Unlucky? I don't think so.

Friday, October 28, 2011



You Are My Only is my thirteenth book.  In the early days, when that fact would surface, I was given all kinds of advice about how to go straight from 12 to 14 and thereby skip the unluckiness in between.  I shrugged it off.  A number is just a number, not a superstition.  Right?

But in the 24 hours leading up to the long-awaited book launch party at Radnor Memorial Library last evening, I began to rethink my no superstition policy.  I lost my glasses.  I lost my camera.  It rained most fierce just ahead of the party hour.  Most concerning was that mid-day hour, when it was discovered that the copies of the books that were to be sold that night had not yet made their way to Children's Book World, which had so kindly offered to join us at the event.  I admit it:  A few tears were shed.

And yet, I will look back on last night as one of the luckiest nights of my life.  Let's talk about what happened at six o'clock, at Elizabeth Mosier's incredibly beautiful and hospitable home, where writers  feasted on Elizabeth's amazing Mexican meal.  Libby is always there—a hugely talented writer and reader with a generous heart—and everyone in my neck of the woods (me perhaps above all) is grateful.  Let's talk about Pam Sedor, a dear friend, who has given me a home for years at her luxurious Winsor Room.  Let's talk about John, one of the most intelligent young readers I know (in fact, I refuse to believe that he is anything other than a New York Times Book Review writer), who sent me an email at this book's very start and who, late yesterday afternoon, sent me a link to his most stunning Dear Author review.  Let's talk about Florinda and Amy and Melissa and Caroline, who wrote loving notes just ahead of the event.  Let's talk about Ellen Trachtenberg, a friend who has stood by me throughout the publication of this book, lending me her perspective, know-how, and smarts.  Let's talk about Amy Rennert, my agent, who was on the phone with me several times during the course of yesterday, and who sent a beautiful email last evening.  Let's talk about those dancers, St. Johner's, writers, Zumbaists, long-time friends, neighbors, teachers, book clubbers, colleagues who worked their way in from the storm.  I wondered, to tell you the truth, if anyone would.  They did.  They were there.  Each one a treasure.

I hope that they know they are treasured.

In my opening remarks last evening I talked a little about what it takes to be a writer.  I share the final words of that talk here:



But just because I had to write this story doesn’t mean that I had an easy time of it.  I never do.  It’s not a straight-line process for me.  It’s not—find the plot, dance to the crescendo, put a little lute to the denouement.  It’s a devastatingly inefficient process, my writing of novels, and there are, I will admit it, tears.  Long, self-dramatizing monologues are involved.  Bad posture.  Tingling arms.  Broken fingernails.

I can be heard to say, I cannot do it.

I have sworn, Never again.

And then I’m right back at it the next day.  I’m pushing until I write one sentence that works.  And another sentence that works.  Because yes:  Ideas are essential.  And yes:  Stories need their characters.  And sure, it’s absolutely true that no publisher is going to look twice at you if you don’t have a plot.  
But I can’t  write forward if I don’t have a sentence that, to my ear, works.  If the preposition is wrong.  If there’s an extra syllabic beat.  If something cranks the wrong way or falls flat —when this happens, and it happens all the time, I cannot tick a chapter toward its end.  Several times I nearly lost You Are My Only.  Too many nights to count, I went to bed with an ache in my heart.

If you think you are a writer, if you want to be a writer, you need to read.  You need to be capable of hurting.  You need to imagine.  You need time, you need silence, you need space.  You need these things.  But if you do not also have a persevering spirit, you cannot be a writer.  If you do not, daily, choose to start at the base of the mountain and climb, with all ferocity, up, you aren’t going anywhere. 

You lose faith in yourself when you write—that’s part of the process.  You fight the lost faith of others.  You fight your way out of the margins.  You hold onto the people you trust.  Perseverance is the final hallmark of a writer.

Or, at least, it is what has brought me here, all these quiet books later, these books about heart.  You Are My Only is, in some ways, a different kind of book for me.  There is more plot.  There is more tension.  There is suspense.  But it is not, in fact, a departure.  My Emmy and my Sophie see, face, live terrible things.  They are placed into raw circumstances.  But what saves my Emmy and my Sophie is their ceaseless search for goodness.  What saves them is their special gift for believing that goodness wins.


17 comments:

Beth F said...

I wish I could have been there. So glad thirteen was lucky.

Serena said...

From these remarks, I would say that Emmy and Sophie are just like you....continuing the struggle and the search for goodness...you with the writing, and them through the terrible things in their lives. I'm glad the event was excellent. I wish I could have attended to hear the beautiful words in person.

BTW, Amazon is now telling me no books until Nov. 9-12. So much for pre-ordering...lol

kelly said...

Beth you are being very modest by not mentioning what a HUGE crowd you had and how much applause you received because your reading was so beautiful people did not want it to end!

The book is worth waiting for. So worth waiting for.

Elizabeth Mosier said...

You Are My Only is your best yet! Take that, 13!

xo

patti.mallett_pp said...

There are tears streaming down my cheeks from the experiences you've so generously shared with us on here, Beth. I'm so happy that you have such a strong support group (and know you've earned it by your own kindness to others). Thank you for being so honest and vulnerable. I am bookmarking this to read, perhaps every day, in November as I struggle through NaNo, without, as yet, even one of those place-mat type maps to guide me.

patti.mallett_pp said...

PS- I can't wait to read this book!!!

Florinda said...

I'm glad you were able to enjoy your special evening in spite of the book shortage, and I really appreciate your sharing those remarks with us here. And what Kelly said: this is a book worth waiting for.

Melissa Sarno said...

Look at you sipping your drink looking so happy and so lovely! My name for you from now on is 'lovely Beth'. What a perfect party. Your words always take my breath away. These are particularly inspiring. How I wish I could have heard them. Thank you for sharing them with us.

Daniel W said...

Thanks for a great class on Wednesday :)

Anna Lefler said...

Many, many cheers to you, Beth, for lucky #13!

And I LOVE that dress - so cool!

Congratulations!!

XO

Anna

Amy @ My Friend Amy said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed the party. I love this book and I hope the world continues to discover it and YOU. xoxo

KFP said...

As one of the lucky ones who was there last night: thanks for posting the excerpt from your talk. I tried furiously to write it all down—so beautiful—but didn't get it all and was going to ask you for it. Now we all can read it.

I particularly love: If you think you are a writer, if you want to be a writer, you need to read.  You need to be capable of hurting.  You need to imagine.  You need time, you need silence, you need space.  You need these things.  But if you do not also have a persevering spirit, you cannot be a writer...

That, plus how you must have every word in every sentence satisfy before you can tick a chapter toward its end. In your talks, your books, your blog, you always have such fresh and beautiful ways of saying things. The language you choose—that's why I love your books, most of all.

Last night was wonderful: sending you some iphone photos.

Tonight, after work: Reading You Are My Only (my signed, sweetly inscribed copy!) is my looked-forward-to-treat.

Bonnie Jacobs said...

Aha! It's the "13" that caused the shortage of books around publication time! Yes, and the shortage of books means lots of people read books by Beth Kephart. Let's do the math:

13 + shortage = happy author

Thanks for sharing part of last night's talk. This is why I have a book blog: "If you think you are a writer, if you want to be a writer, you need to read."

(Go, Patti! You can do NaNo! If you need a friend, I'm "Bookbuddybonnie" there.)

patti.mallett_pp said...

I'd love a new NaNo buddy, Bonnie!! Thanks for the encouragement. (I'm daydreaming story as I ready things for my daughter and the two darling grands.) I'm "Peppermint_Patti." (I'll contact you if I can figure it out. I haven't looked around much yet and things are new. Or come get me, please.) : ) Again, thanks.

Lilian Nattel said...

Very lucky 13--I've started it and think it's amazing.

Becca said...

What a awe-inspiring night :) You are just simply amazing.

I love these words:

"You lose faith in yourself when you write—that’s part of the process. You fight the lost faith of others. You fight your way out of the margins. You hold onto the people you trust. Perseverance is the final hallmark of a writer."

Never lose faith in YOURself.

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