The first time I met Beth Kephart, I was working the Push to Publish event and she was the keynote speaker. She crossed my path again at another writing function. The third time I saw Beth was at a talk she gave at Rosemont College. Up on the stage were all of her publications. I was stunned into silence. I couldn’t believe she had written so much, so well, and so often. The day, Beth Kephart became one of my literary heroes.
When I found out she was once again coming to Push to Publish this year, I was so excited. Not only would I get to meet her again and say hello (maybe if I’m lucky get a hug and some her enegry and genuis will rub onto me) but I knew I’d get the opportunity to interview her again and “steal” more from her wealth of knowledge.
Below is the interview with Beth Kephart who will be on the panel of YA novelists. (http://www.philadelphiastories.org/push-publish-2012-strategies-and-techniques-get-your-work-print-and-online)
Wittle: What do you find are the most helpful tools for a writer in YA to market his or her book? Should they have a blog? A twitter account? Maybe reach out to the local libraries and host a writing and or reading session?
Kephart: I am afraid that I never really think about tools or strategies. I think about who I want to be in the world—what kind of community I want to live within. And so I blog as much to exercise my own brain (made stagnant at times by too much corporate work) as to exchange thoughts with readers and writers who inspire me. I twitter very rarely, and usually it’s to have some comedic relief or to spread word. I have a book party each time a book comes out at Radnor Memorial Library with the great hostess Pamela Sedor because she is so kind and because friends come (indeed, we are having a party for Small Damages on September 12 at 7:30 at Pam’s fabulous library, should any readers of this interview like to come; there will be cake!). Mostly, though, I try to participate in the greater literary community. I write for The New York Times Book Review, Chicago Tribune, Shelf Awareness, Philadelphia Inquirer, Publishing Perspectives, and elsewhere on the state of books and culture and teens, or on places that I love. And this, I think, keeps me in the mix more than anything.
Wittle: Could you explain a bit more about what Young Writers Take the Park is and if there are plans to do it again this coming year?
Kephart: Oh, we had fun last year in Manayunk for this Young Writers Take the Park event. I worked with The Spiral Bookcase, a new independent, to produce an event in which teens from all over the Philadelphia area responded to a writing prompt, had their work evaluated by Elizabeth Mosier and myself, and then were invited to a workshop that Libby and I conducted. The teens then had a chance to read their work to gathered friends and family (in the park)—and to have it published in Philadelphia Stories, Jr. A.S. King, Susan Campbell-Bartoletti, and April Lindner were also on hand to sign books and talk with the teens. There was, to top it all off, great music provided by teen musicians (sponsored by your own Christine Weiser). We have not yet talked about next year. It was, as you can imagine, quite an organizational challenge.
Wittle: For you, what genre is the most difficult to work in?
Kephart: I have yet to fully conquer the writing of an adult novel. Try as I have. And so that has proven to be the most challenging thing for me.
Wittle: For those unable to attend the year you were the keynote speaker at Push to Publish, could you give us some of the major points from your very inspiring speech?
Kephart: Oh gosh, that feels like a long time ago. Thankfully I have an electronic copy. I was talking about how hard it has been for me to get published. All the near yeses, all the maybes that became no’s. I was talking, too, about a book I had written 80 times—a book I had not yet published at that time, a book I didn’t think ever would be published. That book became Small Damages, newly published, which has had a kinder reception than any of my other books. Persistence pays, I said. I ended with these words:
There are no guarantees out here, but I do believe that persistence pays off. Believing in yourself pays off. Writing keeps us alert, it keeps us astute, it keeps us alive. Publishing and writing are not the same thing. It’s imperative that we remember that—that our work has validity because we have created it, because it is ours, because we own it. No publisher’s decision can ever take that away.
Wittle: You also teach Creative Nonfiction at U of Penn. What books should a person interested in writing in this genre read?
Kephart: At the risk of sounding just horribly self-promotional, I would suggest that writers of memoir read Handling the Truth: on the writing of memoir, which I have due out next August from Gotham. I say that not because my ego is gigantic, but because that book contains an appendix featuring 85 memoirs/books about memoir that I feel must be read. None of those 85 books are, I should perhaps note here, my own.
Wittle: What was the most helpful advice you were given about pushing yourself to publish your first book?
Kephart: Again, I’m going to bore you here. I had no advice. I was operating in the dark. I did not receive an education in writing and had gone to just three summer workshop programs to try to understand what literature was, how writing worked—and to talk to writers for the first time, save for a bookstore conversation I had with Fae Myenne-Ng when I was 32 years old. I had recently been to Bread Loaf. I had seen some editors speak. When the first editor declined my work, I simply sent it out to another whose words and manner I had liked. That editor, Alane Mason of W.W. Norton, said yes, and that began a three-book relationship with her, and a continuing friendship.
Beth Kephart Bio:
Beth Kephart is the award-winning author of fourteen books, including, most recently the southern Spain-infused novel Small Damages (Philomel), which received three starred reviews and was featured in the New York Times, LA Times, BookPage, Family Circle, and elsewhere. In March 2013, New City Community Press/Temple University Press will release Kephart’s 1871 Philadelphia young adult novel, Dr. Radway’s Sarsaparilla Resolvent, and in August 2013, Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir will be released by Gotham. In the winter of 2014, We Could Be Heroes, Just for One Day: A Berlin Novel, will be released by Philomel. Kephart teaches creative nonfiction at the University of Pennsylvania and writes reviews and essays for The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer, Shelf Awareness, and Publishing Perspectives. She is the strategic writer at Fusion Communications and her literary blog, http://beth-kephart.blogspot.com/, was twice named a best author blog by the BBAW.