Welcome to the Literary Road Trip and my Spotlight On . . . Beth Kephart. I am so pleased to feature Beth as my first Pennsylvania author for the LRT project sponsored by the GalleySmith. To help get this journey off to an awesome start, I want to thank Amy of My Friend Amy for conducting this terrific interview with Beth.
Without further ado, let's listen in to Amy and Beth's conversation:
My Friend Amy (MFA): Why do you write?
Beth Kephart (BK): I write because I can't help it. Because no matter how many times I have told myself, Okay, Beth, this is your last book, this is your last story, some new line presents itself, some unexpected point of view, some entanglement, and I can't rest until I put it down, and then I can't rest until I find out what happens next, and the only way for me to know what is going to happen next is for me to write toward it. I also write because it is medicinal. Because writing keeps me calm. Not publishing (which is angst producing). But writing.
MFA: You have written many books—which book are you the most proud of?
BK: Oh dear: No favorites, never. Each book represents something in my life—some urgency, some turning point, some message that it seemed essential to convey. My books are my history; they are the vessels of my passions, old and continuing.
I have lingered longest, perhaps, over books in which I was inventing something new. For example, there was no road map for writing Flow, my autobiography of the Schuylkill River; I assumed the voice of the river, and I stayed inside that shell. Dangerous Neighbors, an historical novel due out from Egmont in the fall of 2010, demanded an enormous amount of new from me, as it takes place on a single day at the Centennial Exhibition of 1876 (with plenty of flashbacks). The adult novel I'm currently writing requires me to enter into the world of a 1950s asylum—and to survive it.
I hope, in the end, that my books mean something—that they have a larger purpose. With The Heart Is Not a Size, due out in March 2010, my purpose was to take readers to Juarez, Mexico—to go beyond the headlines—and also to write toward those who have suffered, as I have, with panic and eating disorders. With Nothing but Ghosts, it was to reach out to those who have lost something or someone. With House of Dance, it was to speak to those in the midst of losing. With Undercover, it was to send a message about emerging as oneself.
MFA: Why do you write for young adults?
BK: In the beginning, it was because Laura Geringer, my editor, believed that I could—believed that all the work I had done with young aspiring writers had taught me something about the genre. The answer very quickly changed, after the release of Undercover. I discovered, in teen readers (and in adults who read YA books) so much depth, intelligence, love, and outreach. I write YA novels because I love those who read them.
MFA: You have written memoirs and fiction—which do you prefer?
BK: Fiction is morally safer. Fiction cannot hurt anyone. But there is something about memoir that draws me, still, and so my blog is where my essayistic thoughts are now lodged.
MFA: If I could wave a magic wand, which book of yours do you wish would receive more attention or gain a wider readership?
BK: Oh goodness. Well, House of Dance was a very quiet book that I would love to see gain wider readership; there is currently a fantastic producer who is looking at the possibility of House as film and that would make me very happy. The Heart Is Not a Size is a book that I think should appeal to a broader audience because of the nature of the friendship between its two primary characters and because of its setting in Juarez. Dangerous Neighbors is probably technically the best book that I have written—sentence by sentence. The new book is fantastically new and I have big hopes for it.
MFA: In addition to working and writing, you also keep a blog . . . why do you blog? What are some of the positive and negative aspects to blogging?
BK: I blog because it enables me to combine two art forms—photography and writing—that impel and compel me. And because it exercises my mind on days when I can do nothing else that is remotely literary (for most of the time I am running a business). And because I have made extraordinary friends. And because it gives me a place to celebrate people or artists whom I admire.
MFA: I know that Nothing but Ghosts was in part inspired by the Chanticleer Garden. I believe you are working on another project inspired by local history. Is it safe to say you have a strong affection for Pennsylvania?
BK: All four of my HarperTeen YA novels (as well as my short story in the HarperTeen anthology) take place, in part, on the Main Line, where I have lived for most of my life. Radnor High School is the fictionalized setting for Undercover. House of Dance takes place in Ardmore and at the dance studio where I do my own ballroom dancing. Nothing but Ghosts takes place at Chanticleer and in Wayne, PA. The Heart Is Not a Size takes place on the Main Line and at the Devon Horse Show until the kids go off to Juarez. Dangerous Neighbors and Flow both take place in historic Philadelphia. Ghosts in the Garden, a memoir, is rooted in Chanticleer. Seeing Past Z, a memoir about the kids to whom I taught writing, takes place in my own home.
Yes, I love this neck of the woods. It inspires me.
MFA: How long have you lived in Pennsylvania?
BK: Since 1973.
MFA: Are there other books you love or writers you admire that are from your local area?
BK: Two of my very dearest friends are Philadelphia-based writers. One is Buzz Bissinger, who wrote Friday Night Lights, but who has also written with great affection of Philadelphia. The other is Jay Kirk, whose Kingdom under Glass, about the artist-explorer Carl Akeley, is due out in a year or so. Both of these men have so much to teach me about craft and idea. Other dear and talented friends from this area include Elizabeth Mosier (whose YA novel, My Life As a Girl, takes place at Bryn Mawr College) and Karen Rile, author of Winter Music.
MFA: Thanks so much Beth!!!!!
BK: The pleasure, as always, is all mine.
Thank so much to both Amy and Beth for helping me launch the Pennsylvania part of the LRT project with such a fantastic interview. The pleasure is actually all mine and, I hope, yours.
For more about Beth Kephart's latest book, Nothing but Ghosts, see my review.
Here are the covers of Beth's books mentioned in the interview:
For more Beth Kephart, be sure to read her blog. And don't forget to visit My Friend Amy. For more entries in the Literary Road Trip project, visit the LRT link page.