Daily Archives: November 18, 2009

WBBT: Pay attention to Beth Kephart

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I am honoured to be able to treat all of you to my amazing recent chat with Beth Kephart, for the Winter Blast Blog Tour. In my opinion, Beth is one of the most gifted authors writing for young adults right now. Her books are richly poetic and I love every one of them. Lots. Read my reviews: of Undercover, House of Dance, Nothing but Ghosts, and the upcoming The Heart is Not a Size.

Welcome to Shelf Elf Beth!

You wrote a post at your blog recently about the huge popularity of series like Gossip Girl, The Luxe and The Clique, which you described as “write-by-numbers” books. I feel like your YA novels exist at the completely opposite end of the writing spectrum, with their richness of theme and immaculate poetic language – almost like antidotes to Gossip Girl. What’s it like to write books like yours when it seems like so much publicity and media pushes girls towards the write-by-number reads?

Oh, what a great question (and what a hard one, too). I was responding, in my blog, to the fascinating New Yorker piece by Rebecca Mead titled “The Gossip Mill,” which featured Alloy, the entertainment packaging company behind the wildly popular series you mention here. I was wondering out loud whether I would have the skill to write such concoctions, and I was deciding, rather assuredly, that I would not. I write what I know how to write. I write the stories that interest me, the characters I understand, the scenes that are most alive and vivid, either in memory or in the imagination. My novels are about young people facing the big questions—identity, loss, secrets, anxieties—and it is difficult for books that dwell in those themes to gain traction against books that have been explicitly conceived and crafted for a well-researched market. My books are not advertised or toured; they must be discovered. My books are not off-the-chart sellers; I am in jeopardy, with each new book I write, of finally being told, You know, you are just not hitting the numbers; you are no longer an author we can support. (Indeed, I have been told that; miraculously I have been saved again and again by an editor willing to take a risk.) My writing life is full of uncertainty, therefore, but I know of no other way to work the page.

If you had to choose 5 things (ideas / books / objects / topics / people / hobbies) that have most inspired your writing, what would you choose?

This young girl who became a character in Heart:

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Dance, in all its beauty:

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Chanticleer (the setting of Ghosts), and the young writers and readers who teach me:

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Kids learning to see the world:

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Dreams keep me alive:

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Your books are, in my opinion, about how everyday life can be miraculous – full of mystery and beauty and sadness all at once. I think that Nothing but Ghosts is about this in so many ways. You write, “Beauty and sadness can both live in one place.” I think this is a huge truth contained in this novel. If you could identify other “truths” that readers might discover in Nothing But Ghosts and The Heart is Not a Size, what would they be?

The importance of being an authentic self. The power of honest conversation. The understanding that emerges from well-told stories. The danger of secrets. The power of friendship and love. Continue reading