Interviewed by Melissa
Being a new author can be simultaneously exciting and thrilling, yet full of anxiety and intimidating: what will everyone think of my book? I've followed the development of Daphne Grab's first novel, Alive and Well in Prague, New York through the group blog, The Longstockings, as she's posted about the experience. A graduate of The New School in New York City, Daphne is not only a talented writer, former teacher, and city girl, but a busy mom of two preschool children. Needless to say, I was very excited that she was willing to spare some time for an interview.
MF: How did you decide to become a writer? Is it something you've "always" wanted to do?
DG: It was always in the back of my mind to be a writer, though I could never come up with a good idea for a book. Then about seven years ago I happened to read the acknowledgements of a book I’d just finished and I saw that the author had gotten an MFA at The New School in New York City. I was living in NYC and on a whim emailed the school asking for a catalog. When I saw that one option was to study writing for children I had an “a-ha” moment where I knew that that was exactly what I wanted to do. Once I realized who I wanted to write for, the story ideas came.
MF: This is your first novel; congrats! Can you tell us a bit about the process? How long did it take from conception to finally seeing it in print? How do you feel finally getting your story out there?
DG: Thanks! I got the idea for the book the summer before my last year at The New School. I wrote half the manuscript then and finished it and workshopped it a ton over the next year.
My teacher that first semester did a lot of neat things with our class and one of them was a mock submission. We each gave her five pages of our manuscripts along with a cover letter and she passed them on to Jill Santopolo, her editor at HarperCollins. Jill came to class a few weeks later and gave us feedback on what we had written. Mine was one of the stories she said she’d have asked to read in full, so after I graduated I queried her and two weeks later she made me an offer on the book! It was the most incredible feeling to know I’d actually sold a book. And though it felt like I’d completed a long journey, it was actually just the beginning. Jill is very hands-on and we revised the manuscript several times over the next 9 months or so. Then it went off to copy editing and I felt finished again but a month later it came back with a gazillion red marks because I am not the greatest with spelling and commas. All said, it will have been two years almost to the day between when I first got the offer and when the book came out.
It has been so strange in these past months to start getting reviews--I still can’t believe that people are actually reading this story that has lived in my head for so long! I am lucky in that the reviews have mostly been quite lovely, but there are still moments where I read someone’s interpretation of an aspect of the story and think, “Wow, that’s what I did there?” It’s kind of neat.
MF: Your book is about a girl -- Matisse -- dealing with her father's Parkinson's Disease. How did you choose to write about Parkinson's, rather than a different illness?
DG: I wanted to write about a girl whose father had a degenerative illness that would ultimately be terminal (cheerful, right?). It’s such a huge and profound thing to see a parent slowly lose the ability to care for themselves and to know they will not get better. I drew on my own experience of my father having ALS and I chose to write about Parkinson’s because it has certain similarities to ALS as they are both neurological illnesses. I didn’t feel ready to write about ALS, but more than that I didn’t want to write my own experience, I just wanted to able to draw on that experience in forming my main character and the story.
MF: The other issue Matisse deals with is the differences between living in the big city and a small town. Was that an intentional theme of the book, or do you think it just came about because of your personal life experiences?
DG: I liked the idea of the main character facing challenges on a number of fronts, some lighter than others. I grew up in a small town that suddenly had an influx of NYC tourists when I was a teen. It was such a funny thing to see these people all spiffed up in city clothes that would just get muddy if they took a walk in the woods. But now I see myself being “city” when I go back to my hometown, so at some point it occurred to me that it would be a fun issue to write about. So I think the answer is yes to both!
MF: What do you hope readers will get out of your book?
DG: That even in the face of terribly difficult things there are moments of fun and laughter and beauty. That connections to other people are crucial. That it’s better to face hard things than to hide from them. But my number one hope is that people enjoy it!
MF: You are part of a group blog. When did you start blogging? What inspired you to start? Has there been any benefits/distractions to your writing?
DG: The eight of us are New School grads from two different classes and we’d been writing together for a while when we decided it might be fun to do a group blog. I think we started in the fall of 2006, so it’s been a while. I think it’s benefited me in a number of ways, the most important being connecting to writers, teachers, librarians and readers. Spending a lot of time reading other peoples’ blogs can be a distraction but I think it’s great to know what other people are writing about and thinking about in the kidlit world, and I love that our blog is part of that.
MF: Where do you find inspiration for your writing?
DG: Everywhere! It starts with me being engaged by an idea or a scenario that can come from something I see or read or just start thinking about as I'm walking down the street.
MF: Do you have a favorite place to write? Any writing "rituals"?
DG: I write at my desk, which is actually my dad’s desk, and it’s stuffed into a corner on our bedroom because NYC apartments are small. I work for four hours in the morning, while my kids are at preschool, and my ritual is that about two hours in I do yoga for half an hour or so. It gets my blood flowing so I can last the final hour!
MF: What are your top five favorite books of all time?
DG: So hard to pick just five! But here they are:
The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
A Ring of Endless Light, by Madeleine L’Engle
Fifteen, by Beverly Cleary
Dairy Queen, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
The Catcher in the Rye, by JD Salinger
MF: If you don't mind telling us, what can we look forward to seeing from you next?
DG: I just sold my second book so I’m actually very excited to talk about it! It’s called HALFTIME and it’s a middle grade book about a boy who is a huge football fan and a bit of a social loser at school. At the start of the book he learns that the baby his mother gave up for adoption 21 years ago is the best college football player in the country and the story follows the ups and downs as his new half-brother comes into his life. There are girls, bullies and family growing pains. And my work in progress is a teen book that I hope to finish and sell in the next year or so.
MF: Thanks for you're time, Daphne!
DG: Thanks so much for having me!
You can find out more about Daphne at her website: http://daphnegrab.com/. And please see Melissa's review of Alive and Well in Prague, New York in this issue of Estella's Revenge.
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