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Results 1 - 25 of 58
1. on invoking and developing characters, at Arcadia's Creative Writing Summer Session

Yesterday, thanks to the generous invitation of Gretchen Haertsch, I spent time with the talented writers of Arcadia University's Creative Writing Summer Weekend in the sensational "castle" illustrated above. I taught a master class. I then reflected on the empathetic imagination as I read from my four Tamra Tuller novels—Small Damages, Going Over, One Thing Stolen, and the upcoming This Is the Story of You.

(Thank you, my friends, for coming to see me. Thank you, Soup and Aimee, for the fireside chat.)

In the master class I was focused on the osmotic process I alluded to here. We undertook linked exercises designed to help the writers diagnose their strengths and fears and to help them locate new wellsprings of ideas and possibilities. One element in the lesson plan involved character development. I presented the writers with a number of character-invoking questions. I invited them to add to the question list. We next considered which three or four questions sparked the respective imaginations of each writer. Characters and creatures emerged.

I was asked if I might share the list of provoking questions and so I do, below. Perhaps a handful will inspire you.

Character Invokers

How does it interact with reality?
In what kind of weather does it thrive?
What kinds of arguments does it have?
What secrets has it shared with no one?
What questions does it chase?
What is its shoe size?
How does it deal with crisis?
Where does it find peace or solace?
How does it exercise its curiosity?
How does it greet or ignore the skies?
What does it miss?
What will it stand up for?
What would it change about itself?
Who are its heroes?
Does it dance, and if it does, to what music?
What songs was it sung when it was young?
Does it seek to be rooted in or to escape?
Does it crave lonesomeness?
Does it have faith in another day?
If it were colorblind would it be heartbroken?
What is its favorite word?
Who and what does it trust?

And from the writers:

What haunts it?
What is its least favorite vegetable?
What sense would it most not like to lose?
What does it value more than its own life?
How far would it go to achieve its goal?
Who or what gives it meaning?
Where would it like to travel?
Is it experiencing an existential crisis?
Is it afraid of crowds?
What makes it hopeful?
Does it like water?
What superpower does it wish for?
Where is it from?
How was it raised?
Does it long for the past or dream of the future?
Did it sleep last night?
What is its greatest fear?
What does it fear of the future?
What is its favorite color?

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2. Branded incapable, she made exquisite art

There's a very special young woman at Chronicle Books (I think I've mentioned this) named Taylor Norman. Has books—and kindness (and smarts)—in her blood. Is out there reading our manuscripts, tweeting our stories, talking about our books, talking us off cliffs if, indeed, we find ourselves standing on cliffs.

A few days ago, Taylor, who, read One Thing Stolen, my novel about Florence, Italy, art, obsession, and mental wellness, when it wasn't much of a book at all (oh, poor Tamra, and oh, poor Taylor), sent this link from The New Yorker. It tells the tale of an exquisite fiber artist, Judith Scott, whose work involved the making of secrets—embedding umbrellas and tree branches and other found objects within weaves and knots.

But that is not all of who Judith was. Judith was a twin sister, born with Down syndrome, whose profound deafness went undiagnosed while she lived out her years in an institution. Here is the story, in the words of New Yorker writer Andrea K. Scott:

Scott died in 2005, at the age of sixty-one, and didn’t start making art until her mid-forties. She was born with Down syndrome, went deaf as a child, and never learned how to speak. Languishing in an institution in her native Ohio for more than three decades with her deafness undiagnosed, Scott was considered so beyond help that she wasn’t allowed to use crayons. In 1986, her fraternal twin, Joyce, brought Scott to San Francisco and enrolled her in Creative Growth, a community art center for disabled adults. At first, Scott dabbled in drawings. A smattering are in the show, but they’re no match for the radical beauty that followed, when Scott took a textile workshop and had a breakthrough, loosely binding sticks into an uncanny totemic cluster. As her work gained complexity, the Bay Area began to take note; by 2001, Scott had been the subject of major shows in Switzerland, Japan, and New York.

So much about this story sears. And yes, Taylor, this reminds me, in so many ways, of Nadia Cara, my character, whose art is also a secret as well as a compulsion coming from a secret place.

Judith Scott's work is now on display at the Brooklyn Museum. I intend to see it.

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3. One Thing Stolen: First Galley Page

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.

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4. every story we write is a gigantic leap of faith

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.

Tamra Tuller.

Tamra Tuller.

Thank you for reading so quickly.

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5. One Thing Stolen: the cover reveal

So much love and thought and artistry has gone into the cover for the Florence novel that will be released next April from Chronicle Books. My deep thanks to everyone who read this story, who cared about its characters, who thought out loud about every option, and who put their art and magical way of seeing on the page. Particular thanks to Kristine Brogno of Chronicle Books, whose work is so wholly representative of the story itself, described below. And thanks, as ever, to Tamra Tuller, my editor, who saw this project through with conviction and heart. Thanks, finally, to my Penn students—Katie Goldrath and Maggie Ercolani—who inspired two primary characters in this novel, and who inspire me, still, and to Gregory Djanikian, who is in these pages, too.

Something is not right with Nadia Cara.

She’s become a thief. She has secrets. And when she tries to speak, the words seem far away. After her professor father brings her family to live in Florence, Italy, Nadia finds herself trapped by her own obsessions and following the trail of an elusive Italian boy whom no one but herself has seen. While her father researches a 1966 flood that nearly destroyed Florence, Nadia wonders if she herself can be rescued—or if she will disappear.

Set against the backdrop of a glimmering city, One Thing Stolen is an exploration of obsession, art, and a rare neurological disorder. It is about language and beauty, imagining and knowing, and the deep salvation of love.

One Thing Stolen was born of Beth Kephart’s obsession with birds, nests, rivers, and floods, as well as her deep curiosity about the mysteries of the human mind. It was in Florence, Italy, among winding streets and fearless artisans, that she learned the truth about the devastating flood of 1966, met a few of the Mud Angels who helped restore the city fifty years ago, and began to follow the trail of a story about tragedy and hope.

Beth is the award-winning author of nineteen books for readers of all ages, including You Are My Only, Small Damages, Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir, and Going Over. She also teaches creative nonfiction at the University of Pennsylvania.

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6. Elena Vanishing/Hope and Other Luxuries/Elena and Clare B. Dunkle (Chronicle Books): Reflections

A few years ago, in a novel called The Heart Is Not a Size, I wrote of Juarez, of a squatter's village, and of two best friends, Georgia and Riley, each of them navigating this foreign terrain while also navigating secrets. Georgia was privately negotiating anxiety attacks. Riley was declaring to anyone who asked (and Georgia, seemingly unwisely, had begun to ask) that she did not—absolutely did not—have an eating disorder, that she was not starving herself.

I wrote the book and created the characters because I understood both conditions all too well.

This coming spring, Chronicle Books will publish two companion books—true mother-daughter stories—about a young woman's struggle to stop hearing the hectoring internal voices that left her body starving, her heart working too hard, and her future imperiled. Calories were Elena's enemies. A bite of toast was a grave mistake. Numbers were everything. And Elena Dunkle was, in too many terrible ways, dying.

In and out of hospitals. In and out of rehab. In and out of conversations with the family who loved her and the specialists who seemed incapable of hushing the terrible voices. In Elena Vanishing, a memoir written by Elena's mother, Clare Dunkle, and grounded in extraordinary medical records, journals, and conversations, Elena's story gets told in a high-velocity, present-tense voice. We see Elena's world. We hear the voices in her head. We rush headlong into an illness that may have a name but still remains, for every person afflicted, a mystery. Where does anorexia begin? How is it finally controlled? Where is the key that fits the lock, that stops time from running out?

You will read, your heart pounding. You will remember a version of someone you were, or someone you loved, or love still.

Ultimately, as Clare reminds the reader, "this isn't the story of anorexia nervosa. It's the story of a person. It's the story of Elena Dunkle, a remarkable young woman who fights her demons with grit and determination. It's the story of her battle to overcome trauma, to overcome prejudice, but most of all, to overcome that powerful destructive force, the inner critic who whispers to us about our greatest fears."

There is depth, beauty, horror, and beauty again in Elena Vanishing. You'll read it, as I did, in a single day. You will think not just about the story that got made, but the story as it was being made—this mother, this daughter, remembering together, writing together, reaching out to the world together.

And when you are done there is a book called Hope and Other Luxuries to turn to—Clare Dunkle's memoir about loving this vanishing daughter of hers. Both books are being released by Chronicle next May. Both were edited by Ginee Seo, who poured her heart into these true stories and, once again (in Chronicle fashion), broke new ground by deciding to publish both sides of a story about an illness that affects millions of people around the world.

I own, it seems, the first two signed ARCs of both books, for I met Clare and Elena at the Chronicle booth at NCTE yesterday morning. I would like to thank Chronicle, as I close this blog, for including me at this event, for making such a home for me, for extending your friendship so warmly. Ginee Seo, Sally Kim, Jaime Wong—you threw one heck of a party, you look so good surrounded by Chronicle blue, and I am so proud to be a Chronicle author (and a Tamra Tuller writer).

Deepest thanks to those who stopped by to say hello, who stood in line for One Thing Stolen, who came and surprised, who spoke with me over a delicious meal. Twenty-four hours at the National Harbor. Not to be forgotten. Nor are these two books, by a mother and daughter.

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7. That Florence novel is also a West Philly novel

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.

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8. That Florence, Italy, novel: the title, the synopsis

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.

Always grateful.

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9. Rhyme Schemer/K.A. Holt: Reflections


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
her eyes
in the corner of her face
like a hieroglyph.

Fine writing. Fine storytelling. Something very fine to be looking forward to.

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10. from my garden to my table, on Tamra's birthday

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!

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11. some publishing news

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.

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12. My conversation about the making of books, with Editor Tamra Tuller

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.

Join us?

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.

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13. when in writing doubt: tip of the week number two

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.

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14. "taking the coward's way out leads to bad art": words from Philipp Meyer

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.

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15. Family Circle and Small Damages (blessed)

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.

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16. Out of the Easy/Ruta Sepetys

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.  

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17. two birthdays: a son's, a book's

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.

From Pam:
It is not often that a book that makes you lose your breath. You read novel that makes you want t

6 Comments on two birthdays: a son's, a book's, last added: 7/22/2012
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18. In Leavittville: A Small Damages Conversation (and my love for Philomel)

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.

2 Comments on In Leavittville: A Small Damages Conversation (and my love for Philomel), last added: 7/25/2012
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19. thoughts on the next book

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 (Gotham/August 2013), 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 next 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.

7 Comments on thoughts on the next book, last added: 9/8/2012
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20. the Small Damages cake, from Ruta Sepetys

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—and, 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, she wrote.

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.

4 Comments on the Small Damages cake, from Ruta Sepetys, last added: 9/11/2012
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21. humbled, and grateful.

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.

7 Comments on humbled, and grateful., last added: 9/15/2012
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22. The Florence novel reaches its halfway mark

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.

3 Comments on The Florence novel reaches its halfway mark, last added: 12/5/2012
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23. Unveiling We Could Be Heroes: Just for One Day (the Berlin novel)

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. 

7 Comments on Unveiling We Could Be Heroes: Just for One Day (the Berlin novel), last added: 12/17/2012
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24. Invisibility: Andrea Creamer and David Levithan/Reflections

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. 

1 Comments on Invisibility: Andrea Creamer and David Levithan/Reflections, last added: 12/26/2012
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25. We Could Be Heroes: Patricia McCormick, Ruta Sepetys, and kindness

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

4 Comments on We Could Be Heroes: Patricia McCormick, Ruta Sepetys, and kindness, last added: 3/22/2013
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