in which a reader of STORY taps deeply into its mystery

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

In which Serena Agusto-Cox of Savvy Verse and Wit discovers the breadcrumb clues I've been leaving for readers all along, book to book. So many thanks for this truly gorgeous review of This Is the Story of You.

From the end of the review:

This Is the Story of You by Beth Kephart will astonish you with the resilience of young people, their drive to make things right, and their ability to withstand more than expected, but it is in the final pages that the true mystery is resolved.  I will say this, I’m not often surprised by book endings or mysteries, but Kephart exceeded my detective skills for the first time in a long while.  (I had suspicions, but not a fully formed conclusion.)  Readers who love to immerse themselves in realistic places and explore humanity won’t be disappointed.  Kephart is a talent at creating places that come alive and characters that grab hold of us emotionally.

**You’ve probably already suspected this is a contender for the best of 2016 list at the end of the year!**

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"Protect What You Love," an essential story about environmental stories, in The Writer

Monday, May 2, 2016

Beautifully researched and written by Melissa Hart, in an issue (May 2016) that is chock full of incredible stories.

Thank you, Melissa, who is, by the way, the author of the brand-new earth-observant Avenging the Owl, and The Writer.

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we write for teens because: upcoming at the Penn Book Center: with Cordelia Jensen and Melissa Jensen


One Sunday afternoon, at Books of Wonder, I met Cordelia Jensen, whose reputation as a writer and teacher of enormous integrity precedes her.

One recent afternoon at Penn, I sat with Melissa Jensen and we talked. So many surprising connections between us, at least two shared students, a love of story, the start of a friendship.

We write for teens because we remember being one, because we love the ones we've met along the way, because the dialogue is rich, because of the friends we make.

On June 4, 2 PM, at the Penn Book Center on the Penn campus, Cordelia, Melissa, and I will be talking with teens—and with those who love them (or those who simply love a good story).

We'll be talking to each other, too.

We hope you'll join us.

We're grateful to Ashley, for hosting us. This will be the Penn Book Center's first teen event.

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getting ready for the big (clay) shows

Sunday, May 1, 2016

In our tiny but (dare I say it?) much-loved house, there are two bedrooms, one kitchen, one place for me to work, two rooms full of books and a basement and then again a garage where my husband does his thing.

This is a view of the basement. This is Sunday morning, 7:50 AM, as my husband prepares for his first solo clay show, opening in early June at the Show of Hands gallery on Pine Street. Bill has dozens of pieces of extraordinary originality and craftsmanship being cued up for the show. This shape is but a very early iteration (trust me when I tell you it will look nothing like this when it is done).

Meanwhile, Bill and I will be down at the Clay Studio in Old City on Friday evening, for the Clay Studio National reception. The show, which honors "the best contemporary ceramic art being made in the United States now," features a collection of pieces culled from hundreds from across the country. One of Bill's architectural pieces will be on display.


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my first area signing of THIS IS THE STORY OF YOU, Main Point Books, April 30, 2 PM

Friday, April 29, 2016

I'll be signing THIS IS THE STORY OF YOU, my Jersey Shore novel (Chronicle Books), tomorrow, Saturday, April 30, 2 PM, in celebration of Independent Bookstore Day. Hope to see you at Main Point Books in Bryn Mawr, PA.

I love the sea, I love the shore, I wonder about storms and now, the mysteries of family and friendship.

I wrote of these things.

I hope to see you there. Not a reading, just a signing. Come any time between 2 and 3 PM.

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David Marchino and Nina Friend read from their theses, with Julia Bloch

Wednesday, April 27, 2016



It was wall to wall. It was genuine heart. It was Kelly Writers House celebrating the Honors thesis writers. That's Julia Bloch, who directs us all (directing only me would be a full-time job) (oh, we love her). That is Nina Friend. That's David Marchino.

We had thirty seconds each to introduce these students with whom we have learned. My words were these, below.

Congratulations, Nina and David. And so much love.
Nina Friend observes. She listens. She cares. She has, for many years, wondered what “serving” really means, also “waiting.” To write this thoughtful and deeply engaging work of narrative nonfiction, Nina has read widely, spent countless hours in the company of leading restaurateurs, major novelists, and a wide variety of servers, even donned a waitress apron herself. You may think you know what a server does. But you won’t know the half of it until you read Nina’s explications of stigma and community, addiction and freedom. With fierce, often delicious language, Nina pulls the curtains way back on a world all of us would do well to ponder—and appreciate—more completely.
In hunting down his family mythology, David Marchino has traveled far—sitting again, after years of absence, with his own elusive father, sifting through the artifacts of an enflamed past, returning to neighborhood cemeteries and family homes in an effort both to remember and to understand. To all of this David has brought a giant heart, an eye for the telling detail, and a steadfast compassion for the people in his life. David may be the product of a home that will always throb with mysterious unknowns. But David is, first and foremost, his own person—a magnificent, blue-rose tattooed writer who teaches us, with this memoir, that love, in the end, wins hardest, fastest, most.



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In which we say goodbye with a song. Cole Bauer's song. Listen.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016


video

And so—reading of each other, to each other—we said goodbye today at Penn. These are my mighty fourteen who dared to take on the memoir beast...and won. The mighty fourteen who provoked my tears—and allowed me to cry them.

And that, above, is Cole Bauer, our Mr. Music Man, whose guitar work accompanied the gorgeous Beltran audio recording on home. Cole is a singer-songwriter who packs in the crowds at a local bar on Monday nights. Cole is the guy who wrote, throughout our time together, with hope-restoring heart. It's uber cool to love those who love you. Cole reminded us of that every time we met.

Listen.

Then go ahead and buy your copy of "Small Town," here.

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Juncture Notes 02—soon on its way

Monday, April 25, 2016

We'll be releasing Juncture Notes 02 shortly. Talk about memoir, the lives of memoirists, and the stories we think you'll love—all mixed in with my husband's ceramics/photographic artistry.

If you're interested in receiving a copy, sign up through the Juncture Workshops site, here on the blog, to the left.

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and now introducing Nina Friend, foodie and spellbinder


Photo Credit
It's an increasingly interesting thing—this writer/teacher role I play. I've been at it long enough to note the shifts in student needs and expectations, to be able to predict, better than I once could, what books, passages, and lines will inspire, which exercises will illuminate and which will stress, which days will quiver with hope, and which with longing.

But I can never summon, in the my mind's eye, the particular students who will find our classroom at 3808 Walnut on Tuesdays each spring. I can never predict the stretch of soul and commitment. When I first met Nina Friend last year, I saw beauty and height, enormous kindness and care, a young writer who could certainly place a sentence (or several, more) on the page, that generous type who shared her mother's cookies and who always offered more.

When Nina set out to write her honors thesis with me this year, we both knew that food would be involved, as well as Nina's passionate interest in the lives of those who serve. Over the course of many months, Nina went from restaurant to restaurant, from book to meeting, from interviews with famous people to serving herself. She wanted to see, as she writes in her thesis, beyond the performance. She wanted to know who was happy as they served—and when and why. She asked whether "serving others can coexist with serving oneself."

A supreme perfectionist, a writer who deeply cares, a young woman who asked for more and more critique—and who absorbed it, faithfully, returning each time with a thesis of ever greater grace and magnitude, Nina has gone behind the lines in her thesis—a work that will change its readers and remind them always (a perpetual nudge) to look harder at the person announcing the day's specials.

Nina, like David Marchino, whose thesis is featured here, has given me permission to share some of her work with you. I'm scurrying out of the way so that you can meet Nina and her cast of characters yourself. This is from the chapter called "Community."

Community

Crisp and golden, it’s propped in the middle of a silver platter that’s been in the family forever. A heap of crumbled bread forms a moat around the centerpiece. Stuck together with orange juice, flavored with parsley. The first cut slices the bird on its side. Succulent. Soft. A ladle filled with gravy. A spoonful of stuffing. Two helpings of pecan pie. Chocolate mousse. Whipped cream.

* * *

When Ellen Yin opened Fork Restaurant eighteen years ago, she wanted the
space to feel familial. The mosaic floor was laid down by a neighborhood tile guy. A local ironworker made the chandeliers. A fabric designer in the area crafted lampshades. Tony DeMelas says the restaurant instantly became “a community of artists and love.”
When Yin decided to revamp the restaurant in 2012, she called up Tony to create
a mural. Something to hang over the brown velvet couch that stretches across an entire
side of the restaurant. Tony was honored to be able to create something for the restaurant
he worked in.

When Tony was working on the mural, Chef Eli Kulp would drop by his studio.
Just to keep him company. Just to be there. “He was very hands-on,” Tony says. Kulp
was the only chef that has ever influenced Tony’s work. He was infatuated with the way
Kulp composed his plates. The way he could make a rib look like a log in the woods with
flowers blooming out of it and mushrooms growing from tiny cracks. His food was
sculpturesque. Tony says, “I’d look at [Eli’s plates] and go, ‘[If] you just blew this up and
abstracted it…and put it on a canvas, you could sell the hell out of this thing.’”

Tony’s mural hangs above the extra-long couch and reflects its color onto the
dark wood tables. Yellows and oranges and light greens and white and brown. A forest of
tree trunks, abstracted.

Tony used to walk past the painting hundreds of times every day as he hustled
from Fork’s kitchen to his tables, balancing plates in his arms. Customers would come in
and sit down and admire the mural. They would say things like, “Oh, it’s so much bigger
than in the pictures!” They would be waited on by Tony – with his square, tortoise-shell
glasses and eyes that feel like he’s staring into your soul – and they would have no idea
that the humble man taking their orders was the artist who painted that masterpiece.

* * *

Community can be built into a place. But it’s the people within that place who
decide whether community flourishes or dies.





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introducing David Marchino, a writer fully formed

Sunday, April 24, 2016

You have heard me speak of my two honors thesis students. Tuesdays we'd meet. Through the week we'd talk or write. Sometimes I'd see pages. Sometimes I'd wait for pages. Always I was here and they, my students, were where they had to be: sifting, thinking, wording, revising, making the story what it had to be.

David Marchino, the guy who taught me jawn and green hair, bamboo and patience, the healing power of a boyhood friendship, taught me even more than that with his memoir, He Will be Remembered: A Father's Crowded Life. In these tight, proud, poeming pages, David recalls the father he loved, lost, and recovered, if only for now. The cemeteries where the dead appease the living. The religion of his parents' cocaine. The power of a recovered briefcase. The voices of plead and promise. David speaks through namesakes. He tunnels through memory. He comes out the other side, burnishing truth with myth—the opposite, too.

David has given me permission to share the opening pages of his memoir with you. I do that here, with deepest respect for the journey David has taken and the words he has produced. With the greatest possible sense of honor that he allowed me to stand on the sidelines and cheer him on.

David Marchino. Writer. True.

From the (near) beginning:

He is not hard to find. He may arrive when you speak his name, or when you curse it. A magician whose default state is disappeared. His greatest trick is presence. My father—eight years gone—now back. Ta-da.

He looks worn, like he’s spent the last few years disappeared in a pothole. Like his body has finally exhausted its last expanses of youth. The man is tired. His arms, his legs, his skin. He’d been virile once, you could tell. I remembered how the skin tightened around his biceps, how he’d make the panther on his arm roar. He’d always been a little slight—not more than five-and-a-half feet—but now he looks unsteady.

“Hello, Sonny,” and I am fourteen again: his grip on the back of my neck, his prickly lip on mine. Love that said I have you.

When he hugs me, I want to say I feel that slip away. His blustery love, the years gone. But I only feel in my arms a man who has stagnated, and he, in his, a son he no longer knows.

He sits me on his couch. He lies to me. He paces the floor and sips beer after beer. “Only four a day now,” he says as his eyes grow rheumy and soft. Hustling is still a part of his to day-to-day, only now there is safety. He is a supplier, never out on the streets for more than fifteen minutes and raking in more cash than he’s ever seen. I don’t doubt this. For the past eight years, I’ve had no significant contact with my father, but he came sporadically every now and again. A phone call at two in the morning, a wet whiskey-rasped voice. The few times I heard my father cry. It was desperation. He’d been dealing and had cut someone short. Word got around. They’d put the gun in his mouth. They’d hit him with a bat. The shapeless, omnipotent they were on the hunt for him. He was going to die.

I’d cry with him during these calls—I’m not sure a son can do anything else in that situation. But, when he hung up and I was left with just the dial tone, I felt sure Dad would be okay. He wrote the story of his life, circumstances be damned. My father was legend, was myth, was Roman God. As long as someone believed in him, he could never be lost.

He asks about a lot, never sitting down with me. It’s as much interrogation as it is plea. Questions are fired off with no space given to answer them. They are formalities more than anything else. He does not want my answers. He prefers his own. He reads our reunion as permission to rewrite the past, prune the truth to his liking. It is the hand that gripped my neck as a child and directed me, as though it clutched the handles of a bicycle. It reaches out for the past eight years of my life.

It’s desperation, I realize. We fear the unknown—the late-night creaks that resound from the basement as we try to sink into bed, the voices we are certain we hear calling our name as we make our way through a soulless alley. That is true fear: incalculable, unreadable. As my father looks into my eyes after all these years, he sees it in me. I am a void wrapped in his orange-ish, freckled skin. I come to him a changeling, a severed connection he is frantically trying to reestablish. We fictionalize what we do not know—an admission of ignorance and an appeal for enlightenment. A construction meant to give shape to the unknown. The gentle blue of the sky draped over the endless, infinite, abyss of space. To fit my life into some predetermined mold is, for my father, a means to close the gap between us. He pretends to know his son. It is easier that way....
Tomorrow, the work of Nina Friend.

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the art of Juncture Notes (issue 2 will soon be on its way)

We've been so thrilled by the response to Juncture Notes—the writing elicited by our prompt, the questions about memoir, the interest in our five-day memoir workshop. We're now at work on our second release, which should go out in a week or so. If you're interested in receiving a copy, just click on the link to the left of this blog post (or on the workshop link above). That's the sure-fire way of beating the spam filters, or so we believe, anyway.

One of the questions we've been receiving relates to the art that is folded in with the words. That art is, as many of you have guessed, the work of my partner in life and in this Juncture enterprise, William Sulit. I've shared his work in many media from time to time on my blog. Bill's work was recently selected for the prestigious Clay Studio National exhibit, beginning on May 6th. We'll soon be celebrating his first solo show—in ceramics—at Show of Hands Gallery in Philadelphia, beginning on June 3 and ending July 24.

Bill will be creating or sharing original art in each issue of Juncture. Here, above, is a taste of things to come.

Sign up if you'd like to see (or read) more.

There are just four spaces now left at our inaugural memoir workshop. Please let us know if you are interested.

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Joan Wickersham in person, Kelly Writers House as refuge

Saturday, April 23, 2016

I would have preferred a sharper photo. I could blame my fatigue at the near end of that day—my hands slipping, or my eyes watering, or something. Instead, I'll declare this photograph of Joan Wickersham reading at Penn's Kelly Writers House to be infused by the light Joan carries with her. As she works. As she reads. As she considers. As she listens.

Joan was at Penn to read from three works—nonfiction (The Suicide Index), fiction (The News from Spain), and poetry (Vasa Pieces, parts of which appear in Agni 82). Her coming was, for me, a highlight of this semester—a chance to hear from a writer whose work has long inspired and thrilled me. A chance, too, thanks to Joan's invitation, to spend an hour or so alone with her over steeping, seeping cups of berry tea. We talked advertising youths, Lab Girl, place in memoir, the confounding role of adjunct teachers, Philadelphia then and now. I discovered, in Joan, that rare, wonderful thing: a person as gloriously complex and broadly thinking in person as she is on the page.

And then there she was, reading. Words I'd read twice, sometimes three times before, but delivered newly. A culminating sequence from Vasa Pieces—new work inspired by the sinking and resurrection of the Swedish warship, Vasa. Beautiful pieces made thrilling by their emergence from history and their threads of urgent now. The first poem setting the tone, revealing the "must" of this work—the role the Vasa played in the imagination of Joan's husband:

... I imagine you down there,
reading and re-reading the story of Vasa,
memorizing every picture, puzzling over the order—
the heeling ship, the sinking ship, the risen ship,
the sunken ship, the battered risen ship again—
clinging to the table leg, pretending it was a mast.
Poems continuing on through ships (and lives) gone wrong, through autobiographies redesigned by survivors, through shipworms and felt absence.

Until Joan lifted her head. And even then, her spell was not broken. The light still broke behind and through her.

I want to thank my students who attended for allowing this moment into their lives. I want to thank Jamie-Lee Josselyn, that lovely vision in green pants, for her beautiful introduction. I want to thank the Kelly Writers House for being home and hearth to both talent and soul, for being that place that students can and do turn to when the world feels raw and bright minds are the cure.

I want to thank Joan for the afternoon, and for the inspiration of her commitment to the work itself. The work, above and beyond all else.

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LAB GIRL: my thoughts in the Chicago Tribune

Friday, April 22, 2016

This coming September, on an old farm in McClure, PA, a group of very-wow writers will be sitting at a big old table in a fabulously idiosyncratic barn talking about Hope Jahren's Lab Girl to kick off Juncture's inaugural memoir workshop.

My thoughts about this near-perfect memoir are here today, in the Chicago Tribune.

There are just four spaces now left in our workshop. If you're interested in the workshop or in the newsletter, please click on this link and let us know.

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the moving spectacle of nonfiction, in Phillip Lopate's words, as the semester nears its end

Sunday, April 17, 2016

This past Wednesday afternoon and evening I had the distinct pleasure of spending time in the company of the great essayist and Columbia University professor (and head of the graduate nonfiction program), Phillip Lopate, his wife, his daughter, and members of the Bryn Mawr University creative writing program.

(Thank you, Cyndi Reeves and Daniel Torday, for allowing me to crash the party.)

Between the cracks of many deadlines here, I've been reading from the books I bought that evening. I have, of course, read Lopate through the years; who can teach nonfiction without owning Lopate volumes? But I did not own, until this Wednesday night, To Show and To Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction, which is, in a word, a glory. Perhaps it is because I agree so steadily with Lopate's many helpful assertions, perhaps it is because I, in my own way, attempt to teach and, in books like Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir, carry forward these ideals about the rounded I, the obligation to the universal, the curious mind, the trace-able pursuit of questions, that I sometimes read with tears in my eyes passages like this one, from "Reflection and Retrospection: A Pedagogic Mystery Story:"

In attempting any autobiographical prose, the writer knows what has happened—that is the great relief, one is given the story to begin with—but not necessarily what to make of it. It is like being handed a text in cuneiform: you have to translate, at first awkwardly, inexpertly, slowly, and uncertainly. To think on the page, retrospectively or otherwise, is, in the last analysis, difficult. But the writer's struggle to master that which initially may appear too hard to do, that which only the dead and the great seem to have pulled off with ease, is a moving spectacle in itself, and well worth the undertaking. 
There are just two more weeks left in this semester at Penn. My beautiful honors thesis students are finalizing their work and, soon, will not just hold their glorious books in their hands, but have the time to reflect back on all the lessons learned. My Creative Nonfiction students are writing letters, Coates and Parker and Rilke style, to those they feel must hear them, while also working on 600-word portraits of one another. Joan Wickersham, the extraordinary writer of both nonfiction and fiction is headed to our campus, Tuesday evening, 6 PM, Kelly Writers House—and if you are anywhere near, I strongly suggest you make the time. She is a national treasure.

Teaching is exhausting, exhilarating, necessary, confounding, essential. I learn that again, year upon year. I stagger away—made smarter, in so many ways, by the students I teach.



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sometimes you don't need to throw a launch party; the party is the day itself

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Yesterday:

Early morning, opening this outrageously wonderful gift from Taylor Norman (Chronicle Books), in celebration of the launch of This Is the Story of You.

A 20-minute walk in the rain to the delayed train.

Train time spent with Diana Abu-Jaber's Life Without a Recipe, a very beautiful memoir launching from my first editor and house, Alane Mason, W.W. Norton, this month.

A walk in the lessening drizzle to Penn where, on my way to a meeting, I discovered Story in the front window of Penn Book Center, where I'll be joining my Jensen friends (Cordelia and Melissa) for a Saturday afternoon reading and discussion on June 4th.

A conversation with my teaching and writing colleague, that very same Melissa Jensen. "Pure sunshine," one of my students said of her, and oh she is.

The privilege of watching my students conduct a conversation about Between the World and Me. One by one, they wrestled with the readers' guide questions I'd prepared, felt free to disagree, voiced their opinions with precision—and deep respect. A discussion unbounded—content and craft.

The moment when I read out loud from Dear Mr. You, Mary-Louise Parker's collection of letters to the men in her life. The students had read "Dear Daddy." I shared, then, this, from "Dear Oyster Picker." Parker's father has been given little time to live. Parker is standing in a bookstore, on the phone with her dad, wanting to be all right, not being all right. These are the final words of this essay, and the book:

I said well, okay, I'm standing in this really awesome bookstore. You'd love it, I said. He gave a sigh of longing and said, oh my, tell me, they have anything interesting? I said yeah, tons. I'll send you a book from here, how does that sound. He said that's wonderful, that's just tremendous, thank you sweetie. I told him I was sending him some candy too and he thanked me, said he'd be on the lookout for it, and he then said, tell me, what are you writing now? You working on anything? I said oh Daddy, just little things, I don't know, and he said okay, but listen to me


just write, keep writing, promise me that you will.
The walk back to the train in brightest sunshine. The train ride home with the gloriously multi-gonzo talented Lorene Cary. The deliberately lengthened walk from train to home so that I might talk, as I love to talk, with Debbie Levy.

The infusion of unforeseen support and hope and kindness on Twitter, on Facebook, on email, regarding the launch of Story. Thank you.

A dinner with my husband, where we lifted our glasses to sea and storm and, then, sun.

A call from Danielle.

Sometimes you don't have to throw a party for a book. The party is simply all bound up in the day that you have lived.

Thank you, universe.

Just write, keep writing

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a gift of gifts, on book launch day, from Taylor Norman of Chronicle

Tuesday, April 12, 2016



Yesterday the mysterious box arrived with the warning—and I did heed—DO NOT OPEN UNTIL 4/12.

But now it's dark and dawn here, and opening is legal, and so I've bladed through, popped the lid, and dug between long strands of confetti to find the words of Taylor Norman, the Chronicle Books editor of enormous wisdom and heart who, following the departure of dear Tamra Tuller, saw This Is the Story of You through to this day, launch day.

I've staggered back. I've shouted Oh My Gosh to the sleepy house. I've tremblingly carried this gift (which includes chocolate, by the way) to my husband, and shakingly exclaimed: "Roller skate keys. Like the kind my Mira wears around her neck as she skates from one end of her barrier island to the other, ahead of that monster storm."

(I did have to explain, just like that, for my husband, bless his magnificent heart, has not read Story.)

And then I said: "The key gives Mira a key-shaped bruise on her chest. The key is real, and symbolic."

And then I said: "That Taylor Norman! Oh my gosh. That Taylor."

Wow. That's what I keep saying as I type these words, my fingers still trembling.

Wow. 

To beaches and those who love them. To friendship in the wake of catastrophe. To our Modes, whatever they may be, that carry us from one end of things to the other. World, we give you This Is the Story of You.

To Taylor, I say again: Wow. And thank you.

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Cordelia Jensen, Peter Gardos, Cynthia Kadohata: writers to know

Monday, April 11, 2016

This Is the Story of You, my monster storm Jersey Shore story, launches tomorrow. Out into the world.

Whoosh. There you go.

But in the days leading up to now, I've been spending time with the stories of others. For who among us will ever believe that our own work is the work? Who should believe that? Who does not think that, at the end of it all, the best thing about being a writer is finding the excuse to curl up with someone else's fine tale—the story another loved, hoped for and through, and found a way to launch?

Today I want to celebrate:

Cordelia Jensen's Skyscraping, a novel in verse to which I have previously alluded on this blog. Before I met Cordelia a few weeks ago in New York (odd to be meeting her there, for she lives not far from me here), I knew that she was my kind of writer—soulful, attuned to language, serious about producing lasting work. Skyscraping tells the story of Mira, who learns the secret of her parents' marriage during her senior year in high school and needs to find a way to forgive her father before he is gone from her world. Some novels in verse are just novels written with shorter lines and white space. This is a novel in actual verse, written by an actual poet, who has pondered this story for years. This is a novel whose narrator understands time and stars, the cosmos and the particulate, but is never safe (no one is) from hurt. Mira is speaking here about her mother, who has been absent for much of Mira's life:

I used to imagine she saw us as a train
she could ride at will,
instead of a station,
fixed, every day.
I wonder now if maybe
a family is neither of those things
but something stable,
yet always changing,
because the people inside it are.
 
Peter Gardos's Fever at Dawn, sent to me by Lauren Wein, an editor you know I love. It's a story based on the real-life tale of the author's parents—Hungarians who, in 1945, find themselves in Swedish hospitals miles apart. They are not well. They have been seared by death camps, racism, horror. They allow the letters they write to one another become their most extravagant form of hope. Miklos sends a blurry photograph to Lili, so that she cannot see his metal teeth. Lili stashes the political book Miklos has sent—unread. They know nothing about each other, actually, until, increasingly, they are nothing without each other. They are seducing each other, even as Gardos, in a book that seems (but isn't) utterly simple, seduces us:

That evening the men sat out in the courtyard with the radio on the long wooden table. The light bulb swung eerily in the wind. The men usually spent half an hour before bed in the open air. By now they had been playing the radio for six hours without a break. They had put on sweaters and coats and their pyjamas (stet) and wrapped blankets around themselves. They sat right up close to the radio. The green tuning light winked like the eye of an elf.
Finally, Cynthia Kadohata's National Book Award winning The Thing About Luck, which wrapped me around its many fingers this weekend. Let's just say this: Anyone who thinks writing for teens is easy should spend some time in the company of this book, which has everything to teach about mosquitoes, wheat harvesting, combines, and dinners on the road—all within the frame of one of the most likable narrators yet written, a young girl named Summer, who discovers, over the course of many exotic bread-basket weeks (yes, I know what I just wrote), that luck is made, not found:

I don't know. I mean, maybe computers and cell phones and rocket ships are more magical, but to me, nothing beats the combine. That's just the way I see things. In a short time, the combine takes something humans can't use and then turns it into something that can feed us.
Before I go, I extend Happy Book Launch greetings to Robin Black, whose collection of essays, Crash Course, debuts tomorrow in grand style. Robin will be taking the stage with grammar queen Mary Norris, at the Free Library of Philadelphia.

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reflections as the end of this teaching semester nears

Maybe it's because I lead but one class during the one semester at Penn that teaching carries, for me, such weight. I begin planning for January in August, often earlier. Choosing the books we'll read, plotting our course, interacting with potential students. I pack as much into every class as our allotted hours allow. Pressing in with ideas, exhortations, readings. Bringing guests like George Hodgman (via Skype), Reiko Rizzuto, Margo Rabb, A.S. King, and Trey Popp into the fold. (Next year we'll be hosting Paul Lisicky, and focused on the art of time in memoir.) Using multiple media, stretching the idea of memoir, expecting much. Finding the good while searching, too, for all that is still possible.

And, this semester, leading two remarkable thesis candidates—Nina Friend and David Marchino—toward work so extraordinary that, I believe, it will represent their calling cards for years and years to come.

Teaching is standing before a class, then stepping aside. It's managing the ripples and waves while keeping the craft on course.

Three more weeks. And then these students will be off on their own, carrying our lessons forward, glancing back, I hope, not just as writers, but as people who value truth, empathy, conversation, and a greater knowing of themselves.

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THIS IS THE STORY OF YOU, in the Philadelphia Inquirer

Saturday, April 9, 2016

So grateful for this opportunity in the Philadelphia Inquirer this weekend (Sunday paper, Currents section).

The link to the excerpt is here.

For more on this book—the reviews, the story—please go here.

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BookPage on THIS IS THE STORY OF YOU, and thank you, Carrie Gelson

Friday, April 8, 2016

This morning I thank Sarah Weber of BookPage for her glorious review of This Is the Story of You:
... Kephart's liquid prose drives the story, fueling the reader's own emotional turmoil and rendering Mira and her friends brave and loyal despite their fear. Kephart's worldbuilding is meticulous and vivid, with details that make Haven feel like a place out of time.

This smart, poignant novel is an absolute pleasure to read.

Just as I thank Carrie Gelson, self-proclaimed Book Fanatic and author of the blog, There's a Book for That, for her kind inclusion of This Is the Story of You in this Must Read 2016 Spring Roundup.

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Sarah Laurence reflects (so kindly) on THIS IS THE STORY OF YOU

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Sarah Laurence, who posts beautiful images from her coastal-Maine life and wide imagination on her popular blog, has been so kind to me in my journey as a young adult novelist. Asking for and reading the books, thinking about them, making powerful and important observations, introducing me to her friend, Cathy Fiebach, of Main Point Books in Bryn Mawr, PA, where I'll be doing the first area signing of the book featured above at 2 PM on April 30.

This is what Sarah does for others' books—even as she writes her own.

In the quiet months leading up to the launch (this coming Tuesday) of This Is the Story of You, Sarah asked for a copy. Yesterday she shared her thoughts.

I hope she knows how much this means to me.

I'm sharing just a fragment of Sarah's Story post here, so that you'll be forced to read the rest on Sarah's blog itself. I hope you stay there for awhile, and poke around to see what else Sarah has to say about words, stories, and place.

This is a Story of You is a modern parable of the horrors of climate change. When a storm cuts off an island from the Jersey Shore, 17-year-old Mira must fight for survival with only a stray cat for company. Earlier that day, her single mom had driven her disabled brother to the mainland hospital for emergency treatment. As the storm rages and the sea floods their beachside cottage, Mira must decide what to save and how to stay alive. If that weren't scary enough, a mysterious intruder is lurking outside, and without power or cellular service, Mira can't call for help.

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the booksellers' kind words about THIS IS THE STORY OF YOU

There is ocean, storm, community, friendship, family, mystery in This Is the Story of You. There are model airplanes pinned to a ceiling and bobbing in the breeze.

There is this book, which will launch next Tuesday, April 12, and be featured in this weekend's Philadelphia Inquirer.

Yesterday afternoon, Hannah Moushabeck, Associate Marketing Manager at Chronicle, began to send me Story word from independent booksellers. Mired in memoir newsletter management and an odd strain of politics, I had not, in any way, expected this.

Next Hannah sent me two images. The one above. The one you're about to see.

What a glorious touch, I thought—this photo of the real book beside one of the figurative and metaphoric planes within its pages.

Thank you, Hannah. And thank you, booksellers. Their words below.

 “What we lose, what we find, how we survive. Mira is alone when the storm hits her barrier-island town, with only a half-grown cat for company. The furor and devastation of the storm is horrible, but it is the aftermath, in the days before emergency help arrives, that is the most harrowing part: looking for loved ones; finding the dead; treating the wounded; finding food and water and shelter; and holding on to hope. The story of a huge storm and its impact on one small community, This is the Story of You is shot through with the gorgeous lyricism of Kephart's writing.” —Nancy Banks, Bookseller, City Stacks Books and Coffee
 
“Beth Kephart has written a lyrical novel where it is as easy to get lost in the language as the story. As often occurs in YA novels, Mira Bunal, is forced to face the worst on her own when a storm like Sandy hits the NJ island she lives on while her brother is receiving a treatment for a serious congenital illness. Mira finds the strength she needs and help in places she doesn't expect it. A great read for both teens and adults --that you might not want to read while summering at the Jersey shore.” —Cathy Fiebach, Bookseller, Main Point Books


 
“To pay attention, to love the world, to live beyond ourselves."  This is what they learned living as year-rounders on the 6 mile long 1/2 mile wide vacationers paradise of Haven.  This gripping, powerful YA novel is the story of family and friendship, of learning and learning more, of place and tragedy and resilience.  It is the perfect summer read, but This is the Story of You  will linger long after the last page is turned.  —Angie Tally, Bookseller, The Country Bookshop


“Beautifully written, This is the Story of You follows the life of Mira Banul, a year-rounder living on Haven, a six mile by one-half mile island. Year-rounders are prepared for everything so when news of a giant storm blowing in reaches the island, they think nothing of it. But the storm is like nothing they've ever seen before, and when her family is stuck on the mainland and one of her closest friends is missing, Mira must learn how to cope with loss and rekindle her hope if she is to help the island recover. With new mysteries popping up every chapter, This Is The Story of You is impossible to put down.” — Marya Johnston, Bookseller, Out West Books  

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the standing desk un-slumps my mood

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

I had, for many months, felt myself slumping. In my thoughts, in my hopes, in my posture.

I'd get to my office, do my work, and then just keep sitting there—aimless. Overwhelmed, and aimless. Two words that don't seem to fit together, but for my life, for a long time, they did.

For my birthday, my husband bought me a standing desk. I thought it would help me feel better physically. In fact, it has helped me psychologically. It's been just a few days, and I'm hardly a scientific sample, but here, with this standing desk, I'm not wasting time. I'm coming to do my work. I'm standing straight—not cowering, slumping, ineffectively wondering, or trolling discouraging political news. When my work is done, I step away.

In the past few days, I've stood here and—interviewed a client in Spain, worked line by line through two student theses, created a guide for today's class at Penn, created a readers' guide for Between the World and Me for next week's class at Penn, finalized the inaugural Juncture memoir newsletter, organized our rapidly growing database of readers (interested? fill in the box to the left and we'll get you a copy), corresponded with potential Juncture Workshop participants, typed out two separate reviews for two glorious books read on behalf of Chicago Tribune, sent love notes to Danielle M. Smith, corresponded with friends, worked toward a new future in books. I've read a friend's exhilarating manuscript and sent him notes, I've emailed students, I've worked through end-of-the-tax-year stuff, I've started to contemplate what I can do to help support the launch of my Jersey shore storm mystery This Is the Story of You (just days away now). I have not allowed myself to plunge too deeply into the political news I cannot affect.

Done with my work, I have then headed to the couch where reading and real writing gets done.

This standing desk is un-slumping my mood. Returning to me some sense of control over a sometimes unimaginably diversified private life and an often dispiriting public one. Maybe I burn a few more calories standing here. Maybe my spine will grow straighter. I don't know that yet. I just know what I feel inside—which is more hope than I have felt for a long time.

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Juncture Notes, our memoir newsletter, is out in the world.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

If you'd like to be included in the distribution list, click on the first box right over there to the left.

Presto.

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Bustle names STORY OF YOU a top April YA novel; thank you

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Bustle, thank you for including This Is the Story of You in your 18 of the April 2016's Best YA Books To Read During the Month of Rain Showers list.

I bet you don't know how much that means to me.

This isn't your ordinary disaster story, as any fan of Beth Kephart can already see.

And Sarah Laurence—writer and blogger and reader superb—thank you for letting me know. Such a lovely discovery on the Twitter feed.

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ONE THING STOLEN for just $2.99, all through April

Thursday, March 31, 2016

So here we go.

You know that novel, One Thing Stolen, that I spoke about last year? The one about a young girl who travels from her home near the University of Pennsylvania campus to Florence, Italy, with her family while battling the encroachment of a terrifying disorder? The one that commemorates the 50th anniversary (happening this year) of the flooding of the Arno, a flood that threatened to destroy so much of what western civilization prizes as its most significant historic art?

One Thing Stolen is about thievery, family, friendship, first love, nests and art, fear and hope. It won the 2015 Parents' Choice Gold Medal Award, is a 2016 TAYSHAS selection, was an Amazon Editor's Pick, and was named a Best Book of the Year by Cleaver Magazine and Savvy Verse and Wit.

More about One Thing Stolen can be found here. 

And now, throughout the entire month of April, an e-version can be yours for just $2.99.

Chronicle Books has made this happen. (Thank you, Daria Harper.) We're hoping you'll take a look—and help us spread the word.

The book can be purchased at the following sites for $2.99, starting tomorrow.

Kindle 

Apple iBookstore


Nook


Google Play


Kobo


Bookshout


 

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Launching a monthly memoir newsletter; let us know if you are interested

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

 
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We know when we start to exaggerate.We know when we “lie” to make things fit or to make the story turn out a certain, perfectly symmetrical, deeply self-congratulatory way.We know when what we write will not resonate with others who have lived the adventure alongside us.We know what we are doing.
Next Monday, we'll release the first issue of a monthly newsletter dedicated to the art of memoir.

I'll be sharing thoughts about essential memoirs (you must read this), about the making of memoir, and about the things I continue to learn as I teach and write the form. And I'll be sharing (with the authors' permission) some of the work we produce at Juncture Workshops.

Interested? Share your email address in the comment form here, or through the private messaging of my Facebook or Twitter accounts.

NOTE: To those kind souls demonstrating such interest — I'm able now to pick up your email addresses without them ever showing up for public display. Trust that I have you. If you don't see the newsletter by end of day Monday, circle back around. I want to protect your email privacy. 

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let's not toss entire categories; one more defense of YA (celebrating Cordelia Jensen and e.E. Charlton-Trujillo)

Saturday, March 26, 2016

One wonders if it will ever end. The cast-the-entire-category-aside comments from those who cannot abide YA. The idea that all literature written with teens at its heart is literature of a lesser-than status.

Look. I'm uncomfortable with much of what is sold to teens—uncomfortable with books that forget how intelligent teens are, books that neglect the complexity of teen lives, books that don't embrace history or ideas or culture or the environment or real, abundant pressures as they also introduce characters and plot, books that don't investigate the power of language itself. I'm uncomfortable with easy. I'm uncomfortable with marketing machines that are motivated solely by the brass ring of commercial success, which is not always the same thing as the gold ring of genuine meaning.

But I'm also uncomfortable with the idea that all YA is to be shelved far below "real" books and that those who write it are second-rate dabblers. I'm a believer in seeking out the best in every genre—the best poems, the best history, the best biographies, the best "adult" novels, the best picture books, the best memoirs, the best middle grade, the best YA. Because there is, in fact, a great YA out there. There are people who are making the most of this very elastic form to write ferociously about kids who need their stories told.

Last week, at Books of Wonder, I bought Cordelia Jensen's teen novel-in-verse, Skyscraping, a true work of art about which you'll be reading more about here.

Not long ago, I read e.E. Charlton-Trujillo's When We Was Fierce, another novel in verse that is so deeply grounded in e.E.'s understanding of kids who need and deserve a voice. "If we can agree that the finest story-making erupts from impassioned empathy and a willingness to bend the rules of language," I wrote, after I read it, "then we must agree that e.E. Charlton-Trujillo ranks among our very finest story-makers. This is a lyric manifest that commands us to hear, so that we might have a chance at being healed."

You know how I feel about the other extraordinary YA writers in my real and reading life; I've written about them here. You know, too, how despairing I can get when literature devolves into gimmickry or merely brand-able ideas.

But let's evaluate each single book for what it might be and not dispense with entire categories.

And let's be kinder to each other.

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on seeing LOVE at the Philadelphia International Airport for the first time

Thursday, March 24, 2016









Today was the day. Long-awaited. More wonderful than imagined. With greatest thanks to Leah Douglas and Ursula Stuby of the Philadelphia International Airport Exhibitions Program for their glorious interpretation of Love: A Philadelphia Affair (Temple University Press), now on exhibit at Terminal D (10). How glorious it was to spend time with these two wonderful women, and to spend time as well with the Airport's delightful CEO, Chellie Cameron—learning about the plans for this airport and the future of travel in my beloved city.

With thanks to my father, for joining us, and to Bill, for taking the photographs you see here. I'll be forever honored by this.

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The Leaving/Tara Altebrando: reflections by my student, Emma Connolly



When I talk about my students at the University of Pennsylvania—when I speak of their commitment to our work and to our community, the quality of their search and the depth of their answers, their sentences on the page—I am reflecting on what I love best about the school that once educated and now employs me. I am looking past the rumors and gossip and seeing straight into the heart of young goodness.

Because that goodness resolutely lives.

This semester I have again been blessed by the company of young people and their great talent. A few of my students have brought to class not just an interest in poetry or memoir or fiction (or song writing, architecture, economics, rock climbing, medicine, you name it), but a specific interest in young adult literature—an interest that has been heightened by my uber-cool Penn colleague (and YA writer), Melissa Jensen. I've extended an invitation to any in the class to read from the library of new books that make their way to me—and to offer, here, their thoughts.

In this case, Emma Connolly—a young woman who practically defined memoir in her expectations essay, a young woman now looking ahead to a no-doubt stellar career (at least to start) as a middle grade teacher—took home my copy of Tara Altebrando's new and thrilling book, The Leaving (Bloomsbury, forthcoming). I'd blurbed the book for Tara. I wanted Emma's thoughts. Here, in Emma's words, is what The Leaving is all about.

You see what I mean about talent? Intelligence? Can you imagine Emma as the teacher she will be?

This is the Penn I love.

(And I love Tara, too.)

Who are you without your memories?
For the characters of Tara Altebrando’s engrossing, twisting, mysterious, “The Leaving,” this is not a hypothetical question. When five teenagers are dropped off in an abandoned playground eleven years after they went missing, they are celebrated and intensely questioned. Where were they? Who took them? And how can they be telling the truth that they don’t remember any of it?  
As Scarlett and Lucas, two victims of the event known as “The Leaving,” and Avery, the left-behind sister of the only victim who has not returned, try to solve their own history, Altebrando confronts questions of identity, family, and memory. When Scarlett returns home to a mother who has attributed her disappearance to alien activity, she can’t shake the feeling that they are the ones who are from different planets. What if you don’t fit in where you’re supposed to? Lucas is disturbed by the discovery of skills that he must have learned during his absence. Can you be afraid of your past self? Meanwhile, Avery watches their return unfold as she continues to deal with the devastation that her brother’s disappearance has had on her family. Would she be better off like the victims of the “The Leaving,” able to essentially skip over a difficult childhood?
The characters discover unfinished leads from passed-away relatives and potential clues from past selves. They chase after jerkily recovered blips of memory that Altebrando visually represents by scattering words all over the page and interrupting the narrative with blocks of remembered images. With each revelation, we are drawn deeper into the search for answers before being thwarted yet again. Each time the story approaches acceptance of the fact that one might simply be better off not remembering, though, Altebrando reminds us, “Forgetting meant not knowing, meant ignorance, meant maybe making the same mistakes again and again.” So we keep searching, unable to leave this book until the very last page.

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