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?


  1. Hey, Lady. Being a loyal you reader sent me swimming over to you when my eyes were still only halfway open (it's still dark here). Then, whoa, it's a picture of me I see.

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY! And thank you for including me in the party.

  2. Amazing interview; I absolutely LOVE beth kephart. She's incredible!

    how do we win? I really really really really really want the arc xD

  3. Happy Birthday!

    Beth is a gifted writer with incredible heart. Your interview rocks.

    No need to enter me in the contest, I have the ARC.

  4. Beth is so great! I somehow managed to find myself with a copy of No Such Thing as The Real World, Beth's story sounds like it's going to be great for me. Thanks for this wonderful interview!

    And I would LOVE to enter! :)

    aleareads@gmail dot com

  5. I LOVE historical fiction! That would be amazing for you to write!

  6. Terrific interview! I loved these questions as much as the answers. #5 is a particularly thought-provoking question...I too have a story I want to write but don't feel capable of writing - have been working on it for over 10 years!

    Many congrats on all of your tremendous success, Beth!!

  7. I loved reading this interview. And I really want to read NBG too!

  8. Oooh! Enter me!!! I would LOVE an ARC!

    That was a great interview! Great, original questions and honest, lovely answers!

  9. Beth - I hope it was a good surprise.

    Emily Ruth - you're entered. You can click on the rules link to learn how to get extra entries and to enter other contests.

    Vivian - Thanks for stopping by! I'm glad to meet a fellow fan of Beth.

    Alea - I am SO JEALOUS. And you're entered, so good luck.

    Melissa - I'm not huge on historical fiction, but I'd read it if Beth wrote it.

    Leigh - Well, tell me when you finish it because I want to read it. And I'm glad you liked the questions! It takes me forever to write interviews. (As you know since you to had to wait for questions from me . . . )

    Priya, Kelsey - Thanks for stopping by! Glad ya'll enjoyed it. Be sure to read the other days as well.

  10. HI Liviania and Beth!

    For the record, I think you're both wonderful. Thanks for this interview, I love to get to know more about the authors I love. I'm excited about all the things in the pipeline.

    I'd like to enter the contest!

  11. Great interview - I really like photography too! That's so cool, incorporating two loves =)

  12. Awesome interview. That's great her son loves to read as well, even if they don't always agree on the types of books. :-)

    I'd love to be entered. I'm already a follower.

    And that's so cool you got one of the last ARC's Livinia. :)


  13. What a great interview! I love hearing more about the artistic details outside of the writer's life.


  14. Haha my 16th birthday, which was last year, was with a few girlfriends at Mandarin.

  15. What a great interview. I will be anxiously awaiting Beth's poetry and photography book. Sounds perfect. :)

    Liviania- Wonderful questions. I have really been enjoying your features this month! What a great way to celebrate your birthday.

    I would love to be entered for the giveaway.

  16. Happy Birthday! enjoyed the interview - I'm very close to my son and we're pretty much opposites as well.

    Please count me in for your giveaway

    msboatgal at aol dot com

  17. Happy Birthday! I loved Undercover and House of Dance and would dearly love to win a Nothing But Ghosts ARC.

    Thanks for the interview and I'll definitely have to remember to keep up with your blog in the future.


  18. Enter me! I'm looking forward to reading NBG :^)

  19. i love that you share reading with your son. I wish my brother would read something other than the cereal box!

    I am a follower

    I blogged about it

  20. Great interview. Its cool to see new and varied questions.

    I also follow your blog.

    bacchus76 at myself dot com

  21. Happy Birthday! :)

    I already have an ARC...I just wanted to let you know that this is a fantastic interview. So many fun and unique questions. It's always great to learn new things about your favorite author! Thanks! :)

  22. Don't enter me--I have an arc that I can't wait to get to--but I did want to say that I love your thoughtful questions and Beth's smart answers. And I love that you had a mom who knew how to throw a surprise sweet 16 that rocked, Beth. So cool.

  23. Don't enter me--I have an arc that I can't wait to get to--but I did want to say that I love your thoughtful questions and Beth's smart answers. And I love that you had a mom who knew how to throw a surprise sweet 16 that rocked, Beth. So cool.

  24. Don't enter me--I have an arc that I can't wait to get to--but I did want to say that I love your thoughtful questions and Beth's smart answers. And I love that you had a mom who knew how to throw a surprise sweet 16 that rocked, Beth. So cool.

  25. Great interview!
    Im a follower


  26. Thank you both for this very thoughtful interview. A treat.

    Don't enter me for the ARC, as I'm going to be a goofy purist and wait for the finished hardcover. :)

  27. Your mom sounds really, really cool! I wished I had someone to throw me a surprise 16th party like that! Thanks for sharing!


  28. Great interview! The book looks awesome!

  29. Great interview! Also, I like the colours in your photographs on your website! One question though, why a blue pencil? Not that I have anything against them. I quite like them and I think I've got one lying around somewhere. I just never knew why they were blue.

  30. Awesome interview! I loved House of Dance and Undercover and I'm excited for Beth's new book. She has a gift of creating a story in so little words that makes you hesitate to read the last page because you don't want it to end.


  31. Oh I forgot to say I'm a follower.


  32. I love digital cameras because you can see the pics right away. I'm a follower.

  33. I've read A Slant of Sun several times and really love it. I am now putting her other books on my TBR pile and enjoying her blog. I'd be so happy to win an ARC of NBG! Please enter me. I'm a follower now.

    I had a little trouble finding the rules to the contest. Your link on the word "rules" goes to Kephart's vlog, not the rules post.

  34. Great interview. I loved the quote "Writing is the way I sing." It's made me wonder how I sing.

  35. Wonderful interview. Thanks. This book sounds awesome. I love the title. I love that you share books with your son. I do that. We've gotten in the habit of passing books back and forth then discussing them. I love it. My son didn't care for reading as a hobby for a long time so I'm thrilled to share it with him now.

  36. I haven't read any of Beth's books yet, but that's only because I've yet to come across them in any libraries I go to. :( Nothing But Ghosts sounds awesome!

  37. I would also really really love to win this ARC! The book sounds fantastic :)


  38. Happy birthday?


  39. What a great interview! I'm really looking forward to reading "Nothing but Ghosts!" It sounds great!

    I follow!

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