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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Violet by Design is Melissa Walker‘s second book about small-town-girl-turned-supermodel Violet Greenfield, and it’s just as great as Violet on the Runway. In this book, Violet has decided to return to the modeling business and she’s off to work the Sao Paolo runways. That’s right–Brazil! Violet is on her way to becoming an international star.

Of course, there was a reason she left it behind before. Modeling certainly has its ups and downs. Sure, she gets to travel to exotic places–but she also gets called “la gordita” (little fat girl) for not being afraid to gain five pounds and be normal-girl-skinny instead of anorexic-looking.  She’s in the tabloids, and anything she says can and will be used against her. Is the life of an international supermodel really worth leaving all of her friends and family at home behind to deal with so much pressure and superficiality?

On top of all of that, she’s got the typical teenage girl worries about her future, her romantic prospects, her friends, staying true to herself, and, like any recent high school graduate, balancing new with old. What’s a girl to do?

Yes, this is a book about modeling. But, as with Melissa Walker’s debut novel, it’s about so much more than that! It’s about life and friends and family and romance and knowing who you are and blindly feeling your way through an uncertain future the way we all do at some point.

As you can probably guess, I was pretty disgusted with the way already-super-skinny  Violet was always being pressured to lose five pounds, but that doesn’t detract from this book because Melissa Walker knows what she’s talking about when she writes about the fashion industry, and I do believe this is true-to-life. It’s not the book that horrifies me; it’s the truth of it, of the fashion industry, of that horrible negative body image that so many girls get from it. It’s relatively minor here–five pounds. But many girls are dozens or hundreds of pounds above the “ideal” weight in the fashion industry, and there’s nothing wrong with those girls. There is, however, something wrong with the fashion industry.

PSA over for the moment. Violet by Design  is an honest, funny, thoughtful, and intelligent book about one girl’s struggle to figure out who she is and stay true to herself despite the temptations to be someone else (like international superstardom and money and free stuff and exotic travel in this case, but there can be so many things that threaten us in that way).  I love Melissa Walker’s characters, and she is quite a talented writer. I can’t wait for the third book in the series, Violet in Private.

I loved Tara Altebrando’s first YA novel, The Pursuit of Happiness. It was really amazing, so I’m pleased to be able to say that What Happens Here is far from disappointing! It’s an impressive, unputdownable, really marvelous book.

Chloe, the narrator, is going on a fantastic vacation to Europe with her family. Travelling has always been a dream that she and her best friend, Lindsay, shared, so she’s disappointed that Lindsay won’t be coming along. She and Lindsay have been best friends their entire lives. Their mothers were best friends, too–the families even moved from North Carolina to Las Vegas together before the girls started high school! This will be one of very, very few experiences that Chloe and Lindsay will not share. But, still–two weeks in Europe! Chloe is understandably excited (though her older sister is less so–for Zoe, it means spending time away from her boyfriend, Johnny, and Zoe’s not really that into travelling anyway).

And the vacation is amazing, though marred by the fact that she and Lindsay fought right before Chloe left, at the top of a half-scale replica of the Eiffel Tower. Chloe sees sights she’s only dreamed about, sights that before were only pictures plastered on her bedroom walls. All Lindsay gets is post cards. Chloe doesn’t know what Lindsay’s up to all this time, as her father has confiscated her phone and they’re not allowed to use email on the trip.

Luckily, she’s met someone outside of her immediate family to talk to: Danny, a cute, funny guy who also lives in Vegas. They see the sights of Europe together, and Danny wants to be together when they get home, though Chloe can’t help but wonder if there’s someone else she’d rather have with her–Lindsay’s brother, Noah. Of course, she’d never do that to Lindsay, who subtly let them both know she didn’t want Chloe and Noah hanging out, years ago.

There’s some serious use of foreshadowing here. Chloe is having such an awesome time, and saying this is how things are supposed to go in her life, the reader just knows some tragedy is about to strike. And they’re right. Tragedy strikes.

I loved this book for so many reasons. The settings! Much of this book is set in Las Vegas and the rest of it is set in various exciting locations around Europe. I loved reading about these places. I’m always one for books that involve traveling or just exciting settings; I plan to travel all around the world someday. Backpacking through Europe is one of my dreams, just like Chloe. I could especially relate to her about that, and loved that whole aspect of this story!

All of the characters are fantastic. Chloe in particular is such a real, three-dimensional character; Tara Altebrando really understands people. Their relationships are so real, too. What Happens Here deals with all different types of relationships: friends, family, romance. And all are done so well!

It’s a very well-written book, too. Tara Altebrando is a talented writer, and she does a great job with Chloe’s voice. This is quite an engrossing story; I couldn’t stop reading, once I picked it up (luckily that was on a Saturday afternoon where I had nothing else to do!). I read it in one sitting.

What Happens Here is an honest, powerful, moving book about love, loss, friendship, holding on to (and figuring out) your dreams, and growing up. It’s about putting the pieces back together, too, after a tragedy; things can never be like they used to be. I adored this book, out in May, and strongly suggest you go get copy as soon as it’s available!

Okay, just for fun, I thought I’d share a little about a few upcoming books I’d like to read. I’d also like to know what you’re looking forward to, so I don’t miss anything!

First of all, is I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone by Stephanie Kuehnert. See the awesome cover! You can read more about the book at stephaniekuehnert.com.  Here’s the summary from the website:

“A raw, edgy, emotional novel about growing up punk and living to tell.

The Clash. Social Distortion. Dead Kennedys. Patti Smith. The Ramones. Punk rock is in Emily Black’s blood. Her mother, Louisa, hit the road to follow the incendiary music scene when Emily was four months old and never came back.

Now Emily’s all grown up with a punk band of her own, determined to find the tune that will bring her mother home. Because if Louisa really is following the music, shouldn’t it lead her right back to Emily?”

I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone

Another book I’m really looking forward to (and another MTV book) is What Happens Here by Tara Altebrando. I loved her first book, The Pursuit of Happiness, and I can’t wait to read this one! It has one of my favorite things, travel! Plus romance! And Las Vegas! Where I’ve never been, but it sounds exciting. Here’s the summary:

“When Chloe’s parents decide to take her to Europe the summer before senior year of high school, she’s ecstatic… she only wishes her best friend, Lindsay, could come too. Living in Las Vegas, they have long imagined the world through casinos inspired by great cities and have vowed to travel the globe together someday. Unfortunately, Lindsay’s parents won’t agree to send her along.

So Chloe goes to Europe and sends postcards to Lindsay every day. But when she comes home, she must cope with shocking news that rips her family—and Lindsay’s—apart. And as she tries to uncover the truth about what happened, Chloe soon begins to feel that Lindsay’s brother, Noah, is the one person alive for whom she’d go to the ends of the earth…

From the acclaimed author of The Pursuit of Happiness this is a stunning new novel of friendship, love, and loss set against the dazzling dual backdrops of Europe and Las Vegas. “

I have to mention Stephenie Meyer, too. She has two books coming out in 2008. The first will be The Host, which Stephenie describes as a love triangle involving only two bodies. The second is Breaking Dawn, the latest in the Twilight Saga, which I love! I can’t wait to find out what happens to the characters.