Matisse is a city girl originally who moves to the country. You grew up in upstate New York and eventually moved to the city. How did your opposite experience influence your writing about Matisse’s move?
I’m in love with New York City but a part of me will always be a country girl (despite my fear of spiders) and I thought it would be fun to write something that explored those two sides of my personality. I do prefer city living but it was pretty easy to draw on my small town love, even though I’ve lived in cities most of my adult life.
Do you and Matisse have a lot in common? In what way?
Matisse is so the opposite of how I was in high school. She is confident, outspoken and could care less what anyone thinks of her. I was always second guessing myself and getting worked up worrying about what other people thought of me. I’ve gotten a little more assertive as I’ve gotten older and I do worry less what people think of me. Or so I thought before I wrote a book and had to worry about reviews!
What are you writing right now? Would you ever consider writing a sequel to Alive and Well in Prague, New York?
I am working on two things now: a middle grade coming of age story that is almost done, and a teen book that is barely started. The teen book will be about a girl who has the opposite experience of Matisse- she and her family will leave their small town for a summer in the big city. Like Matisse she has a past she wants to forget and at first hates her new home.
I’d love to visit Matisse again but I kind of like where I’ve left her so I’m not planning a sequel right now. But I never say never!
Why did you choose to write about a character whose father is suffering from Parkinson’s Disease?
My dad had ALS which is similar to Parkinson’s: both are neurological and strip the person of their ability to care for themselves. I wanted to write about how difficult neurological illnesses are for entire families but not write the story of my own experience, so I chose something similar but different.
Matisse’s mother is a painter, her father a sculptor, and her first friend in Prague, Violet, is a poet. Lots of artsy people! If you could be talented in some other artistic medium (dance, photography, whatever) besides writing novels, what would you choose?
Good question! I cannot even draw a good stick figure and I’d love to be able to really make images come alive on paper.
Who are your favorite visual artists?
Van Gogh is my favorite though I also like the Hudson River painters- I grew up in the Hudson Valley so their work resonates for me.
Why did you choose to write for a young adult audience? Would you want to write for either children or adults?
For whatever reason the stories I think of are teen and middle grade. Possibly because that tween/teen part of me is still very much alive, but also maybe because in those years books meant the most to me. All my favorite authors are the ones I read from ages 10-15 and those are the stories I could tell you from memory because I read them so many times. I should also add that 90% of the books I read now are still YA!
What came to you first when writing Alive and Well in Prague, New York: character, plot, or something else?
Another good question! I’d have to say the basic idea of writing about a girl whose dad is ill came first. I wanted to write about what it’s like to see a parent lose the ability to control their own body because it’s such a profound and life changing thing for everyone involved. But of course the thing about that experience is that it’s grounded in all the other parts of life: friends, social stuff, guys, school. So the story just grew from there.
You’ve done quite a bit of travelling. What is your favorite place in the world that you’ve been to, and favorite that you have yet to see in person?
China was amazing but I’m going to have to say Colombia was my favorite place to be. I think it was all the salsa dancing!
Favorite places yet to see: there are a lot! Top two are Morocco and Egypt.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Finish what you write. When I first started writing creatively I got good at writing scenes and chapters, but learning to carry a whole story from beginning to end, with each character having an arc, was a whole different ball game. And it took a lot of practice, with some really bad manuscripts and a lot of revision along the way!
What’s your writing process like?
I write from an outline. Most authors I know don’t, but for me thinking out the story ahead of time makes it easier to sit down and write each day. I’m not sitting down to write a book, I’m just sitting down to write the next scene on my outline. I also like knowing ahead of time where I am going with the story.
Who are some of your biggest writing influences?
There are a ton but I’d have to say the number one is Beverly Cleary. I love that she writes a very specific story about a person so three dimensional you feel you know them, and then through that very individual story touches on profound universal themes, like learning to be true to yourself. I see myself reflected in her books and I feel reaffirmed in my own life when I read her.
What are your five favorite things besides books and writing? (This can be anything–places, activities, people, whatever.)
1. my family (including my cats)
2. visiting new places and old friends
3. the beach at Cape Cod
5. high quality chocolate chip cookies (dairy free since I’m allergic)
Now ask yourself a question (and answer it).
Q- How totally psyched are you to be interviewed by the awesome Jocelyn?
A-So very psyched!