An interview with Beth Kephart

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Beth Kephart is the author of YA novels Undercover, House of Dance, Nothing but Ghosts, and The Heart is not a Size, as well as several memoirs (a bit more about them below.) Believe it or not, she has a job outside of writing (how she manages this along with writing and dancing is beyond me!) Since first being published a decade ago, she has been named a National Book Award finalist, an NEA grant winner, a Pew Fellowships in the Arts recipient, a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts winner, a Leeway Foundation award winner, the author of a Book Sense pick, and a Speakeasy Poetry Prize winner. Her novels Undercover and House Of Dance we're both on the Kirkus Best Young Adult Books of the Year list, in 2007 and 2008 respectively. Check out her blog here. Beth was lovely enough to be interviewed here! Thank you, Beth!

1. List the books you've written. Which one are you most proud of? Which was the hardest to write?

I’ve written five memoirs—A Slant of Sun, Into the Tangle of Friendship, Still Love in Strange Places, Seeing Past Z, and Ghosts in the Garden. I’ve co-authored a business fable called Zenobia. I wrote the autobiography of a river (a mix of poetry and history) called Flow: The Life and Times of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River. And I’ve written four novels for young adults: Undercover, House of Dance, Nothing but Ghosts, and (to be released next March) The Heart is not a Size. Three other books—two for young adult readers, one for adults—are floating through my mind and sometimes making their way to the page.I don’t ever think of a book as something I am proud of, just something that I urgently needed to write, or to say. The hardest books are the memoirs, perhaps. Truth is prickly and truth telling affects other people, whether you want it to or not.

2. What three words would you use to describe yourself? (Don’t use the words ‘nice’, ‘pretty’ or ‘good’ because your Grade Six teacher will read this and be very disappointed)

Wow. I’d have never used the forbidden words, so we are safe there. I am persistent, sometimes impatient, and extremely passionate.

3. Complete this sentence: My teenage years were...

very much like the ones I’ve captured in the novel, Undercover.

4. Have you always wanted to write for young people? Or did you set out to become a brain surgeon and wind up stumbling down this path? Was the road to publication rocky for you?

I’ve simply always wanted to write. My foray into the young adult world was something I didn’t see coming, despite the fact that I’ve taught young people writing for years and despite the fact that I once chaired the National Book Awards jury for Young People’s Literature. I was invited to write a novel for younger readers by Laura Geringer, then at HarperTeen. She opened the door and once I walked through I wanted to inhabit every room. I love this genre. I love the genre’s readers and bloggers.

5. Who were your biggest inspirations and idols growing up and today?

Hmmm. My son is my biggest inspiration. Idols? I am awed by writers like Michale Ondaatje, and by dancers who can actually dance.

6. Who are your favourite authors and what novels do you love best?

Michael Ondaatje, Alice McDermott, and Colum McCann are high on my list. Last year I loved The Book Thief, and that book astonishes me, still.

7. If you were in a novel (any one you’ve read), who would you be?

Liesel Meminger, the heroine of The Book Thief.

8. Did you have an imaginary friend as a child? (Or today? Don’t worry; we won’t call the men in white coats on you)

No. I can honestly say that I did not.

9. Complete this sentence: My life outside of writing is...

rich and complex—mostly consumed by the business I run, accented and gifted by my huge garden, my love of dance, my happiness cooking, my passion for transporting beauty into the house, and, of course, my family.

10. If you were a superhero, what would be your name, power and costume?

I would be some iteration of Wisdom (I always wanted to be wise). My power would be knowing. My costume would be almost transparent, but not.

11. Xena Warrior Princess or Sabrina the Teenage Witch?

Um. Neither.

12. Have you read Twilight? Did you enjoy it? Do you secretly believe your own books are better? (I know you do, don’t try to lie…)

Um. No. I have not read Twilight, save for the first chapter of the first book, which is where I chose to stop. Better is in the eyes of the beholder. Certainly Twilight sells more than my own books.

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