Interview with Award-Winning Author Kit Grindstaff

Kit GrindstaffGet to know Kit…

Kit Grindstaff was born near London, and grew up surrounded by rolling hills, old English villages, and Dickensian mists. After a brush with pop stardom (under her maiden name, Hain), she moved to New York and became a successful songwriter. For the past twelve years she has lived with her husband in Pennsylvania.

Kit loves talking to kids about her book and about writing, and you can pretty much tempt her to go anywhere there’s great sushi and/or puppies. The Flame In The Mist, a spooky, magical mystery-adventure for fantasy lovers ages 9 to 90, is her first book. It recently won the Atlantic region Crystal Kite award from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. For more info, visit her website

Quirky Questions 

If you were a prescription drug, what would be your main side effect? 

Monkey-mind….jumping from thought to thought. 

What company advertisements could you model for? 

Green & Black’s chocolate. My tummy is good evidence. 

What is the worst occupation in the world? 

Septic tank cleaner. 

What is your greatest phobia? 

Big, hairy spiders.  

If you ran a funeral home, what would your company slogan be? 

“People are dying to be buried by us.” 

What is the messiest place in your home? 

My husband’s office! (Don’t tell him I said so.) 

What random act of kindness have you done in the past year? 

Making sure a nest of baby birds was protected from sun, rain and hawks after I’d inadvertently exposed it while hacking back a dead bush. I made my husband put a sunbrella there to cover them. (It worked. After a week, all 5 fledglings flew off. Thrilling!) 

If you had to smell like one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?  

Orange blossom. Or roses. I can’t imagine ever tiring of either one. I hope other people wouldn’t either. . . 

What current product do you think will baffle people in 100 years? 

The telephone. Everyone will have microscopic communication chips installed at birth and think this crude device you hold up to your ear is hilarious. 

What is the last thing you paid money for? 

Breakfast with my hubby at a favorite local café. 

What do you often make fun of? 

Myself! 

What is the best thing about staying at a hotel? 

Watching TV in bed. 

What is one thing you do with determination every day? 

Nothing! Seriously, sometimes I have to make myself get out of “do” mode or I’ll go go go till I’m worn out. 

If you could have your mailbox shaped like an object, what would it be? 

A piece of sushi. Except then I’d keep craving it. So maybe a hot dog. Uh-oh, see a food theme here? Ok then, a regular dog. A sausage dog, maybe… 

What healthy habit are you glad you have? What’s your worst habit? 

Healthy habit: walking, doing yoga, taking vitamins. Worst habit: forgetting about my healthy habits. 

What is the biggest advantage of being tall? Biggest advantage of being short? 

Tall: being able to pick fruit off tall trees. Short: good for picking pockets. 

What would you title your autobiography? 

The Long Way Round. 

What topic would you like to know more about? 

Astrology. The Tarot. 

Knowing what you know now, what would you change about your high school experience? 

I’d have a magic confidence-wand, so I’d be less angst-ridden. 

What is the first thing you notice when you meet someone? 

Their body language. 

If you could travel back to 1492, what advice would you give Columbus? 

Respect the people you meet. Though they might seem different and even strange, they’re as human as you are. They have families and feelings just like you.

kit-grindstaff-pressWriting Questions

How do you know when a book is finished?

There’s a sense of completion, of knowing that all the ends are tied in a way that’s satisfying – barring any edits that may take you back to the drawing board, of course.

But that leads to another question: Is a book ever finished? I still think of things in The Flame in the Mist that I wish I could change! So it’s about being finished enough that you’re ready to let your baby go into the Big Wide World. Probably a posse of others – eds, agents, etc – will bash you on the head to stop noodling at it, too.

What impact (good or bad) do you think the media has had on your work?

Social media can be way too distracting. . . baaad for work! But the ability to network and connect with other writers, bloggers, and discover events is all really useful stuff. It’s just a reeeeeal challenge to balance so it doesn’t eat into writing time.

When did you know for certain that you wanted to pursue a career in writing? Ever questioned that decision?

After college, my quest for a PhD was waylaid by my love of music. It’s been my career ever since, and I never looked back. I’m lucky enough to have made a living from it (more or less), and still write songs professionally.

For years, I’d also thought about writing for kids. A 3-4 minute song format is very different from shaping a novel, though, so I began taking courses. From day one, I was hooked, and knew I had to write fiction. I’ve sometimes wished I’d gotten that PhD to fall back on – my income is pretty unpredictable. But I’ve never wished hard enough to actually do it.

What traits do creative people have compared to people who are not creative?

Imagination is key: everything man-made, every invention great or small, started there. Everyone has an imagination, but those who we generally call “creative” take it further than most people. Letting one’s mind wander freely, seeing beyond, beneath, and within what’s normally believed to be real, pondering the impossible, and combining ideas in a new way into something different and unique–that’s all part of it.

Do your personal expectations limit your creativity? 

Goals and expectations are necessary, but they can be creativity killers, so it’s important not to let them take over. They’re external and defined, while creativity involves having faith in exactly the opposite: one’s internal life, and a source of ideas that’s totally undefined. Finding that balance is hard. Meditation—sinking in and listening to silence—helps me.

Next creativity death knell: comparing myself to others. Yes! Published authors do this too! (I know I’m not the only one.) But we’re all unique, with our own talent, our own voice, our own path. I constantly have to remind myself of that.

There’s also beautiful song by the Beatles, Let it Be, which helps me remember that sometimes you just have to let things happen their own way, and take their own time.

Do you censor your creativity so you don’t offend anyone?

Censor, no. Compromise, yes. In The Flame in the Mist, a few of the nastier characters are based on real people, so I disguised them somewhat. But compromise can be creative too; you’re just finding ways to mold old material into something new.

How do you get your creative juices flowing?

Daydreaming, meditation, active imagination, free writing. I write anything, ignoring punctuation and spelling, just letting ideas spill onto the page. Sometimes that yields ideas to expand on, too.

Can you share some words of wisdom for someone starting out in the field of writing?

Read, read, read! Write write write! Journal. Take courses. The most important thing is to grow your writing muscles and have fun with it for its own sake. Write what you love, and love what you write. That love will help you through tough times (creative blocks, discouragement, etc), especially if the “I want to pursue this!” bug bites.

Then, find critique partners. Balance their feedback with your own gut instinct. (This takes time to learn and trust). Write more – lots more – before being tempted by the path to publication. At that point, start going to workshops and conferences where you can meet editors and agents and get a feel for how the book biz works. The SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) runs fabulous ones. Join up! You’ll find a very supportive community of other writers at various stages of the journey.

One step at a time, though! Don’t rush into sending out queries before you’re ready. It’s very easy to get rejections, very hard to take them. But no matter what, persist persist persist!

How would you define creativity?

The space where curiosity and endless possibilities meet.

Why were you drawn to a career in writing instead of a job that offers more stability?

According to an astrologer who once did my chart, I’m a “freedom bunny”. So though I’ve had the odd regular job (store clerk, waitress, assistant teacher), and although the security is great, it would drive my inner bunny crazy in the long run. As a songwriter, I’ve been incredibly lucky to travel to quite a few European countries to write with other songwriters and/or recording artists. Bunny loves that! Added bonus: it feeds her muse.

Who do you consider a literary genius?

Shakespeare. Not just because of his amazing way with words, but also his genius insight into human nature. That’s probably why his work is so timeless.

What obstacles have you had to deal with in your career?

Mostly internal – those inner voices of doubt. And just wanting to play…

What are the biggest challenges you’ve experienced in the realm of your work?

Believing in myself, believing that what I had to say was worth saying.

How did you pick your writing genre?

It picked me! Fantasy was what I loved best in YA/MG lit, and when I began writing, it was what came out of me.

What life experiences have inspired your work?

Growing up English, where spooky castles and graveyards are never far, misty winter days are frequent, and magicians often appear at kids’ birthday parties. Then as a teen, I had dreams that I was convinced were past life memories. The idea of realms beyond the every day grabbed me. That was reinforced by a trip to Peru where I met shamans who could tell you an eerie amount about yourself just by reading your aura. Wild! That went into my characterization of Jemma in The Flame in the Mist, as she hones her powers. 

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