Today I’m celebrating, with Debbie Manber Kupfer, the release of a new edition of her book P.A.W.S. This exciting story chronicles the adventures of Miri Katz, a girl with a fascinating family heritage and a necklace that’s more than it seems.
I sat down with Debbie to ask her a few questions about the book.
What books were you reading that gave you the idea for P.A.W.S.? What lack did you see in the book world that you wanted to fill?
I’m a huge Harry Potter fan and my favorite book has always been book 3 when the idea of the animagus was first introduced, but I felt it didn’t go far enough. I wanted to know how – what did Professor McGonagal and Sirius and James and the others actually do to learn to turn themselves into animals. What was the process like? Did you choose your form or was it something inside you that needed to come out? All these thoughts and more were the seeds that led to P.A.W.S.
One thing that stood out to me was Miri’s varied and complex relationships with the women in her life, from her loving grandmother to her antagonistic roommate to the mysterious headmistress — even her absent mother. Can you say a little bit about what that means to you? And was it a conscious choice?
Well the relationship with her omama (grandmother) definitely was. I was very close with my own omama who died when I was 10 years old and I was with her when she died. I remembered feeling like Miri – I cried and cried for about two days straight, but if anyone asked me why I couldn’t put words to it.
The other conscious choice was Miri’s childhood friend Jenny. Jenny’s based on my first best friend who lived across the street and moved away when I was 11. I never saw her again and don’t even know her second name, so couldn’t find her on FB.
But that first friendship has stuck with me over the years – and yes we used to play “fairies” on the steps in my house in Barking.
Werewolves were an obvious choice for an enemy, but I love how you used the folklore from around the area the Katz family came from to add to the flavor of your mythos. Is there anything else you want readers to know about the research that went into this book?
Honestly for P.A.W.S. there wasn’t a huge amount of research involved. My father came from Vienna and grew up on Grosse Spielgasse – so I used that as the location for Celia’s family’s home. I’ve been there with my father – and actually there’s a scene in Argentum that is based on the rather weird experience I had with my parents when we tried to go back to his family home.
For Argentum – the second book in the series I did a lot more research, particularly when it came to the parts set in Wales and Ireland. I went on virtual vacation for weeks exploring ireland to find the perfect spot for Jessamyn’s ancestral home – and studied the abilities of certain birds to fly distances, so that I could the right forms.
Well, now I’m even more ready for Argentum!
Miri’s Jewish heritage, and the effect it has on the story, is something I’ve never seen before in a magic-school book. Was it just a natural choice, given your own heritage? Was there something more behind it?
I think it was a natural choice for me. I’m an agnostic Jew as is Miri and grew up in a household that kept traditions, but weren’t real strict about it. My dad came to London at age 6 on the Kindertransport in 1939 – and the stories he told me in his early years have stuck with him and find their way into my writing. I wish he was still around today to read P.A.W.S. – I think he would have enjoyed it.
Is there anything I haven’t addressed that you’d like people to know about your work?
I have a whole world in my head – I know where the series is going, but as a discovery writer I’m not at all sure yet how we’ll get there, but hope folk will stick around for the ride. Also I absolutely love hearing for readers so please send me a note and you’ll make my day!
Okay, last question. You’re a puzzle writer! How did that figure in to the writing of a novel? Did it help you? Hurt you? Or both?
I think it helps quite a bit – as a puzzle writer I need to make sure that everything logically fits together – I think the same applies to my stories. It annoys me when I find plot holes in stuff I read and annoys me even more when I find them in my own work. That’s one of the reasons I was very happy to have the chance to reedit and rerelease P.A.W.S. – there are some finicky little things that bothered me in the first edition that now I’ve been able to fix.
Thanks for all your hard work writing P.A.W.S., Debbie. It really stuck with me and made me think about it long after I’d finished. And it was great talking with you about it.
Now, please enjoy this excerpt from the new P.A.W.S.!
Vienna, October 2, 1941.
Today was Celia’s tenth birthday. This was not how she imagined celebrating it. She was with her family – her mama, Miriam; her papa, David; her elder brother, Issel; and her baby sister, Sara. They were huddled together in the back room of their tiny two-room apartment in Grosse Spielgasse, in the dark, barely breathing.
Outside the building, the boot steps got nearer and nearer. Celia heard shouting, screaming, gunshots. She crouched down even closer to the ground, wishing that somehow they could all melt away into the shadows. Celia clutched her cat, Max, tightly in her arms, feeling his warmth, his soft tabby fur close to her skin, willing him to stay quiet.
Her mama cradled little Sara at her breast, nursing her so she would not cry out. Outside, the pounding footsteps were getting closer, closer: “Juden, Juden, Heraus, Heraus, Schnell, Schnell!” Now they were at the door of the neighbors – the Wassersteins. She heard crying and a single gunshot.
Miriam beckoned to her. “Celia, mein Katzerl, come here,” she whispered. “I have something for you, for your birthday.”
Celia approached Miriam cautiously, still clutching Max to her. “What is it, Mama?” she asked, gazing into Miriam’s blue, blue eyes. She studied her prematurely wrinkled face, memorizing every crease. Mama, my mama, she thought.
Still holding baby Sara with her left hand, Miriam reached around the back of her neck with her right and unclasped the chain that she always wore beneath her clothes, close to her heart. It was a silver chain with a cat charm on it. “Take this, Celia, mein Katzerl. Wear it always, and remember I love you. Ich liebe dich.”
“I love you, Mama,” Celia whispered as she fastened the chain around her neck just as the doors burst open. Six Gestapo soldiers rushed into their home – “Juden, Heraus, Heraus, Schnell, Schnell…” Celia watched as her family was herded out of the door.
If you liked this excerpt, please consider entering Debbie’s giveaway on Goodreads.
If you don’t want to take a chance, grab your copies of both books in the series!