I’m excited to share an interview with author Sarah Kapit. Her debut middle grade novel, GET A GRIP, VIVY COHEN!, releases February 25, 2020. From Sarah’s website:
Vivy Cohen yearns to throw her knuckleball in a real game. But her mother is convinced that an autistic girl won’t be able to handle the pressures of a full baseball season. When a Little League Coach spots Vivy practicing with her brother in the park, she gets her chance. She makes a deal with Mom: Vivy can give baseball a try.
But pitching for a real team isn’t exactly easy. During her first season, Vivy must deal with nerves and bullies. And after a line drive smacks Vivy straight in the forehead, keeping Mom on board with Vivy’s baseball dreams proves just as tough as keeping the ball in the strike zone.
Through all of her travails, Vivy writes letters to the one person she can be honest with: MLB pitcher VJ Capello. Then, VJ writes back.
Sounds amazing right?! (You can pre-order it here!) Read on to learn about her inspiration for the book and some of her thoughts on the craft of writing.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Sarah! Congratulations on your upcoming debut middle grade novel! Can you tell us where or how you got the idea for GET A GRIP, VIVY COHEN! ?
As a baseball fan, the idea of a woman pitcher in MLB is so exciting to me. When I first saw the previews for PITCH–an absolutely wonderful show that was tragically cancelled after one season–that was really the genesis of the story. I just had an intense emotional reaction to seeing a woman taking the pitcher’s mound.
So all of that was percolating around my brain. Plus, I’ve long believed it’s likely that the first woman to play in MLB will be a knuckleball pitcher because the pitch relies on finger movement. Knuckleballers don’t have to be capable of throwing the ball 95+ miles an hour. Since I write middle grade, a girl knuckleball pitcher with big dreams came to my mind. I’ve also long wanted to write an explicitly autistic character, in a book that explores themes of neurodiversity. When I realized that all of this could fit together, the book’s concept just fell into place.
You recently received a box of ARCs of your book. How did you feel finally seeing it in print?
Completely amazing! I keep one copy by my nightstand and it’s hard to stop liking it. Vivienne To did a great job with the cover art, and it looks even better in print. I also love the way the interior design team laid out the pages.
And here’s the awesome cover!
Your main character, Vivy, has autism and her mother is reluctant to let her pitch for the baseball team. Do you think this book will open up dialogue between kids who have autism and their parents?
I hope so! Mostly, I hope that autistic kids who read this book realize that their way of advocating for themselves is valid, and that what they say matters.
What’s Vivy’s ideal day?
Well, it would definitely include baseball practice! She’d start with throwing session with her best friend and catcher Alex. After that, she’d want to get ice cream with Alex and her family–mint chocolate chip for Vivy. Her perfect day would conclude with chilling out at home watching a game on TV.
Your love of baseball – did someone in your family share it with you?
Yes, my dad introduced me to baseball. But he roots for the San Francisco Giants and I am a proud New York Yankees fan. (I was named after my great-grandfather Sam, who was also a big Yankee fan.)
ON THE CRAFT OF WRITING…
We were both in Pitch Wars class of ’17. What have you found to be the benefits of seeking out mentorship?
I’ve been fortunate enough to participate in both Pitch Wars and the Author Mentor Match program, which have been so huge for me. On a craft level, a mentor can really help you to improve your book. I think a lot of us enter the program knowing that there’s something that isn’t quite right with the book, but we don’t know how to fix it. The right mentor can tell you how to solve the problems and write a better book.
On a broader level, though, it’s just great to have someone else who believes in your writing. It’s great to get positive feedback from your spouse and friends, but they’re biased! Knowing that a more experienced author believes in your work is a major boost and validation that you just can’t elsewhere.
How do you stay in touch with the middle grade trends?
I read a ton. Being able to take books out digitally from my library system has been a godsend because it allows me to read so many more books. I usually have 15 books on hold at any given time.
I find out about new releases thanks to blogs like From the Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors and Barnes & Noble’s kidlit blog. Reading deal announcements in Publisher’s Weekly is also helpful for learning what kind of books are coming 2-3 years down the line.
Can you suggest any other books that feature neurodiverse characters?
PLANET EARTH IS BLUE by Nicole Pantaleakos features one of the absolute best autistic characters that I’ve ever seen. As an added bonus, the character is non-speaking, which is an experience that has so often been misunderstood and misrepresented.
ON THE EDGE OF GONE by Corinne Duyvis is YA science fiction that also features a terrific autistic protagonist–and the apocalypse!. KAT AND MEG CONQUER THE WORLD by Anna Priemaza is a wonderful contemporary YA featuring two neurodiverse teens–one with AD/HD and one with anxiety. FORGET ME NOT by Ellie Terry is a beautiful middle-grade novel-in-verse about a young girl with Tourette’s Syndrome.
Have you started your next project? Can you give us any hints?
Yes! I’m not sure how much I should say at this point, but I can say that it also features neurodiversity and family.
A writing process question – computer screen or longhand? Or both?
I’m definitely a both person. I write on the computer most often, but sometimes when words are coming more slowly I write by hand to switch things up. Or I’ll write in the notes app of my computer instead of Scrivener. Sometimes that can be easier because I don’t obsess about word count or making everything perfect.
What advice do you have for a writer just starting out?
Read a lot, write a lot, and find other writers for support.
Do you have any favorite craft books for writers?
I really love STORY GENIUS by Lisa Cron, which does an excellent job explaining why people like stories. SAVE THE CAT! WRITES A NOVEL by Jessica Brody has also been really eye-opening.
Podcasts have also been really helpful to me. I love the WRITING EXCUSES podcast. SHIPPING & HANDLING, which my agent co-hosts, is a delightful podcast about writing, publishing, and fandom. I started listening a year or so before I ever signed with my agent.
Thank you so much, Sarah! We look forward to reading GET A GRIP, VIVY COHEN! and your future works!
Congratulations, Sarah! The ARC cover is fantastic, and makes me even more excited to ready all about Vivy Cohen’s experiences. Thanks for the great podcast tips too!