Vaclav and Lena/Haley Tanner: The best longest first sentence ever

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Last evening, following a full afternoon of extraordinary conversations with my students, I missed the 5:38 PM train by, well—let's just say I got there right as the doors were closing.

All, however, was not lost, for there's always Faber books at 30th Street Station—always the chance to acquire something new.

I had thirty minutes. I bought, at last, Kevin Powers' The Yellow Birds. It's the book of the year here in Philadelphia, and it's about time that I get with the program. I'll read it. Soon.

But I also bought a copy of Vaclav and Lena, a debut novel by Haley Tanner. It is one of those books I'd always been meaning to buy, then forgot I'd wanted to buy, then had forgotten altogether as I pursued the next new many things. If I hadn't missed the train, I'd have not met these two immigrant Brooklyn children who want, when we first meet them, to be the best magicians alive.

I'm not finished reading yet, so I can't deliver a full report. I can, however, give you this fragment of the first single wow opening sentence, which I share in honor of one of my students who has captivated us with her voice this year, and who could, I have not a single doubt, cast an instant spell like this one:

"Here I practice, and you practice. Ahem. AH-em. I am Vaclav the Magnificent, with birthday on the sixth of May, the famous day for the generations to celebrate and rejoice, a day in the future years eclipsing Christmas and Hanukkah and Ramadan and all pagan festivals, born in a land far, far, far, far, far, far, far distance from here, a land of ancient and magnificent secrets, a land of enchanted knowledge passed down from the ages and from the ancients, a land of illusion (Russia!), born there in Russia and reappearing here, in America, in New York, in Brooklyn (which is a borough), near Coney Island, which is a famous place of magic in the great land of opportunity (which is, of course, America!), where anyone can become anything, where a hobo today is tomorrow a businessman in a three-piece-suit, and a businessman yesterday is later this afternoon a hobo, Vaclav the Magnificent, who shall, without a doubt, be ask to perform his mighty feats of enchantment for dukes and presidents and czars and ayatollahs, uniting them all in awestruck and dumbstruck, and.....
You get the point? The books we pay attention to are the ones that leap from the page. Vaclav and Lena leaps from mile-long sentence number one.

Voice. Some people have it.

You know who I'm talking about.


Berlin, through the eyes of others

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of publishing Going Over, my book about Berlin 1983, is hearing from so many readers who have Berlin stories of their own to tell. My friend E., from the pottery studio, who was living there when the wall came down. A certain writers' mother-in-law, who had more than one intriguing experience not just with the wall, but with the guards. A reader who would, she says, retire to Berlin if she could.

This morning, Joanne, a writer and book lover, shared with me this post about her trip to Berlin in the 1970s—photos and all. It's a fascinating excursion. I'm grateful, too, for Joanne's extremely generous words about Going Over. 

All of that is here.


Queen Sugar/Natalie Baszile: Reflections

Monday, April 21, 2014

I meet this beautiful woman named Natalie Baszile. She's just published her first book—Queen Sugar—with Pamela Dorman of Viking. Its cover is almost as pretty as she is. I buy into Natalie's allure (now that was easy) and I happily buy her book (simple as snap).

Then, in bits and pieces (because that's my life right there, all bits and pieces), I read this book about a widow named Charley Bordelon and her daughter named Micah, who leave California for Louisiana to take on a late father's gift—eight hundred acres of sugarcane.

Eight hundred acres of sugarcane. No how-to book. No extra funds. Hardly any working machines. And nobody but Charley and Micah and some Louisiana family to turn to when the going gets tough.

The going will get tough.

Well-researched, lovingly imagined, Queen Sugar is a sweep-you-in story. Charley is a woman we understand, but also a woman we admire—for taking the unknown on, for being honest with herself, for staring out across an endless field and daring to believe not just in the land but (eventually) in herself. Baszile is a seamless storyteller. She takes her readers not just to the land, but into its depths. Her earth is not just topography, but taste:
Charley raised the dirt to her mouth again. She sniffed: wood smoke, grass, damp like a sidewalk after it rained. She tasted: grit, fine as ground glass, chocolate, and what? Maybe ash? She closed her eyes as the soil dissolved over her tongue, and slowly, slowly, almost like a good wine, the soil began to tell its story. She tasted the muck, and the peat, and the years of composted leaves, the branches and vines that had been recently plowed under, and the faint sweetness the cane left behind. She swallowed: a moldy aftertaste she knew would stay on her tongue for the rest of the afternoon.
Lovely, right? But look, too, at Baszile's ability to write of water, towboats, a wheelhouse. I respect the specificity here.
Amazing how quickly the barge moved. It was closer now. The engine rumble sent larger ripples, and across the water, Ralph Angel could see the captain high up in the towboat's wheelhouse, his small white face like a speck of white sugar behind the big glass window. As it approached, the barge sucked water into its enormous hull so that the current up where Ralph Angel sat seemed to flow in reverse and the water level actually dropped. Water hyacinths and lilies clumped together in the backwards flow and even up ahead, in the barge slip, the water seemed to be draining away. 
What's hard about writing? Everything. What takes time? Getting the details and every single sentence right. Though Queen Sugar is a debut novel, it is also a most-self-assured novel. The work of a writer who knows precisely what she's doing.


Introducing Wattpad, where stories get told (read GOING OVER excerpts free)

It's amazing, all the things I do not know.

How to get rid of the embarrassing yellow-flower weed in my front lawn. How to stop breaking my fingernails just when they've reached their prettiest. How to make my new-fangled pottery vases stand up straight. How to remain focused on what actually matters in life, even as I stare down petty worries and ricocheting fears of the unjust.


I also didn't know a thing about Wattpad—a free community in which readers can chat with writers—until my friends Sally Kim and Ali Presley of Chronicle Books whispered the news in my ear. There are all kinds of authors here, all kinds of books, all kinds of reading opportunities. And, like I said, it's free.

I am now, officially, a Wattpad-er, and here is my I don't even have a single follower yet Wattpad page. I'll be posting chapters of GOING OVER here over the next several weeks and interacting with any reader who sends a note or asks a question.

Take a look.

But also, while I have your attention, here is something wild: While exploring Wattpad on my own yesterday, I discovered this—a Wattpad story called Unrequited Love whose second chapter begins with words that this writer named Beth Kephart wrote.

That's here.


wishing you the bright joy and hope of Easter

Sunday, April 20, 2014

(at Chanticleer Garden, with the men in my life)


Badlands/Cynthia Reeves: brief reflections on a stunning novella

Saturday, April 19, 2014

I have known Cynthia Reeves for what feels like a long time now. She is a friend, she is a cook, she is the mother of two talented children, she teaches, she writes. She is there, often, telling stories—standing at the counter in Libby Mosier's house, ruling over a platter of fine cheeses in her own home, walking a windy Philadelphia with me not long ago, as we searched (unsuccessfully) for a hostess-gift bottle of wine. We bought Di Bruno Bros. chocolate-covered pretzels instead. We found the party. We talked some more.

But perhaps we don't really know someone until we dwell, quietly, with their work, and over the past several days, when I could tear away for an hour, I have been reading Cyndi's award-winning novella, Badlands, published in 2007 by Miami University Press.

The story—about a dying woman's final hours and the blend of time, about the topography of regret and the last light of clarity, about secret dreams and the collective dream, about the bones we bury or seek to bury or can never bury—is one of the most beautifully rendered stories I've ever read. Devastating. Intelligent. Knowing. True. Locked in tight. Held so close. Never once losing its purpose, nor its rhythm.

Think of Carole Maso channeling Colum McCann. Think of Jack Gilbert stretching out the lines of his poems. This is Cynthia Reeves.

This is how she sounds:
If hearing is the last sense to leave the body, then snowfall whispering over their faces, over itself, is the last thing they hear. Blankets laid gently one on top of another, nothing else. No weeping, no iron nail driving into pine board, no lamentation but snow sweeping over them, whispering its final prayer: Come, Grandmother, Great Spirit, hold them gently in your arms. Caro hears this whispering soft, softer now, and finally the quiet rustling of sheets.
Find Badlands. Read it.


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!


the proudest prof alive: the art of revision

Friday, April 18, 2014

I offered my students the opportunity to revise their memoirs for an additional five points.

No requirement. No insistence. Just a chance, if they wanted to take it.

The points themselves—they hardly meant a thing to this talented bunch. The chance to return to their work, to their selves—that was the thing. We find the heart of our stories not the first time we write them, not the second time or third. We find the heart of our stories when we begin again, or look again, when we say, Maybe this.

After a long day, after an afternoon of such crushing corporate pressures that I could not go, as I had wanted to, to church, I have read the work of the four students who chose to revise their memoirs.

Two wrote newly, from scratch.

Two amended from within.

Each of them soared. Each of them soars.

I am the proudest prof alive. This is God's goodness to me, on this Good Friday.


then Florinda said (about GOING OVER)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

You know how I'm always talking about Florinda?
(Florinda, Florinda, Florinda)

Well, there she is, all the way across the United States, at the Chronicle Books booth, talking to Lara Starr, Chronicle publicist, about whom I'm also often caught bragging.

The two of them, together. And me here. 

And yet, even though 3,000 miles separate us, Florinda always makes me feel like I'm right there in the room with her. She makes me laugh. She tells me stories. She reads many books. She makes room.

Florinda was a key component in the Going Over blog tour, with her fabulous Q and A. That was (believe me) already going far beyond the call of duty, but yesterday, at the end of an uber long but good day, I received another gift from Florinda: this review of the Berlin book that she'd taken the time not just to read but to ponder.

They are glorious words. I send you straight to her. Some 3,000 miles away from me, which is also the stretch of her smile.

Thank you, Florinda!


Michael Sokolove, Avery Rome, Kelly Writers House, Students: what a day we had

Someday I will find a way to express the (what is the word?) (joy?) that I experienced yesterday as Michael Sokolove, the phenomenally gifted author of Drama High, among other books, and the equally gifted editor, Avery Rome, joined my class and Avery's class at Kelly Writers House on the Penn campus.

Michael read, we talked, we learned, we appreciated.

My students wrote and asked and listened.

It may have been raining like the world was ending yesterday.

But inside our room, we were all just getting a good, fresh start.

Thank you.

In a week or so, a video tape of our conversation and mini workshop will be available. I'll post that link when I have it. Then, at last, you can see for yourself how lucky I am to adjunct at Penn, to work with editors like Avery, and to invite a big-hearted, super writer like Michael into the midst.

Wait until you see.


I forget, often, about the words I've left behind

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

My dear friends Elizabeth Mosier and Chris Mills sent me this photo last night, following their excursion to Radnor Memorial Library.

We writers live in the forest of doubt, or at least this writer does. This photo startled me—this idea of a dear librarian (Pam Sedor) taking the time to locate my books and to place them all on one wall. This idea of a celebration going on while I've been going on elsewhere.

I forget, often, about the words I've left behind. I focus, too often, on what must be done right now, on what isn't done yet.

I neglect to pause. This celebration at Radnor Memorial Library—discovered by friends—is cause for a pause.

We'll be celebrating Going Over at this very Radnor Memorial Library on April 30, 7:30. This will be my only formal reading from the book, and this party is open to all; cake will be served. Please join us.

In the meantime, today, I am celebrating the work of Michael Sokolove and editor Avery Rome at the University of Pennsylvania's Kelly Writers House. My class has read Sokolove's fantastic Drama High. We have questions. We look forward to reflection, to a deep and true conversation.


Immigrant Voices/edited by Achy Obejas and Megan Bayles/Chicago Tribune Review

Monday, April 14, 2014

For the Chicago Tribune I reviewed an extraordinary collection of short stories, Immigrant Voices, edited by Achy Obejas and Megan Bayles.

My thoughts are here.


when we are not writing we are living: the kitchen, five months later, is done

Saturday, April 12, 2014

In San Antonio, on the TAYSHAS panel, Susan Schilling asked what we do when we are not writing.

We are, in our own ways, living.

Nina LaCour remakes whole rooms, top to bottom. Dana Reinhardt pursues the immediate results—the appreciable outcomes—of cooking. Andrew Smith has not, in fifteen years, missed a day of running—wherever he is, wherever he goes, he heads out into the weather. Blake Nelson learns as much as he can (in sometimes funny ways) about people.

When I am not writing (and most of the time, I am not writing), I do many things that I am not particularly good at. Building objects out of clay. Raising seedlings into buds. Dancing the tango with my husband. And, also, sometimes all-consumingly, turning my nearly 100-year-old house into a home.

This past November, I began a quest to refinish my kitchen. To replace the broken things. To up the ante on the colors. To generate new light and life. It was a fraught proposition from the get-go—famously horrific weather, disappointing contractors, a leaking roof, delays, unforeseen expenses.

This morning she stands. Whole at last, complete.

I am, when I am not writing, living.


The Going Over Blog Tour Reprise: Still time to win a copy of the book

To those who followed the blog tour for Going Over, thank you. To those who lent their time and space to the journey, enormous thanks. To Lara Starr, who set this whole thing up before I even knew there would be a blog tour, you rock, girl.

For the questions that were asked, the reviews that were written, the photos that were shared, the generosity of Chronicle Books—for all of it, I will always be grateful

For any of you who missed the links—and the giveaways—they're all here, below. In many cases, there is still time to win both a signed book and an Audible copy.

Savvy Verse and Wit (Review)

Chronicle Books (The Rocking Soundtrack)

My Friend Amy (Review and The first First page)

The Flyleaf Review (Review and beginnings)

The Book Swarm (East Berlin Escapees)

There's A Book (Interview)

YA Romantics (Interview)

Teenreads Blog (Photo Album)

The 3 R's Blog (Interview)

Forever Young Adult (Interview)

Kid Lit Frenzy (Interview)

Tales of the Ravenous Reader (Truth at the core of the novel)

Addicted 2 Novels

All books, finally, must stand on their own. That time has come for Going Over.


San Antonio, Texas librarians, Kind bloggers, Justina Chen, Chronicle Books: all here

Friday, April 11, 2014

If it weren't for Tamra Tuller, there would be no Small Damages, nor would there be the Berlin novel, Going Over. If it weren't for Chronicle Books, I would not have just spent an enriching two days in San Antonio, a city I have longed to see, among Texas librarians, who (rumor has it, and so it seemed to me) are among the very best in all the land.

Were it not for Susan Schilling, I would not have joined Dana Reinhardt, Andrew Smith, Nina LaCour, and Blake Nelson on the footwear spectacular TAYSHAS panel.

Were it not for the Texas Tea, I would have not finally met Justina Chen in person.

Were it not for a certain signing, I would not have found my best elementary school friend standing at the start of a line, waiting for me. Oh, my!!!

Were it not for a Chronicle dinner, I'd not have chilled with talented authors/illustrators K.A. Holt, Jeff Mack, Lizi Boyd, and Molly Idle; guests Renee Sanders, Debbie McComb, Sherri Bell, Ty Burns, Sheila Acosta, and Lynn Butler; and Chronicle stars Tamra Tuller, Sally Kim, Stephanie Wong, Anna-Lisa Sandstrum, and Jaime Wong.

Were it not for San Antonio itself, I would have never seen the Alamo, walked along the river, found my way to a secret cove, or peered into the wax museum.

We owe so much of our happiness to other people and well-loved places.

I am home. I am grateful.

I am grateful, too, to the incredible bloggers who kept the Going Over blog tour alive in my absence. And so, a few days late, I wish to thank:

ForeverYoungAdult, for asking me great graffiti questions, for posting such a beautiful review of the book, and for Tweeting out while I was airplane bound. That's all here.

KidLitFrenzy, for asking fantastic questions about the Going Over research process—and about my favorite indie bookstores. That's here.

Tales of a Ravenous Reader, for letting me talk about truth. That's here.

Like all the bloggers on the Going Over tour, these offer a chance to win a signed book and the audio book, among other things

Lots of gratitudes today.


A new Beth Kephart website; a new 3R's interview — all here, today

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

In the interest of making things a little less complicated, I'm launching a new Beth Kephart website today. It's not as robust as it someday will be. It doesn't sing to you, or dance the tango. But it's a simpler place to find out the Beth facts, and you can visit here.

Also today I'm celebrating my very dear friend, Florinda, who has kindly joined the Going Over blog tour and is hosting this interview with me. Florinda is such a smart (and kind) reader. She is a truly dear soul, someone who means so much to me, as readers of this blog already know. She made an exception on her blog for me, and for this book, and I am so grateful.

Here we get the skinny on the original title for the book, my target readership, and what I want most people to know about this Berlin story. You also get a chance to win a copy of the book.

That's all here.

Thank you, sweet Florinda!


Speaking to my son in the French I never knew I could write

Monday, April 7, 2014


Small Damages arrives, all dressed up like a Parisian! And Teenreads takes you on a tour of Berlin. It's all global today.

From the French publisher La Martiniere and the translator Corinne Julve comes Small Damages, renamed Gipsy Song: Le choix de Kenzie.

Oh my gosh. I love this.

Meanwhile, over at Teenreads, we've got a tour of Beth's Berlin going on. And a Going Over giveaway! Check it out here.


The Pan-Asian Dance Troupe: The World According to Movement

Sunday, April 6, 2014

We could not take photographs until after the show. We simply had to take it in, to be there for it, in the present now.

It was the Pan-Asian Dance Troupe's presentation of "Spirit: The Four Elements." It was Christine Wu, my former student, who had once written, memoiristically, of choreography and dance, and who now stood as troupe president on that stage in all her gorgeous tendernessfiercenessjoyfulnesstalent. In a show that was surprisingly wide-ranging, elevated, clever, classic, and contemporary, Christine and more than two dozen others gave us the world according to movement.

They drove a raucous audience toward congratulatory crazy.

There was "Ti Cao! Morning Exercise," inspired, as the program tells us, "by the early morning fitness routines of Chinese school children." There was the wildly inventive and rhythmic "What Does the Nut Say?," a piece featuring "nuts, coconut bras, and half-naked dudes." There was "Road to a Geisha," which began with the flicker of paper umbrellas and ended with loose hair and Korean hip-hop. There was a stunning water dance that quieted the crowd—water in cups on heads, in cups in hands, in transporting stillness. Big sticks, flashing swords, old-world costumes, long sleeves, diaphanous flags. One striking image, one imaginative dance—and then another and another.

In between these and so many other pieces were glorious film fragments—the big steaming earth, in some footage, flickers of the dancers themselves in the rain, on a bridge, near a pond, by the big doors, even at the ice rink of the Penn campus, in others. There the dancers were, doing martial art. There they were stomping on puddles. There they were doing wickedly fast scratch spins.There they were—costumed and smiling.

To my right, in the pews of Iron Gate Theater, sat the ever-gorgeous Chang, also a former student—an intensely intelligent straight A (so far, she says) engineering student, who once brought me hot chocolate, drew me pictures, and this week remembered my birthday with a gift. To my left sat poet-bio-engineer-er Eric, whose gentle nature belies the brilliance of his academic career. Elsewhere in the pews sat our beautiful, talented, headed-for-a big-writing career Angela. We were there for Christine, we were there for the troupe, we came to see, and oh did we ever.

Christine, the intelligence and quality of your show was not unexpected, coming from you and your troupe, but it was so fully rewarding. Chang, Eric, Angela—thank you for being you. And Katie Goldrath, my Katie of an earlier year, my Katie of the Pennsylvania Gazette story—how wonderful it was to walk with you through the Penn campus and up to Manakeesh, before the show. You are going to make such a huge difference in the lives of others when you graduate with your medical degree. Indeed, you already are.


Talking Tacheles and the Dom with Jen of YA Romantics

The gracious and wonderful Jen Ryland of YA Romantics (who has been so kind to me and to my books) has been busy asking me some very interesting questions and posting a beautiful blog about Going Over and Berlin. She's also offering two signed copies of the book and an audio book to a reader, so please go on over and check her out.

What would have happened if I'd reversed the characters and roles of Stefan and Ada?

Where would I take Stefan and Ada, if they were to the tour the city today?

What were my inspirations?

That and more is there.

Huge thanks to dear Jen.


Who escaped East Berlin? Crayons or Markers? What do walls do? The GOING OVER tour continues

Saturday, April 5, 2014

We are asked many things in this writing life, and sometimes we just plain don't have answers. But when young Turkeybird pulled out his notepad and stared up at me, I gave him everything I had. Answers to questions like:

How do you talk to someone when there's a big wall in the way?

If you were seven what would you read next?

Swings or Slides?

Crayons or Markers?

The entire conversation (and a book giveaway) can be found here, on the site of the utterly lovable super Mom/agent/writer/blogger/friend Danielle Smith of There's a Book. I love many things about Danielle, but love in particular how she's found a way to make her life so whole—her passion for books becoming a passion her children share. Danielle includes her children in the work she does. And there is joy in quantum quantities.

And there's another blogger I'd like to thank today — the very great The Book Swarm, who made room for a brief essay I'd written about those East Berlin escapees who did indeed make it over the wall. That can be found right here, on this deservedly popular blog. Thank you, so much, The Book Swarm!


The Art of the Interview (and Narrative Profiles): thank you, John McPhee

Thank you, John McPhee.

Here I am, set to begin the narrative profile component of English 135.302 at Penn, set, as a matter of fact, to teach the art of the interview this coming Tuesday (this very one), and there you are in the pages of The New Yorker, with your essay "Elicitation."

Your timing, as always, is impeccable.

I am tempted to quote the entire piece back to my students, back to the world. I will honor the rules of borrowing and quote just a tad. Here we go:
Whatever you do, don't rely on memory. Don't even imagine that you will be able to remember verbatim in the evening what people said during the day. And don't squirrel notes in a bathroom—that is, run off to the john and write surreptitiously what someone said back there with the cocktails. From the start, make clear what you are doing and who will publish what you write. Display your notebook like a fishing license.
You can develop a distinct advantage by waxing slow of wit. Evidently, you need help. Who is there to help you but the person who is answering your questions? The result is the opposite of the total shutdown that might have occurred if you had come on glib and omniscient. If you don't seem to get something, the subject will probably help you get it. If you are listening to speech and at the same time envisioning it in print, you can ask your question again, and again, until the repeated reply will be clear in print. Who is going to care if you seem dumber than a cardboard box? Reporters call that creative bumbling.
In two weeks, Michael Sokolove will come to Penn and speak to my class as well as the students now being taught by my friend Avery Rome about this interviewing thing. He'll talk as well about his exceptional book, Drama High. John McPhee, you've given us more to ponder. And I (as I always am with you) am grateful.


Grasshopper Jungle/Andrew Smith: Reflections

Friday, April 4, 2014

Andrew Smith.

They talk about him. They say, He's one of the smartest guys in the room. They say, He's one of the most charming. They say, Have you read? You've got to read. Here, they say. Is Grasshopper Jungle.

My friends, I've now had the privilege of reading this bright lime green marvel of a book, too. Plot synopsis, as provided by the flap copy:
In the small town of Ealing, Iowa, Austin and his best friend, Robby, have accidentally unleashed an unstoppable army. An army of horny, hungry, six-foot-tall praying mantises that only want to do two things.

This is the truth. This is history.

It's the end of the world. And nobody knows anything about it.

You know what I mean.
There, in those lines, is the confident craziness of the scheme, the rhythm of the tale, the sounds-convincingly-like-a-teen-but-is-written-by-a-guy-who-studied-Political-Science,-Journalism,-and-Literature-at-college-ness. This book is big, jammed with the promised promiscuity, the necessary confusions, and the wild what if's of a world that has turned terrible toxins on itself. One reads to see what will happen next, what can happen next, what these likable, mixed-up, also truly human characters are going to fumble upon next. It's sci fi. It's something else. It's Drew Smith.

Usually I quote from the pages of the stories themselves. But I just read the final final words, which happen to sit in the acknowledgments. There's a paragraph I really like, I really get, I really jive with. There's a paragraph that reminds all writers everywhere of how so much of our lives is predicated on finding just the right reader at the right time. Drew Smith now has a world full of readers. But this book all began with an agent who cared.
About two years ago, I decided to stop writing. Well, to be honest, not the verb writing, but I decided to get out of the business aspect of it, for which I have absolutely no backbone. I never felt so free as when I wrote things that I believed nobody would ever see. Grasshopper Jungle was one of those things. It was more-or-less fortune, then, that I happened to show the first portion of the novel to my friend Michael Bourret. He talked me into not quitting.
I'll be joining Drew Smith as well as Nina LaCour, Black Nelson, and Dana Reinhardt on the Tayshas Reading List and Authors next Thursday in San Antonio, TX. I can't wait to meet all the panelists and our moderator. Maybe we'll see you there.


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.


The Flyleaf Review, the book that almost didn't happen, jaw to the floor

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Many moons and books ago, someone sent me a link to The Flyleaf Review. Read this, the linker said. Words about Small Damages. Words about Spain. Words by this exquisite reader/writer.

Oh. My.

Sometimes, when I was writing Going Over, I would think about this Heather of Flyleaf. Wonder what she would think of this Berlin story. Wonder if I would disappoint her. Wonder. Publishing a book is, in the end, such a personal thing. It is only, ever, reader by reader.

Weeks ago, Heather surprised me with a Twitter link. She'd read Going Over. She'd found this most amazing Wall-Love photo. She'd had thoughts. She'd shared them. She had taken so much time and care in assembling those thoughts, and she had so deeply moved me, and then she said, But wait. Come April, there will be more.

How do these bloggers—all of these incredibly generous bloggers—find or make the time to be so thoughtful about books, to share so many ideas, to join the writer in the process of going back in time, or deep into a story?

I do not know. But today Heather teaches me many things about Berlin, showcases new images of the Wall, posts the fabulous Chronicle links, offers a giveaway, and shares a small piece of writing that I did about the book that nearly wasn't.

It's all here. And I'm in awe.


Dear Teen Me, Grown-up Pottery Love, and Going Over/Dr. Radway Kindness

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Oh, those beautiful pottery ladies. There I was, minding my own clay business, when I saw Karen the Good, who also goes by Queen of Wayne, sneak by. What is that lady doing? I wondered, then went back to trying to figure out how to make my latest project stable.

The next time I looked up, the ladies had gathered around and they were singing. They were singing a birthday song.

How I love them all.

(Bill, the honorary pottery lady, took the photo of the group, but I love him, too.)

So a huge thank you to my friends, and to Karen, for remembering—and for singing—so poignantly well. And the timing is—well—something else, for just this morning I had been remembering a surprise party my mother had thrown for me when I was sixteen years old. Somehow she'd gotten Jim Clancy, Radnor High basketball star, to my basement, along with ice skaters and other friends. I had not had the slightest inkling that something was in the works. I miss my mother on many days, and always on my birthday, and there were the ladies, on this day, stepping in.

So who was the teen me? I write of her here, on Dear Teen Me, today. The piece begins like this:

You do not have to be good. You don’t have to try so hard. You don’t have to stay so very still inside that box that you have built up for yourself.

Life is meant for living.

On a day in which so much kindness overflows that I hardly know what to do, or how many ways I can say thank you, I share these beautiful things as well:

Shelf Awareness shared the Going Over trailer as the Trailer of the Day, here.

Sarah Laurence reviewed Going Over so incredibly beautifully here.

And Melissa Firman very kindly makes room for, and says such nice things about, Dr. Radway's Sarsaparilla Resolvent, here.


lots of thanks, and My Friend Amy (warrior with wings)

The Jewish Museum, designed by Daniel Libeskind, in Berlin
First, I need to say thank you to everyone who made my birthday such a bright yesterday. My birthday-birthday, and my book birthday. The weather was surreal-ly sweet. The daffodils bloomed. I got the client project done in the nick of time. My students were their perfect student selves. My husband brought roses. A friend drove a long way to leave me with a glamorous basket of pansies. My brother played the birthday song, my brother-in-law was all sweetness, my mother-in-law sang. There were hummingbirds and William Kotzwinkle and Kelly Simmons just about did me in with words I swear I'm gonna frame.

I had crab cake.

I had dessert.

My son called—his voice the color of the day, his stories the kind that kept me smiling, late, in the dark of the night.

I know what, and for whom, to be grateful. And I am.

Today, I am, again, grateful for Tamra Tuller and Chronicle Books and the release of Going Over, and for all of you who sent notes or Twittered or Facebooked or just plain kept me company during the release. Thank you for letting me know about the starred review in Shelf Awareness. Thank you for sending along the extremely kind BookPage review. 

Last evening, Chronicle Books kicked off the blog tour (following Serena Agusto-Cox's earlier blog kindness) with some words I wrote about music, writing, and Berlin, in a post that begins like this, below, and carries forward here:
At the age of nine, on a Boston pond, I launched my (oh so very minor) ice-skating career. Twirls. Edges. Leaps. Falls.

Shortly thereafter (the precise day and hour escape me now), I began to write. Lyric flourishes. Running lines. Suspended disbelief. Revisions.

Music and story. They’re the same thing, right? Sentences are melodies. Plots are choreography.  The silence in between the lines is wish and wisk.
Today My Friend Amy, who has, for almost forever, truly been My Friend Amy, is continuing that blog tour. A book warrior with wings, I'll call her, who has accompanied me through so much of my writing journey, who has always mattered deeply, who spent some time reading Going Over, writes the sweetest words, and is offering a copy of the book to one of her readers, all of which is happening here.


GOING OVER and Audible. On launch day I listen to another read my words.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

And so, after so much pre—pre-pub, pre-launch, pre-anxiety—Going Over goes out into the world today.

This morning, for the first time, I listened to Jessica Almasy read the story—brilliantly!—for Audible.

It had been many years and many books since I heard another read my words, and it is startling, truly startling. Someone else, I thought as I listened, wrote this story.

Thank you, Jessica Almasy. This could not have been easy to do. I learned from you, from listening to you.

The Audible edition can be found here. I highly encourage you to find it.

For more about the book, for a look at early reviews, for a link to a free download-able sample, and for another look at that terrific Chronicle-produced book trailer, please visit here. To bop along to some 1980s music as you do, please visit the Going Over Playlist. 

In the days to come I'll be linking to the bloggers who are kindly hosting interviews and my guest posts. Today (later) we will begin at home, with Chronicle Books.

Chronicle Books
 "Music in Our Bones"

My Friend Amy
"The first (first) page"

The Flyleaf Review
"It might not have happened: the beginnings of GOING OVER"

The Book Swarm
"East Berlin Escapees"

There's A Book

YA Romantics

Teenreads Blog
"The Berlin photo album"

The 3 R's Blog

Forever Young Adult

Kid Lit Frenzy

Tales of the Ravenous Reader
"At the Core of the Novel: Truth"

Addicted 2 Novels
"The naming of GOING OVER"


Boy, Snow, Bird: Helen Oyeyemi/Reflections

Monday, March 31, 2014

So many unread books stacked on my floors, on my shelves, on the couch, and still I bought a new one—Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi. I blame Porochista Khakpour's review in The New York Times. It was smart; it was seductive.

And so is this book. The story of a run-away, a rat-catcher's daughter (her name is Boy), who arrives in a place called Flax Hill, marries a widower with a fair daughter named Snow, and discovers, when she gives birth to a girl she calls Bird, that the family she has married into has masqueraded all along: they are light-skinned African Americans. The fair, sweet Snow has (unwittingly) allowed this family to live their lie, to hide, to elegantly pretend. Boy will have none of that–or of Snow—once the darker-skinned Bird arrives. Snow is banished. Bird grows up. Weird things happen with spiders, with storytellers, with (but of course) mirrors.

Boy, Snow, Bird must be trusted. Its readers must relinquish their hold. Don't try to guess where this is going. Don't look for Dopey. Don't think Oyeyemi is actually going to chant "Mirror, Mirror on the wall." Don't read thinking that this is all about race or all about fairytales, because it's bigger and more wild than that. Boy, Snow, Bird is brand-new country. It's a young writer (Oyeyemi is not yet thirty but already a veteran of publishing) inventing her own kind of fiction. Her sentences and images, often, are beguiling. Here is Bird, imagining herself in a spiderweb hat:
No, a spiderweb hat is a better warning to beware. Bird would look out from under this hat with the watchful eyes of a girl from long ago, each pupil an unlit lamp, waiting for the magic ring to be rubbed, for the right words to be said. She'd give a lot to know why she and her mom have those eyes—the eyes of people who come from someplace strange they can never go back to. Bird and her mom and that servant-of-the-lamp look they go around giving people. Bird can't think of a single excuse for it.
More and more, I think, we are seeing writers who are willing to go to the edge, to carry us forward, to take daring risks, to suggest that we set aside our expectations and follow along. We see critics embracing the brave and tangled; we see other readers not so sure. There are new fractures breaking in the land of literature. Personally, I'll always be grateful for the sure-footed flights of fancy that abound in books like Boy, Snow, Bird.


A World Without Walls? and A Most Generous Launch of the Going Over Blog Tour

This is the 25th anniversary year of the fall of the Berlin Wall—an anniversary that is being commemorated with lights, balloons, exhibitions, proposals of hope. And yet, in so many places, for so many different reasons, we remain a world divided.

I write of those contradictions, those residual fears, in today's Publishing Perspectives, in a piece that begins like this:
We live in a world of infinite gradations and restless infiltrations. We live in a world of checkpoints, watchtowers, walls. We are free to go, or we are not. We are here, but never entirely there. We are fenced in or fenced out. We are on the move (some 232 million around the world left one country for another in 2013, according to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs) or we are hunkered down—stuck—behind a fortress of distance-making words: “Aliens.” “Illegals.”

We are global.

We are divided.

... and continues here.

My hope, today, is that you'll find time to read this piece and, if you are so moved, to share it.

My hope, too, is that you will send Miss Serena Agusto-Cox, most faithful and intelligent reader and writer, all kinds of yellow-tulip thoughts, for she has written such kind words about Going Over and soft launched the blog tour with all kinds of goodies, including the offer of a free book to one reader. You can find the whole thing here. I share, below, Serena's final words about the book:
Kephart’s Going Over is stunning, and like the punk rock of the 80s, it strives to stir the pot, make readers think, and evoke togetherness, love, and even heartbreak — there are lessons in each.
 Thank you.


world in crisis

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Missing airliners. Earthquakes. Mudslides. Snow in Washington, DC. A loved one driving through snow to Washington, DC. Rising sea levels. Russian tankers. Crimea losing/gaining two hours of time. People in desperate need. Terrible inequalities. People who cannot help themselves.

And the rain. And the rain.

I find myself overwhelmed with concern.

How do we fix this world?

How do we save it?

I have nothing.

I say, only: Peace. Love. Hope. I am thinking of you.


the gift of yellow on a gray day

Saturday, March 29, 2014

(just saying)


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.


oh, my! headed to Texas to do time with Nina LaCour, Andrew Smith, Blake Nelson, Dana Reinhardt, and the Good TAYSHAS and Texas Teens and Texas Tea Folks

Friday, March 28, 2014

I love when this sort of thing pops up on Facebook. Me and the Real Writers. Headed to Texas. Here's the caption, in case you are going to be near:

Join Nina LaCour, Andrew Smith, Blake Nelson, Dana Reinhardt, and Beth Kephart for Tayshas Reading List & Authors on Thurs, April 10th, 10am in 103 AB, Street Level at #txla14

I'll be at other events as well, in dear San Antonio with dear Chronicle. My schedule:

April 9:
Going Over Book Signing

April 10:
Texas Teens 4 Libraries (TT4L) ARC signing
Grand Hyatt Hotel

PANEL: “Tayshas Reading List and Authors”
Moderator Susan Schilling, Chair, Tayshas Committee 2012-2013

Texas Tea with YA Authors

Good Glory. I'm going to also make some time for some barbeque, even if that occurs at 4 AM in the morning. All thanks to Tayshas, Texas Teens 4 Libraries, Texas Tea, and Chronicle Books!


The GOING OVER Blog Tour: It's Gonna be Grand

Thursday, March 27, 2014

I have Lara Starr of Chronicle Books and a number of super generous bloggers to thank for the upcoming blog tour of Going Over, which will launch on April 1. I know how much time it takes to write a blog, to post it, to monitor the comments. I can only imagine how much work this was for Lara. And so I am deeply indebted to both these bloggers who said yes and to Lara who extended the invitation, then coordinated the event.

Here's the line-up. I've written a number of personal and historical pieces to accompany the tour, and some of the bloggers have asked me wonderful questions. My hope is that, by tour's end, you'll know more about Berlin, more about my Ada and Stefan, more about how I write and why, and more about the music that shaped this tale.You'll also know a little more about my editor, Tamra Tuller, to whom the book is dedicated.

For more about the book, for a look at early reviews, for a link to a free download-able sample, and for another look at that terrific Chronicle-produced book trailer, please visit here.

And if you want to bop along to some 1980s music as you do, please visit the Going Over Playlist.

Chronicle Books
 "Music in Our Bones"

My Friend Amy
"The first (first) page"

The Flyleaf Review
"It might not have happened: the beginnings of GOING OVER"

The Book Swarm
"East Berlin Escapees"

There's A Book

YA Romantics

Teenreads Blog
"The Berlin photo album"

The 3 R's Blog

Forever Young Adult
"The naming of GOING OVER"

Kid Lit Frenzy

Tales of the Ravenous Reader
"At the Core of the Novel: Truth"

Addicted 2 Novels
"Final day of our blog journey"


I had a messed-up dream, and GOING OVER is available as a free Kindle download sampler

There I was, just the other day, extolling the virtues of sleep. Last night, the durned beast was elusive (to say the least) and when I did finally fall away, I had one heck of a dream.

Let's just say that I was shoeless (how cliche!) and poorly dressed (of course I was) and standing before an unruly crowd about ready to speak (they had NO interest whatsoever in what I had to say) and — well — I'd forgotten my speech. Not only that, I'd forgotten the topic of my speech. Not only that, but when the guy introduced me, I could not imagine who he was, how he knew me, or what town I was in.

And there I stood. Speak! Speak!

Such is the messed-up mind of the author who is about to launch a book.

Thank goodness, therefore, that the incredible team at Chronicle Books has my back. That it keeps doing these wow things—like making a trailer, like running a blog fest (more on that soon), like (and I just found out about this yesterday, thank you, Ali Presley, Kristina Jutzi, and Sally Kim!) offering a download-able sample of the book for free.

So if you are on the fence about Going Over (oh dear, how cliche!), please check out the free sampler here. It won't cost you a dime. And maybe, by the time you see me next, I'll be able to speak.


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