Baptistry and Moon, 6 AM, Florence, Italy

Sunday, September 30, 2012

I was there, alone and jubilant, waiting for the moon. It broke, at last, through the clouds.


The orchestra plays in the rain at the Piazza della Signoria

And everyone stops to listen.


Tomatoes have never tasted as good

As they did here, in a temperamental chef's restaurant in the heart of Santa Croce. In the church the bells ring. On the hard stone streets they drive two white poodles to a single bike basket. Over the dam a white egret worries. In the virtual air space all the talk is of JK Rowling and her apparently racy, unhappy new book. I am happy to be reading a beautiful novel instead, about which I will soon be reporting here.


Raw collisions

Saturday, September 29, 2012



Oh to be young, to be wealthy



These shoes were made for walking

Posted in response to a question from my dear friend Alyson Hagy, who knows the feel of the road on her soles, and in her soul.



The light of Florence

Friday, September 28, 2012




September rain

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The sweetness of now.


Endangered/Eliot Schrefer: Reflections

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Hold a book in your lap and it will take you some place.  If you let it take you.

This morning I have sat with Eliot Schrefer's Endangered, which is to say that I've been living in the Congo.  That skittering spectrum of butterflies.  That sizzle of manioc and wild garlic.  Those high, rattling screams of animals, and of war. 

Sophie, our guide, is a teen whose American father lives in Miami, and whose mother has stayed behind in her own country to lead a bonobo sanctuary.  In the opening pages, Sophie saves an orphaned bonobo from a cruel fate by buying him from a starving pedestrian.  It's not the right way to save this endangered species, but it is the only way, and soon Sophie, now at living for the summer at her mother's sanctuary, becomes this scrawny, mangled Otto's best friend. 

Paradise is, however, short-lived.  A coup has occurred.  All madness breaks out in a part of the world whose mineral resources make it wealthy beyond compare, but whose people have learned to live with little and survive on less.  Sophie will have to journey through a war-torn country to safety.  She will have to earn the trust of bonobos, find a way to eat, determine what matters most, keep her Otto safe, allow Otto to protect her.  She will have to understand love and its limits.  Along the way Schrefer's readers come to know a part of the world and a species of animal that deserves our knowing—and attention.

Schrefer comes by his love for bonobos honestly, having spent some time in the Congo himself.  (He has the photos to prove it!)  He (and his book) exude, as well, great purpose—elevating readerly compassion with a determined heroine, hinting at the complexity of life in a fragile country, making it clear that survival comes, always, at great cost.  It's the perfect conversation book, the perfect story for a classroom, the perfect ticket to the Congo.

Three final things:

The photographs above are not of bonobos, but they are the closest I had in my own photo library (images snapped in Berlin last summer).

I loved reading, in the acknowledgments, that my friend and former editor Jill Santopolo had a hand in shaping Eliot's book.  Everything that Jill touches sparkles. 

If you want to see pictures of Eliot debuting his book at Children's Book World this past Friday, go here


Every Day/David Levithan: Reflections

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Last Friday evening I joined David Levithan, Eliot Schrefer, Jennifer R. Hubbard, and Ellen Hopkins for an evening of books and talk at Children's Book World, Haverford, PA.  That was then, celebrated here.

Today I'm celebrating Every Day, the new novel from which David read that evening.  You can tell from the way a writer reads how invested he or she is in the work.  David Levithan is fully invested. 

He has a right to be.  With Every Day he has crafted a book with an original premise, placed a likable narrator named A at its heart, and wondered what it would be like to wake up each morning in the body of another.  To be a boy, then a girl.  To be angry, then peaceful.  To be forsaken, to be depressed, to be the football king, to be his twin.  To be all these things on the outside, a succession of traits and 'tudes, while all along holding utterly true to the inherent A-ness of A.  To be an impermanent self falling permanently in love.  What would that be like?  And could anyone in the world love this body-swapping soul so much that appearances won't ultimately matter?

The plot carries forward.  Love is at risk.  One of the borrowed bodies gets a little miffed, exposing a raw seam in the universe.  Every Day is clever, but it's more than that. It is a portal—enveloping and philosophical.  It asks questions that have no answers and forces us to live with that.

Why is David Levithan so popular that he had to stand on a Friday night in a Main Line bookstore to see all the way back to the last row in the crowd?  Why do his fans know his birthday, in a snap, and tout his novels with religious fervor, and send the T-shirt makers into a LeviFan frenzy?  It has something to do with who David Levithan is.  It has to do with his transcending kindness, a quality that A believes (rightly) is so much more powerful than simply being nice.  David Levithan writes from a moral center.  He encourages his readers to think brightly, like this (the xxx's here to avoid spoiling anything for future readers):
Every person is a possibility.  The hopeless romantics feel it most acutely, but even for others, the only way to keep going is to see every person as a possibility.  The more I see the xxx that the world reflects back at him, the more of a possibility he seems.  His possibility is grounded in the things that mean the most to me. Kindness.  Creativity.  Engagement in the world.  Engagement in the possibilities of the people around him.
 Possibility.  It's almost political.


how I saved myself from insomnia

Every now and then a journalist will ask me to reflect on a topic and then, for whatever reason, my thoughts are not quite germane to the story finally written and my words are swept aside.  A few weeks later I'll remember the hours I put into answering the question and think, well, What are blogs for?

Or this one, anyway.

And so today I share with you some thoughts I'd put together about what ultimately saved me from a terrifying bout of insomnia.  I share this because sleep—its challenges, its blessings—binds us all, and because perhaps this will be helpful to one or two souls out there.

Many years ago, I struggled with a terrifying bout of insomnia.  I would go days without sleep, then catch but an hour or so before the cycle would begin again.  I was a thin sheet of glass, always on the verge of fracture, and this went on for weeks, indeed months.  Desperate, long nights of no resolve.  Ridiculous home cures that did nothing but exacerbate the panic.  Useless doctor appointments.  It was as if adrenaline, and adrenaline alone, coursed through my veins, non-stop.  Nothing seemed big enough to stop it.  I was surprised, at the end of each day, that I was still alive.

You can’t really survive something like that.  You can’t let it continue.  From an utterly exhausted place, I had to find a cure.

And so I began to ask myself What if?  What if those desperate nights were actually gifts?  What if that moon was meant for me, and the night songs, and the play of shadows?  What if I simply hadn’t been seeing what I should have been seeing all along?  What if I stopped using that word “insomnia”—stopped trying to force myself to sleep, stopped looking at night as a curse? What if I re-purposed night, if only for a little while?

I made the decision, I’m saying, to move from despair to a sense of near expectancy.  I began (at first with great deliberation but, quite quickly, with ease) to look forward to the night, and not to fear it.  I began to think of myself as being not at war, but on a soulful quest.  I started writing poems in those dark hours, something I had not done for years.  I started, calmly, to think about metaphors—until I became eager to find them.  I listened for music (outside my window, and in my own poem-making head) and settled, peacefully, into the sounds.  And the funniest thing is that, once I’d decided to make use of those long nights, the nights became shorter—almost instantly.  I’d settle in to watch the moon through a downstairs window, take out a pen to work on a poem and the next thing I knew it would be dawn.  I had—miraculously—slept.  Yes, I had a line or two of a poem beside me.  But I had slept as well, for a couple hours at a time, and this was the beginning of my road back to health.


the idea would be

Monday, September 24, 2012

to turn things off for awhile, to really and quite honestly let them go.  to sink into the ideas I'm having, the story within me, the passion that has surged. something big has surged.

not sexy, racy, headline-grabby, self-authenticating, selfish.  not necessarily commercial, not necessarily not commercial, not winning or at least not slanted to win, not hoping for winning, not hoping for fame, not needing it. 

the idea would be not to have to explain, not to have to apologize, not to have to compensate for stealing this hour for myself, or that one, not to have to worry if it all works out later, only to enjoy working it out for right now.

that's what the idea would be.


Florentine light in Philadelphia, my son's joy, and two half moons

Philadelphia this September is Florentine light and half moons.  It is the old Drake and the new performing arts hall.  It is walking beside my son (taller now, even more handsome), who tells stories of new friends and old, four concurrent office projects, a place called Whisper, laundry rooms. 

I didn't live as fully as my son now lives when I was his age.  I didn't know half as much, didn't have nearly the number of friends, didn't see the future as clearly as he sees his future.  He has a greater talent for joy, a larger embrace of life, a more intelligent reading of other people and their intentions, a greater forgiveness of those who get things wrong.  He has more, and he has earned more.  He is more complete.

Which in the end (and of course) completes me.


drowning in books (what's on my floor, iPad, heart)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

My house has officially succumbed to books.  Bowed its head, elbowed out its own frame, said yes.  Yes, Beth, you can have the newest pubbed books by David Levithan (Every Day) and Eliot Schrefer (Endangered) co-mingling with the galleys for This Close (short stories by your dear friend Jessica Francis Kane), and alongside these please add a dollop of Mary McCarthy's The Stones of Florence, a book on the history of eggs, three maps of Florence (one laminated), one old diary, several Florence guides, many tomes on domes, not to mention weather forecasts, three unread New Yorkers (unread, save for the back pages), and while all of that is going on, please add more to your iPad Kindle because having not yet read your e-versions of Code Name Verity (Elizabeth E. Wein), Salvage the Bones, and The Marriage Artist is no shame at all.  Also, while you are at it, imagine A.S. King's Ask the Passengers (not yet released) sitting near.  Just do it, Kephart.  Do it.

So what did I do, in the midst of this?  I took a walk with my best friend from college days, Ellen.  We headed out to Valley Forge National Park, where my mother is buried and where Ellen and I often meet to talk life, not books.  It was a ripe September day, crisp as a green apple.

I want it all, always.

I manage it poorly, more times than not.

Today, no books again.  Instead, a trip to the city, to see my glorious, happy, smart, successful son.  No prize greater than his glorifying smile.


less than a week away from Florence

Saturday, September 22, 2012

and not close to being ready.


The Fab Five: David Levithan, Ellen Hopkins, Jennifer R. Hubbard, Eliot Schrefer, (and me): our night at Children's Book World

We think it's pretty special out here when generosity, talent, humility, spark, and through-and-through writerliness live within one person.  The fact that all that (and more) defines David Levithan—Scholastic editor, mold-smithering author, and genuine conversationalist—explains, at least in part, his ricocheting popularity.

Last evening, at Children's Book World in Haverford, PA, David shared his stage with the wildly popular Ellen Hopkins, the delightful Eliot Schrefer, my new and powerfully talented friend Jennifer R. Hubbard, and me.  We each read briefly.  Eliot took our breaths away with baby bonobo photos.  A very generous CBW plied us with special treats, even customized cookies.  And writerly/readerly teens do what they do so well—let us into their world with questions and thoughts.

A.S. King, we're all coming right back there for you on October 30, to celebrate your much-anticipated new book, Ask the Passengers.  Please bring your duplicate.  We love her.  K.M. Walton, we are indebted, always, to your immaculate kindness and talent (and your photographs; thank you for the last one!; thank you, Heather of CBW, for the second to last!).  To my many friends (and client/friend!) who slipped into the crowd, thank you.

I have come home with some glorious new books to read.  I'll start with Every Day, David Levithan's newest.  Many times in the past few weeks I have had to stop myself from buying the book.  Sometimes waiting for that moment is worth it.


Marisa Tomei and the Hula Hoop: What is making me happy this morning.

Friday, September 21, 2012

marisahoop viral from Lisa Leone on Vimeo.
Yesterday afternoon, as you know, I had the great pleasure of talking with Lisa Leone about the uber-fabulous YoungArts program, in which I'll be participating this coming January as a Master Teacher.  Lisa is a great artist in her own right—a photographer and cinematographer.

Those of you who love Coney Island and roller skating (and Marisa Tomei) will want to watch this Lisa Leone short film.  Those of you who remember hula hooping your way through summer evenings (and who love Marisa Tomei) will want to watch the film above.

Obviously, I just watched them both.


important (and thrilling) news: Teaching a Master Class for YoungArts (young artists, read on for the chance of a lifetime)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

On this very beautiful Philadelphia day (blue-drenched skies and clouds a-wisp in both directions), I share news that I've wanted to share for the past many days.  Amy Rennert, my long-time agent, is the one who whispered this in my ear.  I have her to thank for bridging me toward that very thing that makes me happiest in life—hanging out with urgent, passionate, striving kids and helping them grow.

So here we go.  This coming January, I will be joining the glorious YoungArts program in Miami—"the signature national organization that recognizes and supports America's most talented 15-18 year olds in the visual, literary and performing arts."  Do you want to fill this very hour with beautiful things (music, HBO film, photography, stories)?  Then go to the YoungArts website, grab a root beer or a cup of tea, and sit back. Just let it happen.

Since 1981, YoungArts has given young people from across the country the chance to learn from giants such as Edward Albee, Robert Redford, Julian Schnabel, Michael Tilson Thomas, Bobby McFerrin, Frank Gehry, Placido Domingo, Liv Ullman, and Kathleen Turner.  It has helped nurture stars such as Viola Davis, Elizabeth Kostova, Allegra Goodman, Nicki Minaj, and Vanessa Williams.  It has elevated culture.  It has made people dance.  It has mattered. 

And you, my young friends out there—you still have a chance to apply.  Applications for this could-it-be-any-better-than-this? opportunity can be filed up through October 19, 2012.  Those who are selected—in nine disciplines—are eligible for the week-long immersion in the arts (Miami, early January), for U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts recognition, and for monetary awards. 

This year, I will be teaching writing to high school students in a botanical garden.  Over the course of that same week, Marisa Tomei, one of my favorite actresses (did you see her in "The Wrestler?"; don't you just love her whole, authentic self?), Bill T. Jones, that sensational choreographer and teacher, and Lourdes Lopez, recently named the artistic director of the Miami City Ballet, will be conducting Master Classes as well.  The evenings will be filled with performances.  A gala dinner will be held.  And I will be there, happy.

My young talented friends, consider applying.  Amy Rennert, thank you.  And Lisa Leone, the real Lisa Leone (vice president of Artistic Programs), you are one talented photo/movement-goddess.  I encourage those reading my blog to visit The Real Lisa Leone and to discover, among many fine finds, a certain Marisa Tomei hula hooping her way to glory

Gotta go run and touch the sky.


Jenny Brown, our nation's ambassador for children's books, assumes new responsibilities at the Center for Children's Literature

See that pretty lady up there?  The one beside the Olympian in purple (Kristi Yamaguchi)?  That is my friend, Jenny Brown, though if I claim her as my own friend this morning, it is not to negate her friendships with and toward the entire world of children's publishing.  Jenny has done it all in her publishing life—teacher, editor, mentor, reviewer, Twenty by Jenny-er, and (I like to call her this) crusader.  You most recently know her as the children's book editor of Shelf Awareness, but as of today you will also know her as the part-time Interim Director of the Center for Children's Literature at the Bank Street College of Education, a position which she describes as "an organic evolution of my work on the Children's Book Committee, where we read books together as reviewers, social workers, teachers, librarians, historians, and art directors." Jenny calls the Center a think tank and she will have an opportunity to play a big role in shaping the reading life of children.

Who could be better for this position?  No one.  Jenny loves good books, she loves the people who make them, she loves the people for whom good books are made.  She's also a very fine writer—and singer—as I found out when I interviewed her for Publishing Perspectives.  Here's that piece, in case you somehow (how could you?) missed it.

Congratulations, Jennifer M. Brown!


The Next Big Thing (I've Been Tagged and I am talking about Dr. Radway's Sarsparilla Resolvent)

A few days ago, I was tagged.  Not by birders or rare fish scouts, but by Helen W. Mallon, author, most recently, of the short story "Casual Day at the Crazy House."  Helen herself had been previously tagged by YA author Catherine Stine.  Check these fine writers out for yourself.

Being tagged means joining the Next Big Thing Gang (I think we all get T-shirts, and I have requested a V-neck with just a splash of bling).  It means answering questions, specifically the ones below.  And so here I am, talking about Dr. Radway's Sarsparilla Resolvent.  Because it is coming out in March (New City Community Press/Temple University Press).  Because it is about the city that I love (Philadelphia) and its history (1871) and its fabled institutions and people (Eastern State Penitentiary, the Schuylkill River races, Baldwin Locomotive Works, George Childs, Matthias Baldwin, Norris House, Preston Retreat).  Because it is illustrated by my husband.

Wait.  Did this intro just answer all the questions?  It's early morn.  I'm getting there.

What is the working title of your book?
The title of this book, for real and for good, is Dr. Radway's Sarsaparilla Resolvent.  See the cover above?  We're not changing it. 

Where did the idea come from for the book? 
William, my hero, is obsessed with the medicines of the time, for he is searching for a cure for his heartbroken mother.  Dr. Radway lived in Manayunk and his Sarsaparilla Resolvent was world-renowned for curing everything, perhaps even sleep insufficiency, in which case I am ordering me up a bottle.  Today we know this medicinal magic as root beer.  Does anybody have a glass of ice handy? 

What genre does your book fall under? 
This lady, who is not a fan of labeling fiction, would, if forced to do it, describe Dr. Radway as historical fiction for middle grade/young adult/adult readers with two teen male protagonists at its heart.  Simply and non-boastfully put, Dr. Radway is a good book for everyone.  I am so good at non-boastful. 

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? 
There's a young prostitute, named Pearl, who is integral to this story.  She's tough, she's big-hearted, and she saves the day.  Jennifer Lawrence is my Pearl.  William has a grieving, beautiful mother—Marisa Tomei or Amy Adams.  As for William and his best friend, Career, Alex Shaffer (Win Win) and Josh Hutcherson (Hunger Games)  Josh looks exactly like my Career (so long as you give him a pipe to suck on).  Alex was brilliant in Win Win, which is, by the way, one of my favorite indies and the brain child of my friend Mary Jane Skalski.  But I digress.  There are others in the story—the ghost of an older brother (not yet cast), a father in prison (Sean Penn, but younger), and a little sprite of a girl who lives next door.  Let's give that role to Mackenzie, the youngest dancer in that whacky reality TV show, Dance Moms.  She's so cute I have to stop myself from reaching through the TV and pinching her cheeks.  But why am I watching that show anyway?  And, since we are on the topic, Are mothers really like that?  Have you ever met anyone like any of those moms?  Okay, back to the topic.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? 
Shouldn't this question be first?  And have I ever one-sentenced anything?  In my life?  Sorry, Blog Game Rule Makers.  I'm going with the full paragraph:  

The year is 1871, and the place is Bush Hill, Philadelphia—home to the Baldwin Locomotive Works and a massive, gothic prison, home to William Quinn and his Ma, Essie, barely surviving in the wake of family tragedy. Pa Quinn is doing time in the penitentiary. Brother Francis has been murdered by a cop. Ma has lost something that she can’t forgive herself for, and William, fourteen, has been left to manage. Featuring a best friend named Career, a goat named Daisy, and a blowzy who goes by the name of Pearl, Dr. Radway’s Sarsaparilla Resolvent captures the rhythms and smells of an extraordinary era and is flavored by the oddities of historic personalities and facts. Terrible accidents will happen and miraculous escapes. Shams masquerade as the truth. And readers of Dangerous Neighbors will finally learn just who this boy with a talent for saving lost animals is, and how he learned the art of rescue. 

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? 
Since this book is a prequel to Dangerous Neighbors, my 1876 Philadelphia Centennial novel, I have been working with my lead character, William, for more than seven years.  A requited love affair, fictionally speaking.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I try not to compare.

Who or What inspired you to write this book? 
My love for Philadelphia history.  My absolute love for William.  I could not let him go. 

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? 
Are you suggesting that I have not yet piqued reader interest? Maybe what you are really asking is, Who copy edited this book?  In that case, I have an answer for you.  Quinn Colter.  She's a brilliant young reader who has followed my blog for years.  She will be, upon graduation, a force to be reckoned with in publishing.  Dr. Radway is her first copy edited book. 

Who have you tagged?
Okay, this question was easy!  I am tagging my glorious friends, listed in alphabetical order.  Aren't they great friends, though?  Aren't I lucky?  Look for their posts in the coming week.  They have until next Thursday at 5:35 AM.  Because that's just how we roll here.  If I have not properly alphabetized, please forgive me.  It is now 5:45 AM in the morning.
Kimberley Griffiths Little
Elisa Ludwig
Elizabeth Mosier
Kelly Simmons
KM Walton


The Fab Five (I feel like a Rock Star)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Today, another short note, a simple reminder:

I have the great privilege of joining David Levithan, Ellen Hopkins, Eliot Schrefer, and Jennifer Hubbard this coming Friday, 7 PM, at Children's Book World in Haverford, PA.  CBW is billing us as the Fab Five, and I have Philomel publicist (every author's dream publicist and my good friend) Jessica Shoffel to thank for making me Feel So Fab.

I hope that you will join us. The photograph above was taken during the Publishing Perspectives "What Makes a Children's Book Great?" conference held earlier this summer, where I had so much fun joining moderator Dennis Abrams on the author panel.  The smart and savvy notables from left to right are Roger Sutton (The Horn Book), Pamela Paul (New York Times), David Levithan (Scholastic editor and author phenom), and my good friend Jennifer Brown, a former school teacher, editor, reviewer, and jury panelist (not to mention head of children's books for Shelf Awareness) whom I always rightly refer to as this country's ambassador for children's books. 


my cup overflows—reviews of Flow and Small Damages; kindness from Gotham

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

My cup is overflowing.

On this rainy afternoon, I would like to thank the one and only Ed Goldberg for reading Flow, my Philadelphia river book, and having so much good to say on his spectacular, shared blog, Two Heads Together.  Ed, you are so integral to my writing life.  I am blessed by your kindness in so many ways.

Through Twitter, a tool I have yet to master, but a tool through which I have made new friends, I learned of two spectacular new reviews of Small Damages.  One, by the bloggess, Love Is Not a Triangle, made me smile in so many ways, and had me sharing, with the bloggess, my thoughts about the Small Damages sequel I hope to someday write.  The whole is here.

The second is by the good people of teenreads—or, I should say, by the super duper Terry Miller Shannon of teenreads—who wrote, among other things, "Characters are so fully realized, they could walk off the page.... Small Damages is on the short side but is nothing short of a glorious triumph for Kephart."  Those words will put sun into anybody's rainy day.

Finally, today, I want to thank Susan Barnes, Lauren Marino, and a certain publicist named Beth—all on the Gotham team.  I had called Susan with a concern not at all of Gotham's making.  She listened and took action at once.  With tremendous compassion and care, the team relieved me of a percolating anxiety.  They didn't have to do this.  Some publishing teams might not have.  But Gotham did, and I will always be grateful. 


Never Fall Down: Patricia McCormick and Arn Chorn-Pond

Yesterday afternoon I had the privilege of reading Never Fall Down, Patricia McCormick's most recent young adult novel.  Never Fall Down is inspired by the life of Arn Chorn-Pond, who survived the Khmer Rouge genocide and went on to become a musician-peacemaker celebrated by Bruce Springsteen, Peter Gabriel, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and many others.  Rare is the writer who could take on such a subject and do it honorably.  For very good reasons, Chorn-Pond trusted Patty, a journalist whose earlier young adult novels—Cut, My Brother's Keeper, Sold, Purple Heart—are both deserving literary prizewinners and commercial successes.  Patty McCormick's career is proof that you can write with great meaning, originality, purpose, and more than a little poetry and still find a fervent readership.

I'll have more to say about Patty McCormick in the weeks to come.  For now, please watch the video above, in which Patty and Chorn-Pond (introduced to one another by one of Patty's neighbors) speak of the making of Never Fall Down.


choose new words

Monday, September 17, 2012

I will keep this short.

Yesterday morning, early, I went to my friend Betsy and asked for help.  I needed feeling restored to the right side of my body.  I needed not to hurt so much.  Betsy is magical (one of Betsy's favorite words).  I am not one who yields easily, but to Betsy I do.

While trying to release some of the knotted muscles in my shoulders and arm, while trying, indeed, to find a pulse (she finally found one), Betsy talked about language and how the words we choose to think with affect the way we see.  That word successful—how can we use it differently?  How about the word whole?  And what happens when we stop acting like a human doing so that we can be a human being?

I am in favor of humans being.


reflecting on my ballroom dance "career" in today's Inquirer

Sunday, September 16, 2012

In today's Philadelphia Inquirer I yearn toward dance, mourn my countless non-capabilities, and conclude, well — read on.  The story begins like this, below, and can be found in its entirety here.
How I stood, how I sat, how I walked into a room and didn't possess it - these were concerns. Also: the untamed wilderness of my hair, but we would get to that. In addition: the way I hid behind my clothes and failed their easy angles. Most troubling, perhaps: my tendency to rush, my feverish impatience with myself, my heretofore undiagnosed problem with the art of being led.

So I thought I could dance.

So I imagined the ballroom instructors leaning in to say - first rumba or perhaps the second - "You've got a knack for this."

What knack? What had I done? Why had I not realized that dancing in the dark alone to Bruce Springsteen does not qualify anyone for the cha-cha? That grace is not necessarily an elevated pointer finger? That how they do it on TV is how they do it on TV? That just because you love to dance does not a dancer make you?
So many thanks to Avery Rome for making room for the piece, and to DanceSport Academy in Ardmore—and all my teachers—for making room for me.  Thanks, too, to a certain Moira.  She knows who she is.


the 1871 Philadelphia novel moves into final design, and Dangerous Neighbors prompts an afternoon reverie

Saturday, September 15, 2012

I returned from Asbury Park and Bruce Springsteen Appreciators to an email from Quinn Colter, a young friend destined for a big career as a copy editor.  I had invited Quinn to join the Dr. Radway editorial team, and she had—plying my text with wonderful questions and delightful commentary (it seems that Career, one of my primary characters, has won our Quinn Colter over).  Dr. Radway's Sarsaparilla Resolvent, my 1871 Philadelphia novel about Bush Hill, Eastern State Penitentiary, Baldwin Locomotive Works, Schuylkill River races, George W. Childs, and two best friends, now goes into design and will be released next March by New City Community Press/Temple University Press.

I left the desk at last to take a walk.  Meandering through my streets, I discovered Kathleen, a very special green-eyed woman, who had, she told me, read Dangerous Neighbors a few weeks ago.  Kathleen grew up in Philadelphia at a time when circus elephants walked the streets of Erie and Broad, and in Dangerous Neighbors, a book about Philadelphia during the 1876 Centennial, she discovered many details that resonated with her.  Standing there in the glorious afternoon sun, Kathleen told me stories about the Oppenheimer curling iron, the fifteen-cent round-trip trolley, the ferry one took from Philadelphia across the Delaware, and the shore years ago.  Kathleen's grandmother was an eleven-year-old child during the time of the Centennial, and so Kathleen remembered, too, whispers of the great exposition.

I had published an essay about the Jersey shore in the Philadelphia Inquirer a few weeks ago, and that story prompted for Kathleen memories of her own trips to the sea as a child.  We spoke, then, of this, too—this shared geography that has been transformed by time and yet remains a signifier, a home.

As much as I often wish I were back in the city living the urban life, I am tremendously grateful for the streets where I live.  I am grateful, too, for the people who enter my life—for Quinn now on the verge of her career, and for Kathleen with her storehouse of memories.


Bruce Springsteen, Asbury Park, Monmouth University

As readers of this blog know, it has been a tumultuous time here—a sinking realization that not all the people you trust to get something right (or to do right) do.  A sense of helplessness about a false newspaper claim.  And so many friends stepping in to cry out against the injustice.

And while I will never be able to leave this cruelty behind—for it is not about me (about that I would not care) but about someone I deeply love—I did physically leave home very early yesterday morning to join friends at the Glory Days Symposium, an intelligent gathering of people who recognize that Springsteen does so much more than entertain. (One of my own—many—appreciations of Springsteen is here.)  I was proud to join April Lindner, Jane Satterfield, Ann E. Michael, and Ned Balbo on a storytelling panel, and deeply inspired by the conversations I heard along the way.  I was happy to at last meet Mark Bernhard, an associate provost at University of Southern Indiana, who puts so much of himself into this event.

Mid-afternoon I slipped away to Asbury Park and walked the boardwalk alone.  Sea and salt and time to be.  A quick but essential exchange with my editor, Tamra Tuller.  A funny, I-am-the-luckiest-mother-on-earth text carnival with my son.

Monmouth University, where the Glory Days Symposium was held, is a green campus, architecturally cohering and whole.  At its center stands Wilson Hall, a Horace Trumbauer designed mansion originally built, in 1929, as the private residence of F.W. Woolworth Co. president Hubert Templeton Parson.  In the summer of 1916, in a building lost to fire on this same site, Woodrow Wilson worked through his presidential campaign.  If this Trumbauer building looks familiar to you, that's because it served as the set for the movie, Annie.

I share above some images from the day.


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