Daphne Grab is the author of Alive and Well in Prague New York, a wonderful debut that will be released  this June.  We are lucky enough to have her here for an interview, and I hope you all enjoy it!

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

4. movies

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!

Thanks Jocelyn!!

Thanks, Daphne!

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Daphne Grab is a member of The Longstockings blog and The Class of 2k8. Alive and Well in Prague, New York is her impressive debut novel about Matisse Osgood, a New York City girl through and through who has to move with her parents to Prague, a small town in upstate New York about four hours away from the city. Matisse loves the city, and that, along with her bitterness about having to leave her world of art galleries and foreign restaurants and everything she loves, makes her seem to be a bit of a snob at first. Matisse has a bit of a holier-than-thou attitude; in her opinion, city people (herself included) are cultured and artistic and mature and intelligent, and the residents of Prague are backward hicks. The name of the town, in Matisse’s opinion, is a cruel joke.

However, Matisse’s attitude can be forgiven, a bit, when readers discover the real reason she and her artist parents left the city. Her father, a rather famous sculptor, has Parkinson’s Disease, or PD. He can’t sculpt anymore; he can hardly function even with the help of all his medications. Matisse can’t deal with that, and she doesn’t want anyone in Prague to find out. She doesn’t want to have to deal with the huge pity party that she left behind in the city. Matisse has a lot to deal with; she may be a pain and a snob at first, but there’s a real reason she’s acting that way. She’s refusing to deal with what’s really bothering her (her father).

Soon, though, despite her attitude, she begins to make some friends. Violet, a loner who writes poetry and sits by herself with a book at lunchtime, for one. Maybe even Hal, her next-door-neighbor who Matisse at first writes off as a complete hick, and Marco, who at first just seems like a shallow stereotype of a jock. Despite alienating her best friend in New York, maybe Matisse isn’t as alone as she thought.

I quite enjoyed Daphne Grab’s debut. Matisse is a realistic character, especially in terms of the way she handles (or rather, doesn’t handle) her father’s illness. Matisse’s character development is right on. Alive and Well in Prague, New York is an engaging, interesting story, and solidly well-written. I loved Daphne Grab’s portrayal of small-town life, and it’s pretty accurate (though I don’t live in such a tiny town, the community where I live is a lot like Prague, New York in some ways. And, yeah, I’ve been on a hayride!). I put this book down feeling quite satisfied, and I look forward to Daphne Grab’s future efforts. This book will be released on June 3.

Liz Gallagher is the brilliant new author of The Opposite of Invisible. Liz is also a member of the Class of 2k8, and the second one to be interviewed here (I have also interviewed 2k8 member Lisa Schroeder)! Liz’s debut novel is really amazing, and we are quite lucky to have her here today for an interview!

Where did the inspiration to write The Opposite of Invisible come from?

I used to walk from a bus stop in Fremont, the Seattle neighborhood where the novel is set and where I now live, to my job at a before-school program. One fall day, while passing the big junk shop (it’s called Deluxe Junk), I realized that Fremont would be a great place to set a book. I knew right away that I wanted to set the book around Halloween, because it’s my favorite time of year. From there, I came up with the original first line: “It all started with this dress.” That line just haunted me and was a great springboard, but I don’t think it ended up anywhere in the actual book!

How has the novel changed since the first draft?

It’s changed so much! I originally wrote it as a short story. One of the biggest changes is that Simon used to be a one-dimensional jock character, and he was way too mean to Alice. Now, I think he’s more like a real guy who just happens to be popular, which is how I always wanted him to be. Other main elements didn’t change that much — the tight friendship between Alice and Jewel has always been there.

Why did you choose to write for young adults? Would you like to write for other audiences?

I just think young adult literature is where it’s at. My favorite writer is MT Anderson. I was already working in a kids’ bookshop (All for Kids here in Seattle) and loving young adult books, but it was while reading his book FEED that I really fell inextricably in love with the genre. I might like to try some adult romantic fiction, or a fun series that’s a little younger than OPPOSITE, but for now I’m stickin’ to YA.

In the book, Alice talks to her poster of Picasso’s Dove Girl. How did you choose the piece of artwork that would be Alice’s confidante? What are some of your other favorite paintings?

Good question! I have that actual poster, from the Picasso museum in Barcelona. I just love the image. It was a natural choice. I didn’t want her to have a journal, but I knew she needed an outlet for her feelings, and that idea just appeared on the page. I love lots of Picasso (I even have a Picasso tattoo!), and I am intrigued by Duchamp (like Vanessa); I also love Matisse and van Gogh. STARRY NIGHT is one of my favorite paintings.

What was your road to becoming a published author like? How is the experience of actually being a published author different from what you expected?

My road seems pretty smooth, looking back! When I knew I wanted to get serious about writing, I applied to the Vermont College MFA program in writing for children and young adults. It was in the program that I wrote most of OPPOSITE. Right before graduation, I signed on with my agent, Rosemary Stimola. She sold the book soon after graduation, and here I am, two and a half years later. The experience is fun every step of the way. I think it’s different than what I expected in that I still feel shocked that my book is out there in the world. I just can’t get used to it!

The setting of The Opposite of Invisible, Seattle, is very much a presence in the novel. What’s your favorite place in Seattle?

Oooh, that’s hard. I have a few, and they’re all in the book — Pike Place Market (I’m so excited that it’s becoming good-fruit season!), the view from the top of Queen Anne Hill. But I’ll have to say my favorite is the Troll. I’m lucky enough to live on the same block as the Troll, too. (Psst: the road was closed a few days ago because, apparently, Jennifer Aniston is filming a movie here. So look for the Troll in an upcoming flick!)

Is Alice like you in any way?

She’s like me in the way she thinks — her thought process, the way she makes decisions. But she’s more well-adjusted to life than I think I was at age fifteen. And she speaks her mind, which is still hard for me to do sometimes.

What are you writing now?

I’m working on a companion to OPPOSITE, actually. It’s all about Vanessa.

What are some of your favorite books or authors?

Like I said, FEED by MT Anderson changed my life! I also love books by Lara Zeises, Alison McGhee, and Ron Koertge.

Now, ask yourself a question (and give the answer)!

Do you know any other writers, Liz?

Why, yes, I do! Some from my days at Vermont College, and 27 debut writers from The Class of 2k8 (classof2k8.com), of which I am proud to be a member.

Thanks so much, Liz!

I wanted to absolutely adore A Curse As Dark As Gold. After all, I’ve heard a lot of great things from people whose opinions I trust (Miss Erin and Sookie at Over My Head, for example). So maybe I had unreasonably high expectations opening this book, and I’m afraid I wasn’t quite as taken with it as they were, though I did really enjoy it, and any disappointment is probably my own fault for having unreasonably high expectations. I will certainly look forward to future work from Elizabeth C. Bunce, and highly recommend this debut novel!

That said, A Curse As Dark As Gold is an enchanting fairy tale retelling of Rumpelstiltskin.  In it, Charlotte Miller’s father has just died, leaving her in charge of Stirwaters, the mill that’s been in her family for generations. Though their cloth is lovely and they work hard, Stirwaters has always had a run of bad luck. No son has lived to adulthood, so the mill has passed from Miller to Miller, but in a rather haphazard way–from uncle to nephew to cousin to brother, etc. Charlotte and her younger sister, though, are the last of the family, and they’re determined to hold on to the mill.

Of course, that won’t be as easy as it sounds. Charlotte has to keep the mill from being seized by debt collectors, and being female at this time makes things particularly difficult. And that bad luck? There have always been whispers of a curse on Stirwaters. Charlotte’s not the superstitious type, but now she’s starting to believe it might be true…

So what desperate measures will Charlotte take to save Stirwaters? She’s not sure how far she’ll go, until Jack Spinner shows up with promises to be her salvation. But what will be the cost, in the end, and is she willing to pay it?

Elizabeth C. Bunce’s debut novel is a well-told and well-written story, populated by interesting characters. Its setting is a slightly fictionalized time in English history, and, well, I’m a sucker for all things English, past and present, and I really enjoyed the setting. The story starts out a little slow for my taste, but certainly picks up by the end (the last hundred or so pages, I couldn’t put it down and read all through Spanish class). A Curse As Dark As Gold is an intelligent, original, and interesting new take on an old fairy tale, and a marvelous debut novel.

Also check out Erin’s wonderful interview with the author.

I’m very pleased to have Lisa Schroeder here for an interview! Let me take this opportunity to say that I’m also planning on doing a series of interviews with Class of 2k8 authors as their books come out (if I read and enjoy the books and if the authors are interested, of course). Thanks, Lisa, for being the first! Lisa Schroeder is the author of I Heart You, You Haunt Me, a lovely and haunting love story.

I Heart You, You Haunt Me is a verse novel. Is there a particular reason you decided to tell the story this way?

    I love novels in verse. I think when you have an emotional subject, telling the story in verse is a powerful way to do it.
    I didn’t really plan to write the novel that way. When I sat down and started writing, that’s just how it came out. A couple of pages into it, which are now the very first pages, Ava described what she saw and felt as she walked into the funeral of her boyfriend. That’s emotional stuff, and that’s why the verse works well here. I also think, with the paranormal aspect, the verse creates an atmosphere I couldn’t have created in prose.

    What did you find was different about writing a novel in verse as opposed to prose?
    Word choice is even more important in this kind of book. Finding unique ways of describing things is challenging and rewarding all at the same time. Of course I tried to use poetic devices throughout the book, and you aren’t going to do that in a novel with prose. Rhythm and pacing are important in any book, but it’s different in this kind of book. More time is spent reading passages aloud, perhaps, to see how it flows.
    Probably the hardest thing is that I wanted the book to be accessible, so teens would read it and enjoy it. It’s hard to balance the accessibility part with the poetry part. I hope I succeeded.

    There’s a long way to go from wanting to be a writer and actually having your novel on the shelves. Could you tell me a little about your journey to becoming a published author?I started writing and submitting for publication about seven years ago. I began by writing picture books, and went to conferences and studied the craft of books for younger children. Right around my 100th rejection on various stories, one of my picture book stories, BABY CAN’T SLEEP, sold to Sterling. As my children were growing, I began reading mid-grade novels again, sharing in that experience with my oldest son. I remembered how much I loved those books as a kid, and since the picture book market was having a tough time of it, I thought maybe I should try writing a novel. I was scared, but I also figured, what do I have to lose? It was exciting to have a new challenge. That mid-grade novel was the first of three novels I wrote, none of which ever sold. I think of them as my training books. With each one, I learned about writing a novel. I may go back and revisit one of them, and see if some revisions would make it more marketable, but we’ll see.
    When I started writing I HEART YOU, I had a feeling deep inside that this was something different, and was my best work yet. After many years of trying, I got an agent with this book and then she helped me sell it to Simon Pulse.

What are your favorite and least favorite parts of being a published author?

    I love hearing from readers who enjoy my books. It’s so wonderful to have someone tell me that my book touched them in a special way.
    The hardest part is probably juggling everything. I’m glad I have an agent now so she can handle the business side of new books that I write, but the promotion stuff does take a lot of time. I have a day job and a family to care for, so sometimes it can get overwhelming trying to prioritize everything.

Why did you choose to write for teenagers? Do you write for or plan to write for other age groups as well?

    I am one of those writers who love books for all ages. I don’t see myself settling in one age group and staying there. The teen years were some of the happiest and scariest of my life, all at the same time. All of the firsts you experience as a teen – the first dance, the first kiss, the first drive – there’s nothing like it, and I love revisiting that time through my writing.

What was your inspiration for writing I Heart You, You Haunt Me?

    I had a dream about a girl whose boyfriend died, but he loved her so much, he couldn’t leave her behind, and returned as a ghost.
    I think Stephenie Meyer’s TWILIGHT came from a dream, too. Do you think my book will be as successful as hers? :-)

What are you writing now?

I’m working on a novel in verse called LOST WITHOUT YOU. I don’t want to say too much about it, but I can tell you that instead of a ghost, an angel has a brief appearance.
What’s one interesting thing about you that not many people know?

    I love shopping at thrift stores and buy most of my clothes that way. Just recently I found this fabulous pink jacket with the Nordstrom price tags still it!

What are some of your favorite young adult books or authors?

    Oh, so many!!! John Green, Sarah Dessen, Markus Zusak, Maureen Johnson, , Cecil Castellucci , E. Lockhart, Sonya Sones. I could go on. My tastes run on the more literary side, I think.

Is there any question you wish I’d asked you?
How about – If they made I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME into a movie, and they asked you to play the role of Ava’s mother, who would you want to play her father?

John Cusack, all the way!

Thank you for having me here and for your thoughtful questions! I enjoy talking to people who love young adult literature as much as I do!

Thank you, Lisa!

Quick note: I’ve got quite a stack of review books piling up next to my computer! This weekend, expect a lot of updates. For the moment, I’m settling into a new semester at school, and it’s a rather difficult semester for me, so that’s taking up quite a bit of my time. Anyway, THE OPPOSITE OF INVISIBLE applies to the 2k8 and 888 challenges, and, without further ado, here’s my review!

THE OPPOSITE OF INVISIBLE, Class of 2k8 member Liz Gallagher’s impressive debut novel, is truly amazing. It’s about one girl finding her place in the world, sorting out herself and her relationships, in a story where the setting, Seattle, is so important and so alive that it practically becomes a character itself! Told in Alice’s distinctive, honest voice, the story focuses a lot on her feelings for two different guys in her life: Jewel and Simon. Jewel has been a part of her life for a long time. He’s her best friend, and practically her whole world. They’re extremely close, but Alice is getting a little restless. She wants to know other people, to have other friends, but she’s not sure it’s a desire Jewel will like. Simon, on the other hand, is a very new part of her life. She’s been crushing on him for awhile, but it seems like he’s finally noticing her back–at a very inopportune time: she and Jewel are starting to become possibly more than just friends. The only person she has to turn to when Jewel freezes her out is Dove Girl, her poster of the famous painting by Picasso that she talks to. In a very short time, Alice has gone from having no boyfriend prospects that she could see, to having to choose between two great guys.

Talking about the plot doesn’t really do this brilliant novel justice, though. It’s certainly character-driven, and Liz Gallagher captures all of her characters perfectly. Alice is just one of the most perfect, real, and honest teenage girl characters I’ve seen in quite awhile, and someone I’d love to meet in real life. The first line of this book is perfect: “Some girls have journals. I talk to my poster.” It’s just so Alice, so unique, so intriguing, so perfect. Alice is a very real teenage girl, and she has real questions that we all have about love, friendship, and life. She’s so true-to-life, but also so wonderfully unlike anyone I’ve ever met! The other characters populating this novel are well-drawn, but Alice is my favorite character of the year so far, by far.

Liz Gallagher’s lyrical prose draws the reader right in, and my only wish for this book is that it be longer! It’s only 151 pages, and I wanted to spend far longer than that in Alice’s world. Those 151 pages go by far too quickly, though! This book is definitely one I’d love to reread, and I can’t wait to read whatever Gallagher writes next. She’s certainly one of the most promising new voices in young adult literature.

*Review also posted at CurledUpKids.com*