reading4Writers on Instagram and Twitter. If anyone wants to join me in any shape or form I’d love to see what y’all are reading.
To start off 2017 I’ve read; House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz and The God of Small Things by Arundathi Roy, and I’m currently reading City of Light, City of Poison by Holly Tucker and Napoleon the Great by Andrew Roberts for research.
That's it for the interview!
Don't stop, don't give up, and don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it!
Be sure to keep tabs on A COURT OF MIRACLES by adding it to your goodreads! I promise, you're going to want to read this book!