Hi friends! Hope the fall season is treating you well, it looks like things in Florida might fiiiinally be starting to cool down. And by cool down, I mean it’s 89 degrees outside instead of 100.
Today I have a post that I’m super excited about! You guys may or may not know but for that past six?? seven?? (honestly not sure) months I’ve been on the Skeleton Crew (street team) for the release of Kelly Coon’s YA fantasy debut, Gravemaidens! I’m currently two-thirds of the way through this book as we speak, and I’ve been getting all the spooky vibes between mentions of the Boatman, sacrifice, and evil murder plots! So basically, it’s exciting stuff.
Genre: YA fantasy
Synopsis: 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 sandstone 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.
To get all the insider info on this release (which comes out in just THREE DAYS!!!), I got to interview Kelly herself! If you’re a YA fantasy reader and didn’t already have this book on your TBR or preordered (check out the preorder campaign you can still take advantage of), you should definitely check it out!
Mia: Alright Kelly, give us the opening details: how long did it take to write Gravemaidens? What first sparked the idea for a fantasy novel about sisters and sacrifice?
Kelly: Hello, Mia!!! Thank you for having me! It took me about six months to write this story because I wasn’t working on a deadline, and another six months or so to edit. That was before we sold it. After that, it took me another year or so in edits to get it into the shape that’s on the shelves.
I was initially inspired by history. I had written three failed novels before Gravemaidens, so I wanted to go on the hunt for an idea that was universal and compelling before I wrote another book. As I researched, I kept reading about people willing to die for the promise of a better life in the everafter. So, I thought, why not create a fantasy world where girls are chosen for this honor and give one of the girls a sister who wouldn’t want her to die?
Mia: How did you go about building the world of Gravemaidens? What kinds of things inspired you, and what did you research? Personally, I got some Ancient Egypt/Mesopotamia vibes as I read!
Kelly: Oooh yes. So, I decided to create a world loosely inspired by Sumer. I researched that time and place (around 2,500 BCE) for natural remedies, food, clothing styles, and then let my imagination run wild from there. And it certainly did!
Mia: Which character did you have the most fun writing and developing? Did any of them give you some trouble?
Kelly: Iltani was my favorite to write. As an adult, I have to bite my tongue on more occasions than I’d like to admit, but with Iltani, I could say whatever I wanted and be as sarcastic and flippant as possible, haha.
Nanaea was tough. She is a character with hidden depths. The reason she wants to join the lugal in the Netherworld is (spoiler alert!) not the reason Kammani, her sister, who is narrating the story in first person, believes. So it was difficult to make her seem like the shallow person her sister believes she is while also trying to work in hints about her psychology that Kammani misses. That’s tough to do in first person!
Mia: As an aspiring writer myself, I’m always eager to hear what advice YA authors have for up and coming writers! What are some tips you have for aspiring authors, maybe for high school/college students in particular?
Kelly: Never stop learning. I used to think I was a talented writer and that this talent would eventually land me a book deal if I was persistent enough. But being a good writer is not the same as being a good novelist. You’re never too talented to learn. I went about it the hard way, stuck in my ignorance (and arrogance) for years before I decided I should probably learn what the heck I was doing. Only then, did I get an agent, write a book I’m proud of, and sell it and the sequel to Delacorte Press.
I always recommend John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story and Donald Maas’s The Emotional Craft of Fiction whenever someone asks for a book rec!
Mia: What’s the main thing you hope readers take away from Gravemaidens? If you had read this story as a teen, what do you think it would’ve meant to you?
Kelly: As a teen, this book would have meant the world to me. In fact, I think psychologically speaking, much of the reason I wrote it is for the teenage girl I once was. I grew up in a strict fundamentalist church and school where I was taught that women could not do what they wanted with their lives. Their jobs were to be homemakers and mothers only and anything else was outside of God’s plan. But I always had this burning drive inside of me to push for my dreams, kinda like Kammani has inside of her.
I wanted readers who feel like they can’t accomplish what they want to because of culture or tradition or familial expectations, to know that they can absolutely buck the system and chase their dreams with everything they’ve got.
Mia: The first book may not be out quite yet, but it’s never too early to get excited for the sequel! As you’ve been editing book two, what are some things that surprised you about the sequel-writing process? What do you think readers should prepare themselves for after they finish Gravemaidens?
Kelly: OOHHHHH, SIT TIGHT. The sequel will knock your socks off. There is an all-female army of warriors who thirst for vengeance (in copper scorpion helmets and tattoos), visits from the Boatman which come with a lot more frequency, some romance that turns up the heat, and of course, the war goddess, Linaza. It’s about found family, trusting your instincts, and letting your heart have what it wants. I absolutely adore it and can’t WAIT to show you the cover!
Mia: What are some tropes to get excited about in Gravemaidens? Any love triangles to watch out for?
Kelly: Eeep! So we DO get a hint of a love triangle (that might make you angry), but I tried to subvert some tropes for my own personal joy, haha. My main character, Kammani is a total Hufflepuff and hates violence, preferring to heal someone rather than hurt them. Her best friend/love interest Dagan is a giant Hufflepuff/Gryffindor and only wants what’s best for her. He doesn’t lie, cheat, or steal and he’s the most loyal person in the story.
Mia: What are some books readers should pick up if they need to cure themselves from a Gravemaidens hangover?
Kelly: Okay, so Sabaa Tahir is one of my favorites, so I’d obviously recommend AN EMBER IN THE ASHES series. I am head over heels for the magic and history in ENCHANTEE by Gita Trelease. Her sequel LIBERTE comes out in 2020!!! I’d also highly recommend the THREE DARK CROWNS series by Kendare Blake because sisters with magic and murdery intentions = my jam.
Thank you so much for the fantastic questions, Mia! You’re the best!
Kelly Coon is an editor for Blue Ocean Brain, a former high school English teacher, and a wicked karaoke singer in training. She adores giving female characters the chance to flex their muscles and use their brains. She lives near Tampa with her three sons, brilliant husband, and a rescue pup who will steal your sandwich. Gravemaidens is her debut novel.
So that’s a quick look at all the reasons you should be excited for Gravemaidens! Check out the rest of the awesome bloggers posting for the tour: