Welcome friends to my fifth author interview as a part of my Novel19 Class! This year I wanted to do something to help boost new author voices and stories, and this is a project that I am really excited about! For more information about my Novel19 Class and the other five books that I’ve chosen, please check out my announcement post.
“I wrote Gravemaidens for anyone who has ever wanted something so bad they chased it with all of their heart. Kammani wants to save her sister from death, so to do that, she has to be the best healer she can be, despite everything she comes up against. I wrote this story so that anyone who has been told they can’t pursue their talents, will realize that they can have the career they want, even if tradition says they shouldn’t.”
Today I am so excited to have Kelly Coon on the blog to talk about her debut YA fantasy Gravemaidens, which hits the shelves on October 29, 2019!
An Interview with Kelly Coon
Hi Kelly, thank you so much for joining me on the blog today to talk about your debut novel! Can you share a little bit about Gravemaidens and how this story came to be?
Sure! Thanks so much for having me! Gravemaidens is the fourth book I’ve written. At the time I first started thinking about writing a story that could actually sell (I’d been rejected by agents close to 100 times prior to writing this book), dystopian stories were a huge hit. So I thought…maybe I’ll head to the past to get some inspiration instead of the future. As I researched ancient traditions, I learned that sacrificial remains have been discovered everywhere from a ritual site in Gournay-sur-Aronde in northern France to a 4,000-year-old cemetery near the modern-day Mogou village in China to a mound in Tenochtitlán near what is now Mexico City. So, I thought I’d create a YA fantasy inspired by the ancient tradition of ritualized human sacrifice and see if heading in the opposite direction of popular dystopian fiction would hit the mark. =)
One of the things that has me super excited to read this book is that at its heart it seems to center on the bonds of sisterhood and how complicated sibling relationships are. Do Kammani and Nanaea’s differing opinions and worldviews on the ritual sacrifice speak to a larger theme of progress vs tradition?
I think their sister relationship adds a personal layer to the age-old issue of progress vs. tradition. In families, even those with relationships as close (and complicated!) as Nanaea and Kammani’s, people can believe very different things. Kammani, a healer’s apprentice who is used to dealing with death, understands on a different level what dying really means. Nanaea, on the other hand, who longs for the beauty of the life that was stripped from her when she was cast out of her privileged life in shame, is only thinking of the honor and not what she’ll actually face in the tomb. Personally, I find beauty in both tradition and progress. Traditions tie us to our past and remind us where we came from, while progress allows us to experience new things, adapt with the changing tides, and grow as people. In this story, I wanted to promote the good things about their traditions–the belief in their gods, the close, family connections they all share, the dancing and beauty and celebrations–while also showing that in this story, progress supersedes this sacrificial tradition, especially because that tradition relies on harming women.
Can you share a little bit about your worldbuilding process? Where did you find inspiration and what came first: the world itself or the people at the center of this story?
The people came first. I knew right away, I wanted to write a story about a girl who was chosen to be sacrificed to accompany a dying ruler into the afterlife. Then, I needed conflict, so I decided to give this girl a sister who believed that the honor was not an honor at all. Originally, I was going to make the POV Nanaea, the girl who was going to be sacrificed. But Kammani’s voice was louder to me, and as someone who has often felt very protective of my own sister, I went with my gut and set the story from her perspective.
You share on your website that you are always singing when you are alone. What would be your go-to karaoke song if you had enough Maiden’s Tonic in your system?
Hahaha! I’m definitely singing ALL THE TIME and like to drive my kids up the wall. The Maiden’s Tonic recipe cards I give out for my international preorders is a mocktail so my teen readers can enjoy it. HOWEVER, I don’t need a cocktail to get me on the stage. My go-to karaoke songs in the past have been “Girl Crush” by Little Big Town, “What a Man” by Salt N Pepa (90’s teen over here), and “Make You Feel My Love,” by Adele. I love croony ballads featuring alto females because my voice is in a lower register. =)
For aspiring authors, can you share a bit about what the process was like from inception to publishing? Did you participate in any Pitch events?
Step 1: Write three failed novels. Attend conferences and learn how to boil an idea down to an elevator pitch so you understand your basic conflict.
Step 2: Get a new idea and write the damn book. This was the hardest step because I’d failed so often before. I thought: “What is going to make this any different?” But I forced myself to do it anyway.
Step 3: Query! I sent out 11 queries on my first round with this book, and got 11 requests for the full manuscript, which was RIDICULOUS because I’d never gotten that many requests before.
Step 4: Get offers of representation. Chat with Kari Sutherland with Bradford Literary and one more agent on the phone. Choose Kari because we clicked so incredibly well and her track record was spectacular.
Step 5: Revise for six months with Kari. She used to be an editor at Harper Teen, so she had a lot of insight for me.
Step 6: Go out on sub to editors in October 2017. We had lots of early interest. We sold Gravemaidens and the sequel in a preempt deal to Delacorte Press on November 2, 2017.
Step 7: Go out for sensitivity reads. REVISE with Kelsey, my editor at Delacorte Press forever and ever, amen.
Step 8: REVISE with the copyeditors forever and ever, amen.
Step 9: First pass pages.
Step 10: Second pass pages.
Step 11: Second pass pages again, so technically that would make them third pass pages. haha
Step 12: Finished! =) And it comes out so soon! Ahh!
What made you choose to traditionally publish with Delacorte/Penguin over self-publishing?
There were a couple reasons. Part of it was because I always dreamed of getting a book published traditionally. I didn’t want to let my 11-year-old self down by not at least going for it as hard as I could. The other part is because I wanted the editorial experience. I didn’t feel confident enough in my own writing to put something out there without someone else’s eyes on it! And though I could have hired an editor, I was concerned I didn’t have the resources to find someone who could really help me.
Are there any illustrators who you’d love to draw your characters? Has fanart emerged yet?
Do you have any favorite releases this year that you can’t get out of your head?
YES. I was privileged enough to be able to read ARCs of a lot of the Novel19s and my fellow Class2k19books authors, and some of my favorites are IMMORAL CODE by Lillian Clark, OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS by Justin Reynolds, THE TENTH GIRL by Sara Faring, YOU’D BE MINE by Erin Hahn, WILD LIFE by Keena Roberts, SCARS LIKE WINGS by Erin Stewart, SERPENT & DOVE by Shelby Mahurin and DEAR HAITI, LOVE ALAINE by Maritza Moulite and Maika Moulite. I could literally list at least fourteen more that I loved, but these are some that stand out in my brain.
Who did you write Gravemaidens for? If you had to compare your debut to any other book, what would it be and who definitely shouldn’t miss this book?
I wrote Gravemaidens for anyone who has ever wanted something so bad they chased it with all of their heart. Kammani wants to save her sister from death, so to do that, she has to be the best healer she can be, despite everything she comes up against. I wrote this story so that anyone who has been told they can’t pursue their talents, will realize that they can have the career they want, even if tradition says they shouldn’t.
I’ve been told that Gravemaidens, with my strong female heroine who refuses to let anything stand in her way is great for fans of Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, and Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian.
Thanks so much for having me, Kaleena! You’re amazing!
Thank you so much, Kelly, for taking the time to chat with me about your debut novel! Words cannot express how wonderful it has been to chat with and get to know Kell over the past several months, and I am really looking forward to her book bursting into the world!
About the Book
The start of a fierce fantasy duology about three maidens who are chosen for their land’s greatest honor…and one girl determined to save her sister from the grave.
In the walled city-state of Alu, Kammani wants nothing more than to become the accomplished healer her father used to be before her family was cast out of their privileged life in shame.
When Alu’s ruler falls deathly ill, Kammani’s beautiful little sister, Nanaea, is chosen as one of three sacred maidens to join him in the afterlife. It’s an honor. A tradition. And Nanaea believes it is her chance to live an even grander life than the one that was stolen from her.
But Kammani sees the selection for what it really is—a death sentence.
Desperate to save her sister, Kammani schemes her way into the palace to heal the ruler. There she discovers more danger lurking in the sand-stone corridors than she could have ever imagined and that her own life—and heart—are at stake. But Kammani will stop at nothing to dig up the palace’s buried secrets even if it means sacrificing everything…including herself.
About the Author
Kelly Coon is a young adult author represented by Kari Sutherland of Bradford Lit, an editor for Blue Ocean Brain, a member of the Washington Post Talent Network, a former high school English teacher, and the author of two test prep guides, ACT STRATEGY SMART and ACE THE ACT.
Kelly was the test prep expert for About.com for seven years, and has been published with both Scholastic and MSN in the education arena. In the parenting realm, Kelly has been published in The Washington Post, Scary Mommy, ParentMap, Folks, and others sites, regaling tales of life in the trenches with her three boys. She adores giving female characters the chance to flex their muscles and use their brains, and wishes every story got the happy ending she’s living near Tampa with her sons, brilliant husband, and a rescue pup who will steal your sandwich. Gravemaidens is her debut novel.
Thanks so much for reading, friends! Is Gravemaidens a book that is on your TBR, or have you read it yet? I’d love to chat with you in the comments below.
Let’s go on another adventure together!