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Small Town Chronicles: An Interview with Daphne Birkmyer, author of the Comfrey, Wyoming Books

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Daphne Birkmyer’s background as a teacher and biologist continues to exert its influence on her written work. Born overseas and currently living in California, she observes Americans through an immigrant’s eyes. She shares her home with a multitude of reptiles and mammals and the occasional child who comes home to roost. Book four of the Comfrey, Wyoming series is nearing completion.

You can buy Maiden Voyage here.

Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

My books all have the name of a small town, Comfrey, Wyoming, in the title. When I first started my series, I wanted a location with a beguiling reptile and chose the Midget Faded Rattlesnake. I also needed a state that a small plane could fly to Mexico, yet not be an obvious place for the poaching of exotic creatures. My first book featured Heidi, a highly talented chef and German immigrant who flees to Wyoming from New York after the death of her child. To develop her character as an immigrant, I needed some very American characters, and in Wyoming, those people would be the Arapaho and Shoshone. In book one, the characters started to become involved with each other and took over the storyline in ways I did not anticipate, and the snake has continued to play a minor role. My most recent book, MAIDEN VOYAGE, follows identical twins from book one raised from the age of five by Heidi into their early adulthood. One completes her gender-affirming surgery and finds love with a Comfrey, Wyoming resident. The other, unsure of the path ahead, drives north to find employment in Alaska’s lucrative and dangerous fishing industry. Both twins are embarking on very different “maiden voyages.”

How did it feel when you first saw your book cover? Or when you first held your book in your hands?

Atmosphere’s book cover designers have done an amazing job on my books. They listened to what I wanted and got the colors and silhouettes exactly right. The covers work beautifully for a series—they are similar in design, but the differing silhouettes give hints to stages in the characters’ journeys.

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

Both my students and the voices in my head since childhood made me want to write. I have always had imaginary friends, and they clamor away, commenting on news stories and standing up for social and environmental justice. In the years I spent teaching high school, my classroom was often the safe place for LGBTQ+ teenagers and others who felt marginalized. Over lunch, often with reptiles roaming the floor, they shared their hopes and fears with me. They influenced the development of many of my characters and I am immensely grateful to them.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I worked as a field biologist studying harbor seals. I have also worked pruning vines, picking grapes, and making wine in our family vineyard. BeforeIi left teaching to write my books, I taught high school biology, chemistry, and physiology.

What was the most rewarding/meaningful part of publishing your book?

A great reward has been feedback from members of the LGBTQ+ community who felt I captured the spirit of a child who knew she was transgender from a very early age. Many former students have bought my books, and my favorite comment was from one who said she had to keep checking the cover because she could not believe her former science teacher wrote a book with so much passion.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

Native flute music and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Also, Stuck in the Middle with You by Stealers Wheel.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

Each and every reader is a blessing, but perhaps my perfect reader is someone who desires connection and wants to learn from the lives of others who may be very different from themselves. There is tragedy, strength, humor, and resilience in my characters. Threads from my science teaching days also weave themselves through my work, including descriptions of ecosystems, climate change, and genetic disease.

What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?

Book four is currently in the works—the same beloved characters as in the first three books and dogs, always dogs. I introduce a Down Syndrome character and an OCD character, both with key roles to play. And the Midget Faded Rattlesnake will finally have its day.

How was working with Atmosphere Press? What would you tell other writers who want to publish?

I would tell other writers that Atmosphere Press gave me excellent guidance. I loved the editor who worked with me on my first three books, and the covers were just as I wished.

You can buy Maiden Voyage here.

Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

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