Gravemaidens by Kelly Coon – Interview

Hello everyone! So, I’m soooo excited because today’s interview is with Kelly Coon, the author of Gravemaidens which sounds wicked awesome! Before we get into the (not spoilery) interview, here is a synopsis of the book, via Goodreads:

  1. To start off, how did you come up with the idea for Gravemaidens and what was first running through your mind right after you thought of the idea for it?

I’ve always been fascinated by ancient tombs and old graveyards. Walking around headstones that are hundreds of years old or seeing ruins that were built by someone thousands of years ago just gives me chills in the most macabre way. I always wonder who those people were. Were they anything like me? Did they stand right where I’m standing and look up at the sky and wonder if it was going to rain? Since this kind of stuff is super interesting to me, I naturally read a lot about it. One day, I was reading about tombs in Mesopotamia and happened upon a story about a queen who was buried with three maidens who had been sacrificed and placed in at her side to serve her in the afterlife. Chills ran up my spine as I wondered who those girls were and what they might have been promised to agree to give up their lives. I also wondered…had they agreed at all? Or were they forced? Then I wondered how I would feel if one of those girls had been my sister, and what I might do to protect her from her gruesome fate. So, Kammani and Nanaea came to be.

  1. Were there any specific experiences in your life that you think lend themselves to you becoming a writer/writing Gravemaidens?

As a kid, I grew up in a very strict, fundamentalist culture. I never used to hear about myself in the stories I read. It was always men leading the charge to fight the enemies or take down kings. So, I used to rewrite those stories, giving girls the leads. As I grew up, I kept on writing stories and reading everything I could get my hands on. In high school, I was on the journalism staff and became the editor of the yearbook, then majored in creative writing in my undergrad. So….writing has always been a part of who I am.

  1. Is Kammani or Nanaea based on you or anyone you know in real life?

Kammani is not very much like me at all, outside of her drive. She’s more compassionate than I think I could ever be and has a level of selflessness I’m not sure I could master outside of parenthood. But Nanaea came to be because of two people: my older sister and my younger cousin, who is like a sister to me. They aren’t really like Nanaea, per se, but the fierce protectiveness that Kammani feels toward Nanaea is inspired by how I feel toward my sister and my cousin.

  1. The names in Gravemaidens are so unique, how did you come up with them?

I went back to Mesopotamia! Since this story is loosely inspired by Sumer, I researched Sumerian and other Mesopotamian names and derived them from there. Many of the names I found were hyphenated or included a god (Ishtar-Bellessa, for one), so I shortened them to make them a little easier to say. =)

  1. What is your favorite thing about writing and what is your least favorite thing?

I actually love the gritty work. I love plotting out my story in detail with percentages where my plot points will land, and I love taking a critique, turning it into actionable items, and revising step by step. My least favorite thing is drafting, honestly. I love the creative moments when they come, but a lot of drafting is just hard work sometimes. The beauty really comes in it for me during the revision stage.

  1. Was there anything you found surprising either in writing the book or in the pre-debut process in general?

Oh gosh, yes! The debut process is a trip. I’m learning just how many people are needed to take the idea from my head and turn it into a book that will be good enough to sit on a shelf. Without my critique partners, beta readers, editor, copy-editors, agent, and half a dozen writing friends reading and giving me feedback, I’m not sure I’d have anything to publish at all.

  1. Is there any advice you have for writers hoping to become a published author?

Be smarter than I was. I was super persistent, but I didn’t really have a growth mindset. I tried and tried and tried some more to get an agent, but I didn’t take the critiques with as much seriousness as I should have. I figured it was a “them, not me” kind of thing, when in fact, it was definitely all me. Learn the craft of writing novels. It’s not good enough that you’re a good writer. You have to be a good novelist and understand what that means! I recommend picking up some craft books like The Anatomy of Story by John Truby and The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maas and studying as if you were taking a college class. A free resource I use all the time is K.M. Weiland’s website, which is chock full of incredible storytelling help.

  1. Since Gravemaidens comes out during spooky month (aka October lol), what are some of your favourite spooky books?

Ooooh, good question. A couple of spooky debuts I’ve read this year that I absolutely love are THE BONE GARDEN by Heather Kassner (dark, whimsical MG with graveyards and sentient body parts), HOUSE OF SALT AND SORROWS by Erin Craig (holy bathtub tentacle scares) and WILDER GIRLS by Rory Power (body horror, freakish tension, and murderous wild things).

  1. Also, do you have a Halloween tradition? If so, what do you do?

I do! I have three boys and Halloween is their favorite time of year. We decorate the yard with gruesome, shrieking animatronics like a grim reaper, a zombie head that’s eating a rat, and a six-foot tall bloodied werewolf. You’d think my kids would be scared, but they are absolutely not. We all dress up, and the dads take the kids trick-or-treating while my girlfriends and I stay back and pass out candy to the mostly terrified children who come to my front door.

  1. And, for the final question, if your characters wore costumes for Halloween, what/who do you think they would be?

Kammani would dress up as a doctor and probably warn the other kids not to eat too much candy.

Nanaea would be a unicorn, but a super glam unicorn with an outfit that showed off her curves and the BEST glittery makeup so she stood out in the crowd.

Iltani, Kammani’s best friend, would dress up as Harley Quinn, and would be happy smashing pumpkins with a baseball bat.

Nin Arwia, the princess, would be Ursula, the sea witch, and would find two kids to follow her around like Flotsam and Jetsam.

Dagan, Kammani’s childhood friend (and absolutely not a love interest. Absolutely not.) would be an inflatable dinosaur to try to get Kammani to laugh.

Nasu, the head guardsman, would be a Fortnite character hanging at Nin Arwia’s elbow to protect her.

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