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It is possible to write nearly an entire novel and not know precisely who that mysterious character is until the last late night before the novel is due.
I know that. I'm living proof.
There this character has been all along, a mystery to the others in the story, too, but, hey—she's not supposed to be a mystery to you. You created her, after all. You put her down on the page. You fell in love with her, just a little bit.
Shouldn't you know who she is?
Late last night, which was really early this morning, which is to say 3:30 AM, however you'd like to classify that, the final piece of the novel I've been writing came into view, and I seized it. I said, Yes. I let a small tear fall, maybe another tear, what did it matter? No one was watching.
Every story we write is a gigantic leap of faith. Every sentence is up for rearrangement. But you know a book, even a novel, is true when it surprises you, when the surprise makes you cry, when you think that, at last, you've earned a night of sleep again.
Maybe you can stop obsessing because you know something now. Something new. You know it, and it belongs to you.
Thank you for reading so quickly.
Chronicle Books and Tamra Tuller: They produce a beautiful book.
I didn't allow myself to start reading the galleys of my Florence novel until I pushed passed 35,000 words on my novel-in-progress.
Now I breathe. And soon I'll read.
As reported in PW Children's Bookshelf,
April 28, 2014:
Tamra Tuller at Chronicle has acquired two books by NBA-nominated author Beth Kephart. Set in Florence, Italy, One Thing Stolen follows Nadia Cara as she mysteriously begins to change. She's become a thief, she has secrets she can't tell, and when she tries to speak, the words seem far away.This Is the Story of You takes place in an island beach town in the aftermath of a super storm; Mira, a year-rounder stranded for weeks without power, hopes to return storm-tossed treasures to their rightful owners, and restore some sense of order to an unrecognizable world. Publication is scheduled for spring 2015 and spring 2016; Amy Rennert of the Amy Rennert Agency did the deal for world rights.
A few days ago, Tamra Tuller and I got to talking over email, and then we kind of couldn't stop. Well, Tamra, being my editor, gently told me when it was time to stop. Otherwise, I'd have just kept going, I like this Tamra so very much.
Today our conversation is posted on the Chronicle Books Blog. It starts like this, below—
What role does an editor play in the development of a book? How does the relationship between writer and editor shape the story that emerges? Here, Chronicle editor Tamra Tuller and Going Over author Beth Kephart sit down to chat about the challenges, rewards, and often years-long process of creating a work of fiction together.
Beth Kephart: For ten years, before I met you, I had been writing a novel called Small Damages. It had been many things. It had nearly found a publishing home. But looking back now, it was clear: It was always waiting for you. You would be the one to read, to embrace, to understand this story of southern Spain. How did I get so lucky to have you come into my life—to turn the first page of Small Damages, and then the second one?
Tamra Tuller: Well, Beth, first of all I think I am the lucky one. For me it was a no-brainer. I fell in love with your writing! It was impossible not to keep turning the pages. And it didn’t hurt that I had a love for Spain and had traveled there as a teenager. I think one of the things that makes us such a great team is that we love to travel! We also both fell in love with Berlin. Do you remember the amazing conversations we had after we had both visited?
BK: Do I remember the amazing conversations we had about Berlin? Um. Yeah. I remember all of our amazing conversations. You are one of my very favorite people to talk to, and I would say that whether we had started to create these books together or not. Sometimes I think I’m still writing books for the sole reason (also the soul reason) of continuing our conversation.
and then continues here.
P.S.: This same Tamra Tuller, who began her literary career at Scholastic Books, wrote yesterday to say that Scholastic has bought Going Over
to share with its young readers.
A few days ago, I wrote here
of what is gained when we, mid-course into a new book, return to its beginning. How, when we dwell with what has already been written, when we don't rush toward the climax, the close, the I'm done!,
we discover the true heart of the story. We find all that will propel us to a meaningful end.
Plus, it's really fun.
Today, again, I offer simple advice, on the theory that it's the simple stuff that we tend to overlook when we find ourselves in the heat of writerly angst.
That advice: Take out a pen. Take out a notebook. Write the story by hand.
There are a few reasons for this. One, obviously, away from the computer, you are, hopefully, away from the tempting distractions that electronically creep in. But even more importantly, as this Maria Konnikova story in the New York Times
suggests, writing something down, using our own hands, pressing into the page beneath us, does something to our brains. It activates neural networks that are key to the making of stories:
The effect goes well beyond letter recognition. In a study that followed children in grades two through five, Virginia Berninger, a psychologist at the University of Washington, demonstrated that printing, cursive writing, and typing on a keyboard are all associated with distinct and separate brain patterns — and each results in a distinct end product. When the children composed text by hand, they not only consistently produced more words more quickly than they did on a keyboard, but expressed more ideas. And brain imaging in the oldest subjects suggested that the connection between writing and idea generation went even further. When these children were asked to come up with ideas for a composition, the ones with better handwriting exhibited greater neural activation in areas associated with working memory — and increased overall activation in the reading and writing networks.
I always write by hand. The first draft of everything is a mess of ink on scattered journals. It is my head working, my hand trailing behind, nothing much, until it becomes something very much. I'll sneak back the computer when I have a few pages. I'll type a vague resemblance of the handwritten material there—clean it up, straighten it, do some logic tests. But then, again, I print those computer pages and I'm back on the couch, scratching out most everything, writing in the margins. Back and forth, this is the process.
The best stuff—the best details, dialogue chains, discoveries—is always the result of a pen in hand.
And only after I've done this many times, do I share the work with my editor, Tamra Tuller. Our conversation about how we work after that is here
First: The writing of every book feels, to me, like the writing of a very first book. Plain and simple.
Second: Here on my desktop sit the galley pages of One Thing Stolen,
a book that took enormous risks and with which I struggled until I finally stopped struggling, finally found what I think is the novel's core. Still, I am afraid to read what I have wrought. I am required to do that. Soon. Especially since Tamra recently shared news about this novel's cover. My goodness. This novel has to live up to the artist commissioned for its cover. (You'll see, in time.)
Third: I am halfway through the writing of a new novel for Tamra. I've had one hell of a good time with these first 130 pages. But now I'm veering into the truly hard stuff. Once again, I'm taking risks. I'm scared.
It is the combined impact of first/second/third that has prompted me to share, this week, a few small notes on my writerly process—(Note 1. Note 2.
)—as well as this conversation with Tamra
. Nothing huge in any of this. Just, I hope, helpful.
I was all set to write another post in this vein when I came upon these words by Philipp Meyer, Pulitzer Prize nominated author of American Rust
and The Son
. He's a featured author in this BarnesandNobleReview.com interview (with the equally interesting Smith Henderson). And he has something to say about writing to the edge.
I share his risk-taking sentiments wholeheartedly (risk-taking was to be my theme of the day). He speaks them better than I could. A brief excerpt below. The entire conversation runs here
In terms of society's ignorance, there is a very common sentiment which is basically along the lines of: "don't put everything you know into your first book." This could not be more wrong. You have to put EVERYTHING you know into EVERY book. Of course this will slow down the process. Of course this will make the time between finishing books much longer. But we're never quite as smart as we think we are, and usually the one thing you leave out will be the thing that lifts the book from average to good, or from good to great.
On top of that, all artists have some inclination, to greater or lesser degrees, to play it safe. I occasionally fight this feeling in myself, and I will be the first to admit that it's cowardice, pure and simple. You think, well, if I don't entirely commit, I can't entirely fail. If I hold something back, I am protecting myself (if/when other people don't like it). This is literally the opposite of the truth. When you hold things back, when you don't commit completely to your ideas and trust completely in your own instincts, you are guaranteeing your own failure—even if you end up having commercial success. You have got to trust yourself and only yourself, and while of course you have to trust your intellect, you have got to trust your instincts even more, which are always more artistically pure than your conscious thoughts. Of course, the vast majority of artists do not do this at all. They say the same shit everyone else does, they write what's fashionable, they write what they know will be approved of (even if it looks "experimental" on the surface). In short, they let themselves be lead by their critics and by their contemporaries.... Succeeding at this, or at any art, is about the hardest thing a human can do. But taking the coward's way out not only leads to bad art; it's habit forming. It becomes the way you approach life.
When you write as I do—in between things and only after everything else is done—you begin to wonder if this percolating creature is any good, if you will want it (someday) to belong to you. I have been working at the oddest hours of night on Florence, then putting the novel aside, then returning. I have not been able to hold the whole in my hands. I have been frustrated by fragments.
Last night, in the sweetest chocolate fold of 4 AM, I returned to Florence, read these first 120 pages through. It coheres, I think, and it interests me deeply. It is the book that I want to keep writing.
And so I send the first 25,000 words to Tamra Tuller, now at Chronicle Books. I want the conversation we will have as this story and its people take me deeper into their strange and (to me) beautiful and abiding mystery.
Yesterday, Tamra Tuller and I finished the copy editing work on my Berlin 1983 novel, We Could Be Heroes: Just for One Day
. Due out from Chronicle in early 2014, the book sprung from a conversation I had with Tamra and from travels to a city I did not expect to love as much as I most fervently did.
With flap copy for Heroes
now finalized, I have the green light to share that with you. Little by little, Heroes
now makes its way into the world.
The photograph above is not the cover, of course. But it is a glimpse of the Berlin I found in the summer of 2011.
It is February 1983, and Berlin is a divided city—a miles-long barricade separating east from west. But the city isn’t the only thing that is divided. Ada, almost 16, lives with her mother and grandmother among the rebels, punkers, and immigrants of Kreuzberg, just west of the wall. Stefan, 18, lives east with his brooding grandmother in a faceless apartment bunker of Friedrichshain, his telescope pointed toward freedom. Bound by love and separated by circumstance, their only chance lies in a high-risk escape. But will Stefan find the courage to leap? Will Ada keep waiting for the boy she has only seen four times a year ever since she can remember? Or will forces beyond their control stand in their way?
Told in the alternating voices of the pink-haired graffiti artist and the boy she loves, We Could Be Heroes: Just for One Day is a story of daring and sacrifice, choices and consequences, and love that will not wait.
By: Beth Kephart
Blog: Beth Kephart Books
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, David Levithan
, Between Shades of Gray
, Michael Green
, Andrea Cremer
, Jill Santopolo
, Ruta Sepetys
, Tamra Tuller
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This is how it happens: I write an adult book that Laura Geringer discovers and reads; she gets in touch. For a year Laura and I talk about how ill-equipped I feel I am to write books for young adults. A conversation in a Philadelphia restaurant changes everything; I am persuaded to try. I write what will become several books for Laura, and in the midst of story development, copy editing, cover design, and publicity, I meet Jill Santopolo—utterly adorable, fashion savvy, super smart, wildly well-organized, and Laura's second in command at Laura Geringer Books/HarperTeen, where I will write four books, one of them (The Heart is Not a Size
) being Jill's very own. Then one day Jill calls to say that she is headed to Philomel to join a children's book empire carved out by a man named Michael Green. I'd really like Michael, Jill says. She hopes I'll eventually meet him.
(She is right. And I do. Facts made true in reverse order.)
A few years later, I see Jill again, this time at an ALA event, where she slips me a copy of Between Shades of Gray
and whispers two words in my ear: Tamra Tuller. Jill and Tamra are, by now, colleagues at Philomel, and Tamra edits the kind of books I like to write. Jill, looking trademark gorgeous, encourages me to read Ruta Sepetys' international bestseller of a debut novel as proof. I do. Again, I am persuaded. Not long afterwards, I have the great privilege of joining the Philomel family when Tamra reads a book I've been working on for ten years and believes that it has merit. Jill has opened her new home to me, and I am grateful.
What happens next is that Tamra moves to Chronicle and I, with a book dedicated to her because I do love her that much, move to Chronicle, too. What happens next is Jill and I remain friends (Jill and I and Michael and Jessica, too (not to mention Laura)). Which is all a very long way of saying how happy I was to receive two of Jill's newest creations just a few weeks ago. Last night and early this morning I read the first of them. It's called Invisibility
, it's due out in May, and it is co-authored by Jill's fabulously successful Philomel author, Andrea Cremer (The Nightshade Series
) and the big-hearted author/editor/sensation/Lover's Dictionary Guru David Levithan.
I hear David Levithan—his soulfulness, his tenderness, his yearning, his love—when I read this book. I hear Andrea Cremer—her careful and credible world building, her necessary specificity, her other-worldly imagination. It's a potent combination in a story about a Manhattan boy whom no one in the world can see. No one, that is, except for the girl who has moved in down the hall—a girl who has escaped Minnesota with a brother she deeply loves and a mother who cares for them both, but must work long hours to keep her transplanted family afloat. Cremer and Levithan's Manhattan is tactile, navigable, stewing with smells and scenes. Their fantasy world—spellcraft, curses, witches, magic—is equally cinematic and engaging. The love between the invisible boy and the seeing (and, as it turns out, magically gifted) girl feels enduring, and then there's that other kind of love—between Elizabeth and her brother—that gives this story even greater depth and meaning. The parents aren't nearly bad either (not at all).
What it is to be invisible. What it is to see and be seen. What it is to know there is evil in the world and that any strike against it will scar and (indeed) age those who take a stand. Invisibility
is a fantasy story, but it is more than that, too. It's a growing-up story in which courage, truth-telling, sacrifice, and vulnerability figure large, and in which love of every kind makes a difference.
I found this little girl in Berlin. She was mesmerized by the magic of bubbles. I left her city mesmerized as well, and then one day began to write a novel for it. I called that book We Could Be Heroes
. I dedicated it to my editor, Tamra Tuller. It will be launched by Chronicle Books sometime next year, and I've held my breath, as I always do, hoping that it might find its right readers.
I cannot imagine being any more blessed than I am right now, today, by the kindness of two extraordinary readers—two young adult writers who have done so much on the page, done so much for others, done so much to elevate this genre, to prove its power. Thank you, Patricia McCormick and Ruta Sepetys for your words about We Could Be Heroes
“Beth Kephart is one of my heroes. She’s spun gold out of the language of longing and has shown us how to make room for miracles. We Could Be Heroes –about a boy and girl separated by the cruelest of fates–will inspire any reader to make the leap for love.”
–Patricia McCormick, author of National Book Award Finalists Sold and Never Fall Down
“An unforgettable portrayal of life and love divided. Kephart captures the beauty and desperation of 1980's Berlin with prose both gripping and graceful.”
--Ruta Sepetys, New York Times bestselling author of Between Shades of Gray and Out of the Easy
That Florence novel of which I have so often spoken is also (I now confess) a West Philadelphia novel—infused with the fringe beyond the campus where I work. Yesterday, the air finally warming, I returned to those old haunts and photographed this plot of land, where a pivotal scene takes place.
That Florence novel is also, thanks to the great (loving) patience of editor Tamra Tuller and the impeccable copy editing and exceptional kindness of one Debbie DeFord Minerva, done. Oh my goodness, it is done. The hardest book I ever wrote. The fear that it would not be "good enough," finally ebbed in full this weekend, as I took one last crack at the pages that had resisted me for many months. In the midst of that work, a note (and then more notes) from Debbie filtered in.
Sometimes the impossible is not finally impossible.
And we are rarely alone.
It's almost spring, or should be soon. The hard husks inside the earth are softening. The nests are wanting eggs.
My Florence novel is also a West Philadelphia novel.
That novel is finally done.
By: Beth Kephart
Blog: Beth Kephart Books
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, Alyson Hagy
, Arno Flood 1966
, Chronicle Books
, Emily Sue Rosner
, Kelly Simmons
, Lori Waselchuk
, Mario Sulit
, Mud Angels
, One Thing Stolen
, Tamra Tuller
, Wendy Robards
, West Philadelphia
, Add a tag
Next spring, Tamra Tuller and Chronicle Books will be releasing a novel set in Florence, Italy, and (to a lesser extent) West Philadelphia. It took me a long time, and many drafts, to get it right, and it is only recently that we have settled on a final title.
I share that here, with an early book description:
Something is just not right with Nadia Cara. She’s become a thief, for one thing. She has secrets she can’t tell. She knows what she thinks, but when she tries to speak, the words seem far away. Now in Florence, Italy, with a Master Chef wanna-be brother, a professor father, and a mother who specializes in at-risk teens, Nadia finds herself trapped by her own obsessions and following the trail of an elusive Italian boy—a flower thief—whom no one else has ever seen. While her father tries to write the definitive history of the 1966 flood that threatened to destroy Florence, Nadia wonders if she herself will disappear—or if she can be rescued, too.
Set against the backdrop of a glimmering city, ONE THING STOLEN is an exploration of obsession, art, and a rare neurological disorder. It is a story about the ferocious, gorgeous madness of rivers and birds. It is about surviving in a place that, fifty years ago, was rescued by uncommon heroes known as Mud Angels. It is about art and language, imagining and knowing, and the deep salvation of love written by an author who is herself obsessed with the beguiling and slippery seduction of both wings and words.
My students Katie Goldrath, Maggie Ercolani, and Stephanie Cara inspired me as I wrote. Emily Sue Rosner and Mario Sulit helped me get the Italian right. Alyson Hagy, Amy Sarig King, and Kelly Simmons kept me going. Patty McCormick and Ruta Sepetys listened. Lori Waselchuk gave me her West Philadelphia. Wendy Robards gave so much of her time and heart during desperate days. And Tamra Tuller stood by.
There's this kid. Call him Poetry Boy, even Poetry Bandit, if you'd like. Things aren't exactly perfect home. Things aren't precisely perfect at school. But Poetry Boy has his whole life handled. He's king of his own world—finding "easy prey" within the halls, writing poems nobody sees, scratching little insider insults into the pages of old books. It's all cool, life is cool, it's all just fine (believe him), until a kid named Robin finds the book Poetry Boy has been keeping and uses it as blackmail leverage—lending life many shades of intolerable.
(Well, okay, yes. It's true. Poetry Boy might have had a thing or two coming from Robin.)
This is Rhyme Schemer,
K.A. Holt's engaging, clever middle grade novel in verse, which will be released this coming fall by Tamra Tuller and Chronicle Books. I'm celebrating it today because it's poetry month, because my secret poet Elisa of Undercover
really wants to meet the secret schemer, and because I will actually meet author K.A. Holt
in less than a week, in the sunny city of San Antonio.
And because it's just that good. Listen:
Kelly looks at me.
Her head is on her desk, too.
Those freckles are the same color as the desk,
like the desk has splashed a little on her face.
Mrs. Little looks at me sideways.
I know she wants to say something
but I don't want to listen
so I pretend I don't see
in the corner of her face
like a hieroglyph.
Fine writing. Fine storytelling. Something very fine to be looking forward to.
This isn't just Easter weekend. There isn't just sun out there, and my radiant son upstairs, asleep. This is the birthday of editor supreme and dear friend, Tamra Tuller.
How can a girl like me, so full of gladness for a friendship like ours, say, You are really special?
I went outside. Tiptoed through dew. Brought the brightest daffodils in.
Happy birthday, Tamra!
By: Kathy Temean,
Blog: Writing and Illustrating
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, Allison Wortche
, Connie Hsu
, Daniel Nayeri
, Ginger Clark
, Lucy Cummins
, NJSCBWI Networking Dinners
, Tamra Tuller
, Tamson Weston
, Add a tag
Before I leave as Regional Advisor, we will have one or maybe two Networking Dinners in NYC with editors and agents. Space is limited, so if you want to attend, you will need to e-mail me to let me know you want a spot. Please put “Networking Dinner Spot” in the subject area and I will get back to you.
Date: June 26th
Time: 6:30 pm – 9:00 pm Networking, dinner, dessert
Cost: $145 per person. Includes dinner and drink.
Place: Private Room Morton’s Steakhouse 551 Fifth Avenue New York, NY 10017
3 to 1 ratio of attendees to Editors/Agents/AD
OUR GUESTS FOR THE EVENING:
Ginger Clark, Literary Agent with Curtis Brown LTD
Daniel Nayeri, Editor at Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Lucy Cummins, Associate Art Director with Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Connie Hsu, Sr. Editor at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Melissa Sarver, Agent at Elizabeth Kaplan Literary Agency
Kate Sullivan, Associate Editor, Little, Brown, and Co. BFYR
Tamra Tuller, Sr. Editor at Philomel Books
Allison Wortche, Associate Editor at Knopf Books for Young Readers
Tamson Weston, Editorial Consultant, Published Children’s Book Author, and Editor with over 15 years of experience at several prestigious publishing houses including HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Disney Hyperion.
The posted illustration was submitted by Mary Zisk for May. Mary is a mild-mannered magazine art director by day, and an author/illustrator on weekends. She wrote and illustrated “The Best Single Mom in the World: How I Was Adopted,” published by Albert Whitman in 2001. She has a picture book dummy,”Oliver’s Week,” that is under consideration. By attending NJSCBWI events, Mary is learning to write her middle grade novel, “The Art of Being Remmy,” which takes place in 1964. And she’s a Jersey girl. www.maryzisk.com
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Tagged: Allison Wortche
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, Daniel Nayeri
, Ginger Clark
, Lucy Cummins
, NJSCBWI Networking Dinners
, Tamra Tuller
, Tamson Weston
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If I am too exhausted to state with any inch of eloquence how grateful I am for today—for being included in a well-run, truly substantive, inviting conference, for sitting on a panel among greats, for meeting, at long last, the delightful Jenny Brown, for spying on Roger Sutton's socks, for a chance to hurry through a loved city's streets, for an excuse to visit the extraordinarily wonderful Tamra Tuller, Michael Green, Jessica Shoffel, and Jill Santopolo, for the opportunity to meet the funny and fun and winning Lauren Marino—if I am too exhausted, might I at least share these two images of a conference I won't forget?
Thank you, Ed Nawotka and Dennis Abrams of Publishing Perspectives
for making this day what it was. For making me a part of it.
Yesterday I sent dear Tamra Tuller of Philomel the revised Berlin novel. A few days before, HANDLING THE TRUTH went off to Lauren Marino at Gotham, and the week prior to that DR. RADWAY'S SARSAPARILLA RESOLVENT was emailed to its publisher, a package made complete by my husband's eleven illustrations.
It has been, in other words, a heady time—my thoughts, in overlapping intervals, inside a certain German city, circa 1983, inside a century's worth of 100 memoirs, and inside 1871 Philadelphia and the cacophony of Baldwin Locomotive Works.
But it was my office that was really showing the heat.
That space is so much neater now. It's dusted and Windexed and vacuumed, too. It's a place for starting over in, and that is what I'll be doing over the next many weeks. I'll be back at work on corporate projects. I'll be doing some teaching, some reviewing, some author interviewing, some essay writing. I'll be reading some 20 new books and celebrating them here, on my blog, with the world.
And I'll be launching SMALL DAMAGES.
It will be an untangling time. It will be awhile, I suspect, before I begin to dream about any new books.
In the heat of the summer, after a night of hail and thunder clashes, a white package arrives on my stoop. It's a book that I've been longing for—an early copy of Out of the Easy
by the tremendously talented, radiantly successful, and I-know-it-for-a-fact-good-hearted Ruta Sepetys.
This book will, I'm sure, be as beloved as Ruta's first, the New York Times
bestselling, multiple-award winning, translated-into-every-conceivable-language Between Shades of Gray
. I just have a feeling, and besides, this is a Tamra Tuller Philomel book. We know that that's a formula that works.
I'm all done with my complicated sentences. I'm going to spend the weekend reading this book. I'll let you know how great it is, so that you can look for it eagerly in February 2013, when it officially debuts.
A long time ago I drew the conclusion that I was luckier than any girl had the right to be.
Today, proof absolute with these heart-expanding words from Family Circle
Executive Editor Darcy Jacobs. She uses them to recommend Small Damages
to her associate editor, Celia, in the August issue of the magazine. Darcy's goodness to me is unparalleled. I don't have the words.
A million thanks to Jessica Shoffel at Philomel, who does her job so exquisitely well, and to Tamra Tuller, who chose to read my book when it arrived at the old slush pile two years ago. What an adventure we have had since then.
Kephart is a linguistic Midas—everything she puts to paper is golden, including this gem.
The dignity of Ruta Sepetys is telegraphed from afar. It's in the books she writes—the international sensation Between Shades of Gray
and now (coming in February 2013) Out of the Easy
. It's plain as day in her interviews, her commentary, her web site
, her broadcast segments. And if you ever have the chance to meet her (and I'm lucky; I briefly have), it's all right there in her face. Ruta isn't a writer simply and only because she wants to be a writer. She's a writer because she has something to say.
She's a writer, too, who knows the value of deep research—the liberating and liberalizing ways that rooting around in both personal and world history, in the files of the Soviet secret police and the murky streets of the historic French Quarter, in old maps and and the catalogs of Smith College, in the workings of all kinds of watches will, when pondered long enough, when tacked and quilted, generate story. Research, particularly historic research, can be hard to master and harder to contain. Ruta makes it look easy. What she knows never trumps the many things that she imagines.
I spent today lying in a steamy east-coast house, circa 2012, reading Ruta's delectable new circa 1950s New Orleans novel. Often I forgot just where I actually was as I slid into the dream, drifted in and out of the old bookstore (and the chatter, always smart, about books), had a good old walkabout in the brothel (equal parts gaudy and opulent), and fell in with Easy
's seventeen-year-old heroine, Josie. Josie has found her way despite her mother's poor profession, witless selfishness, and fancy for bad men. She's a spitfire, an I'll-do-it-myself-er, a girl walking around with a pile of lies but without a dent in her actual morality. She's the favorite of the wily, big-hearted madam known as Willie. She's loved by two boys—Patrick, her co-worker at the bookstore, and Jesse, a beautiful boy with a mysterious past—not to mention a whole lot of poor souls who make her tattered life rich. Josie's mother's on the lam and Josie's in trouble, and there will be murder, mayhem, lies, sacrifice, and choices before this story is through. There'll be a whole lot of color and New Orleans twang, a rip-roaring cast, and, always, Ruta's intelligent sense of humor, not to mention instructions from Dickens.Easy
, which is a Tamra Tuller book, which is to say a Philomel book, which is to say the product of a remarkable book family headed by Michael Green, sounds spectacularly like then (the details are so right, their webbing-in so clever), but it resonates for now. It's going to generate a whole lot of book love when it debuts next winter.
The most important thing about this day is that it marks my son's twenty-third birthday. He came into the world after thirty-six hours of labor. He had a full head of thick, black hair. He reached for my husband's finger and squeezed it tight. The next day, we drove him to my mother's house in a beat-up Ford Mustang—his hat still on despite the July heat.
There's no accounting for a mother's love. There's no math that will contain it. The baby became a boy became a kid became a man—so bright, so inventive, so funny, so adventuresome, so thoughtful, and with a raft of terrific friends, and with a future that seems (thanks to some recent interviews) so close and within reach, and with a talent for loving.
That boy traveled to Spain with me and my husband, several times, to visit my brother-in-law. We together met characters like an old man named Luis, and like a count who raised Spain's prized fighting bulls. We traveled out to a broad cortijo, watched the gypsies dance, sat front row at flamenco shows. We ate paella at midnight on the streets, tapas in tiny bars. We went in and out of bull rings and up cathedral towers and in between the narrow spaces of Seville. We watched the nuns flutter by. We saw children playing on rooftops. And when I started to write a novel with all of this as the backdrop, this son of mine listened to me read out loud—this passage or that at the kitchen table. He steered the ship with his spare comments and would not let me give up in the face of grave disappointments. He said, "Believe in yourself."
I don't think there would be a Small Damages
without this guy, and that brings us to birthday number two. Small Damages
, a book that has always been dedicated to my son, is being launched today. That it is a book, that it has come this far, is all thanks to the extremely extraordinary Tamra Tuller, Michael Green, Jessica Shoffel, and Jill Santopolo of Philomel. That it has been welcomed into this world is all thanks to the generosity of readers and bloggers and reviewers and interviewers, whose goodness is unfathomable and restorative and redeeming and proof that maybe a girl can write and write and write and not be especially famous, but keep writing, and then have a moment in time like this one.
An unforgettable moment in time.
To all of you, and to my agent Amy Rennert, who has been there through all fourteen books, thick and thin (and so much thin), thank you.
Cake is now being served for all.
The icing is here, in these words from the great (truly great) Pam van Hylckama
of Bookalicious.org and in this kindness from the ever-kind and supportive Serena Agusto-Cox
It is not often that a book that makes you lose your breath. You read novel that makes you want t
I wanted to find a pair of cowgirl boots for my friend Caroline Leavitt, to thank her for making room for me on her roost today, but the best I could do was this sign, photographed in Nashville four years ago, which sat (you'll have to believe me) right near a cowboy/cowgirl boot store. Why I didn't think to photograph the boots themselves is beyond me. What is not beyond me, at this moment, is gratitude. For Caroline's friendship. For her own talent. For conversations we have had in public and in private as we both journey through this writing life. I don't even know how Caroline got an early copy of Small Damages
, but she had one. She's in the midst of writing a brand new book, and she made time to read it. Then she asked me excellent questions, the kind of questions one who knows another well can ask. I answered them all here.
Among the things we discussed is how much I love Philomel, and how I made my way to this great place to begin with. I extract a small fraction of our conversation below, but hope you will visit Leavittville for more.
Philomel is exquisite. At Philomel I have a home. There I have never felt like a fringe writer, a secondary writer, a marginal, will-she-please-fit-a-category, we’ll-get-to-you-when-we-get-to-you writer. Michael Green, Philomel’s president, is a most generous person, and correspondent. Tamra—beautiful, intelligent, thoughtful, embracing—approached the editing of this book, the design of its cover, and the preparation of it for the world with the greatest care, and in the process we became great friends. Jessica Shoffel, a wildly wonderful and innovative publicist, wrote me a note I’ll never forget after she read the book and her devotion to getting the word out has been unflagging, sensational. The sales team got in touch a long time ago and has stayed in touch. And on and on.
But no, I never knew I would shine. I don’t think of myself as a diamond or a star. I never think in those terms. I just keep writing my heart out. And when you are collaborating with a house like Philomel, when you are given room, when your questions are answered, when you are given a chance, there are possibilities.
It took me a while to find my next book. The one that is to come after Dr. Radway's Sarsaparilla Resolvent
(New City Community Press/Temple University Press/March 2013), Handling the Truth
and We Could Be Heroes, Just for One Day
(Phliomel/Winter 2014). It had occurred to me that I might have said everything I ever had to say. That I had shadowed all the characters, or ideas, or places, that could ever mean something deeply real to me.
And so I read—not to find a next book for my beloved editor, Tamra Tuller, but to satisfy hollow places within. I wrote essays—short pieces about landscapes and people, inquiries into the art of literature or the state of young adult tales, profiles of writers whose work intrigues me, reviews of new and forthcoming books. I planned road trips (south, this coming September) and dreamed of returning to Europe. I listened to Springsteen songs until even I knew it was time to stop. I watched documentary films. I cooked. I went to two different beaches on two different days. I tried not to ask myself, What? Next?
Still, what nex
t crept in, slow, on a sideways angle. It arrived via old memories, new readings, and an urge to take five paragraphs that I wrote a dozen or so years ago and turn them into the start of something new. What next
beat its feverish wings at me. I began to buy books, to take notes.
I'm in no hurry. I've written nothing that I'll keep. I'm just thinking about all of this, sure of this one thing: the center of this idea holds and I want to write the heck out of it for Tamra. I have time before the idea becomes a project becomes a deadline. I have time, but I also have (incredible, necessary) a new and urgent passion.
I have written many times on this blog about the exquisite writer and human being, Ruta Sepetys. I am lucky to know her—it's that simple—and the gift of our friendship is a gift that Tamra Tuller, our Philomel editor, gave. Tamra sent Ruta a copy of Small Damages
a long time ago, and Ruta not only lent her voice to this story, but she stayed in touch, sending notes from all around the world as she met with teachers, parents, and children to discuss her international bestseller, Between Shades of Gray—a
nd, later, to prepare us for the February 2013 release of her absolutely lovely second book, Out of the Easy.
Home for Ruta is states away from here. Life for Ruta is many obligations which she, with all the grace of a true diplomat, seamlessly fulfills. Still, on July 19th, the day Small Damages
was released into the world, Ruta thought to send me a gift. Enclosed is a little cake, not quite full of taste, but certainly full of love,
It had been my son's birthday, and then my husband's. There was endless corporate work to do. My party for this little book
was two months away. But there Ruta was, reminding me to take a moment for this book that had consumed ten years of my life and almost (so many times) vanished. Her cake will always sit among my treasured things, a reminder: Take a moment
Today, taking a page from Ruta, I stop to remind us all.
For reasons too complex, too personal to render fully here, yesterday was a day of deep emotion.
There were, however, friends all along the way. Elizabeth Mosier, the beauty in the dark gray dress, will always stand, in my mind, on either side of the day—at its beginnings, at its very late-night end. For your mid-day phone kindness, for your breathtaking introduction of me at last night's book launch, for the night on the town, for the talk in the car, for the bounty of your family—Libby, I will always be so grateful.
To Patti Mallet and her friend, Anne, who drove all the way from Ohio to be part of last night's celebration, I will never forget your gesture of great kindness, your love for green things at Chanticleer, and a certain prayer beside my mother's stone. Patti and I are there, above, at the pond which inspired two of my books.
To Pam Sedor, the lovely blonde in violet, a world-class Dragon Boat rower recently returned from an international competition in Hong Kong, the librarian who makes books happen and dreams come true, and to Molly, who puts up with my techno anxieties, and to Radnor Memorial Library, for being my true home—thank you, always.
To my friends who came (from church, from books, from architecture, from corporate life, from the early years through now)—thank you. Among you were Avery Rome, the beautiful red-head who edits Libby, me, and others at the Philadelphia Inquirer,
and Kathy Barham, my brilliant and wholly whole son's high school English teacher, who is also a poet (shown here in green). To the town of Wayne, which received our open-air tears and laughter late into the night (and to Cyndi, Kelly, Libby, Avery, and Kathye who cried and laughed with me)—thank you.
And also, finally, to Heather Mussari—my muse (along with Tamra Tuller) for the Berlin novel, a young lady so wise beyond her years, and a cool, cool chick who (along with Sandy) does my hair—I arrived at 11:15 at your shop inconsolable. You listened. You said all the right things by telling the truth and telling it kindly. I adore you, Heather. I hope you know that.