The Uptown Girls – Meet authors Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant
As winter winds down and warm spring breezes start to creep into your nose, sometimes the perfect day consists of curling up in a sunroom and cracking open a fresh, new book. Well, look no further. Uptown by Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant is a fascinating read from first page to last. This book tugs at you emotionally from start to finish, and will keep you in your seat for hours, anxiously awaiting the next turn of events. Uptown can be found on book shelves near you starting Tuesday, March 2nd. Go grab it. You won’t be disappointed.
Uptown is the story of a family divided until a tragic accident within family walls unexpectedly brings them back together. This impromptu reunion between cousins Dwight Dixon and Avery Braithwaite brings to the surface years of anguish and unsettled issues from the past that time and space have done anything but resolve. Dwight has become a real estate mogul in one of the most challenging real estate markets in the world, Central Park North, and an argument between Avery and himself stands in the way of settling the biggest deal of the Dixon Group’s history.
Selfishness and greed are both prominent and ever-present in this series of confrontations between cousins years in the making. Progress is hindered by one cousin’s business mind that won’t soften up and a propensity for lustful activities while the other cousin struggles with an infatuation with the past and the sudden need to deal with the loss of someone closer to her than she ever knew. Uptown leads you through the past, present, and potential futures for both Brooklyn and Harlem, two of the truly relevant and eternally relatable areas in this country.
We caught up with the authors to talk about their latest release, their twenty year partnership, and their amazing writing style.
Parlé: A lot of people that are writers are lone wolves in the world. Can you explain to me how collaborative writing works, what that process is like, and what the advantages and disadvantages of working together might be?
Donna: It’s kind of like trying to explain how a marriage works. A lot of it is about chemistry. We were great friends before, which doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be that good at working together, but in our case, it does. I think that we both respect each other’s talents and abilities as writers, and are able to check the ego before we come in and it just works for us.
Virginia: We really are equal collaborators and there is no set division of labor. It’s not like one of us does one chapter and one of us does the other, or one of us writes these two characters. We really both do every thing. We need to physically be together in the same space when we are writing because there is something about the vibe and how it happens that requires our proximity. So, most of the time when we have a deadline, Donna moves in with me because I am single and live alone. It allows us to have a rhythm that is ours. We can work in the middle of the night and not comb our hair and nobody cares. We can eat pizza every day and we don’t care about that either. The way that we just stumbled into this was really like discovering a cache of gold. We just stumbled on it. We had no idea it would work as well as it works and that we would still be doing this twenty years later.
Donna: And that we would be having a great deal of fun at it. As with any writing project, there are days that you just want to pull your hair out and you swear that you do not know another word, nor can you put it in a sentence. But, for those days, there’s the other one to kind of chill you out and on the days when it’s really working great you can look at each other and giggle because that’s the sentence you wanted. That’s way it’s supposed to flow, and it’s fun to enjoy that.
Virginia: One of the joys is that there’s always somebody that understands exactly what you’re going through. When the flow is good, you both get it. When somebody is not getting it or is trying to work through something in the story, you both are there. And of course, in the joy of celebrating when the book is finally done, there is that one person that knows everything you went through to get it from your head to the book you’re actually holding. The other person has gone through it as well. In terms of the downside of it, for me the only one is that people think it should take us half the amount of time because there are two of us, but really it takes us twice as long.
Donna: That’s exactly the one that I was going to say.
Parlé: Okay, so let’s get into the text a little bit. I read Uptown and I enjoyed it. One thing I noticed about the writing style that you two employ is that you’re very heavy on descriptors and adjectives. You say ‘big, wet, juicy raindrops’ and you really use words that obviously aren’t there when you first think of it. When it takes time to come up with the right set of words, is there a process you use to make a final decision?
Donna: I think that it really is part of the beginning process. For me, there’s a rhythm involved. There’s a rhythm involved in words on the page and so frequently the words that I want come with the words that give them the rhythm. Yes, there are times when one of us will suggest one word and the other will say, “How about this?” But particularly when you’re in the zone, it comes together as a piece because it really is about the rhythm.
Virginia: Because Donna is a very auditory person, the rhythm is the way that she describes her flow. She thinks of everything in terms of the way it sounds. I, on the other hand, am a very emotional and visual person. So, when I come up with descriptors, they are about the feeling of the rain or the mood. It’s what it looks like and what it makes you feel. Together, we put those things in one sentence and it turns out to be the right sentence. Sometimes there’s a lot of searching for exactly the right word.
Parlé: One experience that is very prevalent in this book is the idea of “coming home”. Can you explain a little bit about how this is such a unique experience and how you’ve been able to encapsulate it?
Virginia: This is not the first time we have had a character find out what going back home actually meant and that sometimes you have to do that in order to find yourself. In Far From the Tree, home was some other place. It was a home that the rest of the family didn’t know about. In this book, I think that we were trying to portray the feeling that even though home is wherever you make it, without feeling that you were grounded in a home, you can’t make a new “home” anywhere. That is the issue that clearly Avery was dealing with. She had lived in many homes but having shut off the existence of her initial home, she was unable to make any place else be home and feel like home and everything else was a substitute. It doesn’t mean that once you’re back home you have to stay. I think we often feel that when there’s something that’s blocking you as an adult trying to function in the world that you have to go back and find out where that happened. It may require psychotherapy, and it may require two weeks at home.
Donna: I was also very much aware of home as a physical place that can change without your permission or without your input. Whether it’s that the home you knew as home as a child is sold and your parents moved elsewhere and you have to handle the fact that the home doesn’t exist for you in the way that it used to, or as is happening in many large cities, a home in the neighborhood that you lived in is a place that’s been changed physically. Whether that means that the building is gone or the building has been turned into luxury condos and you’re no longer there, what is that feeling about? I live in Brooklyn; I grew up in Brooklyn and it’s wrangling back and forth about the Atlantic Towers, which is a very large development. There are people who are clearly for it and see it as progress, and there are people that are against it and see it destroying a neighborhood. There are two really different ways of looking at it and it was a chance to take a look at some of that.