Debra Solomon completed her undergraduate degree in International Relations in 1992, from Towson University in Maryland. After having worked for trading companies for several years and travelled to Turkey, Vietnam and Hong Kong, developing new business opportunities for her company.
In 1999, she switched careers and decided to become a teacher. Armed with a Master’s degree from CUNY Hunter’s Masters in Education’s TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) program, she has taught English as a Second Language to children and adults of all levels in various community colleges in New York, New Jersey and overseas.
It was during this time experiencing other countries that she became passionate about other cultures and has incorporated this theme into her children’s book writing. Each of her works has a cultural component unique to the country in which it takes place. The settings are places to which she has personally traveled, and the information in the text is a blend of fact and fiction taken from her own rich experiences. To know more about her, please visit her personal website- www.debbiesolomon.com
NAW- When did your literary journey begin? At what age did you discover that you wanted to write?
I always had a love for creative writing ever since I can remember. My mother used to boast about my stories and then stash them in a drawer in our kitchen to pull out at any given moment to read to family or guests.
Later, when I started to travel, I decided to document my trips day by day in journals because I never knew if I would ever return to that destination again and I knew I could relive it if I looked at my photos and read my journals at a later time in my life. Since that first overseas trip in 1997, I have created a library of travel journals that document my emotions, points of interest, friends I made along the way, foods I enjoyed, etc. To date, I have been to more than 25 countries and still counting!
I decided to write children’s books when my children were about 2 and 5. I wanted to write stories depicting places I had been. I knew it would be the best way to introduce them to other countries and cultures at such a young age.
NAW- Tell us about your book ‘Hidden in the Himalayas’. How did you get the idea for ‘Hidden in the Himalayas’?
Hidden in the Himalayas is a story that takes place high up in the mountains of Nepal. I trekked this exact route in the Everest region when I travelled to Nepal. The main character, Nema, is the name of a girl I met while I was there. I wanted to provide children the opportunity to see as much of the landscape as possible, so I had Nema travel within the story to other Sherpa villages. I chose to include family and friends, which I always do in my books. The idea about the lost doll is a topic I knew most young children could relate to. My youngest daughter has had a special “bunny” since she was born and for the past 5 years, the bunny has been everywhere we have gone. Now she is a little older, but when she was 2 or 3, that bunny was her world. The thought of her losing it would have been devastating for everyone. I love that the two main characters live in vastly different worlds, but share such a commonality. They found that friendship has no limits.
NAW- How did ‘Journey to the River of Perfumes’ happen? Tell us about the research you did for ‘Journey to the River of Perfumes’?
My research was on foot when I travelled in Vietnam multiple times. I was really taken by the culture and the people I met along the way. I loved all of the sights and sounds I encountered on my visits and when I returned home, I felt changed. I think I left a bit of my heart there and that is why I returned. I met a friend from the city of Hue, the old imperial capital, and visited there a couple of times. I imagined how it was centuries ago in its spendour with its pagodas, palaces and architecture. I wanted to celebrate the location by using it as the backdrop in my story. It’s a piece of history that should be treasured.
NAW- Did you face any trouble in finding publishers for your first book?
Since I had my story in place, I felt that the illustrations were of utmost importance in making this book come alive. I knew if I went the traditional route, I would not have the flexibility to keep my story in tact or chose my own illustrator. I envisioned soft dream like water colours evoking images of a far away place. I found the perfect illustrator for what I had envisioned. I knew I wanted a map on the last page and a historical note for children to see exactly where the story took place. I also wanted the freedom to have follow up activities to go along with the books to reinforce what the children learned from the story. With that said, I decided to take on the challenge of starting my own publishing company. My company is called “Englander Press” after my mother’s maiden name and it celebrates my mother who I lost 6 years ago. I am calling my collection of books “Expeditions in Learning” and hope to write at least 3 more to make 5 in total. I will write about countries on different continents, so children can broaden their horizons across the globe. I am marketing them as a “learning experience” rather than just books.
NAW- What are you reading right now? Are there any authors that you would name as influences?
I love historical fiction. At present I am reading a book set in Vietnam written by John Shors called Dragon House. I love his descriptive language and how he really makes you feel as if you are there.
NAW- Writing is not looked upon as a full time vocation in many countries, were you aware that making a living solely out of writing is difficult when you first started out?
I am writing out of joy. I never thought I would do this as a profession. I am writing to teach children to have compassion towards others, learn about far away lands and appreciate other cultures. I am fortunate to be able to raise my two daughters and have time on the side for my new career
NAW- Please name your 5 favourite books.
Beneath a Marble Sky -John Shors
Unaccoustomed Earth & Interpreter of Maladies- Jhumpa Lahiri
One Thousand White Women- Jim Fergus
Molokai- Alan Brennet
NAW- What are your upcoming projects?
I am writing another book that is set on Isla Mujeres, an island off the Yucatan Penninsula, in Mexico. I am trying to incorporate native animals that talk (by request of my eldest daughter). I hope to infuse Mexican culture through the story, teach about the native animals of the island and also bring in some Spanish language.
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