Today we're pleased to feature our KBoards interview with Kimberly G. Giarratano, author of the newly-released novel Grunge Gods and Graveyards.
This YA paranormal is receiving high praise for its clever storyline, well-conceived mystery, and superb writing. The blurb gives a taste of the book's premise:
Parted by death. Tethered by love. Lainey Bloom’s high school senior year is a complete disaster. The popular clique, led by mean girl Wynter Woods, bullies her constantly. The principal threatens not to let her graduate with the class of 1997 unless she completes a major research project. And everyone blames her for the death of Wynter’s boyfriend, Danny Obregon.
Danny, a gorgeous musician, stole Lainey’s heart when he stole a kiss at a concert. But a week later, he was run down on a dangerous stretch of road. When he dies in her arms, she fears she’ll never know if he really would have broken up with Wynter to be with her. Then his ghost shows up, begging her to solve his murder.
Horrified by the dismal fate that awaits him if he never crosses over, Lainey seeks the dark truth amidst small town secrets, family strife, and divided loyalties. But every step she takes toward discovering what really happened the night Danny died pulls her further away from the beautiful boy she can never touch again.
Now, on to our conversation with Kimberly!
Welcome, Kimberly, and congratulations on your first book! In a few words, how would you describe Grunge Gods and Graveyards for our readers?
Grunge Gods is a YA paranormal romance/mystery set in 1996 that features ghosts, a page-turning mystery, and lots of 90s pop culture references. My main character, Lainey Bloom, is a 17-year-old mash-up of Veronica Mars, Courtney Love, and Jane Eyre.
The novel is receiving unusually ardent praise for its powerful story and beautiful writing. Have you always been a story-teller? What's your writing background?
First, thank you! That’s a huge compliment. Have I always been a storyteller? Hmmm… I don’t know. I mean, I was never one of those kids who made up stories all the time. But I’ve always been a writer. Ever since the third grade, I had wanted to be a journalist. I was always writing for my school newspapers and I was even the news editor of my college paper. But then I found out in college that I didn’t have the sharp edge for reporting. So, I majored in history and wrote a ton of research papers. There’s no doubt that I was always a strong writer, but it wasn’t until I became a YA librarian that I had decided I wanted to write YA novels. Now, I find I’m creating plots all the time. Especially when I’m driving. I come up with a lot of great ideas when the kids are asleep and the radio is off. My brain is constantly thinking of story ideas.
The story is set in the mid-90s, and brings back that era very vividly. So much has changed in the past twenty years, with music, technology, cars, and popular culture. What inspired you to set your novel in that time period?
I wanted to set my novel in the 90s for two reasons. First, I was a teenager in the 1990s. I’m the same age as Lainey and I was feeling a little nostalgic about my youth. And second, I wanted my characters to get excited about alternative music like I did as a teenager. I wanted to portray the excitement of hearing a new album for the first time. In college, we had a man who sold CDs in the student center every Monday. I would save my cash in order to buy new music from him and then I’d race back to my dorm and play the album on loop. I had a friend who worked at a used music store and he would bring me CDs all the time. Gomez. Radiohead. Tori Amos B Sides. Sometimes I would cut class and go to Princeton Record Exchange to buy old albums of my favorite bands. Now, you can download music without going anywhere. While I like that too, it just doesn’t feel the same.
I grew up in a tiny village, and enjoyed your take on the charming as well as the unseemly aspects of life in a small town. Were those drawn on your own experiences?
I grew up in a New Jersey suburb so… not exactly a small town. Geographically, I used the woods surrounding my house as inspiration for the woods surrounding the town of Ash. As for Ash itself, I used the small town where I live now as a model and decided to degrade it quite a bit – take it from a former summer getaway to a rundown, depressed place. In Ash you have an interesting dichotomy – the youth who want to get out at any cost and the older people who have lived there so long, they are fiercely loyal to the town and want it restored to its former glory at any cost. This proves to be dangerous.
We've seen the novel described as a YA paranormal, but it's very much a mystery as well, as Lainey struggles to uncover the truth behind Danny's murder. What are your techniques for plotting out a mystery?
I want to say that I had a technique with Grunge Gods, but I didn’t (I do now). I just wrote a really crappy first draft and then revised it a thousand times. However, before I draft, I always know the beginning and the ending. I always know the victim and the killer. And after I draft, I go back and drop in clues. Even during content editing, I dropped a new clue in on the third pass. I’m currently drafting a new mystery and I am more organized. I have character sheets and a scene list. But I’ll still have to insert more clues during revision. That said, I do have a strategy for writing scenes. I heighten conflict and make sure to write a twist at the end of each scene. This I learned from Holly Lisle’s How To Write Page-Turning Scenes ebook. Great read.
Let's talk about characterization. Your main character Lainey is so believable and likable, and your supporting cast of characters is really memorable with Danny of course, and Wilder and Wynter. How do you go about differentiating your characters and fleshing them out as individuals?
No person in real life is all good or all bad, so I make sure that my villains have some redeemable or sympathetic traits and that my protagonists are also complex and flawed. I think a lot about my characters. I imagine them as real people and I give them great backstories. These entire backstories don’t make it into the book, but I know them so I know what drives their actions.
The paranormal aspect of the story -- with Danny's ghost -- is described by reviewers as "touching" and "beautifully done." We agree. You didn't overplay the "ghostly" aspect of the story, and instead worked it naturally into the story's setting, characters, and whodunnit plotline. Tell us about your approach to weaving the paranormal aspects into the story.
This is where I throw a shout-out to my editor who helped me tighten up the paranormal aspects to the novel. Honestly, I really wanted the story to be about two teenage kids who fell in love. One just happened to be a ghost. I wanted Lainey and Danny to be able to talk music and movies and school just like they would if Danny had been alive. I might have had too light a touch with the paranormal aspects and my editor was like, “Uh, he’s dead, so that’s not gonna work.” I think that when it comes to paranormal, keeping things as ‘normal’ as you can is the right way to go. That’s what resonates with readers – the normal part. The supernatural stuff hooks readers, but it’s not what sticks with them when they’re done reading. Isolation, alienation, identity – those are the issues that all teen deals face and yet it works so well in a paranormal framework. Just make sure your paranormal element doesn’t overwhelm the theme of the story.
Speaking of reviews, your book already has many five-star ratings and wonderful review comments. Is there a particular review that stands out for you, or that surprised you in any way?
There was one blogger who gushed over the story. I just wanted to reach through the computer and hug her. It was incredibly touching how much she loved the novel. There was another blogger who wrote a very thoughtful review. I feel like she really “got” the story. It was a four-star review and yet it felt like five stars to me.
It looks like you had fun with the chapter titles and headings! It's a nice artistic flourish. What inspired you to take that approach?
I’ve seen song titles as chapter headings in other novels, but because Grunge Gods has a big musical element, I thought I’d be remiss not to do it. All the songs I chose were released before September 1996 when the novel is set. And each song reflects the tone and mood of the chapter it leads. Also, if you put all the songs together, you get a really nice soundtrack for the book. In fact, you can find the playlist on my blog here: http://kimberlyggiarratano.com/theres-no-alternative-for-90s-alternative-music/
You've worked as a YA librarian. What were some of the first YA books that had an impact on you?
My favorite YA author is Holly Black. She wrote Tithe, The Spiderwick Chronicles, and The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. I just love her work. I always reread Tithe because I think it’s so beautifully written. Anyway, she was recommended to me by a teen patron at the library where I worked. This shows that librarians can learn as much from their patrons as they learn from us.
We know you're a very busy person, with a young family in the house... how do you carve out time to write your stories?
I used to write during naptime but my baby and my toddler have not been napping at the same time. It’s like they’re conspiring against me. And my baby seems to have given herself a late bedtime, so writing at night has proved challenging. Let’s just say, I’m trying to carve out writing time but not getting anywhere. For example, I’ve been trying to answer this question for the last hour, but I keep getting interrupted. Ha!
We understand you're working on a couple of other book projects! Tell us a bit about those.
I’m drafting a YA ghost story/mystery set in present-day Key West. It’s told in dual POV and it’s fun to write. I have a really dynamic cast of characters and a gripping murder mystery. I’m outlining a YA historical mystery set in 1955. I have an idea for a middle grade historical series featuring my grandparents as the main characters. I have an idea for a YA cozy mystery series. I have lots of ideas I am excited to work on; I just need more time in a day.
Last question: any message you'd like to leave for our readers?
I just want to give big virtual hugs and cookies to anyone who has read Grunge Gods and Graveyards. It means the world when strangers decide to read my book. It validates all those years of work and sacrifice. And if you do read the book, please feel free to email me or tweet me your thoughts. As a writer and librarian, all I ever want to do is talk books.
Thank you for talking with us, Kimberly!
Thanks for having me, Harvey. As always, your interview questions are so thoughtful. I really enjoyed answering them.
Grunge Gods and Graveyards is available now to download to your Kindle!