by Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban
Today we have here at Dare to Read a dear friend of mine who came to writing from an unusual and fascinating background (no spoilers here. If you want to know you must read on).
Her first book, a middle grade dark fantasy, The Flame in the Mist, will be published in the spring of 2013 by Delacorte.
Here is her story:
The start to my book came from a homework assignment in a writing class: write a short synopses. It took 3 tries before one leapt onto the page: Girl discovers she’s been abducted by evil family who live in castle. Ooh. I was hooked. The whys and wherefores of that kernel unfolded later, as I wrote.
The story is set in an imagined Olde England called Anglavia. The main character is 13-year-old Jemma, who has magical Powers she’s initially unaware of. Her supporting cast includes her colorful but bad-to-the bone “false family”, their sinister old servant Drudge, her 2 magical rats, her friend Digby, as well as ghosts, supernatural monsters….
I initially thought I’d finished the book in late 2008, and began querying agents a few at a time. Meanwhile, I attended conferences and critique groups, and soon found that my ms was far from finished! Friends loved it (never completely trust friends’ glowing reports!), but agents still weren’t getting it. So I kept revising-especially those vital first pages. Then, almost 2 years and 25 rejections later, I decided to shelve it and focus on my next ms.
In early 2010 I heard about the NJ SCBWI summer conference. I went for broke and signed up for agent, editor and author critiques. You could only submit a finished ms, so I dusted mine off and sent in the first 15 pages.
Now, you can choose who critiques you, but I was assigned to Michelle Poploff, snr. Ed and VP of Delacorte Press. I immediately liked her—but while she was cautiously encouraging about my pages, I couldn’t gauge how much she really liked them. So when she asked to see the whole ms, I almost fell off my chair. Excited? Ecstatic!
Michelle responded within a month—Gasp! But…by no means a deal. She mailed a 9-page editorial letter: She loved the idea, but wanted a major rewrite of the middle, and would be interested in seeing it again “with a view to acquiring” if I chose to take her suggestions on board. In truth, I’d known it suffered from the proverbial sag, but not how to remedy it; her ideas were just what I needed. Those “view to acquiring” words carried me through months of reworking. Almost a year later, “send” again. This time, I heard within 3 weeks: Michelle loved what I’d done, and was ready to “move forward”!
Since then, more revisions, and a new title (quite commonly requested, writer be warned!). The cover artist is Chris Rahn, who’s done a wonderful job of capturing a sinister mood in a magical way. You can see the background—brooding Mist-shrouded castle, complete with bats and belfries—on my Facebook author page www.facebook.com/kitgrindstaff and website holding page www.kitgrindstaff.com (website, and the rest of the cover reveal, coming soon).
My advice to writers with mss they feel are ready is: Don’t be too hasty in querying! Get plenty of feedback, but be discerning about it. One person’s opinion is just that, but if several say the same thing, take note. Be ruthless, prepared to kill many darlings. Keep honing your craft, making your prose as tight as possible. Ask: Does this drive the plot? Is this passage/phrase/word really needed? NY agent Donald Maass says every paragraph should have tension in it, to keep the reader hooked; either large – a major antagonistic confrontation, or small – an internal conflict, like doubt or regret. His books contain terrific advice for any author, aspiring or published.
Thank you Carmen, for inviting me to contribute to DARE TO READ. It’s been fun to revisit the journey!
THE FLAME IN THE MIST will be available from Delacorte Press in April 2013 in hardback, e-book and audio formats.
Bio: Kit Grindstaff was born near London, and grew up in the rolling countryside of England, a country which is curiously similar to Anglavia. After a brush with pop stardom (under her maiden name, Hain), she moved to New York and embarked on her still-thriving career as a pop song writer. Kit now lives with her husband in the rolling countryside of Pennsylvania. The Flame In The Mist is her first novel.