It’s time for a Hail & Well Read first: an interview with Kelly Coon!
Never before has there been an author visiting H&WR, and I’m delighted to kick things off through this Q&A with Kelly Coon! Last year, I had the pleasure of joining her Skeleton Crew street team, and of meeting her during one of her tour stops. Now, with COVID standing in the way, we can’t exactly do a fun event together in person, but we can sure toss some questions back and forth!
And I’d be silly not to mention that we’re also celebrating the upcoming release of Warmaidens, the conclusion of Kell’s Gravemaidens duology! This Q&A is part of the official blog tour, and I hope it gives you all a taste of the excitement to come! 💛
Now, if you’re ready for some questions, I think I’m ready too. Let’s hop to it, scorpions and all! 🦂
Hi, Kell! It’s so great to have you here at Hail & Well Read! Some of H&WR’s readers know you by now, but can you introduce yourself and your books for those that don’t?
Hey Meaghan! Thanks for having me! And of course! I’m Kelly Coon, former high school English teacher, editor for Blue Ocean Brain, and author of Gravemaidens and Warmaidens. It’s a YA fantasy duology about Kammani, a 16-year-old healer, her sister Nanaea, and the conflict that arises when Nanaea is selected to be a queen for the dying lugal. Kammani has already lost so much in her life and she’s determined to use her healing power to save her sister from this fate. The problem? Her sister doesn’t want to be saved.
Warmaidens picks up the story nine months after Kammani, Nanaea, and their friends have fled from Alu to the safe haven of Manzazu. There, Kammani has established herself as a healer and has earned a favor from Queen Tabni. But when an assassin murders a healer he believes is Kammani and attempts to kill the rightful heir to the throne of Alu, Kammani realizes that they’ve been found. And now she must take down Alu’s ruler before her whole life burns up in the flames of war.
Right now, we’re just a hair over two weeks away from the release of Warmaidens. December 15th is right around the corner! What have been the most exciting parts of seeing the conclusion of your duology getting ready to head out into the world?
Honestly, concluding this pandemic year that’s been fraught with one catastrophe after another with a published novel is such a gift. I worked so hard on this book to make the pace tight and dialogue snappy, and pushed myself to make every character strong and believable, that I’m so, so excited to finally have this book out. It’s been a long time coming, and feels especially long in the decade that is 2020.
In Gravemaidens, Kammani spends a lot of time focusing on her sister, along with everyone else she might be able to help and heal. In Warmaidens, though, she’s starting to wonder what kind of future might be possible for her. What was the best part about building her arc? What was the most difficult?
I wanted Kammani to have a happily ever after with her love, Dagan. It’s what I’ve gotten in my own life and wanted her to have the joy I’ve felt. But in Kammani’s world, things are not just or fair for women. So it was important to me to ensure that she gets her happily ever after in a way that makes perfect sense for her. It might not be what every reader will want for them, but it makes the most sense for her arc (and I personally LOVE IT! haha).
It was difficult to mix in and resolve so many different parts of her character arc. I had to ensure she grew, but not so much that it wouldn’t be true to who she is. I had to give her the fierce independence and stubbornness she’s known for, while softening her edges enough to be part of a couple. It was hard to balance everything!
Every protagonist needs a helping hand. Kammani has plenty of them, particularly Iltani and Dagan, sinnamon roll and cinnamon roll extraordinaires! Which member (or members!) of your supporting cast were the most fun to write? And which of them would you want backing you up in a pinch?
“Sinnamon roll” is how I’ll describe Iltani from now until the end of time. That’s amazing. She was definitely the most fun to write, and I didn’t have to dig too deeply into my psyche to pull her out, since I tend to be a little bit of a smart mouth myself. She’s the wild hair that gets loose every once in a while! 😉 I’d definitely want Dagan backing me up in a pinch! He’s loyal, almost to a fault, and would do anything for the people he loves. He’s also strong as an ox, so I’m pretty sure he’d be handy in any situation haha.
I know a lot of readers and writers alike love to make playlists for the wonderful words they love so much. Do you have any musical inspiration behind the Gravemaidens duology that you would like to share?
I do! I made a Spotify playlist! It includes gems from The Lumineers, Dorothy, Beyonce, Dua Lipa and more. You can listen in here:
We should also give a shout-out to Sammy Yuen, who did your absolutely STUNNING covers. What are your favorite details that made it onto the covers?
I am in LOVE with Sammy’s covers! One of the cool things he did for me was to hide bones on the cover of Gravemaidens. I won’t tell you where, but there’s an entire spinal column on the cover somewhere! And once we chose the three moths to symbolize the three death maidens in book one, I knew I wanted three scorpions to represent Iltani, Kammani, and Nanaea who put themselves at risk when they go on their spy missions in Warmaidens. Sammy captured the beauty of this world and also the danger with both of these images and I couldn’t be more grateful.
And last but not least, what’s an interview without a little fun and games? Would you rather fight one hundred duck-sized members of the Koru, the scorpion warrior women of Manzazu, or one Koru-sized duck (deadly weapons training not included)? Choose wisely. 🦆🦂
Bwahahahahahaha I’m going with the Koru-sized duck. Those Koru members are crafty, and I’m pretty sure 100 of them at ankle height would still find a way to take me out. But one giant duck? I’d jump on its back, teach it how to roll over and play dead, and then take our show on the road. We’d be famous! Kell and her Koru-sized Champion Duck! I’m READY! Haha
Thanks for having me, Meaghan! You’re a gift to this world! =)
YA author Kelly Coon is an editor for Blue Ocean Brain, a member of the Washington Post Talent Network, a former high school English teacher, ACT test prep book author, and a wicked karaoke singer in training. 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 three sons, brilliant husband, and a rescue pup who will steal your sandwich. Gravemaidens is her debut novel.
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.
Just a few moons after escaping the tomb in Alu, Kammani and the other runaway maidens have found refuge in the city-state of Manzazu. There, Kammani has become a respected healer, especially among the warriors she’s brought back from the brink of death. Now that the nightmares of Alu are fading, she can finally decide whether or not to take Dagan’s hand in marriage.
But when an assassin murders a healer he believes is Kammani and attempts to kill the displaced queen of Alu, the maidens realize they’ve been found.
Hungry for revenge, Manzazu’s queen wants to strike back at Alu with her fiercest weapons—her scorpion warrior maidens—but Kammani knows that war harms more than it heals. To save the innocents and any chance of a future with Dagan, Kammani must take down Alu’s ruler before their lives burn up in the flames of war.