I met Faye Rapoport DesPres in the summer of 2008 when I entered the Solstice MFA program at Pine Manor College. We were the same age, both from a Jewish background, and both with a deep desire to write creatively.
Although Faye was a semester ahead of me, we shared writing workshops for nearly two years. We have spent the last ten years supporting one another’s writing efforts over numerous cups of coffee and talk.
I have always admired the beauty of Faye’s work, her ability to take an everyday situation and turn it into breathtaking prose. Although I know writing is hard work for her as it is for most writers, her finished pieces evoke deep emotional responses. Often you don’t realize you’re being swept away until you finish a piece and realize you need to breathe deep.
Not surprisingly, Faye has a long list of publications, first with her beautiful collection of essays, Message from a Blue Jay; then with a string of high-quality works published in literary journals and anthologies; and now upon the publication of her book children’s book, Little White: The Feral Cat Who Found a Home. The e-book is currently available for pre-sale now at Amazon and will be available a paperback and hardcover on October 16th.
Faye has loved cats and writing since she was a little girl. Truly, she has been devoted to animals and the written word for her entire life. Now Let’s hear more about her pursuits.
CZ: I know you’ve been writing for a long time, but when did you first realize that you weren’t just “writing” but that you were “a writer?” Take me through the stages of your writing life.
FRD: Some people say that anyone who writes is a writer. If you go with that definition, I’ve been a writer since I was a child. I have been keeping diaries since I was very young. I still have them, little books with snaps that close and tiny locks with keys.
When I was a pre-teen and a young teenager, I wrote a few stories about twin sisters named Karen and Karena. I wrote them to entertain a friend, and they’ve been lost to time. I also wrote bad poetry from a young age, although eventually it improved, and I published a couple of poems when I was in my twenties. For a while, I thought I was a poet.
CZ: You also make a living as a professional writer.
FRD: My writing skills eventually led me to a career that has moved back and forth between journalism and public relations or marketing writing for a long time, because I needed to work and have an income. Journalism, especially, taught me to be disciplined about my words and sentences.
CZ: When did the desire to do more creative writing take hold, and where did it lead you?
FRD: When I was in my early forties, I realized I hadn’t written anything especially creative in years. I had always dreamed of writing a book, so I decided to dedicate two years to creative writing by entering a low-residency MFA program. That’s when things in my creative life turned around. The very first day, I realized my writing needed a total overhaul if I was going to jump from journalistic prose to something new and different and expressive of who I am. Creative writing is a very different skill than other kinds of writing.
CZ: I’ve noticed that many of your essays and short stories involve birds and animals. Why do you think you write so often with our fellow creatures in mind?
FRD: I’ve loved animals since before I loved writing. I don’t remember a time when animals weren’t an essential part of my life. We had a cat and a dog when I was very young and living in New York City, and after we moved north to a farmhouse in upstate New York, a parade of animals passed through our family life. Over the years we had cats, dogs, rabbits, hamsters, gerbils, mice, fish, guinea pigs, a skunk, and even a sheep. I adored them all.
I was also passionate about the wildlife and the birds outside the windows. When I was 10, I walked door to door getting signatures on a petition to ban leg-hold traps. As an adult, I ended up working in communications for environmental organizations. Animals, wildlife, and nature are an essential part of my life and who I am.
CZ: And the birds?
FRD: I have a special affinity for birds, maybe because my name in its various translations (Hebrew and Yiddish) means “bird” or “little bird.” When I was in high school, I played the role of Chava in Fiddler on the Roof, which has the song, “Chavala” with the lyrics, “Little bird, little Chavala…” In my twenties, I recorded some songs with a friend, and we put them on a CD and named it “Little Bird Rocks.”
CZ: In Message from a Blue Jay, your book of related essays, the Blue Jay is both real and symbolic. Can you talk about why the Blue Jay is so pivotal to that book?
FRD: I think the blue jay in the title essay “tells” me something that echoes through the meaning of every essay in the book. It’s funny, because most of the essays appeared in literary journals before they were included in the book (and I am grateful to the editors who published them), but “Message From a Blue Jay” was never accepted by a journal. Yet since the book was published, so many readers have written to tell me that it is their favorite essay.
I mention this to let writers out there know that it’s true what one of my teachers, Michael Steinberg, always says – the rejections are often just as arbitrary as the acceptances. I love that essay, and I’m very proud of it. So, I decided to toss aside the rejections and make it the centerpiece of my book.
CZ: Tell me about the newest book, due out on October, Little White: The Feral Cat Who Found a Home. What inspired you to tell Little White’s story rather than say, focus on one of the other cats you’ve known? And why did you write it in verse?
FRD: That’s a really good question. Little White’s story is about loneliness and fear and abandonment. It is a story about being rescued. But at its heart, it is a story about how love rescues us, and that transcends species. Maybe I related to that just a bit.
I do have a few stories about other cats in mind. Two other cats especially, Tribbs and Franklin, were an important part of Little White’s life, and mine, too. I tell her story in more detail on her Facebook page than I do in the children’s book, and Little White’s fans there love to hear about Tribbs and Franklin when their part comes up. There might be a series in the works.
The text of Little White is not in verse. Originally, I tried to write the text as a ghazal, a certain kind of poem. A friend, poet Alison Stone, writes a lot of ghazals, and I enjoyed reading them. It turned out not to be the best format for Little White’s story, but trying to write it first as a ghazal helped me find the story.
CZ: How do you know when you have a “book” as opposed to a single essay or poem?
FRD: After Message From a Blue Jay, I had a tough time writing another full-length book. Message From a Blue Jay revealed a lot about a certain time and certain experiences in my life, and I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to do that again.
Little White’s story is from real life and is relatable. It had a message that rang true for me. Wanting to tell it came from my heart. I liked the idea of doing a children’s book and speaking to a new audience, so I gave it a try. I enjoyed the process a lot.
CZ: What do you dream for your future?
FRD: That’s a hard question to answer. I think the future in general right now feels so uncertain that it’s hard to think about my own dreams. I would like to believe in a future where neither people nor animals have to suffer or be abandoned, but I don’t know if such a future will happen. I’d like to believe that the environment and wildlife and habitats will be protected for future generations, and I continue to try to be part of that fight. But if we continue moving in the current direction, I am very afraid it’s a losing battle. I read recently that giraffes are disappearing. Can you imagine a world without giraffes?
I’d like to believe in a future where love really will conquer all, as it did for Little White. Maybe if we write it, it will come.
CZ: Thank you for taking the time to tell us about your life and writing. I can’t wait to read your latest book.
Little White’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OurLittleWhite/
Faye’s Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/FayeRapoportDesPresAuthor
Faye’s Twitter page: @FayeRapoDesPres https://twitter.com/FayeRapoDesPres
Check out her work at fayerapoportdespres.com