Jamaica Plain resident Diane Fraser recently wrote her first book, “Growing Up Superheroes, The Extraordinary Adventures of Deihlia Nye,” which came out earlier this year. The Gazette conducted a question-and-answer session with her through email about the new book. (The session has been edited.)
The book is available at Trident Books and on Amazon.com. For more info, visit growingupsuperheroes.com
What inspired you to write the book?
My niece Deihlia. She was born in a body with multiple, severe life and death conditions. She experienced extreme physical trauma through major surgeries throughout her childhood and youth. But Deihlia came in with something incredibly resilient, flexible and strong: her spirit. One of the surgeries she had would undo most people, yet she had over 40 of them and came out of them stronger and more determined to experience what she wanted to experience in life. Her powerful presence in our family made each of our lives bigger, breaking them out of the unhealthy, limited boxes that they were in. Deihlia had this effect on most people. She wanted to do as much as she could while she was alive – enjoying good times with friends and family, accomplishing her goals, and exploring her own identity. She knew she was going to die young, so she lived as fully as she could, not letting the conditions of her life, including living with a severe disability, keep her from having adventures. Her death was a surprise to all of us, but not to her.
After I delivered Deihlia’s eulogy, several people came up to me and said, “You should really write a book.” I was full of regret and grief, as most people are after someone they love dies unexpectedly. Partly I was fueled by my grief – I wanted to continue my relationship with her, and I wanted to capture what she brought to the world, because she was, and is, such a large presence. So I suppose it is the confluence of all of those things together – the nudging from mourners, my own grief and Deihlia’s absence.
Where does the title come from?
Not everyone has a real superhero in their life, and I was lucky to have had one in my family. “Growing Up Superheroes” felt like the right title because Deihlia was into comics and videogames from a very young age. From Ninja Turtles to X-Men, The Crow, and then so many others. While I love those kinds of characters, they don’t actually inspire me to do anything or be different. They’re fantasy characters.
Deihlia, however, did have that kind of impact on people, as a person who survived major physical traumas and lived a robust life of gusto and daring. Through her example, she showed other people how to take risks, be authentic and live life to the fullest regardless of conditions.
To me, that’s what a superhero really is – a real person dealing with profound challenges with grace, creativity and courage – someone doing it so well that other people grow and expand because they know that person. I also believe that everyone who was close to Deihlia was also a superhero – overcoming their own limits in order to be part of her adventure, that’s why it’s ‘superheroes’ plural. I wanted this book to really represent Deihlia and her interests and spirit, so the title fits.
How would you describe the book to a potential reader?
“Growing Up Superheroes” will change you. It will affect how you see your life, your world and the other people in it. From the first page, the story will take you on a compelling, passionate adventure with Deihlia Nye and her family and friends. You’ll get to know what it’s like to overcome physical adversity, take life-threatening risks for the sake of fun and connection, and you’ll experience first-hand what it means to live with courage and humor. If you like strong, interesting characters who make you want to go out and chase after life with a lot more gusto, then this story is for you. Like Deihlia, this book is a magical, beautiful, heartbreaking kick-in-the-pants.
Was this the first memoir you wrote? Was it difficult writing about yourself and deciding what to self-censor?
This is my first book and my first memoir. I would say the hardest part of writing the book was deciding what to put in and what to leave out – not just about me, but about Deihlia, my family and her friends.
My book is full of real flesh and blood people who shared their stories with me and signed releases to let me craft their memories and feelings into stories and characterizations. I wanted to honor everyone in the book with renderings that captured truth, emotion and complexity.
I also only shared information about Deihlia that she would have shared herself, but some of it is still deeply personal. I put in my own personal struggles because I didn’t want to throw Deihlia out there in the world all by herself – it didn’t feel right. I felt like she was in my court her whole life (and vice versa) so the book reflects that.
What writers have influenced you and why?
There are so many, it’s hard to list them all. Anais Nin, Margaret Atwood, Walt Whitman, my friend Thea Hillman. I like writers who take risks, go deep and show their humanity. I also love Alan Moore’s Promethea comics—a lot. I love the art and the cosmology.
Are you working on any other projects?
Yes. I’m working on a young adult novel – an urban fantasy based on some of my own psychic/supernatural experiences. I’m having a lot of fun with it.