Interview with Colette Sewall, Author of Kiki Macadoo And The Graveyard Ballerinas

Kiki Macadoo and The Graveyard Ballerinas is one of my favorite books of 2020. It’s a spooky adventure that leaps off the page and into your heart. The moment I finished reading this magical tale, I knew I wanted to interview Colette for the Spooky Middle Grade Blog.

1. Tell us about Kiki Macadoo and The Graveyard Ballerinas. 

When eleven-year-old Kiki MacAdoo and her talented older sister go to Mount Faylinn Dance Conservatory for the summer, they ignore the brochure’s mysterious warning that “ballets come alive” in the nearby forest. But after her sister disappears, it’s up to Kiki to brave the woods and save her from the ghost sylphs that dance young girls to their deaths. As Kiki unlocks the mysteries of Mount Faylinn, the ballet of the ghost sylphs, Giselle, simultaneously unfolds, and Kiki is swept away in the adventure of a lifetime.

2. How did you come up with the idea? 

When I was young, my mother used to tell me the haunting story of the ghost sylphs in the ballet, Giselle. My mother was a classical pianist, and on some nights when I was little, she would play music from the ballet and let me stay up late. I would lower the lights and tiptoe through the living room, pretending I was lost deep in the forest. When my mother would count out the chimes of midnight for the ghost ballerinas to rise, I always shrieked—even though I loved every minute of it. That ballet always held a special place in my heart, and I thought a retelling of it would make a perfect children’s fantasy. Of course, I had to embellish it by adding a lot of additional creepy stuff to the original story!

3. Do you base your characters on people you know? If yes, spill the beans! 

Some of my characters often have similar traits to people I know (including yours truly). For instance, I wear glasses, and I was a dancer, so I have that in common with Kiki. I also love chocolate chip cookies! I also had a best friend named Susan (who later moved to Orlando). We took dance classes together in New York when we were young, and we’re still friends today. I didn’t grow up with a sister like Kiki, but I did have a brother. Like Kiki and Alison, we got on each other’s nerves sometimes, but underneath it all, we always loved and stood by one another.

4. How much of your real-life experiences play a role in the stories you tell? 

As I mentioned above, I was a dancer and studio owner, so I know the struggles students experience and how hard it is to excel in dance. I also always loved to draw and paint like Kiki ever since I was young. In addition, I also believe I actually saw a flower fairy when I was a child. We had a bouquet on the table, and out of nowhere, a tiny face from one of the yellow flowers popped out and stared at me! A second later, it shot back into the petals. Unfortunately, that never happened again.

Another incident I incorporated in the book happened when I was an adult and running my own dance studios. At the end of one of my recitals, I was alone onstage making an announcement when an overhead stage light crashed to the ground, just missing my head!

5. What books did you like to read when you were a kid? Do those books influence your writing? 

When I was young, we didn’t have the vast assortment of children’s books as we do now. But I always loved old fashioned fairy tales, Madeline, The Little Prince, and Dr. Seuss books. Another book I particularly enjoyed was Little Women. I loved the fact that a woman wrote it over 150 years ago, and since Louisa May Alcott’s great-grandparents were my four times great-grandparents, her book always held a personal meaning for me. I loved the coming-of-age theme and the relationship between the sisters. I also loved how determined the character Jo was and how she refused to fit into the mold of what was expected of women back then. I don’t know if it was a conscious decision or not when I decided to feature two sisters in my story.

6. What are you working on now? 

I am currently finishing a sequel to Kiki MacAdoo, which is also quite spooky. I also have an historical YA that I’m editing and a number of other ideas brewing. 

7. What is your writing process? Are you a plotter or a pantser?  

I would say that I am a bit of both—a planster. I need to have a fairly good idea where my story is going before I begin. But I am not one of those authors who can write intricate outlines. I do an abbreviated one using pen and paper in a notebook and on index cards. I also scribble random notes on scraps of paper throughout the house as ideas come to me. 

8. What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Read as much as you can, especially in your genre. Also, study all the books on the craft of writing that you can get your hands on. When you finish a manuscript, try to find a trusted critique partner who is not afraid to be honest. It also helps to follow Query Tracker, MSWL, and Publisher’s Lunch to keep posted on what agents and editors are signing.

And finally, I would tell them not to give up. If you enjoy writing and it’s in your heart, it’s never too late to follow your dreams.

About the Author

Colette Sewall is an award-winning writer who spent the majority of her life as a dancer and studio director. Since she has also worked as a medical assistant, flight attendant, actor, and artist, she believes she is like a cat with nine lives. She is a direct descendent of one of the judges who presided over the infamous Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692, which can be a bit awkward when she runs into a descendent of one of the accused witches. She lives on the eastern end of Long Island with her husband and psychic German shepherd, Gracey, and is in desperate need of more bookshelves. When she is not writing middle grade or young adult novels, she is probably perusing one of her favorite libraries or used bookstores. She is a member of the Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators and is represented by Britt Siess of Martin Literary Management.

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