With enormous thanks to the Temple University Press team—Micah Kleit, Ann-Marie Anderson, Gary Kramer, Joan Vidal, Sara Cohen, Kate Nichols, Debby Smith, and Director Mary Rose Muccie—I share a first look at the cover art for Love: A Philadelphia Affair
, my collection of Philadelphia-themed essays and photography, due out from the Press later this summer.
Southwest Philadelphia, Fairmount, Woodlands Cemetery, Wissahickon Creek, Old City, Memorial Hall, City Hall Tower, Locust Walk, South Philadelphia Sports Complex, Wayne Art Center, The Martha Street Hatchatory, Port Richmond, Free Library of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Fairmount Water Works, 30th Street Station, Stone Harbor, Glenside, New Hope, Mural Arts, Eastern State, Bush Hill, Chanticleer Garden, Hawk Mountain, The Devon Horse Show and Country Fair, The Schuylkill Banks, DanceSport Academy, Beach Haven, Valley Forge National Historical Park, Reading Terminal Market, Wilmington, DE, Stone Harbor, the Poconos, Hawk Mountain, Lancaster, PA—my memories of and reflections on these and other elements of this region have all been collected here, along with my black and white photography.
This book owes a huge debt to Kevin Ferris and Avery Rome of The Philadelphia Inquirer,
who invited me to write, idiosyncratically and happily, for their pages.
I thank Amy Rennert, who ushered this project through all those terms I'd never understand on my own.
The Temple team has worked enormously hard to get the book out in time for the Pope's visit to our city; copies will be available by then. It will be here and near during the Democratic Convention. And it will serve as a companion book to Flow: The Life and Times of Philadelphia's Schuylkill River,
another Temple University production.
The official catalog copy, as penned by the great publicist, Gary Kramer:
From the best-selling author of Flow, comes a love letter to the Philadelphia region, its places, and people
A Philadelphia Affair
Philadelphia has been at the heart of many of award-winning author Beth Kephart’s books, but none more so than the affectionate collection, Love. This volume of personal essays and photographs celebrate the intersection of memory and place. Kephart writes lovingly, reflectively, about what Philadelphia means to her. She muses about her meanderings on SEPTA trains, spending hours among the armor in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and taking shelter at Independence Mall during a downpour.
In Love, Kephart shares her love of Reading Terminal Market at Thanksgiving, “This abundant, bristling market is, in November, the most unlonesome place around.” She waxes poetically about the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, the mustard in a Salumeria sandwich, and the coins slipped between the lips of Philbert the pig.
Kephart also extends her journeys to the suburbs of Glenside and Ardmore, and beyond, to Lancaster County, PA, Stone Harbor, NJ, and Wilmington, DE. What emerges is a valentine to the City of Brotherly Love and its environs. In Love, Philadelphia is “More than its icons, bigger than its tagline.”
Beth Kephart is the award-winning author of 20 books, including Going Over, Handling the Truth, Flow: The Life and Times of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River, and Ghosts in the Garden. She has been nominated for a National Book Award, has been awarded grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Pew Fellowships in the Arts, and has won the national Speakeasy Poetry Prize. Kephart writes a monthly column on the intersection of memory and place for the Philadelphia Inquirer and is a frequent contributor to the Chicago Tribune. She teaches memoir at the University of Pennsylvania and blogs daily at www.beth-kephart.blogspot.com
Philadelphia Region/General Interest/Urban Studies
112 pages, 39 halftones, 5 1/2 x 8 1/2”
Cloth ISBN 978-1-4399-1315-4 $24.50
Submissions Wanted... If you’d like a fresh look at your opening chapter or prologue, please email your submission to me re the directions at the bottom of this post.
The Flogometer challenge: can you craft a first page that compels me to turn to the next page? Caveat: Please keep in mind that this is entirely subjective.
Note: all the Flogometer posts are here.
What's a first page in publishingland? In a properly formatted novel manuscript (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point type, etc.) there should be about 16 or 17 lines on the first page (first pages of chapters/prologues start about 1/3 of the way down the page). Directions for submissions are below—they include a request to post the rest of the chapter, but that’s optional.
A word about the line-editing in these posts: it’s “one-pass” editing, and I don’t try to address everything, which is why I appreciate the comments from the FtQ tribe. In a paid edit, I go through each manuscript three times.
Before you rip into today’s submission, consider this checklist of first-page ingredients from my book, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling. While it's not a requirement that all of these elements must be on the first page, they can be, and I think you have the best chance of hooking a reader if they are.
Download a free PDF copy here.
Were I you, I'd examine my first page in the light of this list before submitting to the Flogometer. I use it on my own work.
A First-page Checklist
- It begins connecting the reader with the protagonist
- Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
- What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
- What happens moves the story forward.
- What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
- The protagonist desires something.
- The protagonist does something.
- There’s enough of a setting to orient the reader as to where things are happening.
- It happens in the NOW of the story.
- Backstory? What backstory? We’re in the NOW of the story.
- Set-up? What set-up? We’re in the NOW of the story.
- What happens raises a story question—what happens next? or why did that happen?
Caveat: a strong first-person voice with the right content can raise powerful story questions and create page turns without doing all of the above. A recent submission worked wonderfully well and didn't deal with five of the things in the checklist.
Christopher sends a revision of the first chapter of an untitled YA fantasy. The remainder of the chapter is after the break.
The front door crashed open, waking me up way before it was time to get ready for my morning lessons.
“Bring him in,” my mother yelled from outside.
Footfalls rushed into the house and from the handful of hurried voices, I only recognized two: my mother’s and Daylan’s. My parents had been above ground defending two supply shipments from Tormelin. The villages waiting for these supplies had already lost their first wagons of goods to thieves. A group calling themselves the Underground claimed responsibility for the thefts and my parents had gone personally to make sure the supplies safely reached their destinations.
I sat up, listening for my father’s voice, but I couldn’t hear him amongst the others. Since my father didn’t send his generals to defend the shipments, I knew the Underground was a bigger threat than they were telling me.
I still couldn’t hear him. Something was wrong. Footsteps raced past my door toward my parents’ bedchamber. Guessing he’d been attacked, I jumped out of bed. My clothes from yesterday were still on the floor. I threw them on and ran out.
My mother wrenched her chamber doors open and two people I’d never seen carried my father into the room. His eyes were closed and he wasn’t moving.
Were you compelled to turn Christopher's first page?
This opening cooks up good story questions with a good voice. I’m going to turn the page, but first a few notes—I think the narrative could be a little crisper. We do, however, get a good deal of information woven in with what’s happening in an economical way. Caution, Christopher—there are typos and errors in the chapter such as “firs” instead of “furs” and “you’re” instead of “your” that should not have been sent out.
The front door crashed open, waking me up way before it was time to get ready for my morning lessons.
“Bring him in,” my mother yelled from outside.
Footfalls rushed into the house and, from the handful of the hurried voices, I only recognized two: my mother’s and Daylan’s. My parents had been above ground defending two supply shipments from Tormelin. The villages waiting for these supplies them had already lost their first wagons of goods to thieves. A group calling themselves the Underground claimed responsibility for the thefts and my parents had gone personally to make sure the supplies safely reached their destinations.
I sat up, listening listened for my father’s voice, but I couldn’t hear him amongst the others. Since he my father didn’t send hadn’t sent his generals to defend the shipments, I knew the Underground was a bigger threat than they were telling me.
I still couldn’t hear him. Something was wrong. Footsteps raced past my door toward my parents’ bedchamber. Guessing he’d been attacked, I jumped out of bed. My clothes from yesterday were still on the floor--I threw them on and ran out. You’re doing a little “telling” here (something was wrong). You don’t have to include speculation and getting out of bed, just stay with the action and show the reader that something is wrong—he clearly thinks that or he wouldn’t dress and run out the door.
My mother wrenched her chamber doors open and two people I’d never seen carried my father into the room. His eyes were closed and he wasn’t moving. Good strong hook. Trimming the above will allow more of the action on the first page.
For what it’s worth.
Submitting to the Flogometer:
Email the following in an attachment (.doc, .docx, or .rtf preferred, no PDFs):
- your title
- your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
- Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
Note: I’m adding a copyright notice for the writer at the end of the post. I’ll use just the first name unless I’m told I can use the full name.
- Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
- And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
- If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
- If you rewrite while you wait for your turn, it’s okay with me to update the submission.
Were I you, I'd examine my first page in the light of the first-page checklist before submitting to the Flogometer.
Flogging the Quill © 2015 Ray Rhamey, story © 2015 Christopher
“What’s wrong?” I said racing toward my mother. I scanned my father for wounds, blood on his clothes—any clue that would tell what happened—but I couldn’t find anything. My mother held her hand out in front of me and I stopped.
“Sarella,” she said behind her back to the two carrying my father, “please, lay him on the bed. Daylan,” she called toward the front door, “bring all of the healers in Al’Shar. I don’t care about their reputations, just get them here now!”
So my father was still alive. If she wanted the healers, he was probably poisoned, and if she wanted them all, it must have been bad. I wanted to push past her, but watched and waited.
Daylan bowed and disappeared.
My mother walked into the bedroom and I followed while the two rushed my father into the bed. The woman was tall and muscular like my mother, except she had dark skin like my father and me; her hair was twisted into long, coarse braids. The man had a dark olive complexion, he wasn’t as tall, and had a shaved head. I ran over to pull the firs away. When they laid him on the bed, I covered him.
Once my father was under the furs, I could see him breathe. He started moaning and my mother led us out of the room and closed the door.
“Sarella and Trian, we’re forever in your debt,” she said, hugging them both before taking my hand. “I meant what I said about living in Al’Shar. If you wish, you’re family is welcome.”
The two looked at each other, nodding in unison. “We’re sorry about your husband,” Sarella said, “and we don’t mean to be so happy at a time like this, but we gratefully accept your offer. We only have one daughter,” she looked at me and smiled, “the same age as your son. Thank you.”
The two bowed before my mother and me. I watched quietly, wanting them to leave so my mother could explain what happened.
“I’ll have our Blood-Guard escort you home to collect your daughter. Don’t bring anything that isn’t personal; everything you could possibly want is provided in Al’Shar. By the time you return your home will be ready.”
“Galtoria, thank you,” Sarella said, kissing her on the cheek.
“Thank you,” Trian repeated, shaking my mother’s hand and then mine.
“Your daughter will have the same lessons as my son,” my mother said, squeezing my shoulder. She’ll train alongside him and the children of the oldest, most powerful families in the Kraelmar kingdom. You saved your king and are one of us now. Welcome.” My mother gave them a slight bow, “I would speak to my son alone, and then I’ll send for the guard to take you above ground.”
The two bowed once more and left.
“Fenon,” my mother said wrapping her arm around my shoulder, “come with me.”
We returned to my parents’ bedchamber, a room much larger than anything they’d ever needed—to the left was their bed, large enough to sleep four, was surrounded by tall, wooden posts, and loosely wrapped around those posts was a large draping of white, crystal-silk, the softest fabric in our kingdom. It’s glittering weave hung loosely and at the ends, tassels of sparkling gems glittered on the floor. The rest of the room was sparsely filled for its size: wooden dressers, one for each of them, and a few sitting chairs and sofas never used in my time. Sweat beaded on my father’s head and my mother hurried to the doorway at the back of the chamber, leading to a washroom. I grabbed two the chairs and hurried them over to my father’s bedside while my mother came out with a bowl of cool water and a rag. We sat. She rested the bowl on the bed next to him and placed her hand on his forehead.
“He’s burning up,” she said.
Holding the side of his face with one hand, she squeezed the rag and laid it across his brow. “After getting the wagons safely to Grem and Fedrin,” she said, “your father and I met up with our warriors in Holdingar to reassign them before returning to Al’Shar. On our way home, with only a few guards, we were attacked. Your father and I had to split up because strategically, we’re not to be in the same place during a battle. Your father raced after a group of the Underground deep into the forest and when he caught up with them, but there were more waiting. It was a trap,” My mother gently wiped his sweat away before dipping the rag back into the water. She smiled briefly. “You know your father. They didn’t stand a chance against him.”
I did know my father. When he was a few years older than me he took the Rite of Ghem’Rel, a rite everyone in my bloodline takes at the age of thirteen to determine what special trait they’d inherited. When my father passed the rite, he discovered he had hearing more sensitive than any human in these lands. My father sword trains by fighting a small army of our best warriors all at once. He uses his Rite-ability to hear every sword swing, footstep, and breath of a warrior that comes near. He always knew what was going on around him whether he could see it or not. A handful of thieves wouldn’t stand a chance against him. “If they didn’t attack him, how did he get sick?” I asked.
“It was the blight that poisoned your father,” she said. “Until now we thought it only diseased plants, but we were wrong about a lot of things. This blight hasn’t died off on its own as Nordan and The Council predicted. In fact it has spread well beyond the cursed wood of the Velryn and is now sickening the forests outside of Holdingar. During his fight with the Underground, your father touched the blight and succumbed to its poison. Sarella said that although he writhed in terrible pain, he stayed conscious long enough to hold off his attackers until she and Trian found him. Because of your father’s bravery,” she clasped her hand with my father’s, raising it and resting the back of his hand against her cheek, “we were able to capture a few members of the Underground, but your father’s sickness,” she sighed heavily, setting his hand on top of the furs, “was the sacrifice he paid.”
The blight was described to me as a shiny, tar-like ooze that seeped out from the Velryn Forest—a cursed place where evil creatures roamed the twisted branches and spidery brush, where those who walked in never came out—no one dared to go near that forest. Until my father, I hadn’t heard of anyone touching the blight or anything that came from the Velryn. “There’s no cure is there?” I asked my mother.
She shook her head as my father mumbled incoherently, stirring in a poisoned dream. She dipped the rag in the water and blotted the sweat off of his arms. “If I’d had known this was a blight to humans as well, I’d have taken the army and burned the Velryn Forest to the ground myself, Nordan and his Council be damned.”
Although I knew my mother didn’t like Nordan and The Council, I’d never heard her speak out against them like that before. I was in the Hall of Thrones with my parents the day Nordan came to warn us about the blight. It was the first time I’d met him: a short, older man with piercing green eyes and frosted blond hair that looked as if it could turn white at any moment. He told us that nothing like this had ever survived outside of the Velryn before. At that time it hadn’t spread to our outermost farmlands. I remember my mother telling him to burn any diseased plants and the Velryn along with it. She wanted to act swift before the blight had a chance to root itself into our lands. Nordan politely dismissed my mother’s suggestion, telling us The Council believed that the blight would die out on its own. When he spoke however, he only looked at my father and me. He wasn’t outright rude to my mother, but his ignoring her made me uncomfortable. When he’d look at me, I would turn my head to watch her, hoping he would notice and address her as well. He didn’t. I was curious what had happened between the two of them, but finding a way to heal my father was more important at the moment.
“So what are we going to do now? Is he going to die?” I said.
“Just because The Council says there’s no cure doesn’t mean there isn’t one,” my mother said, trying to reassure me. “We just have to find it.”
I didn’t have much hope though. It was The Council’s responsibility to make sure we had enough food and other supplies in our lands, and that included medicines—everything. If they didn’t have a cure for our king, who would?
“I won’t leave your father’s side until every healer in Al’Shar has had their chance to cure him. If that doesn’t work, I’ll go above ground and find it myself. Fenon, look at me,” for the first time she moved away from my father and grabbed my hands, hers were still hot from attending to my father. “I will find his cure.”
I watched my father’s chest rise and fall as he struggled to breathe, a hypnotic movement somewhere between survival and nightmares. I was with him right before he and my mother went above ground. We were in the Emril Caverns. It was just the two of us and we were sparring in the pool beneath the only waterfall in Al’Shar. Waist deep in water, we drew our swords and fought while he told me the great legends of humans fighting for their freedom against Wood Witches. His eyes were so deep and excited; he always smiled when he told those stories. Of course neither one of us believed them, but they made what could have been tedious sparring lessons, fun. The times I’d spent in those caverns with him were the best of my life.
My father erupted into a fit of sleeping cough, waking me out of my daydream. Now, all I could see of my father’s eyes were white slits beneath trembling lids. What if he never woke up? What if this was the way I’d remember him from now on? Sniffing, I looked away, wiping my nose on my shoulder.
I caught my mother watching me and I tried to toughen up, but my eyes burned red from the tears that gave me away.
She set the rag down and reached for my hand. “It’s not time to worry yet,” she said, “We don’t know enough about the blight or its poison. Your father could wake up and be fine tomorrow.”
I nodded, afraid that if I said anything I’d cry. I knew she was trying to keep me hopeful, but she was wrong.There was a lot to worry about. For example, why did the Underground go after my father? What did they want if they left the supplies alone? And the biggest question on my mind: why hadn’t she already told me what they wanted. There was one thing about my mother I could always depend on: like all Kraelmar warriors, she respected acts of strength and bravery. If I could show her that I was strong, that I could handle my father lying there with the possibility of never waking up, she would tell me what she knew. “If my father dies,” I said, forcing myself not to choke on the words, “then I’ll be the last of my line. I need to know what’s going on with the Underground. Why did they attack him instead of stealing the supplies?”
My mother’s face turned grey and ashen. She looked away and I knew there was something she didn’t want me to know.
“Fenon, our ability to divert food and supplies across our lands is what keeps the peace and it’s what makes us so powerful. If a blizzard destroyed the food supplies in the northern lands, we could easily send them grain and livestock from the South. Until now, we’ve been able to keep everyone in our kingdom fed and satiated because of our supply system. Of course not everyone is happy with it, but there’s no such thing as a perfect system.”
My father started moaning and struggling again; he was sweating so much my mother took the firs off. I got up and grabbed a lightly woven sheet from a wooden shelf. I helped her drape it over him. His sweat soaked it almost instantly and I had to replace it with another. He quieted and my mother grabbed a fresh rag and bowl of water. We both sat down. This time she placed the soaked rag over his lips, hoping he would drink. His mouth remained closed.
I watched my father twisting and turning beneath the sheet as if he were fighting for his life. That’s when I began to understand the complexity and danger of this disease. “If this blight spreads throughout the lands,” I said watching him with focused eyes, “we’ll lose our ability to divert food. Everyone will starve, or end up like...” I couldn’t finish saying the words.
She set the bowl on the bed, and turned, moving closer toward me. “When your father and I first heard about the Underground, we thought they were nothing more than a common group of unorganized thieves. But they’re not. They’re using the blight to create fear throughout the kingdom and are using that fear to recruit our people to their cause.”
She paused for a moment, turning to attend to my father again, but he seemed to be cooling off, calming down. “When we fought against the Underground,” she continued, “I saw some of their weapons. They weren’t just fashioned bows and arrows, or spears made from sharpened rocks and metal. Some of them had Kraelmar swords. They knew when we’d be in Holdingar and they knew that if they attacked the supplies of important cities, cities where families of the Council lived, your father would come to protect those cities personally.Fenon,” she said, grabbing my hands and staring right into my eyes. In that brief moment I forgot my father was in the room. “The Underground wasn’t after the supplies. They wanted to draw your father out of Al’Shar so they could kill him. I’m certain they have spies in Tormelin and maybe even Trel’Nor. They’re not a bunch of disgruntled people using the blight to try and get more supplies. They’re well organized, have Kraelmar warriors joined to their cause, and live in small factions in the forests and even high in the Storgekull Mountains. They’re after the Royal Line and they’re trying to destroy the kingdom. What we don’t know is why.”
I stared at her, my mouth agape. If they were after my line, not only were they trying to kill my father, they wanted me dead too. I felt my chest turn to ice as if my heart had been covered by cold steel. I looked at my father; was this the Underground’s first attempt? Did he really successfully fight them off or was it their intention to poison him with the blight all along? They almost succeeded by the look of him: eyes closed, barely breathing now except for his once in a while gasps.
My mother must have seen the worry on my face. “Right now both you and your father are safe. If the Underground had spies in Al’Shar, they wouldn’t have tried drawing your father to Holdingar, they would have gone after him here. Daylan and the Blood-Guard are from families sworn to die for the Royal Line—It’s a bond more sacred than loyalty. They are trained to protect you wherever you go, and they know about the Underground. You and your father are safer in Al’Shar than the Council members are in Trel’Nor.”
I could tell my mother thought she was reassuring me, but with the Blood-Guard shadowing me all the time, how was I supposed to know who was guarding me and who was trying to kill me? There were more things spinning through my mind than I could handle: My father dying and if he did, what would that mean? Not only would I grow up without him, I’d be expected to become him at the age of thirteen. Would I have to take the Rite of Ghem’Rel? It was the responsibility of the Royal Line to administer the Rite. If my father died, I’d have no one to test me. Would that mean I was no longer the next leader? What if I never figured out what my Rite-Ability was? Some of my ancestors knew their ability before they even took the Rite, so the test didn’t matter for them, but I was already ten years old and I had no clue what I was good at.
And what would happen if I did pass and become the next king? I would be expected to lead a starving and blight-sickened kingdom where an Underground force was trying to kill me just like they tried to, and maybe succeeded, in killing my father? All of a sudden the room felt like it was getting smaller. The ceiling was slowly moving down, the walls were closing in on me. I started breathing faster and faster but couldn’t get enough air. The room was stale and moist, full of sick. “I have to go,” I told my mother. “I’ll be in the Emril.” I jumped up, unable to look at either of them. Right now I couldn’t be in this house of sickness.
Without protest from my mother, I ran out and didn’t stop until I heard the echoing crash of water from the falls in the Emril caverns. I sat at the bank, threw my shoes off and stuck my feet in the cool water. Elbows resting on my thighs and hands cupping my chin, I watched the endless ripples as they tumbled into my shins on their way toward the bank.
I lied back, my feet still in the water. How was I supposed to think about life without my father? What kind of life would that be for me? I stared up at the stalactite ceiling, with a slit of blue light in the center, my only porthole to the outside world. I tried to numb my racing mind by listening to the falls and watching as the small piece of sky turned gold, to purple, and finally black. I tried imagining what it would be like, actually laying on a field of green grass and seeing nothing above me but the sky. Although I couldn’t go above ground, we studied it in our lessons. The sky seemed a lot like a vast ocean, spanning into an endless beyond—nothing but blue, and when the sun went down, both sky and water turned black. The thought of something so open, so reflective, was scary, like I’d fall into it and lose myself, drowning into a vast nothing. It wasn’t until I saw a single star shine through the mouth above that I finally stood up and walked home.