Debbie Manber Kupfer On Building Fiction from Personal Experiences

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask any writer where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers, and in that vein I created the WHAT (What the Hell Are you Thinking?) interview. Always included in the WHAT is one random question to really dig down into the interviewees mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well.


Today's guest for the WHAT is Debbie Manber Kupfer, author of the P.A.W.S series. Debbie grew up in the UK and has lived in Israel, New York and North Carolina. She ended up in St. Louis, where she works as a writer and freelance puzzle constructor of word puzzles and logic problems.

Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your book?

Yes, P.A.W.S. begins with my lead character, Miri, receiving a silver cat charm from her omama (grandmother) the night before her omama dies. Miri is ten years old at the time. I also lost my omama, whom I was extremely close to, when I was ten years old. I was on my own with her when she had her heart attack and there when they took her in the ambulance. I grew up with this as a pivotal point in my childhood. I used to share so much with my omama. We’d bake together. She’d tell me stories about my father as a child, about their cats, Kitty and Susie, about their life in Vienna, and later during the war in Northern Ireland and after the war, in London. She didn’t tell me too much about the Nazis who forced her to put my father on the Kindertransport. And how he traveled on his own to England when he was just six years old. But the story came out over the years and the idea that this would be part of a book series I’d write in the future was always with me.

Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?

The plot unfolded during a trip to the zoo with my son, Joey. I’d clearly seen the beginning sequence: Miri receiving the silver charm. I knew it was important, but didn’t quite know where it was leading. Then one Saturday in October 2012 I took Joey to the zoo and told him the story. How Miri was pulled from her life in New York, taken to St. Louis by her aunt, sent to a boarding school and bullied by the kids there for being different. And how this all led to her finding her magic and P.A.W.S.

When I got back home from that trip to the zoo, I started writing and slowly the plot unfolded.

Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?

Oh yes. Those who have read P.A.W.S. will know that the antagonist is an extremely evil werewolf by the name of Alistair. What you wouldn’t expect is that Alistair wasn’t in my original concept of P.A.W.S. at all. Rather I had thought that the main antagonist would be Miri’s uncle, David. But several chapters into P.A.W.S. Miri meets Josh, the young werewolf that will bring her to P.A.W.S. and become her mentor and friend, and while Josh tells his story, Alistair forces his way in and makes it all about him. 

Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?

My mind is constantly abuzz with new ideas and new characters. The key is not to get sidetracked, so when I get a new idea I write it up quickly in a different file and then go on with my work-in-progress. Some of these new characters will end up in the P.A.W.S. Saga. Others will be part of short stories. 

How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?

I’ve got a pact with myself that I *have* to finish my series before I write anything else novel length, but I do occasionally take a break to write short stories in different genres.

I have 8 cats (seriously, check my Instagram feed) and I usually have at least one or two snuggling with me when I write. Do you have a writing buddy, or do you find it distracting?

Eight kitties – yay! You really need to come on my blog, Paws 4 Thought, sometime. My readers love anything cat related! I have just the one kitty currently, Miri Billie Joe (named for my lead character and Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day). She sadly is not a lap kitty, but does like to sit somewhere near me while I work at my computer each day.