Interview: Sarah Kapit

We’re excited to chat today with Sarah Kapit, author of the Schneider Family Honor book Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen and The Many Mysteries of the Finkel Family, publishing today!

Let’s dive in!

Your first book, Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen, is written in epistolary format. The Many Mysteries of the Finkel Family is told in dual point of view. What challenges as an author did you face transitioning between these two distinct story-telling methods? 

There are definitely challenges to both approaches. With Vivy Cohen, the challenge was to maintain tension and give readers a sense of immediacy even though the story was told through letters, recounting events that had already occurred. With the Finkel Family, I had to be attentive to a different set of issues. I wanted the two sisters’ stories to intersect, but I also had to give them independent storylines.

I actually ended up bringing up the epistolary format back a bit. My editor and I wanted the girls’ perspectives to be distinct. Early on in the book, one of the sisters (Lara) starts keeping a notebook. Dana, my editor, suggested that Lara’s notebook could be incorporated more into the text. So starting around chapter four, we see an excerpt from Lara’s notebook every time we switch into her POV. I guess I just really like writing epistolary!

As authors present characters who represent their own marginalized identities, they are often faced with confronting stereotypes that readers have internalized. In writing both Jewish and autistic main characters, what challenges did you face in staying true to yourself while creating accurate characters?

Really great question! On some level, I think the solution is simply to write nuanced, in-depth characters. Stereotypes depend on dehumanization and reducing people to tired, one-dimensional tropes. Presenting complex characters, and multiple, diverse characters within a group, is the most effective way to counter that.

In writing, I was always mindful of the fact that Lara and Caroline are autistic and Jewish, but I also saw them first and foremost as individual characters in their own right. I think I was able to show how varied autistic people are. Oftentimes we’re stereotyped as math and science nerds, but Lara is obsessed with mystery novels and Caroline is a visual artist. Both experience deep emotions and care about other people, which runs counter to stereotypes.

They do have some body movements and a few other traits that may be considered more stereotypical, but I believe that if you look at their characters in full, they are so much more than the tired autism stereotypes. To be honest, I was a little worried that some readers might think they’re not autistic enough because stereotypes have so distorted people’s views of what autistic people are like.

In writing Jewish characters, I take a similar approach. A lot of Jewish stereotypes are frankly so nasty that they’re not even worth engaging with, really. But on the less toxic end of things, I think Jewish people are often depicted in media as being either ultra-Orthodox or completely secular. That’s not my experience, so I wrote the Finkels to have religious practices similar to my own. I also really wanted them to be of both Ashkenazi and Sephardic heritage, which reflects my own family. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a family like that in kidlit, so it was exciting to do.

As someone who was obsessed with the Encyclopedia Brown books growing up, I related very much to Lara’s sleuthing aspirations. Did you dream of detective work as a kid or is that something you created for the Finkel sisters? 

I mostly enjoyed reading about mysteries more than actually participating in them. Like Lara, I read a ton of mystery novels. I started reading Agatha Christie in middle school. Alas, I knew that actual sleuthing was not for me, so I did not attempt to really start snooping around.

Your book made me hungry! What is your favorite dish to recommend to readers who are interested in the Jewish cuisine that the Finkel family prepares?

Ooh! Well, one of my all-time favorite Jewish comfort foods is kasha varneshkas. I also love spanikopita, also known as bourekas, which is a Sephardic food I grew up with.

You have mentored writers through several programs. What advice would you give to young aspiring authors?

Read in your category, and read recent books. That will give you a sense of what sort of books are being published in today’s market.

Also, experiment with what writing methods work for you. I have found that outlining generally isn’t helpful for me, so I don’t really do it. There’s a lot of writing advice out there, but there are many ways to write a good book. If someone says they know the only way to do it, they’re wrong.

. . .

Visit Sarah at 

The Many Mysteries of the Finkel Family

Fans of the Penderwicks and the Vanderbeekers, meet the Finkel family in this middle grade novel about two autistic sisters, their detective agency, and life’s most consequential mysteries.

When twelve-year-old Lara Finkel starts her very own detective agency, FIASCCO (Finkel Investigation Agency Solving Consequential Crimes Only), she does not want her sister, Caroline, involved. She and Caroline don’t have to do everything together. But Caroline won’t give up, and when she brings Lara the firm’s first mystery, Lara relents, and the questions start piling up.

But Lara and Caroline’s truce doesn’t last for long. Caroline normally uses her tablet to talk, but now she’s busily texting a new friend. Lara can’t figure out what the two of them are up to, but it can’t be good. And Caroline doesn’t like Lara’s snooping—she’s supposed to be solving other people’s crimes, not spying on Caroline! As FIASCCO and the Finkel family mysteries spin out of control, can Caroline and Lara find a way to be friends again?

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