March 14, 2009
Interview with Beth Kephart
Wendy Toliver was on vacation last week, so ya'll will have to wait for her guest blog. Instead I bring you the amazing Beth Kephart, the author of UNDERCOVER, HOUSE OF DANCE, and more. Back in September, she did an interview with me. It was fun to turn the tables! And since Beth is uber-nice I know she'll be cool about me shifting her interview up a few days. And if the weather where you live is anything like mine, it's rainy and cold and absolutely perfect for curling up with books like Beth's.
1. You've got a number of books coming out, but you still find time to blog. But it makes me wonder: do you think you'll ever publish something with your poetry or photos?
Oh, what a great first question you ask. I would love nothing more than to publish my poetry, with photos. My photos have appeared in my books from time to time—into the memoir, Still Love in Strange Places, for example, are wedged my images of El Salvador, and the plan is to have some of my Juarez photography incorporated into the jacket of the forthcoming The Heart is not a Size. But one of the primary reasons I started this blog was to “publish,” so to speak, a collage of my poems and photos. To put both in one place, as often as I can, and without limits.
2. UNDERCOVER, which I loved, is coming out in paperback with extras, just to be mean to those of us with the hardcover. (Not really.) How much input did you get in choosing the extras? i know there's often a reading guide and message from the author, but I've always wondered where the reading guides come from.
Wait. All of your questions are exquisite! But I digress.
Jill Santopolo, my editor, gave me utter freedom when it came to these extras. And so I decided that what I wanted to do was to think ahead in Elisa Cantor’s life, to imagine how things had played out for her, and to briefly capture her subsequent time at high school in a series of new poems. And that is what these extras are. No reading guide. No instructions on how to read the book. Just a suggestion about the still-lived life of a character I can’t let go of. And poetry. Published. In a book.
3. UNDERCOVER features an ice-skater. HOUSE OF DANCE a ballroom dancer. What attracts you to forms of dance? Does the protagonist of NOTHING BUT GHOSTS have a connection to the world of dance?
Katie D’Amore, the heroine of Nothing but Ghosts, does not dance, but there are images that float toward and away from her, just as music floats in and out of me at all times. Writing is the way I sing. It is the way I dance. It is the way I love the world. My characters spring from me, and so they are music bound.
4. I loved your vlog thanking the team behind NOTHING BUT GHOSTS because I enjoy learning about what it takes to polish a novel. What are the most amazing things you've discovered while reading through your manuscript covered in blue pencil?
Gosh, well. The answer to that question could constitute an entire book unto itself. I have a tendency to crumple up my adjectives in a way that leaves Renee, my copy editor, asking: “Would that be a white table with wheels on it? Or a table with white wheels?” With each book I think I get better at self-induced precision. Renee did not have to sharpen too many blue pencils for the forthcoming The Heart is not a Size. In fact, I loved her notes in the margins of that book. I’d be writing about a river in Mexico, for example. Her blue pencil would sing out, “If you like that river, you should see..... “ And then she’d give me some other slice of the world. It made me smile.
5. Have you written the novel you've always wanted to right or are you still trying to find it in you?
Nothing but Ghosts has a mystery at its heart, and that was new and exciting terrain for me (and one of the reasons Renee needed many blue pencils). It found me; I tried my best to answer to the challenge. The Heart is not a Size deals with issues—panic disorder and teen anorexia—that I never thought I would have the courage to face on the page, and it takes readers to a place—a squatters’ village in Juarez—that matters to me deeply, that inspired and moved me. For the past five years I’ve been at work on a novel that takes place in Philadelphia in 1876. It’s a new kind of book for me—an historical novel—and I loved the challenge of sinking deeply within it, and of writing with a brand-new voice. I loved writing it, as I have loved writing all my books. Now I’m at work on a novel that takes place on a cortijo in Seville—a setting with which I worked for years, but never to my complete satisfaction. Something new is happening here, again. Something that is, to me, thrilling as process.
(I should note that both the historical novel and the Seville novel are works in progress, without, as yet, an official home.)
The point is that I am always and forever journeying out toward the breaking point of what I can, at the moment in my career, achieve. Perhaps someday I’ll look back and say, That was the novel that I wanted to write, in some definitive way. But each time out I’m writing to the best of me, I’m writing what finds me and what I have the courage to embrace. I’m going the distance. I’m seeing where it takes me.
6. You have a close relationship with your son.. What sort of books do ya'll share? Is there any book you can't believe he doesn't like?
Oh yes, I love my son. And we are completely and utterly different in our tastes. He has loved the books that I’ve shared with him—A Separate Peace, When the Emperor was Divine, a number of short stories by Flannery O’Connor and Faulkner, for example. But he’s much happier reading books with faster-paced plots and more “excitement,” as he puts it. He has decided to minor in creative writing at college. I watch; I wait; he teaches me. I’ll be teaching at the University of Pennsylvania in the fall—the advanced nonfiction workshop. One of the reasons that I accepted that honor was so that I might stretch as a teacher just as my son is stretching as a student.
7. What kind of camera do you use? Lens? Do you ever play around with filters? Have any feeling about film versus digital?
I use a Sony, and it’s a digital, and it allows me to make mistakes, as all digitals do. I read about photography all the time, and I try to absorb some few elements of what I’ve read. Right now I’m playing around with wide angle lenses and shutter speeds. I’ve played around with the macro lens. I can’t get enough of it all.
Film is more noble, I think. Film requires one to be good every single time out. I’m not that good yet.
8. I haven't heard much about your short story "The Longest Distance" coming soon in the anthology NO SUCH THING AS THE REAL WORLD. What is it about?
This is about a young woman trying to survive her best friend’s unforeseen suicide. It was inspired in part by the tragic events that took place in my own home town a few years ago.
9. Briefly describe your favorite birthday celebration.
My mother threw me a sweet sixteen surprise party that will always rank as the world’s greatest unexpected delight, because somehow or another, she got the great Jim Clancy, the high school star, to show up in my very own basement. Who knows how she did that, but I’ll never forget it.
10. If you had the chance to do anything you wanted, no constraints, no consequences, what would you do?
I’d live in a place that tested me for a few months, that every day brought something new and inexplicable. And then I’d bring that world back home, in words and in pictures. And I would sleep in late every now and then. And someone else would cook the dinners.
Beth is offering a really cool prize: the last ARC of NOTHING BUT GHOSTS - signed. No really, they randomly found two ARCs when they thought all of them were gone. (Being the Birthday Girl, I snatched one.) Plus, there have been changes made so you'll be able to compare the ARC to the final. Evolution at it's finest.
Follow the rules darlings. And yes, saying Beth is totally awesome is on topic. But that goes without saying, right?