Gravemaidens by Kelly Coon
1- What might a wicked karaoke singer, such as yourself, sing this Halloween?
Ha! I’d have to go with “Truth Hurts.” We can’t get through the season without a little bit of Lizzo.
2- Would you please, in 160 characters or less, give a #WriteTip ?
Find some critique partners and be vulnerable enough to share your work and accept critique. Be humble enough to realize there’s always room for growth.
3- What ignited your passion for writing?
I have always been a reader. I used to CONSUME 11-12 books a week in middle school and still read voraciously. I think getting lost in different worlds from the time I was little first interested me in storytelling. I used to sit there, on my bed (one hand holding a book, the other one in a bowl of snacks), and think—maybe I could do this, too.
4- How might a person best influence positive change for the Flint water crisis right now?
GREAT QUESTION. I was actually born in Flint, Michigan, and still have a ton of family members living there. You can donate a case of water or make a monetary donation to help pay for tap filters to those people on the front lines still serving the needs of Flint residents. https://www.cityofflint.com/how-can-i-help/
5- What's your Twitter handle, and do you have two or three writer friends on there to shout-out to for #WriterWednesday ?
Heck yes, I do.
My handle is @kellycoon106 and you will find lots of kid stories, feminist rants, skulls, and sometimes lovey stuff when Mr. Kelly Coon is on his best behavior.
You should definitely go follow @LillianJClark for lots of feminist harpy shrieking.
Give @tashidiaz a follow because she is hilarious and pushes lots of Grade A content.
If you want spooky, ghoulish tweets from some other dimension, follow @sarafaring.
6- Would you share a picture with us of your book with your sandwich stealing rescue pup?
7- What's your favorite part about autumn?
I live in Florida, so the cider mills and pumpkin spice and changing leaves sadly pass me by, but the one thing that I absolutely love about Tampa’s autumn is that it is finally—FINALLY—cooler! We can sit outside for dinner, hang out in our lanai, or hit up the beach without the heat melting us into puddles.
8- What most motivates you to read a new book?
Typically, I rely on the recommendations of friends, read reviews, or I fall victim to the screams of excitement on social media. You know, all the usual reasons.
9- What is your favorite book by someone else, what's the author's Twitter handle, and what do you love most about that book? #FridayReads book recommendation time!
Author name: @LBardugo
Title: (Anything in the Grishaverse)
Love because: Her storytelling is immersive. I still think about the characters years after reading them.
"Enter the Grishaverse with Book One of the Shadow and Bone Trilogy"
10- Who is currently your biggest fan? What does that person love most (or "ship") about your debut novel?
Outside of my own family, probably Brad on AudioShelf, haha! He is hilarious and did a lovely review of my book on his YouTube channel. You’ll have to check it out!
11- What emotions do you hope your book will evoke for the reader, and is there a particular scene you hope will resonate with readers?
I want the reader to walk away with a sense of hope, but to definitely feel Kammani’s grief that she experiences in the first part of the book for reasons I shall leave unsaid. There’s one scene in the middle of the story, where Kammani makes what she believes is a big mistake (that’s kind of the ghost in her past) and it makes me cry when I read it. Are authors allowed to cry during their own novels?
12- Do you have a favorite #bookstagram image or account/ profile?
I love Carmen’s photos with @tomesandtextiles. Her bookstagram photos are magical and combine digital elements that are incredibly unique. Her shot of GRAVEMAIDENS is one of my faves! I’m also a fan of Bridget with @darkfaerietales. She took a gorgeous shot of an ARC of GRAVEMAIDENS, the first bookstagram photo I’d ever seen, and I cried when I saw it!
13- How do you hope your book will help readers in their life?
I hope it gives young women the bravery to take charge of their lives and the knowledge that if they do, they aren’t alone. I hope it helps young men see that you can be kind, generous, and giving and still be as masculine as society wants them to be.
14- What is the most memorable trait or visual oddity of one of your characters?
Nin Arwia, the heir to the throne of Alu, has long, dark hair that hangs to her knees like a sheet, and a little birthmark that hovers over her lip like a crumb.
15- diversebooks.org #WeNeedDiverseBooks What's your favorite book with a diverse main character?
One of my very favorite YA contemporary novels with a diverse main character is I’M NOT DYING WITH YOU TONIGHT by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal. It features Lena, a black young woman whose night erupts when a city goes up in flames, and is forced into a friendship with Campbell, a white young woman who is new to her school. It’s fast-paced, explosive, and I devoured it in a couple of days.
16- What is the bravest thing you’ve ever done?
I’ve been through some trauma in my life. A lot of it, in fact. But I chose to get help and move forward past the trauma and not let it tie me down. I have bad days like anyone who has experienced any kind of trauma has. But the bravest thing I do is recognize those days when they show up and go on being a mother, a wife, a writer…anyway.
17- What was the deciding factor in your publication route?
I had always dreamed of being traditionally published with a publisher like Random House, so for me, I wanted to go for it until it was perfectly clear that wasn’t the route to pursue. I spent ten years chasing this dream and it never became clear that it wasn’t what I should do!
18- Why do you think readers should write book reviews?
I think readers should write book reviews if they want to connect a little bit more with the story. Sometimes, I don’t know exactly how I feel about what I’ve read until I write it out. So, writing a review can be helpful for the reader to process what they’ve just read, but it’s also supremely helpful for other readers to get a sense of what they can expect when they get into a novel.
Personally, I don’t rely exclusively on book reviews to tell me if a story is good or not. Sometimes, I love a book that other people didn’t, or I just didn’t connect with a book that has starred reviews across the board.
19- Do you have one question or discussion topic which you would like the readers of this interview to answer or remark on in the comments?
Kammani will do anything to protect her sister, even if it means sacrificing her own life. How far would you go to save a family member?
20- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?
"A dark and utterly enthralling journey to an ancient land, Gravemaidens grabs you by your beating heart and refuses to let go until the bitter, breathtaking end."—Sarah Glenn Marsh, author of the Reign of the Fallen series
Excerpt (originally posted on Underlined!):
Today, three girls would be doomed to die an honored, royal death.
A coil of dread wound itself around my guts at the thought, but I took a deep breath and focused on the little boy standing in front of me. Getting wrapped up in Palace rituals wasn’t part of my duties, but healing a child was.
Especially when his cure meant food for my family.
“Open your mouth and say ‘Ahhh’ as if the Boatman were chasing you.” I held his face, which was covered in crumbs. Probably the remnants of a thick slice of warm honeycake. My stomach rumbled, imagining the treat he’d likely enjoyed. Beneath the sticky mess, his tawny cheeks were unusually pale.
“Ahhhhhh!” the boy screamed.
Smiling slightly, his innocence a welcome relief from my dark thoughts, I stuck the end of a spoon into his mouth to hold down his tongue, angling his head to the morning sunlight to see inside. Behind me, his mother hovered, smoothing her violet tunic and patting her hair, which was fastened into two neat buns above her ears. When she fidgeted, the gold chains looped around her forehead shimmered in the light streaming in from the window.
Despite the circumstances, it was nice to see that the mothers who had all the wealth in the city were no different from the mothers in my neighborhood who had none. When it came to their sick children, their hands twisted nervously in the same way.
The boy’s throat was blistered white. I smoothed my hands over his bare back and touched my lips to his forehead to check for fever--an old healer’s trick, since lips are more sensitive than hands. He was slightly warm but not worryingly so. The glands in his neck were swollen, as they should be with an infection, but this child would be able to fight it off. His muscles were strong, his reflexes good, his eyes clear. Unlike the children of my neighbors, he was undoubtedly fed daily with the freshest fruits and vegetables, the finest fish and meats. I swallowed my hurt at the inequity.
But it wasn’t this child’s fault.
“You’re going to be just fine.” I ruffled his silky hair.
“I am?” He popped his thumb in his mouth and sucked furiously, then withdrew it when his mother looked sideways at him with eyes outlined by thick strokes of kohl. “Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure!” I took his chin in my palm. “Why do you ask?”
“Because the Boatman comes when you’re really sick.” His lip trembled, and the thumb went back into his mouth.
I took his other hand in mine. “I’m sorry if I scared you when I mentioned the Boatman. The truth is, he’s not so scary at all. He’s a helper to the gods. Did you know that?”
The lie rolled effortlessly off my tongue.
He shook his head.
“It’s true. The Boatman is just a man who lived long ago.” I looked around the common room for something to add a note of truth to my tale. A carved-wood sicklesword, one that was, no doubt, modeled after his guardsman father’s, sat atop a braided rug next to an emerald-colored floor cushion. “The Boatman used to be a guardsman. But now he’s a helper. When you die, you pay the coin for your passage and the Boatman scoops you up, puts you into his rickety boat, and paddles you off to the Netherworld, where there are endless parties and games and honeycake forever and ever.”
I squatted down to his eye level. “But he only comes if you’re very, very sick--which you are not--or very, very old--which you are not, although you do look much older than you are with these big, strong muscles.” I squeezed his little arm.
He giggled around the thumb in his mouth. Then his eyes grew serious. “Will Ummum be there in the Netherworld when I go?” He looked at his mother, who ran her clean, carefully tended fingernails down her arm. From the direction of the sleeping quarters, an infant wailed.
“Yes. Before you go with the Boatman as an old, old, old man”--the smile flickered again--“she will be there waiting for you with the biggest honeycake of all.”
My throat constricted as I finished the story, but I forced the sorrow away with every bit of my strength.
I stood and turned to his mother. “Do you have any garlic?”
“Let me check with the servant.” She called into the other room. “Hala?”
A girl my sister’s age--maybe fifteen years--appeared in the doorway, holding the squalling infant in her arms. She was the child of one of my neighbors. Women of my stature often sent their unmarried daughters to be servants in other people’s households to earn coins or food. “My lady?” she said, her eyes on her bare feet.
“Where is the garlic?”
“It’s in the bin near the door. Shall I fetch it for you?”
“Why do you suppose I asked for it?” The woman crossed her arms over her chest. Hala dipped her head, her cheeks blazing, and retreated with the infant.
I took a breath, forcing myself to put on the mask of civility I wore daily when dealing with the ill and their families. “To help ease his throat and take away the infection, mix six crushed cloves in a flagon of warm water and bid him gargle with it.”
She nodded her agreement. “He won’t like it, but if it will help, we will do it.”
“Okay. Thank you, A-zu.” She turned, as if to go.
“Oh, no, my lady. I am no great A-zu. My abum is the best healer in the city.” No matter what anyone thinks anymore. “I am merely his apprentice.”
“Well, then why didn’t he come himself? Why did he send you?” She looked me up and down.
Why didn’t I keep silent?
I stared at my dirty toes, encased in sandals that were two years too small. There was no easy way to answer her question. When my mother had passed away a moon ago, he’d lost his will to tend to himself, let alone anyone else. Not only had I taken on the tasks of running the household and caring for my sister, but I’d also been visiting his patients all over the city. As his healer’s apprentice, it was my duty. Plus, we had to get paid.
“He was called away for an emergency, my lady, but I’d be happy to send him when he is back if you need him.”
I was making a promise I might not be able to keep, but the coins were already in her hand. If she opted not to pay me, there was nothing I could do, and I had to take care of my family.
She blew out an exasperated breath, then looked back at her little boy, who was squatting on the rug, playing with the sicklesword. “Fine,” she murmured. “Take this and be gone.”
She dropped six shekels into my hand, pulling away quickly, as if I were the one with an illness. I stuffed them into my healing satchel before she could change her mind.
“Thank you, noblewoman. I appreciate your generosity.” I nodded once to the boy and then to Hala, who’d come back with the garlic and the red-faced baby. Right before I closed the door, the woman snatched the garlic from Hala’s hand and yelled at her for not moving faster. I cringed, thinking of my own sister taking a scolding like that, as I headed quickly toward the marketplace. Thankfully, with the healing practice, I hadn’t yet needed to subject her to a wealthy woman’s whims. I shook my head at poor Hala’s fate.
Such was life for those born low and for those like us, cast into poverty after the biggest regrets of our lives.
At least now I had the means to buy grain and could be out of the marketplace before three perfectly healthy girls were called upon to lie in the cold embrace of a dead ruler.
Gravemaidens by Kelly Coon