I am pleased to welcome Daphne Grab, debut author of Alive and Well in Prague, New York to my blog. Alive and Well in Prague, New York was just released at the beginning of this month.
HWM: What made you realize you wanted to write children’s books?
Daphne: Two things coming together: first, long after I’d left my teen years I was still reading teen books, hiding the covers when I read on the subway since I felt like a thirty-something- year-old woman should be reading adult books. And second, I’d always wanted to be a writer but I could never think of a story to write. Then one day I got a catalog from the New School about their MFA program and I saw that they had a concentration in creative writing for children. Bells went off as two things came together and I knew that that was what I wanted to do. And one of the greatest things about being part of the kidlit community is that I now feel proud to read teen and MG books, and I hold the covers high when I read them on the subway!
HWM: I understand your dad inspired your book, Alive and Well in Prague, New York. What difficulties did you have (if any) writing this book, and how did you stay focused on Matisse’s story?
Daphne: My dad had ALS which has certain similarities to Parkinson’s, but is different enough that I didn’t get caught in writing my own story but was able to write Matisse’s. That said, I definitely drew on my own feelings of what it was like to have a sick parent who I knew would not get better. It’s such a profound and life changing experience and there are moments of fun and goodness mixed in with the sadness of knowing time is limited. I wanted the book to show that and also to show the struggle to accept things that are really hard, but it was important to me that it not be my own story, so I made sure Matisse and her circumstances were very different from my own. That freed me up to make it hers.
HWM: How did you celebrate the release of your book?
Daphne: I had a book party! It was at the Bank Street Bookstore and I had such a wonderful time- friends and family came, my kids ran around talking to everyone (they are three and a half), my awesome agent came and my wonderful editor introduced my reading. And of course my NYC writer friends, including the local Longstockings came. It was such a neat night.
HWM: It’s difficult for people to understand degenerative illnesses. You cap
tured the family crisis so well in your book. What do you hope teens will get after reading your book?
Daphne: My hope would be that it is an empowering read, the kind of thing that affirms people being true to themselves. I’d be pleased if it if also offered comfort to teens facing different kinds of obstacles in their lives. So often people feel alone when struggling with something and I love the thought that this book might help some readers feel less alone.
HWM: I love Matisse’s voice. When did you know you had the right voice for her?
Daphne: Her voice came to me right away, which doesn’t always happen but which made it easier to write. I think I imagined her as really different from me as a teen— confident and outspoken, where as I was a bit shy and very concerned about what other people thought of me. I wanted her to be different so that I’d be sure to keep the story hers and not slip into making it mine. It was fun to write someone so sassy and self assured!
HWM: I understand you’ve just sold your second book. Congratulations! What inspired this story?
Daphne: Well, I am a huge football fan and my husband most decidedly isn’t. A few years ago we were driving home from a vacation, the kids were sleeping in the back and I was talking his ear off about football training camp which had just started. Finally he said, “you should write a book about being a football fan.” I knew he was hoping I’d channel some of my football talk into a book but the idea took root and I came up with the story of HALFTIME. My writing group and agent helped me get it into shape to sell and I’ll start edits on it this summer.
HWM: What other projects are you working on?
Daphne: I’m currently working on a rough draft of what I hope will be my next teen book.
HWM: What do you like writing the most: the beginning, middle or end? Why?
Daphne: Hmm, that’s a tough call between beginning and end. In the beginning things are fun and fresh and you don’t have to worry about making everything fit together just yet. In the end it’s exciting because it’s all coming together. It’s the middle that’s tough for me, keeping up the tension, making sure you’ve seeded things so they make sense. That’s where I am with my WIP and I’m so glad I have this interview to do instead of trying to make headway with that!
HWM: What has been the biggest challenge of your writing career and how did you tackle it?
Daphne: Recognizing that critique is a helpful tool. When I first started workshop classes at the New School I was devastated by critique. I remember the first time I shared pages a girl in the class (not a Longstocking) said, “I read these pages and thought, so what?” I felt like she’d slapped me, and perhaps that was a bit harsh. But what she was saying was that my book was starting too slow and there wasn’t anything to root for yet, both things I needed to work on. Now when I hear critique it can sting but I am always thinking about how I can use it to make my story stronger.
[HWM’s Note: Probably one of the hardest things to do is to take out scenes…This was one of Daphne’s favorite scenes…and it was cut from the book!]
HWM: What has been the biggest surprise of your writing career?
Daphne: How amazing and supportive the kidlit world is! It would be so easy for people to be cliquey or competitive and for the most part it feels like one big love fest of people celebrating kids books.
HWM: I read in Sea Heidi’s interview with you about the importance of finding the right fit with an agent. What are some things you think writers should consider before signing up with an agent?
Daphne: When you get that first offer from an agent it’s so thrilling that it kind of sweeps you off your feet. That first time for me I was so happy someone really liked my work and wanted to represent it that I didn’t think about the fact that I’d be setting up a long term relationship with this person.
Daphne: To write the story you have and not try to write what you think will sell or what you think other people want to see. Just write the story you want to write.
HWM: Do you have any plans to start your own blog?
Daphne: I love sharing a blog with the ladies of the Longstockings and at this point it fills the blogging need in my life. But never say never!
HWM: If you found a way to go back to your teen years as one of your characters, who would it be and why?
Daphne: I’d love to be Matisse and bring some of that sass into my high school life!
Daphne: My kids crack me up everyday. Three year olds just have the funniest perspective on life!