Matisse is a 100% certifiable city girl. New York City isn’t only her home, it’s her stomping ground. But when her father’s illness takes a turn for the worse, her family’s needs force her to move from her comfortable digs to middle of nowhere Prague, New York. Hey, at least she’s still in New York, right? Wrong! For Matisse this isn’t New York, or at least her New York.
Matisse is betting on hating Prague, and everything it has to offer – the people included. But what she isn’t betting on is that Prague New York will not only change her, it will become home.
To say I devoured this book when I first read it would be the understatement of the year. I couldn’t put it down. The smart writing, and the honest, lovable characters drew me in immediately. Daphne Grab dazzled me from the very first word of Alive and Well […] to the very last. Recently, I reached out to her asking if she would graciously take time out of her, what I’m sure is extremely busy schedule, and answer some questions. Graciously, she did. And here’s what she had to say:
BookBandit (BB): Can you tell me a little about yourself? And about how/why you became a writer?
Daphne Grab (DG): Sure! I live in New York City with my husband, our two kids and our cat, all of whom are great inspiration to me. I always knew I wanted to write but I could never think of a story that I actually cared about enough to sit down and commit to. Seemingly unrelated, I also had the unusual (or so I thought) quirk of reading teen books long after I’d left my teen years. I was always hiding the covers when I read on the subway since I felt like a thirty-something year old woman should be reading adult books. 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. One of the greatest things about being part of the teen writing 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!
BB: For you what is your writing process like, and what is the most difficult part of writing creatively?
DG: I work best when writing is a habit. During the school year I work when my kids are at school, the same time every day. That gets me into a groove and I think my muse is more likely to show up. During summer vacation, I write when I can but spend most of my time with the kids. In the end I think time out in the world, living and having fun, makes your writing richer, so this is a good thing. The most difficult thing is keeping faith in my story. I always hit these points where I start to doubt everything and feel like this book is the worst book ever. This kind of thinking is never helpful!
BB: What was the inspiration behind Alive and Well In Prague, New York?
DG: When the story idea first came to me I was at the New School in the second year of my MFA program. I’d just finished a mediocre manuscript and was trying to come up with some new ideas. One of my teachers was talking about writing from a life experience and I suddenly thought that I’d like to write about the experience I went through of having a parent with a degenerative illness that is ultimately fatal. Fun idea, right? But really, I wanted to have a character who deals with that, which is such a huge and life changing thing, but to be coping with it along with the rest of her life: friends, guys, evil cheerleaders, etc.
BB: You are a part of the Longstockings, and first is that a reference to Pippi Longstocking? If so, how did that come up? And how does being involved with other writers part of the Longstockings help your writing, and your creativity?
DG: The Longstockings are my critique group and my writing support system. We met at the New School and have been buddies and blogging partners ever since. They are some of the first people I bounce story ideas off of and my first readers who help set me straight as I navigate my first draft. It’s an amazing thing to be part of a group of writers who help each other every step of the way, and I feel really invested in every one else’s books because I have seen them go from scenes to drafts to an actual book. And yes, we are named in honor of Pippi because different as we all are, each of us was read Pippi when we were little girls.
BB: Are you working on anything new at the moment? What’s it about? When can fans expect it to hit shelves? Will it be anything at all like Alive and Well […]?
DG: I actually have a book I wrote under a pen name, Lila Castle, that just came out last month. It’s very different from Alive and Well: a light beach read that was fun but very different to write. Now I’m back working on a book that will be in my own name that I hope to sell in the next 6 months or so, after I finish polishing it. That will be a middle grade and it’s been a lot of fun to work on!
BB: Matisse isn’t a name you hear very often – how did you come up with it for your main character, and how did you know that it would fit her character’s personality? Is there a specific reason why you chose it?
DG: My writing friends make fun of the names I come up with because rarely do I pick “normal” names like Elizabeth or Jennifer. I think it’s because my own name is kind of unusual and as a kid I was often very aware of that. For Matisse, I first imagined her as the daughter of artists and then I thought it would be fun if she were named after an artist. I guess I could have called her Georgia or Frida but for some reason Matisse just jumped out at me.
BB: Matisse is a very honest, and relatable character, as are all the characters featured in your book. What was the most difficult aspect of creating Matisse specifically? How much of yourself do you see in her?
DG: 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!
B: Can you offer any advice to writers – writers who specifically want to write for a young adult audience?
DG: I’d say one critical piece is to write the story you have to write, that feels most meaningful to you and that you can’t seem to shake out of your head. Be true to your characters, whether they are teens or adults, and that authenticity will shine through. Do what you can to get critique and take it seriously. You don’t have to listen to every bit of advice but there will always be things that resonate and those are the ones to go in and adjust. If you don’t have a writing group, SCBWI can be a great resource for connecting with other teen writers.
Luckily, I (the BookBandit) has a signed copy of Daphne Grab’s Alive and Well in Prague, New York. And if you’re lucky (which I’m sure you are) you could own this said signed copy! Isn’t that exciting!
All you have to do to enter the Daphne Grab Alive and Well signed book giveaway is post a comment on THIS post. Comment about anything … how your day is going, what you’re currently reading, fashion trends you hate, anything. Most creative, funny, and/or random comment will win Daphne Grab’s *signed* book Alive and Well in Prague, New York.
Contest will close on Wednesday, August 25th @ midnight! Good luck! And COMMENT!!!!