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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

SRS Smackdown Spotlight #4: Beth Kephart

For our final Celebrity Smackdowner, I am honored to bring you reivision tips from long-admired and newly-friended author Beth Kephart, whose award-winning works include FLOW, ZENOBIA, UNDERCOVER, HOUSE OF DANCE - and you might recognize her NBA finalist, A SLANT OF THE SUN: ONE CHILD'S COURAGE. Visit Jolie's Smackdown Star, illustrator Kjersten Anna Hayes, today at CuppaJolie!

Exciting news: Beth's latest, NOTHING BUT GHOSTS, releases today! Learn more about Beth and her gorgeous books at her blog, and watch for Beth's contributions at readergirlz, coming soon!

Beth generously shares the secrets of her revision process for today's Smackdown Spotlight:

The most important thing, it seems to me, is deciding when you are going to take that first long look back over your own shoulder. Not the short look, but the long look. How many pages, how many sentences will you allow yourself to write before you ask yourself, is the whole thing working? Over too many years and not yet the perfect book I have fallen within a pattern that goes something like this: Read every sentence—every sentence—at least a dozen times; read every sentence out loud. Read and rewrite and read and rewrite until that sentence feels authentic, and right. When it is right, I move on. Sentence by sentence I craft my book—find the book’s sound, find its core, find its meanings and possibilities. I don’t ask myself haranguing questions, yet, about plot and character motivation. What I want, at first, is to know the book’s mood and theme, and I discover that by shaping each sentence.

Then, fifty or so pages in, I stop. I read, for the first time, from the beginning. I read for plot, I read for structure, I read for pacing, I read for motivation. I find all that is wrong (there is always plenty wrong) and I now reshape the whole—over and over—reading from start to the finish of whatever I have until the book feels solid beneath me. I won’t move forward now until the foundation feels solid and right, because I have found that if something is shaky in those first 50 pages, if I say to myself, “Oh, I’ll fix that later,” I am digging myself into a hole. A book gets too knotted up at one point to make an easy fix to its foundation. I try to avoid such knotting.

Thank you so much, Beth, for your wise words! Smackdowners, stay tuned for our final week of revision tips as we cross the finish line together...


  1. Ah, sentence by sentence! Thanks, Beth!

  2. Hey, it's so nice to be on your site. Sorry that I am just coming to it now (Today I have been, well, client entertaining, then dancing, which is to say not reading, blogging, or writing). I am going to post a link.

    Thank you so much, dear Holly!

  3. I love what Beth has to say about revisions. So true.

    It is so evident in her work--her books are beautiful.

  4. Wonderful advice from such a talented author!!! Thank you!

  5. I love Beth's work, so this was fascinating to hear the careful crafting process...no wonder her sentences are so perfectly lovely!

  6. Wise and oh-so-helpful words!

    Thank you for this...

    :-D Anna