Describe your new book.
School of Fear is a middle-grade book following four very different kids (three 12 and one 13 in age), who each battle a crippling phobia. Madeleine Masterson is deathly afraid of spiders and bugs, and wears a netted veil to protect herself, along with a belt of repellents. Garrison Feldman is a local superstar, known for his forays on the soccer field, but he also holds a deep dark secret — he's petrified of large bodies of water like the ocean, which, by the way, is only blocks from his house. While friends talk of boogie boarding, Garrison breaks out into cold sweats. Theodore Bartholomew is afraid of almost everything! He worries of dangers in everyday life and how they could injure him or his family members. Theo even makes his siblings and parents text him every hour to confirm they are still alive. And then there's Lulu Punchalower, a seriously snarky young lady who will do just about anything to avoid getting into an elevator or other confined space. She once even handcuffed herself to a plane in a museum to avoid taking the elevator!
Each of these students learns about the off-the-grid, below-the-radar School of Fear, specializing in unorthodox methods to cure children of their fears. However, upon arrival, the students soon realize they are in for much more than they bargained for...
Describe your most memorable teacher.
My most memorable teacher, other than my own mother who taught me in pre-school, would be my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. LaChapelle. She was most likely in her late 60s, though at the time I thought of her as ageless. Of course, I knew she wasn't young, but she didn't act like any of the other old people I knew, so she inhabited this sort of nether land of age. She wore an extremely shiny and curly blonde wig under a large floppy hat with hat pins. To this day, she is the only person I have ever known who wore hat pins! Mrs. LaChapelle was incredibly patient with me when I cried in the mornings, sad to leave my parents, and for that I was eternally grateful. However, she also made me sit alone at the back of the room until I could properly spell my last name, which prompted me to ask my mother why I couldn't have a simple name like Kim (our neighbors' last name). My mother laughed and calmly reminded me: "But you're not Korean."
How did the last good book you read end up in your hands?
I was walking my three-year-old English bulldog, Harriet, down Bleeker Street when she pulled me into Biography Book Shop. (Which, sadly, is moving due to a crazy rent increase, and yet another Marc Jacobs store is moving in. It makes me so angry!) Harriet has a wonderful memory concerning which stores have treats. So as Harriet messily ate another free biscuit, I scanned a stack of books and noticed Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's. While I have seen the movie many times, I had never read the novella, so I immediately bought it.
What is your idea of bliss?
My idea of bliss is a large apartment in New York City with an elevator (so my bulldog doesn't have to climb five flights of stairs), a proper-sized dining-room table (so I can cook meals for friends), and a guest bedroom (so my friends don't have to sleep on my couch). That's pretty much it after the requisite health and happiness of family and friends!
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
My first memory is of wanting to be an actress like Marilyn Monroe, but after realizing that I was terrified of speaking in front of my class, that dream was dashed. Then I became obsessed with the idea of being a powerful lawyer in a big office in New York City. I imagined myself signing documents, talking on the phone, and having lots of meetings in sleek boardrooms. I often forced my sister to act as my assistant while I paraded around our bedroom with books, papers, and extra pens — all the things I thought lawyers carried.
If you could choose, what would be your last meal?
I love to eat and, as this would be my last meal, I would make sure there were multiple courses! I would start with a grilled cheese sandwich with a side of ranch dressing and French fries. There is something about ranch dressing on a grilled cheese and fries that is absolutely wonderful. For my second course, I would have a plate of nachos with extra jalapenos as I love Mexican food. And for my third and final course, I would have banana pudding and strawberry shortcake with homemade whipped cream. There is nothing like homemade whipped cream. It is absolutely perfect. Those canned creations simply cannot hold a candle to the real thing.
What three things would you bring to a desert island?
A satellite phone, a speed boat, and a map... I have no intention of staying on a desert island!
Who do you wish would write your biography?
Without question, I would have David Sedaris write my biography. While obviously a talented writer, he is also a true storyteller, making even the most mundane situations humorous and/or poignant. Having read all of his books, I can also confidently say that he would feel comfortable dissecting the many levels of eccentricity that exist in my family.
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Former Contrafilms Director of Development, Gitty Daneshvari is the author of the adult novel The Makedown. School of Fear is Gitty's debut children's book, and it was inspired by her many childhood fears. She hoped that one day they'd help her, and, as it turns out, they did. She lives in New York.
Books mentioned in this post
Gitty Daneshvari is the author of School of Fear