Saturday, April 25, 2020

Ask An Author: Talking with Tyler Feder, Author of Dancing at the Pity Party [Contributor: Megan Mann]

During college, I took a course that featured graphic novels. At the time, I was still of the belief that not only was YA not real literature, but that graphic novels were scarcely more than longer comic books. Readers, I can assure you that I was not only wrong on both fronts but now spend most of my time reading as many YA and graphic novels (half of the time a delicious crossover of the two!) as I can get my hands on.

So, you can imagine the happiness that welled inside of me when I found Tyler Feder's Dancing at the Pity Party on my doorstep!

This beautiful, insightful, poignant graphic novel details the relationship shared between Tyler and her delightful mother, the difficult journey her family found themselves on once her mother was diagnosed with cancer, and the long, winding road that they walk in grief after her passing. It's a story that anyone who has lost a parent should read, yes; but it's also an important read for those of us who need to better understand how to help those who are struggling with loss.

I got the chance to talk to Tyler about the importance of her book.

Congratulations! Dancing at the Pity Party is finally available! How does it feel?

It feels surreal!  I’m so proud of the book and so excited to share it with the world, and it’s definitely strange to be releasing it during a pandemic.

What made you decide to write a graphic novel about losing your mom during college?

It was more of a full-body urge than a real decision. This story has been weighing on me for a decade, and I felt like I needed to put it into some kind of big creative project before I could fully explore other topics in my work.

Was writing this a cathartic, emotional, or a heavy mixture of the two experiences?

All of the above! There were many emotional moments and times of catharsis, but also it was hard just in the way that writing a BOOK is hard — deadlines and hand cramps are real even when the topic is so personal!

What I loved about it is that you tie in such levity to such a dark situation. All of the chapter ends were so funny. I think, without sounding too much like Sirius Black or Dumbledore, that we really can’t have the light without the dark. Is that what you were going for?

Yes, absolutely.  In my experience, levity and grief are so tied, and it would have felt weird and wrong to include one without the other.

Something else that I think is super important is not only highlighting how difficult it is to lose a parent, but how the Jewish faith grieves their dead with Shiva. For some, that’s not common knowledge. Do you think that process helped when you lost your mom?

I was just talking to my sisters the other day about how nearly all my memories of the Shiva are positive ones. It was so healing to be stuck in a house for a week with so many people I love, an abundance of comfort food, and lots of familiar smells and sounds. Highly recommend!

Sometimes people tend to keep difficult subject matter, like an entire novel about losing a parent, at a distance because of what it might bring them. Do you hope readers find some sort of healing in your work?

Yes, of course! I think being open and honest can make difficult subjects more approachable and less scary. If I can bring comfort to any number of people in a similar situation to mine, I consider that a win.

I think my favorite parts were the pages that were entirely dedicated to what you should and shouldn’t say to someone who is grieving, and how your own grief is a very complex process and different from everyone else’s. Which of those resonates most with you?

I think people have a tendency to use euphemisms when they talk about death and grief, but I find it much more comforting when people acknowledge just how bad things really are. To me, an “I’m so sorry you have to go through this” is way better than a “She’s in a better place.”

What do you hope readers, whether they lost a parent or not, take away from Dancing at the Pity Party?

I hope that readers who haven’t experienced loss get a better understanding of what goes on “behind the scenes” and learn how to better help the grieving people in their life. For readers who have lost someone they love, I just hope they feel seen and know that they’re not alone.

Okay, let’s move to graphic novels. How do you feel about the wider reach of graphic novels now?

Both as a creator and consumer of graphic novels, I love it!

What would you tell someone who doesn’t see graphic novels as “real books”?

First I would give them a giant eye roll, but then I would remind them that graphic novels are not just the funnies in the newspaper! They can have just as much depth and complexity as any traditional novel! They just develop that depth in a different way.

Did you always know this would be a graphic novel?

Yes I did! It’s easiest for me to express myself with a combination of words and pictures, and this book actually started as a four-page graphic essay for a Creative Nonfiction class I took in college a year or two after my mom died. I can’t believe that essay is now a real live book!

Since this is a hard time for writers to get the word out about their work, what are some other books that are coming out during the pandemic that you want people to know about?

I am so excited to read Madame Clairevoyant’s Guide to the Stars!  The author, Claire Comstock-Gay, writes the most beautiful and moving horoscopes for The Cut, and I’m sure her book will be just as lovely. Also, although the incredible Samantha Irby definitely doesn’t need a shout-out from little old me, I read an excerpt of Wow No Thank You and I can’t wait to gobble the rest of it up!

What books are you looking forward to in 2020?

My art friend Beth Evans’ book Hi, Just a Quick Question comes out in August! We’ve worked on our books together at many coffee shop art dates, and it’s going to be so cool to see the finished product!

What are you reading now?

I treated myself to ordering two of Lisa Hanawalt’s books (they haven’t arrived yet) and I’m particularly looking forward to reading Coyote Doggirl.

Guys, I cannot stress enough how much I immensely enjoyed this book. I laughed, I cried, I found new ways to help those who are dealing with something beyond my own comprehension. Dancing at the Pity Party is a lesson in empathy and understanding, of loss and of hope, and is a must-read for everyone.

We want to thank Tyler Feder for talking with us about her incredible new book Dancing at the Pity Party out NOW from Penguin Teen! Follow her on Twitter and Instagram and pick up your copy today! (Preferably from an independent bookstore of your choice, as they need your help!)


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