The Grim and the Fantastic by Marissa Miller Genre: Children's / Middle Grade Fantasy
The Grim and The Fantastic tells the story of Merton Clarke, and his journey battling a major illness, when a magical realm--filled with splendor and danger lurking in the shadows-- reveals itself to him. There, he must face some terrible beasts in a battle to rid himself of his sickness. Along the way, Merton makes two new friends who must fight their own monsters alongside him. If they can defeat their beasts from the realm in battle, just maybe, they will win the battle against their sickness in the real world too. Together, they test their limits, and their understanding of friendship, grief, bravery, and, above all, the power of hope.
A story of marvel, battles, and hardship, The Grim and the Fantastic takes a serious subject and seeks to breathe color back into the lives of those affected. The fantastical tale truly provides a whimsical place for children with troubles to escape to.
So, what do you do while you’re here?” Merton asked, looking around, seeing no sign of
“Yes! It’s a wonderful place to explore.” Cathy chirped. “But we are also on a quest,
Rosie and me.”
“Well, we were told there is no cure for our illness,” Rosie answered.
Merton nodded. “My parents told me that too.”
“So, well, I thought that maybe we are supposed to look for a cure here.” Rosie
continued. “I had only been here a few times after Doctor Tess— she is my doctor— told me
about this place. I didn’t wander too far because I wasn’t too sure if any of this was real or a
dream.” She explained.
Merton nodded again.He could certainly relate to that.
“Then I stumbled on Cathy here, skipping on some stepping stones down the way from
my door. She’s been coming here for a while, I guess. So, she started showing me more and
more each day. And every time I would go back to my room and be sick again, I started really
wanting to come here to have the energy to do the things I can’t do back at home.” Rosie took a
breath and continued, her words all bubbling over like she had been wanting someone to
explain this to.
Merton waited patiently for her to finish her story, eager to hear what she had to say“And
I just sort of started wondering what the point was. Is this place just to provide relief? Then I
remembered what Doctor Tess said about being warriors, and the items, and the beasts. We
are supposed to find our beasts and battle them. So, I assume, maybe, we will get better if we
can do that. But then, I thought that maybe, if something in this place makes us feel better, we
can find a way to take some of it back with us as a cure. Or, at least, get rid of the cancer.”
Merton nodded, thinking over Rosie’s theory. He didn’t see any reason why it didn’t
make sense. Rosie was clearly a very bright and insightful little girl.
“Can’t you just take some water back from the streams or something?” He asked the
obvious question and awaited an obvious answer— which he got.
“It can’t make it through the doorway!” Cathy, who had opted to sit down for Rosie’s
speech, squeaked, gesturing like she had just dropped something on floor. “We tried that
already. We think the cure must be something less obvulis .”
“ Obvious , Cathy.” Rosie corrected gently.
“That’s what I said, obvulis .” Cathy fumbled over the word again. “If it’s here, it’s gotta be
something deeper in the world. So, we are on a quest to find it! Do you want to help?”
Marissa Miller is an up and coming author, who has spent the last few years working on novels and children’s books. She currently resides in northern California with her husband, two little dogs (Alice and Diggory), and two cats (Burt and Winry).
Miller has been an aspiring storyteller since she was a young girl and began more seriously pursuing the art of writing in her teens. After a happy accident with miscommunication in 2017, Miller began producing illustrations to accompany her work; she now attempts to incorporate in her illustrative style with all of her works.
Miller’s first published work is the wonderfully imaginative children’s book, Chasing Figments. Following her picture book, Miller published an illustrated young reader’s book, The Grim and The Fantastic. Both books embody Miller’s brand, which is finding the splendor in one’s life, no matter the circumstance, and using imagination to overcome obstacles.
Who is your hero and why?
I know it might seem a little cliche to be a children’s book author, and then say how much I
admire Walt Disney, but it is very true. Since I was two-years-old, I have wanted to be a
storyteller in some way. Originally, I wanted to be a one-woman production team of my own
cartoon creator (writing, drawing, voicing, etc.), which was a career choice I had decided after
watching Disney movies. As I got older, that transitioned into writing and dreaming of being an
author. However, I still deeply admire the empire that Walt Disney built from the ground up, and
his trials and tribulations along the way are a reminder to me that even the greats had to start
somewhere, and not everything was smooth sailing along the way. I love watching all the
behind-the-scenes footage of the creative process behind the movies, like the inspiration/artwork,
storyboarding, machinery, and filming. Beyond that, the wonderful content that he and his
company created--- to foster such imagination and magic in the lives of countless children and
adults--- that is what I hope to be able to create and share with others someday.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
It took me a long time to feel like I could call myself a writer, even though I had been writing
since early childhood. I fell subject to that idea a lot of us get when we get in our own heads, and
think, “Who am I to think I deserve to call myself that?” Then, I had someone tell me that a writer is someone who writes, an author is what a writer calls themself after publishing. After
that, it became easier to call myself a writer because it took a little of the self-imposed pressure
off. Once I published my first book, it was very surreal to finally say I am an author. I still
struggle with validating myself, but I try to focus on the fact that I have two children’s books
published (both written and illustrated by me), and no matter what, that is something to be proud
of myself for. I am a writer and I am an author, and I am pleased to be able to put little chunks of
my imagination out there for others to happen upon.
What inspired you to write this book?
I was in town visiting family, fast asleep in the guest room at my mom’s. I was dreaming, and, in
the dream, I was standing in a hospital. But, the walls and floor were breaking apart to spill away
to this gorgeous and magical place full of color and magic. There were these kind of blurry slow
motion actions taking place around me, and I remember either hearing, or just “knowing,” that
there were Cancer Beasts, and children who were Cancer Warriors. I woke up, at like 3 am, with
the very groggy thought that this was a story I needed to write, so I made a note in my phone
(that I still have) saying “Story Idea: hospital imaginary setting fighting the cancer beast,” and
went back to sleep. I came back to it later to create The Grim and The Fantastic.
Are these characters based on real-life or imagination?
The characters in this story are special to me because most of them have some form of homage to
someone in my life. Merton, the main character, is named and physically based on my late
grandfather. Cathy is named after my aunt who passed away from cancer a few years ago. Dr.
Jankins is a nod to an inside joke with my mom, and Dr. Jackson is named after my uncle. Dr.
Tes is a nod to a friend who allowed me access to her personal experiences to help authenticate
the story. Rosie’s character is one that I felt I connected with, myself. Lastly, I put my dog,
Alice, in the story just as she is. I got her when I was twelve after being very, very sick and she
helped/still helps bring some light back into my life.
How did you come up with the name of this book?
I had a really, really hard time coming up with the name of this book. It was basically the last
thing I did before publishing. I had the book written, edited, illustrated, and I still couldn’t figure
out a name that felt right for the story. I made countless lists of different names. The Grim and The Fantastic was on an early list, but didn’t work for me at first. Then, I was reviewing old
lists, read it, and something just clicked. I knew it was the perfect name for a story that focused
on some serious and sad subject matter, but took it to a hopeful and magical place to overcome
the bad--- thusly grim and fantastic were perfect descriptors.
Is there anything you want readers to know?
I felt very nervous about really putting out there that this book deals with cancer. I think there is
a bit of a stigma around books that have cancer in them as being either really jarringly sad, or a
romance novel. Also, from what I have seen, cancer books are typically for an older audience, so
I worried that a child might see “cancer” and be put off, or a parent might think the subject too
heavy for a young reader. I didn’t want to pigeon-hole myself, but, at the same time, I didn’t
want to hide it either. I have been more open about it though as I continue to market it.
Ultimately, I believe it is a unique story that will help children with any illness or difficulties find
escapism and a bit of splendor. I hope that readers will give it the chance it deserves. It really is
an uplifting story of finding hope overall.
How is your writing process?
When I write, I have an “organized chaos” approach. I will have an idea and make a rough
outline. Outlines generally consist of broad overviews of things to happen or a specific character
element I would like to show, with the occasional note that something specific must happen in
this chapter. Otherwise, I look at the overview for the chapter as a guideline/starting point, and
then I free-write from there. Sometimes I get too off track and end up having to cut out segments,
and sometimes it helps me break out of a sticky plot point by not staying within too strict of
Do you prefer to write in silence, or with noise, why?
I much prefer to write with music playing. I find great enjoyment in planning playlists that
remind me of what the soundtrack for my book would be if it were a movie. It is fun to play into
those dreams. I have one for every major project I work on, though I have a general playlist I
listen to for writing. For The Grim and The Fantastic , a song that is sort of the anthem to me for
this book is “We’ll Be The Stars” by Sabrina Carpenter. You know how there is always a song
that plays for the credits of a movie that sort of encompasses the whole film? That song is this
book’s ideal credits-song. It actually makes me teary-eyed when I hear it. If I ever had a wish
granted and had a movie made for this book, I would have to have that song incorporated as a
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
A major trap for aspiring writers is largely getting in one’s head and telling yourself you aren’t
good enough. It is easy to belittle ourselves, and while we should be very clear cut with creating
a quality end product, you won’t get there if you beat yourself up along the way. On the other
hand, it is good to be receptive of constructive criticism, because no matter how amazing you
are, no one ever pumps out a perfect first draft, devoid of any errors whatsoever. Finding the
balance between your inner critic and resistance to changing your drafts is important.
Do you write one book at a time or several at a time?
I have several projects going at any given time. Writer’s block can be a very real thing, and
sometimes when I am blocked on one story, it helps to pop over to a completely different project
and completely switch gears to refresh. Some of my projects are illustrated too, so if writing just
isn’t working out, I can switch over to art and reset completely.
Did you know?
I created this book from scratch, from beginning to end. I wrote the book, edited, illustrated,
formatted/layout, and made the front and back cover. I used a hybrid publishing company,
Gatekeeper Press, for distribution and printing only. Everything else is all my own creation. I
made the whole thing and saved it as a print-ready PDF, and sent it off! It isn’t perfect, but I feel
good about knowing that I was able to do every step up to printing by myself.
Something you are proud of with this book?
I really tried to keep this story very authentic. I am proud of that. Even though it has a fantasy
element, I believe the characters are very real, and their thoughts and feelings are also very real. I
wove in a lot of details from my own life so I know they are true to me. I believe authenticity
woven together with fantastical escapism is very important in writing this type of story.
Pen, typewriter, or computer?
I outline and world-build in pen, and I write on my computer. So far, I illustrate on paper and
edit on my computer too.
Do you read for yourself, and if so, which genre?
I love to read for leisure. It took me a little longer for learning to read to click, but once it did, I
took off with it--- no training wheels needed! I try not to be too limited by genre and really just
look for good stories. But I do primarily read fiction for pleasure.
If I had to narrow it down, I tend to lean towards fantasy, and children’s books. Personally, I find
it such a wonderful experience to read a book with some fantasy to escape into from the real
world. Take me to Hogwarts, Narnia, or a secret garden any day! I love that feeling of
suspension of disbelief, when you feel, for a moment, like magic, grandeur, and fantasy are
possible---and, ultimately, they are! They are always tangible in your imagination. Books are
merely the portals to connect the two.
How do you view reading?
As an author, I know the kind of effort and soul-pouring that goes into creating a finished book.
Though I know not every book will flow for me, or the writing style might not click or be my
favorite, I sincerely try not to be unnecessarily snobby about my reading preferences. Instead, I
look at reading like a treasure hunt of others' imagination and creativity. I get to have the honor
of venturing into the creative mind of another person every time I crack the spine of a new book.
Sometimes you get pretty seashells, and sometimes you get a diamond in the rough that will be a
treasure for life.
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