Thanking you for being there, in the nick of time

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

"Look," my brother said.  "Catch her now, with the light."  And my camera wasn't ready and maybe I wasn't either, but I snapped the picture in the nick of time.  The girl is smiling.  Her kite is aloft.

Early this morning I finished writing the first draft of a book and I was happy—writing makes me feel that way.  By noon, however, my mood had turned.  I'd received some news.  I was deeply distressed.  I felt something break within.

I did something I so rarely do; I reached out to my friends.  I said, What can I do?  I said, Can you help me?  And goodness flooded in.  This, then, is the lesson of this day—the thing that I will remember.  Not the heartbreak—not that—but the goodness in its wake.  The kite that still soars.  The girl that still smiles.  The blue sky that filters in after the storm.

I am in your debt.


Dr. Radway's Sarsaparilla Resolvent (and other fun things)

After playing a much-needed bit of hooky at the Jersey shore yesterday (not that Jersey Shore, believe me), I came home, woke early, and wrote the final pages of Dr. Radway's Sarsaparilla Resolvent, the Dangerous Neighbors prequel.  I rarely write with a book's closing pages in mind.  This time, always, I knew where I was headed.  I've printed the whole thing out now and will take it to a quiet place to read.  But since I have reworked all thirty-three chapters (save the last one) at least a dozen times each, I think I'm in a pretty good place.

This, of course, is William's story—that boy who rescues animal for a living and, in 1876, in the pages of Dangerous Neighbors, befriends Katherine during one terrifying day at the Centennial.  The year this time in 1871, and a primary scene takes place in the room above.

I have loved every single second of researching and writing this story.  I cannot wait to share it with the world.

In the meantime, I've got corporate work to do and, thanks to the number of schools that seem to be assigning my Juarez novel, The Heart Is Not a Size, to their students, I'm about to put together a teacher's guide for that book.  It is extraordinary—and extremely reassuring—that books do find their way in this world, even if we're not entirely sure how to help them get there.


My famous brother juggling (a 21 second beach video)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

(I come from a tres talented family.  obviously.)
(thanks to J, D, and O for a memorable day in Stone Harbor)


Small Damages: The Jersey Shore Excerpt

Monday, August 29, 2011

Tomorrow morning, I'll take care of a little business, wrap up the final chapter of my Dangerous Neighbors prequel, and then pick up my father for a Jersey shore adventure; we're going for the day to visit my brother and his family.  It's a spur of the moment thing, but not really—my family has been visiting Stone Harbor for as long as I can remember.  Here, in fact, is my brother, sister, and me.  I don't know why, but I always loved that red suit and its fashionable collar.

I have spoken about Small Damages, due out from the incredibly terrific Tamra Tuller of Philomel next summer, as my Seville novel, and that is true; much of it takes place within a cortijo outside the city, and memories of the Spanish Civil War are resonant and haunting.  But Small Damages is built on flashbacks, too, some of which reach back to a certain Philadelphia suburb and the nearby shore.

I am thinking about tomorrow as I post this excerpt, then.  I am thinking about all the memories I have that led me toward this passage:

Ellie is wearing her same orange bikini from the ninth grade. She’s slicing the beach air with her skinny bones. She’s the first thing you see, across the wooden planks, over the sand dunes.
You don’t see ocean or umbrellas or sock kites let up into the sky. You see Ellie—the dark black fringe of her hair, the Popsicle orange of her bikini, the bright Barney flip-flops on her feet. You see the spinning disk of the flopped gold hat she’s been wearing since she was twelve. You see Ellie, beach artist, carving out her sculpture of the day, finding her spot at the high-tide line, where the sand goes from wet dark to light. She tests her mix, crumbles fistfuls, gets the sand all clumped together. “Oh, my precious mortar sand,” she says, and she shovels that sand out and piles it high, digging trenches all around so that she can win against the sea, and making you guess, making you wait, and you go out into the ocean and sleep on your raft, or you play horseshoes and Frisbee or toss, or you fall asleep beneath the tent of a paperback book, and all along, Ellie is working on her sculpture, like it is the most important thing there ever was, like she will never ever have to decide what to do with a baby she didn’t expect to have too soon.

“I need clamshells,” Ellie says. “I need those little twiggy sticks.” Whatever. Ellie is a sand sculpture rock star—carving out sand cars you can practically drive, packing out mini roller coasters, tattooing the beach with these funny cartoon faces, and going at it all afternoon. You can never leave the beach until Ellie is done. You can never see what is coming. You will never know where her ideas came from, or how she figures out the physics of the sand.


You Are My Only, the book, arrives

It flew through hurricane-force winds to get here, and I didn't see it coming.  But You Are My Only (Laura Geringer Books: Egmont USA) is a real book now, beautifully encased and designed.  It will be out on shelves on October 25th, but can be found for pre-order at Amazon and other e-retailers between now and then. 


Book Blogger Appreciation Week: An Honor and, yes, an Appreciation

Now that the Book Bloggers Appreciation Week long-list nominees have been announced, I want to thank the organizers of this event and the cast of nominators for placing Beth Kephart Books into consideration for best Published Author Blog alongside the blogs of Maggie Stiefvater, Veronica Roth, and Beth Revis. I am honored to share this platform with them.  I also celebrate those who have been nominated in categories ranging from Best Audiobook Blog and Classics Book Blog to Kidlit Book Blog, Historical Fiction Book Blog, Literary Fiction Book Blog, and Young Adult Book Blog, among others. I encourage you all to take a look at the lists and to visit those blogs to which you have not already traveled.

Those bright lights who organize this event do it for no other reason than to celebrate those who are passionate about reading and books.  Where, I ask you, would we be without them?


The Buddha in the Attic/Julie Otsuka: Reflections

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hurricane Irene has now become a pelting force.  I have been reading Julie Otsuka's The Buddha in the Attic in its dark and fearsome shadow.  I'm not entirely sure how long I will have power, and there is much I'd like to say.  But for now, and briefly, I want to share this with those of you in the still-electrified regions of our country:  Julie Otsuka (the author of the contemporary classic (and one of my favorite books) When the Emperor was Divine) writes important books.  Deeply penetrating, remarkably researched, wholly intimate miniature novels that aren't novels at all, perhaps, but something else—urgent evocations, perhaps, or searing incantations.

Otsuka's focus, in Buddha, is on the young Japanese women who arrived by boat shortly after World War I to meet the men they had agreed to marry and to begin lives that would never be the lives that they'd imagined.  They are taken, many of them roughly, to bed.  They are put to work in farms or in the houses of the rich.  They bear children and they lose children and they have favorites among their children, and their children will grow up with an American sound and smell, with attitude and shame.  When the next war begins, these lives will be savaged once again by the American paranoia that led to the building of the Japanese intern camps.

I keep saying "they" and "these" because this is a story told in the third-person plural.  A we came, we did, we loved, we lost, we hoped, we were taken from tale. That may sound like a peculiar story-telling choice, and indeed, it does, in places, box Otsuka in, forcing a sameness of sentence superstructure, as well as a sameness of variation from that superstructure.  "On the boat we were mostly virgins," she begins, continuing: 
We had long black hair and flat wide feet and we were not very tall.  Some of us had eaten nothing but rice gruel as young girls and had slightly bowed legs, and some of us were only fourteen years old and were still young girls ourselves.
Can you sustain a book with a third-person plural?  Can you make it matter?  In this slender book, Otsuka does by offering a suite of detail-saturated, devastating chapters with titles like "Come, Japanese!," "First Night," "Whites," "Babies," and "Traitors."  Only the last chapter, "A Disappearance," gives voice to the Americans who wonder, in the wake of the Japanese evictions, where their neighbors, school mates, grocery store clerks, maids have gone. 

The rain is a sleeting as I type this.  The news warns of apocalyptic floods, of communities remade, of evacuations; it tells of children already lost to the thunder crash of trees.  I read Buddha against this backdrop.  I was moved toward a deep sadness for lives long ago lost. 


Here, now

(and in so many other places)


The calm before this storm

Yesterday, while 65 million people were reminded that they were in the path of Irene, this terrible storm, we drove north with our son toward his final year of school—past dairy farms and winding creeks, silos, horses, backpackers.  It was an eerie lull, and despite utterly clear skies and bright light, the tension—at the rest stop, on the roads—was palpable.  Move-in was easy; we are veterans by now.  Our son has three terrific roommates and a full slate of fascinating-sounding classes and producer work at the school's TV station.  Saying good-bye is never easy, but by 8 P.M., we were making the long way home.

The roads were jammed.  The traffic that you on the west coast have read of was real.  I woke this morning at dawn to screen images of Irene's wrath but not a drop of rain here, only that warning:  it will come.

I have done nothing to prepare for this storm.  Am out of gas, money, and food, and the deck chairs still sit right out there, on the deck.  I'm off now to do those things I should have yesterday done, and then to drive the half hour down the road, in the early moments of the storm, to join those authors who can come for the PAYA festival, a PA library fundraiser beginning at 11 AM at 1585 Paoli Road, on which Skyanne has worked so hard.  I'll be home by two, and then I'm battening those hatches down.  I've got a friend's book-in-progress to read, The Bird House and The Buddha in the Attic on the iPad, 3,000 words left to write of my own novel.  I am sending love and prayers to all those whose lives will be changed by Miss Irene.  Sending hope out to my country.

I will be back if the power stays on, and if it doesn't, I'll be back after that.


The Map of My Dead Pilots/Colleen Mondor: Celebration (and Reflections)

Friday, August 26, 2011

I was in Atlantic City a few years back when a friend sent a short note my way.  There was a blogger, she said, whom I had to read—a smart one, a respected one, who was out there talking about something I'd written.  When I followed the link, Chasing Ray, the brainchild of blogger Colleen Mondor, came into mini focus on my Blackberry screen. 

I already knew of Chasing Ray, of course I did; most anyone out here in the land of book blogging does.  Colleen has always called it as she's seen it.  She has waded in toward the important stuff, taken a stand, defended it.  She has fought on behalf of books for boys, on behalf of nonfiction, on behalf of libraries, on behalf of greater transparency in cover art, on behalf of books she has believed in, on behalf of memory. 

I have followed Colleen's blog for a long time now, and so I thought I knew her.  But this morning I finished reading an advanced copy of Colleen's first book, The Map of My Dead Pilots:  The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska (Lyons Press), and I find myself exhilarated by all that I didn't know, had not imagined. This is the story of the four years Colleen spent running Operations for a bush commuter in Fairbanks, Alaska.  It's about the planes that rose and fell, the pilots that went missing, the cargo no one would believe.  It's about defying the odds, the weather, the smash wall of mountains until those things rise up and speak and refuse to be defied.  It's about vanishing, about vanishing's speed.  It's about a daughter who loses her father too soon and who, in the end, writes stories down in search of some salvation.

It's a memoir, but it's a chorus.  It's a we and a them on the rhythmic order of Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, a book that brings us into itself (and keeps us there, utterly absorbed) with opening passages like this:
The things they had to know were endless.  From their first day flying for the Company, they filled their heads with facts and figures of length and distance, knowledge of rivers and mountains, the locations of a hundred landmarks, or a thousand.  They learned when it was safe to drop down through the clouds, when they might continue forward, when they must turn right or left, when they absolutely had to turn back.  They made sure sled dogs were tied on short leases because one of them would jump on another and cause a fight at the worst possible time.  They understood why they needed to strap down dead bodies extra tight after Frank Hamilton had one slip free on takeoff....

No one liked flying with bodies.
I said this was a memoir, and it is, but it's that other kind of memoir—the kind in which the author is not the heroine, but the webber, the weaver, the voice for those who are no longer here to tell their own stories.  That is not to suggest that there's any distance here, a single line that feels academic (though it has all been magnificently researched) or at emotive remove.  Colleen's passion for those days and those people, her intimate knowing, is galvanizing.  She's tough, and she's been toughened; she rarely puts her own self center stage. But when she appears, when she tells us something personal, the stories stick and matter.

So that this book has great affecting power and it also, I kept thinking, has all the stuff that would make for one heck of a great television series.  Why hasn't anyone thought of this before—to set a series down in a place like Alaska, to cast a bunch of crazy pilots, to write scripts around the cargo that they fly?  This has HBO all over it.  This has wings.  To anyone on the hunt for good script material, for award-winning scenes, I give you this example of many from Colleen Mondor's truly compelling debut, The Map of My Dead Pilots: 
And that's it.  That's what a real mercy flight is like up here. You have two nuns who won't give up their seats for a girl who ODs to go to the state fair for free and a mother who screams all the way that her baby is dying and then has a mini-vacation with her on the Tilt-a-Whirl as a reward for getting scared half to death.


The Forgotten Waltz/Anne Enright: Reflections

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Readers will be of different minds about Anne Enright's newest novel, The Forgotten Waltz (W.W. Norton).  Those who loved her Booker Prize winning The Gathering—who couldn't stop dreaming it, thinking it, worrying it—will feel at home inside the sprawling intelligence and dead-on ache of this new book.  Those who seek the undergirding of a plotted beginning, middle, and end will perhaps clamor for more undergirding. I happen to fall firmly within the former camp.  Anne Enright thrills me.  Her audacity does.  Her utter, sometimes even wicked command of the interplay between people who are, let's face it, not entirely true to either themselves or to each other.  Which means they are just like the rest of us.

Book summaries pain me.  I never see that as my job.  I limit my responsibilities here to evocations—to letting you know how I felt when I read, and as I read The Forgotten Waltz I felt, from the very first, taken in, absorbed, urgent in my need to know, to read more deeply in.  I felt alive to Gina Moynihan, Enright's narrator, who is looking back, in a season of snow, on the mystery and ruin of an adulterous affair.  The affair hasn't proceeded well; we know this from the start.  It has destroyed two marriages, put houses up for sale, and haunted a child who was not altogether well to begin with.  Maybe it was all irresistible.  Was it?  But who is better off in the end?

This a novel that slides back and forth over time and disclosure, through love and accusation, in and out of jobs and hotel rooms, between Ireland and elsewhere.  It is a novel that seems to be about one thing then shifts toward another, a novel that doesn't entirely give up the logic of its title.  This is a novel, in other words, that doesn't presume the arrogance of a set-aside, easily cataloged or marketed theme.  Enright creates voices.  She moves them across the page.  They digress, they attack, they submit, they desire, they turn the story on its head, they whisper, they groan.  They rail against reason.  They want to be reasoned with.  And never—never once—do they concede.

Here's Gina speaking:

I feel that the world might be better if it was run by girls who are nearly twelve, the ability they have to be fully moral and fully venal at the same time.  Capitalism would certainly thrive.

Here is the passage that I believe explains the workings of this book.  The workings, perhaps, of Enright's brilliant and irreducible mind:

When I was twelve or so, I used to practise astral flying—it must have been a fashion then.  I lay on my back in bed, and when I was fully heavy, too heavy to move, I got up, in my mind, and left the house.  I went down the stairs and out the front door. I walked or I drifted along the street. If I wanted to, I flew.  And I imagined, or I saw, every single detail of the passing world; every fact about the hall of the stairs and the street beyond.  The next day I would go out to look for things I had noticed, for the first time, the night before.  And I found them, too.  Or thought I had.
For an interview that I later conducted with Anne Enright, please click here.


Celebrating The Playgroup, a novella by Elizabeth Mosier

Anyone who knows Elizabeth Mosier knows at least these things: 

She has a fine, discerning mind, an almost unearthly ability to read into a book just precisely what the author meant to place there, even if there's still fuzz around the work's edges.

She is an extraordinary teacher, beloved by her students, who remain her friends for years and years.

She is a very fine mother of two exquisite young ladies, and a thrower of parties that are forever fondly remembered.

She is there for you.  She is there for us.  She makes room in her life for others.

That is why those of us who are lucky to be Elizabeth's friends are so very excited for her that The Playgroup, a novella, is just now being released by the Gemma Open Door Foundation which, in the words of the North American Series Editor Brian Bouldry, "provides fresh stories, new ideas, and essential resources for young people and adults as they embrace the power of reading and the written word."

I had the great privilege of reading The Playgroup early on in its making. Its language sings and sizzles as it traces the thoughts and fears of a new mother now facing a troubled second pregnancy.  Elizabeth knows how women think and what they actually say; she knows the commerce of young motherhood and the landscape of Arizona.  I can't wait to read the book now in its final form, and I encourage all of you to seek it out.

Brava, Libby.


A You Are My Only excerpt

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"You okay up there?" Arlen calls to me.

"Just fine," I call back. The sun has come up like a squint on the horizon. Most everything we travel by is pink. The glass in the shops. The windshields on cars. The glint flecks in the sidewalks and on the streets.  I haven't seen a cop drive by. I've seen no posters on the trees.  No one and nothing but me and Arlen searching for Baby. We take a ninety-degree angle hard and wobble our way back to a glide. My elbows hurt more than my fingers.

"How about you? You okay?" I call over my shoulder.

"Time is of the essence," Arlen says.

You Are My Only (Laura Geringer Books/Egmont USA), forthcoming October 25, 2011


Anne Enright and The Forgotten Waltz: this is how books should begin

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The worst thing about being so caught up in finishing your own book (I am, I think, 5,000 words shy of a complete Dangerous Neighbors (Egmont USA) prequel) is that when you steal time away for literature (away from your job, away from your duties, away from the laundry), you can't steal enough time for the work of others.

But two days ago, I downloaded my first NetGalley advanced reading copy—The Forgotten Waltz by the truly brilliant, often disturbing, completely original Anne Enright. I'm only thirty pages in. I'll be doing a full report here (as well as an interview with Ms. Enright, come October).  But on this gloriously weathered day, might I just suggest that this, these opening lines, is how books should begin.  The voice is true and firm and daring. There is no barrier between writer and reader. Present is past and past is present, and who doesn't want to know what has happened?

i met him in my sister's garden in Enniskerry. That is where I saw him first.  There was nothing fated about it, though I add in the late summer light and the view.  I put him at the bottom of my sister's garden, in the afternoon, at the moment the day begins to turn.  Half five maybe.  It is half past five on a Wicklow summer Sunday when I see Sean for the first time.  There he is, where the end of my sister's garden becomes uncertain.

You want to know what I like in books?  I like this.


Figures of Speech, a poem revisited

In the early years of this blog, when I was writing and posting poems, I posted this one.  It has become, over the years, one of the most visited posts on my blog; the vast majority of those who seek the page hail from the Philippines.  Because "Figures of Speech," about the young man now headed off for his senior year of college, is still essentially true, I revisit it this afternoon. 

Sometimes just a few white saucers will float down from the sky
and I want to wake you. Snow, I might say. Open your eyes.
Or somebody funny standing on a corner will, apropos of nothing,
throw a jigsaw dance, and I want to instruct, Now there’s a scene
for your next story, as if you were not already
looking through windows.

That’s the hardest part, for me, of getting old — remembering
your independence, asking your opinion before lamenting mine,
understanding that the way I happen to chase hawks at dawn
is something you’ve already made excuses for.

There were years of being your mother when your childhood
was the first childhood, when time was you trailing balloons,
the hat you wore, the afternoon we climbed the rocks in Maine
and squinted at the sun, and that was how I learned love and why
I could not foresee not waking you to snow,
to the first factor in a suburban metaphor.

Time isn’t then anymore. You leave when you want to,
you sing behind your door, you paper the table
with the morning’s news, and in the spaces in between
the instances you spend with me, I am assaulted by the memories
of my own first childhood. I calculate figures of speech at dawn.
I write until I bless us both with losses.


Small Damages: The first words from Rita Williams-Garcia and Kathryn Erskine

Monday, August 22, 2011

Those of you who have followed this blog know how graced I have been to enter the Philomel fold and to look forward, with editor Tamra Tuller and Philomel, to the publication of Small Damages next summer.  More about this Seville-inspired book can be found here.  But for the moment, I would like simply to thank the extraordinarily talented and generous authors Rita Williams-Garcia and Kathryn Erskine, who are the first to read this book in its final (gorgeously designed) galley form, beyond the good people at Philomel.  I will always be indebted to them for their words. 

"Small Damages is a wrenching celebration of choice.  To read Kephart is to splendidly dream with both eyes open."

— Rita Williams-Garcia, One Crazy Summer, 2011 Newbery Honor Book and 2011 Coretta Scott King Award Winner

"As this delicate and luscious novel unfolds, the lines are blurred between love and loss, past and present, real and magical, and even life and death."

— Kathryn Erskine, Mockingbird, 2010 National Book Award winner, and The Absolute Value of Mike


Yours truly (and YOU ARE MY ONLY) join the NetGalley community

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Bloggers and reviewers interested in an early read of You Are My Only can now click here for a NetGalley copy.

On another NetGalley note:  Today I officially joined this digital review community by downloading The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright.  Look for my review of this W.W. Norton book and my interview with Miss Enright in the early days of October.


A BBAW Long-List Nomination, a Return to Teaching, and WriteOnCon

Today I drove through what might have been the hardest sustained rainfall I've ever seen.  It had lessened somewhat by the time I got home and (drenched through) took this photograph.  But even as I write this post, the weather remains wild, tumultous, otherworldy.

Also otherworldly is the news today that this very blog, Beth Kephart Books, has been nominated for the long list in the Best Published Author Blog category for the 2011 BBAW Awards.  The complete long lists will be published next week and short lists and winners announced thereafter.  Truly, I am honored.

The BBAW news arrived with the news that I will be teaching Creative Nonfiction 135 once again at the University of Pennsylvania during the 2012 spring semester.  Anyone who reads this blog knows just how much I love the teaching privilege.  I hope to finish work on three books in progress (one of which is about the teaching of memoir) before the semester begins.

Finally, I wanted to share with my blog readers this treasure trove of YA stuff that I discovered only today. If I am late to the WriteOnCon scene, I am sincere in my appreciation for this wealth of insight and experience sharing from such YA writers, agents, and editors as Sara Zarr, Jay Asher, Josh Berk, Steve Malk, and the one and only Book Babe.  I encourage you to take a look.


The 2011 PAYA Festival: Meet some of the area's fine YA writers in West Chester, PA, on August 27

For the second year running, West Chester, PA, will play host to the Bring YA to PA festival—an event that unites young adult authors, bloggers, librarians, and readers on behalf of the young adult library collections and services in Pennsylvania libraries. Writers like Josh Berk, Keri Mikulski, Ellen Jenson Abbott, and Sarah Darer Littman will be offering a writer's workshop starting at 10 A.M.  Authors like A.S. King, April Linder, and Chelsea Swiggett will be attending.  And because I'm lucky (and just slipped in under the wire) I will be there, too, joining in the fun and celebration.

The 2011 PAYA Festival will be held on Saturday, August 27, at 1585 Paoli Pike, West Chester, PA, with the workshop running from ten to noon, and clustered author signings getting underway shortly thereafter (thanks to Children's Book World).  I know that I'm looking forward to it. It would be fun to meet you there.


Writing toward teen boys—the conversation continues

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A week or so ago, I posted a video by a bright young reader who was contemplating the How do we get teen boys to read more? question.  This weekend, the New York Times is pondering that matter as well, with this video conversation between Rick Riordan, James Patterson, and Pamela Paul, as well as this Robert Lipsyte essay.

Good teachers and interested parents understand that the best cure for reluctant readers lies in identifying the right book for the right readers—easily said, but not always easily done.  I had a hard time myself finding just the right books for my own son (a concern I explored in my memoir Seeing Past Z: Nurturing the Imagination in a Fast-Forward World), and even today, given a choice, this hardworking, curious, academically motivated, generous-hearted kid of mine leans away from books toward other media—except when writing his own stories.  It's then that he professes himself most eager to see what others do, and he's especially eager to read the work of his contemporaries—his classmates, published young authors—finding most relevance and meaning in the stories they tell. 

I spend a lot of time thinking about the relevance of my own work. I don't write toward trends, don't capitalize on them, and I'm rather ill-suited for a world like the one that Lipsyte describes in his essay, in which one Harper executive noted (in 2007) that "at least three-quarters of her target audience were girls, and they wanted to read about mean girls, gossip girls, fenemies and vampires."  I have none of that in me.  I would not know where to begin. 

But I can write more inclusively, and I am working on that now, paying closer attention to the male characters in my stories, listening and leaning toward them.  Now at work, as many of you know, on a book peopled by teen boys in late 19th century Philadelphia—a murdered, good-hearted thief, his animal-rescuing brother, and a rising careerist with journalism in his future—I find myself exhilarated by the self-generated task of writing a book of redemption and adventure that has at its center conflicted, complex young men.  Dr. Radway's Sarsaparilla Resolvent, which will be illustrated with original, edgy art, is a prequel to Dangerous Neighbors (Egmont USA), my Centennial Philadelphia story about twin sisters.  It is an outside-the-trends risk, as all my work tends to be.  But it is also, I think, a risk worth taking, a readership that deserves our attention.

The book's first page can be found here


How great is Susan Campbell Bartoletti?

Friday, August 19, 2011

I first met Susan in Orlando, FL, last November, on this very (photographed) day.  We were scheduled to speak on an ALAN panel—Susan about her wildly brilliant They Called Themselves the K.K.K, me about the Centennial era that had inspired Dangerous Neighbors (Egmont USA).  My PDF presentation had not, I discovered minutes before I was to take the stage, been imported to the proper conference techno places, and, in the crazy Oh no buzz that followed that fine finding, Susan stepped in.  She fixed the problem.  The crisis was no more.

Susan spoke before I did to the gathered YA crowd.  She was so smart, so funny, so wise that if I had not just been saved by her in the excruciating moments leading up to the panel, I might have been jealous.  No, that's not true.  I'm never jealous when a real talent is in my midst.  I'm just proud, as a human being, that she exists.

Ever since Orlando, Susan and I have been trying to see each other again.  This past Wednesday, as some of you know, I put the corporate pressures aside, threw caution to the wind, and trained down to the University of Pennsylvania.  Susan and I would spend the next several hours walking the campus, sitting in one of my former classrooms, taking charge of an unhappy soda machine, exclaiming over Please Ignore Vera Dietz, and munching through a tossed salad (but not the peaches we had jointly hoped for).  We talked about the things we love.  Truly great writing—"crunchy" she calls sentences she celebrates.  Landscape as story.  Honest and earned research—the kind that digs beneath whatever a Google search can deliver.  Reconstruction America.  The history of Pennsylvania.  Smart, kind editors.  Course design.  Teaching.  Students.  Our children.  Judging book contests (we both chaired a Young People's Literature Jury for the National Book Awards, we discovered.)  We were walking to Susan's car when she mentioned that she had recently been talking with Markus Zusak as part of a PEN American Center PENpal program.  

The Markus Zusak? I asked.  Mr. The Book Thief?

But of course that was the one, for Susan, too, has written of that Nazi Germany in her widely praised (go to her website and find out more for yourself) Hitler Youth

I have so many things I want to ask Susan.  So much I can learn from her.  But for now I am and always will be grateful for our day together.  For locating, in this turbulent, unstable world of ours, such a fully engaged, deeply seeking mind.


Please Ignore Vera Dietz/A.S. King: Reflections

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Here I am, reading Please Ignore Vera Dietz while sitting on a bench at the University of Pennsylvania campus waiting to meet with a friend.  This was just after I could be seen on the incoming train, clutching the iPad2-enabled book to my chest.  Which is just after I tore myself from the couch, where I could found getting even more fat while touching my eager fingertip to the gadget's glass in breathless admiration of A.S. King's poignantly odd, big-hearted, exceedingly jazzily written prose.  Which is the morning after the late evening when I downloaded the book in the first place, having been incapable of finishing the last five books I'd started (despair had set in; it had deepened).  I fell asleep with my iPad2 beside me.  I woke up in the dark, tiptoed it downstairs, and, well, you know the rest.

You're getting this, right?  Please Ignore Vera Dietz, a YA novel with decidedly adult content and thoroughly inimitable flare reawakened the reader in one Beth Kephart.  You can go to A.S. King's own website to find out about the book's many honors (Printz nominee, anyone?). You can read a description anywhere (though no two descriptions will sound alike, because there's a heck of a lot going on in this book about a pizza delivery technician and her parsimonious dad and her best friend, Charlie, who is dead on the first page of the book, but dead best friends do tend to linger, oh, and animals are involved, and Piggy of Lord of the Flies, and also a bunch of moral questions in a not entirely moral world, and did I mention that a Pagoda speaks?).

All I want to say is that it is darned fine thing to find a writer writing.  Not a writer telling a story, mind you, but a writer writing one.  Dealing so brilliantly with the whole flashback thing, while drawing a story forward.  Building real characters—messy, swearing, striving, searching, self-disappointed, self healing. Unafraid of big words, crafty with the small ones. 

I'm going to give you a taste of the action:

Charlie and I still shared a seat on the bus. We'd press our earbuds into our ears and read or daydream or, in Charlie's case, occasionally scribble things on tissues and napkins and then eat them.  On weekends, we'd see each other sometimes, but Charlie was busy between hunting trips with his father and dates. Girls swarmed him that year, impressed by his windswept attitude, his over-the-eyes haircut, and his Goodwill dress sense.  By the time summer came, I think he'd had about four different girlfriends, but he kept them totally secret, and if I asked, he would deny it, as if having girlfriends wasn't cool.
All right, and I just have to share this line, from near the end of the book, when Vera, our un-ignorable heroine says this:  "I love Vocab. It's like spelunking in a cave you've been in your whole life and discovering a thousand new tunnels."

Come on.  You love that, right? 

There's hard stuff in this book.  These kids don't have it easy.  Some seamy bad people press in.  But Vera Dietz, so perfectly imperfect, learns what it means to stand up to it all.  And I cried a few tears at the end.


My Friend Amy reflects on YOU ARE MY ONLY

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

When one of the most beloved and creative book readers and bloggers around takes the time to read your work, you are grateful. I most certainly and eternally am. Thank you, Amy.

In YOU ARE MY ONLY, Beth Kephart tells the story of a young girl ripped from the life meant for her as a child and raised in captivity with honesty, fairness, tenderness, and most of all hope. It's a story of unusual circumstances with universal application—no matter how dark and difficult life may seem, the hope for something more is always within reach. Breathtaking in its beauty and with great heart, YOU ARE MY ONLY brings readers the story of a kidnapped young girl that they will never want to forget.
Amy Riley, My Friend Amy


Bring it on: musings of a slow adopter

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I am what the savvy might term a slow adopter. I tend to like things as they are.  My movies on the big screen.  My books between their covers.  My conversations in person, face to face.

That is not this world.

And if I am less than knowledgeable about Facebook (I am, perhaps, one of its least organized and aware members), have failed to take on Twitter, am not inclined toward Google +, only just yesterday did justice to my LinkedIn profile (how shabby my former presence was), and make more mistakes in typing Blackberry texts than any living writer, I am coming around to the way the world works.

I have an iPad 2 and I use it to read the New York Times (except the Times magazine, which I still prefer to hold), to catch up with the Inquirer, to read the occasional Kindle or iBook.  (The New Yorker and Food and Wine and Vanity Fair still come, old style, to my house.)  My email friends are legion.  I'm an old-time blogger (holding my ground here, refusing to vanish).  And lately I've been thinking about (not dreading, but embracing) the new ways in which the publishing industry works.  Why not an Amazon single, for example, if the audience is already primed for it?  And why not a book with multi-media illustrations—something web friendly, something e-alive?

It's the middle of August.  The days have been long.  I prefer autumn to summer.  I look toward the new season with hope for my October 25 release, You Are My Only, with eagerness to connect with some of you at a variety of talks, and with the high suspicion that I'm about to change the way I go about making of (some) books.  


Wave Riders and Book Writers

Monday, August 15, 2011

We commit to writing a book, we commit to riding a wave.  The long, slow stroke toward the center of the sea, the struggle to board and gain balance, the turbulent chase toward the shore, the break down, the swim back, the interminable wait for a wave (the right wave) to lift us up again.  

"You know how hard this is?" I asked somebody, this weekend.

But he looked at me as if all I was actually doing was sitting in a nice, clean room, with a bright light on, a ripe peach in one hand as I worked.  The gentle splish of the rain beyond.

We all have our own ways of seeing.


Crossroads School for Arts and Sciences and The Heart Is Not a Size

Sunday, August 14, 2011

I admit, I've had one of those what-am-I-doing-with-my-life? days.

So when my friend Anna Lefler sent me this photograph just now from all the way across the country with the words, "It was just like this at B&N—I didn't touch the display," I decided (a nano-second) that I would put the picture on my blog.

I had no idea that THE HEART IS NOT A SIZE is a summer reading choice in sunny California.  But I am glad and very grateful to know now that it is.


Zenobia: The Curious Book of Business

This morning I'm returning to a book I wrote with Matthew Emmens, a long-time friend and much-loved executive who was the CEO of Shire Plc when we launched this project and is now the CEO of Vertex Pharmaceuticals (and chair of Shire).  We called the book Zenobia: The Curious Book of Business, and we sub-titled it A Tale of Triumph over Yes-Men, Cynics, Hedgers, and other Corporate Killjoys (Berrett-Koehler Publishers).  We asked William Sulit to illustrate it.  We were delighted when the book was translated into Portuguese (Brazil), Portuguese (Portugal), Chinese Complex, Chinese Simplified, Dutch, Arabic, Korean, Spanish, and Italian, and created as an English Reprint in India.

We continue to hear from readers of Zenobia—continue to be told stories about real-live corporate misadventures that might have been used as grist for this book (enough so that I sometimes fantasize about writing a Volume 2).  The other day I happened upon this Zenobia review, and because the reviewer—an unnamed reader for Soundview Executive Book Summaries—so thoroughly understood our purpose, I share it in total here. 

down the corporate rabbit hole
Teaming a CEO with a poet to collaborate on a business book might sound like an “Alice in Wonderland” proposition. But the result, Zenobia: The Curious Book of Business by Matthew Emmens, CEO of the $14 billion Shire Pharmaceuticals, and award-winning poet and author Beth Kephart, is a business fable that is as inspiring as it is curious.
Zenobia is the tale of job applicant Moira. Bored with her current position, she decides to answer an intriguing want ad. The ad brings Moira to Zenobia, a once-mighty company, now fallen into neglect and disrepair and bogged down in its way of doing business. To fulfill her mission, Moira must find Room 133A by 9 a.m. –– not an easy task, considering Zenobia’s current state: “There was, to begin, no apparent way up. The doors of the elevators had been sealed long ago. The stairs zinged this way and that, crossed over and through, circled back and endlessly in.”
Moira’s quest to find Room 133A brings her into contact with the denizens of Zenobia. Along the way, Moira meets several archetypical characters representing the worst of those who populate the business world. To reach her destination, Moira must not only navigate the confusing structure that represents the company itself, but also contend with such employees as Hedger, a man who avoids giving a straight answer at any cost; Trenchy, a woman so confined to her own tasks that she has no idea what her colleagues are doing; and Stomper, a cynical killjoy who would like nothing more than to see Moira fail.
Lighting the Way
In each of the book’s 13 chapters, the authors detail another step on Moira’s journey. Each step illustrates a basic principle for success, such as “Conceive a Plan; Pursue It,” “Prepare for Ridicule” and “Seek the Unlikely Alliance.” As the book progresses, we see Moira succeed because she refuses to be dragged down by the negative aspects of Zenobia. She forges ahead, relying on her talent, intelligence and courage to identify opportunities and solutions to find Room 133A.
But this story is not just Moira’s. As the heroine fights her way through the quagmire that surrounds her, the authors show how her actions inspire many of the Zenobians to not only follow her, but to begin forging their own ways ahead to success: “What she saw just then was even far more dazzling than the lambent atmosphere. For at the end of the kite tail, on the rungs of the ladder, in the spaces between things, against the warp of the wood, she saw a rising stream of Zenobians … They were making the journey for and with one another, showing each other the way.”
A Deceptively Simple Tale
Zenobia is an engrossing read that provides readers with honest enjoyment. The concepts it presents are often astonishing in their simplicity. Logically, we all understand that in order to succeed we must first have a plan and then be prepared to follow it. Most of us can expound on the virtue of being a good listener. However, the authors reveal the importance of these concepts not as declamations from business gurus but rather as lessons from an engaging heroine on a unique journey.

Zenobia is a book for anyone who has lost his or her way in the business world, who feels stalled or who just needs a little inspiration. Moira’s story is a reminder of what can be achieved in business and in life when we aren’t afraid to take risks and show some courage.
For those of you feeling stalled or in need of inspiration (or psychic companionship), Zenobia can be ordered here


Where I'll Be: Some Upcoming Appearances

Saturday, August 13, 2011

I've met some pretty fine people during this life journey of mine, and over the next few months I'll be spending more time with some of them.  Here's a list of where I'll soon be, should you have the chance to join us.

Tuesday, September 20, 7 PM - 9 PM
Literally Speaking Author House Party, Elkins Park, PA
Mother/Daughter Night with Elizabeth Mosier 
Dangerous Neighbors and Flow
(details here)

Friday, September 23, afternoon
Country Day School, Bryn Mawr, PA
Dangerous Neighbors/Reading and Discussion
(closed to students and faculty)

Wednesday, October 26, 4 PM - 6 PM
Rutgers-Camden Visiting Writers Series
Young Adult Lit: It's Not Just Kids' Stuff Anymore
(details here)

Thursday, October 27, 7 PM
You Are My Only/Book Launch Party
Radnor Memorial Library, Radnor, PA
(details to come)

Monday, November 7, 6:30 PM
You Are My Only/Lecture and Reading
Haub Executive Center, St. Joseph's University
(details here)

My thanks to Lynn Rosen, Elizabeth Mosier, Kerri Schuster, Lisa Zeidner, Pam Sedor, and Ann Green, who reached out and made these events possible.


Too Much Teen Paranormal Romance

Friday, August 12, 2011

Well, here I am, fighting for every blooming second alone to write my Dangerous Neighbors (Egmont USA) prequel—a book featuring brothers and two boy best friends, a murder and its avenging, a stint in a terrible prison, the rescue of animals—and here this wise and lovely soul sits, in a room somewhere, talking about why we don't have more teen boy readers, and why we need them, and what we (as a society and publishing community) can do about it.

I have three corporate projects I have to finish today so that I can turn (secretly, feverishly) to the 20,000th word of my work in progress.

I'm letting this young woman speak for me.


Fusion Communications: where the end is not the end

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Several months ago, a change in one of my key corporate accounts left me wondering just what my future would be.  It was a rocky few days, and I had a choice—to succumb to panic or to choose to believe in myself. 

Surprising things happened because I believed.  Determined and maybe a tad feisty, I worked with my design partner (who is also my husband) on a new web presence, then sent out a few notes here and there.  Within weeks (it seemed quite sudden)—in one of the hottest summers on record, in one of the most uncertain economic times I can remember—new work roared in. Former clients returning with new dreams.  Existing clients seeking new vehicles.  Absolutely-new clients with large-scale projects that demand, of their writer, a love for history and a passion for interviewing true experts. Re-branding projects. Book projects. Think papers. Employee magazines. Client publications.  The chance to sell our photographs. It all presented itself to our boutique marketing company, Fusion Communications, and we at Fusion turned toward it.

What had seemed like a threat in the end set us free, and this, I think, is the way of things, my reason for this post.  Endings are only purely endings if we allow them to be.  Choose, if you can, to see that seeming-end as the space ahead of the new, quite better next thing.


I'm setting my mind to sail

I'm going to see where it takes me.


The Dangerous Neighbors Prequel: Let the illustration journey begin

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

My husband, a visual artist, has never been a reader of my books.  That is just how it is.

But every once in a while, I'll create a story or a project that reels him in.  There was, for example, my co-authored (with Vertex CEO Matt Emmens) corporate fable, Zenobia, which William illustrated with whimsical black-and-white line drawings and which was beautifully reviewed, I just this moment discovered, here.  There was also Ghosts in the Garden, my collection of mid-life musings, which William supplemented with gorgeous black and white photos (though they morphed into pinkish and grayish images once the book was translated in South Korea).

Lately, as many of you know, I have been at work on a new book, a prequel to my Centennial Philadelphia novel, Dangerous Neighbors (Egmont USA).  If this sudden split of quiet time holds, I'll be two-thirds or so through the first draft by weekend's end.  Enough story, in other words, for William to get working on what will be (thanks to the recent purchase of some very intriguing animation software and flash lighting systems) some extraordinary 3-D illustration work. 

This means that William will have to read at least some of this tale which stars (no accident there) a young man named William.  This means as well that I'm writing my heart out.  Because if I only get my husband's literary attention every once in a blue book, I sure as heck want to make it worth his while.


Read it for yourself: "The printed word is alive and well."

Julie Bosman of the New York Times brings us this good news today—the publishing industry has grown over the past three years, according to a recent BookStats survey.  From her news story:
“We’re seeing a resurgence, and we’re seeing it across all markets — trade, academic, professional,” said Tina Jordan, the vice president of the Association of American Publishers. “In each category we’re seeing growth. The printed word is alive and well whether it takes a paper delivery or digital delivery.” 
Let us take a moment, then, in these darkened times, to celebrate the good news and to congratulate so many of us for never giving up hope in the first place.  The important thing, I think (and this indeed fueled my recent post about historical fiction), is never to panic when it comes to purported book trends.  We are human beings.  Stories feed us.


TEDx: Let the Next Generation Speak

Monday, August 8, 2011

The news is not good.  We Americans have done so much wrong—borrowed and buried; abnegated and abrogated, failed—and today, as stocks crumble and foreign markets waver, as our pilloried economy once more retreats, blame takes center stage.  It's their fault.  It's his fault.  It's them.

I say we step aside, then, if we can't agree to find a cure.  I say let us give the next generation the stage—those big dreams, those bigger hearts, the power of that knowing.  Do you want to know what that looks like?  Do you want some good news for this day?  Then visit Allegro, where you will learn about TEDxRedmond and the work that Maya, her sister, Priya, and so many more are doing on behalf of hope, on behalf of this world.  They are calling their conference "The Spark in All of Us."  See what that means to them.


Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children/Ransom Riggs: Reflections

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Yesterday, in a post ruminating about the strong hold historical fiction still has on readers, I mentioned that I had begun to read Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, a book that has been on the New York Times bestseller list since it debuted in early June (and, indeed, was sold as a film property before it even hit the light of bookselling day).

I had been intrigued by the origins and making of this book—by the Deborah Netburn story I'd read in the LA Times that explained its genesis this way.  "The book came about when (author Ransom) Riggs started collecting found photography at flea markets and swap meets about three years ago.  He kept coming across strange creepy pictures of kids and felt like he wanted to some thing with them....  Riggs had just completed his first book, 'The Sherlock Holmes Handbook' for Quirk Books and asked his editor what he would do with the photos.  The editor suggested the pictures might inform a novel."

What we have here, in other words, is an author's reverence for odd photographic history, an editor's willingness to listen and to suggest, and a publishing house's embrace of the not-exactly-known.  The result?  A gothic, haunted, time-tripping tale that doesn't neatly fit any categories and so has been launched as an illustrated (by those very inspiration-laden vintage photographs) YA book that has people of all ages reading and talking.

We all love success stories, but I think this is a particularly special one—laden, as it is, with exceptional antecedents and peopled by risk takers.  More power, then, to Ransom Riggs and Quirk Books, to Miss Peregrine and all her peculiars, to our hero Jacob and his courageous grandfather, and to that island off the coast of Wales, where time either does or does not stand still.


"Historical fiction is struggling,"

Saturday, August 6, 2011

I was told in an ever-so-brief e-mail yesterday.  Strangely, the note didn't do a thing to discourage me from the work I am doing to tell William's story in a Dangerous Neighbors prequel.  Most importantly, perhaps, because I just love this book—the guy-oriented nature of it, the pretty fascinating history behind it, and the way it visits me, late at night (my characters inside my dreams, my dreams beginning alongside a mess of noisy railroad tracks, in the clamor of a newsroom, in the rescue of a red heifer).  But also because when I look around I see books I've loved—historical novels for young adults—that are absolutely thriving.

Let's consider Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (Ransom Riggs), a Quirk publication, now in its seventh week on the New York Times bestseller list (I'm 70 pages in and loving the mix of image and story; expect a full report tomorrow).  Let's talk about Ruta Sepetys' Between Shades of Gray, a book that led me to the marvelous Tamra Tuller of Philomel, and which, in its very first week, debuted on the New York Times list.  Let's talk about The Book Thief, one of my favorite books of all time, still number one on the list, or, for that matter, the award-winning, bestselling The Good Thief, still generating much enthusiasm.  Libba Bray didn't do too badly with The Sweet Far Thing or A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rita Williams-Garcia was deservedly rewarded for her basically perfect One Crazy Summer, and I recall—do you as well?—a certain series of historical novels featuring glamorously clad society heroines that rocked the lists for a very long time.  (I'm also thinking of the big recent award winners like The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and about the up and coming May B. by Caroline Starr Rose.)

Then there are those adult books, historical novels all, with which we are so familiar—Devil in the White City, The Help, Water for Elephants, The Paris Wife, Loving Frank, so many others—that locked in their places in book clubs and on lists. Struggle isn't a word that I would apply to them. 

I believe, in other words, that there is room for those of us out here who have fallen in love with a time and place and have a story to tell.  I've been barely able to breathe under a load of corporate work lately.  But the first chance I get, I'm returning to William.  I left him in a saloon down on Broad Street by name of Norris House.  He's been hankering for some dinner. I've got ideas about a multi-media launch.  And this kind of fun is worth having.


Some birds run when they see me; others don't.

Friday, August 5, 2011

(and a special thank you to all of you who were so kind in your notes of late. you know who you are.)

Does anyone know the name of the red-billed bird?  He (?) surprised me.


From inside the twenty-hour day, a voice or two

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The days, oh—they have been something.  Yesterday, for example, began at 3 AM and ended at 11 PM, and included work on a bit of promotional poetry, a stint of science writing, a sudden and intense advertising copy session, a design review of a new think paper, and some finalizing touches on a complex technical magazine story for my Singapore client/friends. 

My hummingbird came near and stayed.

Miss M., my young and so talented dancing friend, sent a note I'll never forget.

My son invited me to dance with him.

I talked to a friend.

I think of all I did not do—the people I failed, the blogs I didn't visit, the messages I still owe, the questions I've not answered, the research I didn't do, the books I neither advanced nor read.

I am, I am afraid, perpetually begging forgiveness.


My hummingbird gives me, at last, the photos I've hoping for

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

click on each photo for a larger view :)


Dance, Superimposed

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

One of the most exciting DanceSport Academy presentations this past Sunday was the dance of the studio's two young stars—a wild mix of genres against the backdrop of "The Matrix" soundtrack, all choreographed by Miss Cristina and Jan Paulovich.  I photographed the two during the rehearsals Sunday morning.  Look at how quickly K. moves.  Check out the beauty of M.


Scenes from the DanceSport Academy Showcase

Monday, August 1, 2011

We spent much of yesterday rehearsing for and then delivering the sixth DanceSport Academy Showcase, sited this year at the Villanova University Connelly Center (which is also where the Lore Kephart Distinguished Historians Series is hosted).

I happen to think it was the best show ever—full of brave souls, innovative choreography, sheer talent, electrifying youth, and the final crowning glory of two performances by Latin champion dancers Jan Paulovich and Lana Roosiparg.

It was also, for me, a chance to dance that waltz with Jan and that cha-cha with my husband—a chance, too, to be surprised by dear friends Tom, Nancy, Mark, Elizabeth, and Laura, who arrived unannounced and cheered us on.  How much that meant (and how long remembered it will be).  And afterward, of course, dinner with the Bells.  We always love our dinner with the Bells, and it's especially fun when dinner with the Bells coincides (another surprise) with a second chance to visit with Tom, Nancy, Mark, Elizabeth, and Laura.

Thank you, Scott Lazarov, John Larson, Cristina Mueller, Aideen O'Malley, Tirsa Rivas, and, of course, Jan and Lana, for seeing us through.  For asking us to do more than we think we can—for expecting it from us—and for giving us a stage upon which we can try to soar...or, at least, hear the music.


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