Saturday, October 30, 2021

Meet Children's Author Faye Rapoport DesPress

Faye Rapoport DesPres has published creative nonfiction, fiction, and poetry in a variety of literary journals. Her first book, Message From a Blue Jay (Buddhapuss Ink, 2014), is a memoir-in-essays. Her Stray Cat Stories children’s book series helps children learn about compassion for stray animals and how they can help. Faye earned her M.F.A. from the Solstice MFA Creative Writing Program at Pine Manor College. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her husband Jean-Paul Des Pres.  She's here today to tell us about her new children's book, Frazier: The Very Special Cat

Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Frazier: The Very Special Cat. When did you start writing and what got you into children’s books?

My first book, Message From a Blue Jay (Buddhapuss Ink, 2014), was a memoir-in-essays. When that book was published, I had just rescued a feral cat from a feral and stray colony I’d been caring for in our neighborhood (over time, I helped trap, neuter, vaccinate, and adopt out all of the cats in the colony). I thought the story of our adopted feral cat, named Little White, would make a good children’s book. My publisher agreed, and I began to plan the project.

Buddhapuss Ink sadly closed up shop sometime later, though the books published by the company, including Message From a Blue Jay, are still available. The owner, MaryChris Bradley, moved forward with a new company, The Book Team, and a new imprint, Writer’s Coffee Bar Press. I approached her about my idea again at that point, and she suggested we move forward. That’s how the Stray Cat Stories book series was born — Frazier: The Very Special Cat is book three in the series.

What is your book about? 

All of my children’s books are based on true stories about real cats. Frazier was a big orange tomcat who visited the feeding station in our yard. He didn’t come regularly enough for me to help trap him (with a specially designed humane trap), but when he showed up with some injuries I knew I had to find a way to help. The book tells the story of how I managed to capture him and help get him to a vet, where he had to have one eye removed. The heartwarming tale shows that having one eye was no problem for Frazier. His story has a very happy ending.

Did you have any struggles or difficulties when you started writing?

When I started writing children’s books, I had to learn a whole new approach to telling stories. I had been studying and writing creative nonfiction for years and had dabbled in poetry and fiction. Children’s books have different requirements for everything from word count to vocabulary. I also had to learn to think about illustrations and write text that would inform the illustrations and work with the flow of a picture book. It was a challenge at first, but each book was a bit easier.

How was your experience working with an illustrator?

I was lucky to have the opportunity to work with an illustrator I knew — a long-time friend named Laurel McKinstry Petersen. Laurel is an accomplished artist, and she had written and illustrated her own graphic novel. I love her charming illustrations. However, children’s books were somewhat new to Laurel also, so we did a lot of learning together through the process.

Do you have a writing schedule? Are you disciplined?

This goes back and forth for me. When I have a project and/or a deadline, I am highly disciplined. I like writing in the early mornings, especially when I can sit outdoors in our back garden during the warmer months. 

If I don’t have a particular project going, however, I struggle with maintaining a regular writing schedule.

How do you define success?

This is a difficult question, and I’ve discussed it with other writers many times. There was a time when I defined “success” the way most people would imagine it for a writer: publication by a major press and a high number of book sales. I started out chasing those dreams the way many writers do. That has changed for me over time. These days, I try to focus more on finding my own voice as a writer and completing projects that are meaningful to me and others. If my work touches someone, makes someone think about something important, or makes a reader feel less alone…or if it entertains children while teaching them compassion for animals, that is success to me. 

Of course, I wouldn’t turn away traditional “success,” but I try not to be driven by those kinds of goals anymore. A dear friend and former writing instructor of mine, the late Michael Steinberg, often told me that the only thing a writer can control is the writing. So that’s what I try to focus on.

What do you love most about being a children’s author?

I love getting photos from parents or grandparents that show children reading and enjoying the books. I also love hearing their stories about how the children responded. For example, one person wrote to say their grandchild saw a cat outside and said, “We have to help it! Remember Little White!” That, to me, is the real reward of writing these books — the real success.

Do you have a website or blog where readers can find out more about your work?

My website is and the site has a blog. Readers can also check my author pages on Amazon or Goodreads. My books are available at all of the usual online bookstores, and readers can also support their local independent bookstores by walking in and asking them to order copies from Ingram.

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