Can I tell you how much I love Beth Kephart? I haven't even met her in person, but she is one of the kindest writers I know. She encourages others and talks writing and crows and tells truthful stories straight from the heart, not to mention is the recipient of many writing awards. And she was readergirlz's first Author-In-Residence!
So I am very pleased to interview her about her latest, THE HEART IS NOT A SIZE, which releases at the end of this month!
THE HEART IS NOT A SIZE is the story of two best friends who join other teens on a good will trip to a squatters village in Juarez, Mexico. Each friend harbors a secret. The secrets put these friends at risk. In a heat-baked town among wholly impoverished people, decisions have to be made.
Like most of my books, HEART erupts from real life. In this case, the starting point was a good will trip that I, along with my husband, son, and some two dozen others, took to Juarez in the summer of 2005. We were there to build a community bathroom and to get to know the people. I arrived with my camera and fell in love with the people we met and the kids with whom we’d traveled. I took photo after photo. I published two photo essays. Still, it wasn’t enough—I wanted to think more and harder—and as I created my two key characters, Georgia and Riley, I gave them challenges that I myself have struggled with: a propensity to panic, and (in my teens and early 20s) anorexia.
The book was written quickly and then set aside for a few years while I wrote and finished Nothing but Ghosts and wrote early chapters of an historical novel called Dangerous Neighbors (due out in September from Egmont USA). I find that books that force you into a deep place within yourself require many, many drafts, and time away to gain perspective. I worked with two different editors on the book—first with Laura Geringer, then with Jill Santopolo— and when Jill, too, left HarperTeen, I finished the book with Ruta Rimas. The first draft was a shell of a book. The second through fifth drafts were developmental. The final many drafts were all about getting the language just right.
You have asked if I talk with anyone while writing my books. Every now and then, I’ll feel the need to show my agent or a friend a paragraph or two simply to say, This is the mind space in which I’m living now. If you call and I don’t answer, I am here. After a first complete draft, the editor is, of course, on board. Sometimes, when I’m lucky, a friend will offer to read the book through, but I only share the book with a friend after I’ve gotten it as far as I can take it on my own.
The secret to my writing can be captured in a single word: dwelling. I have to go very, very deep before I find the language I need and before the characters feel distinct from me, as real as real people. I don’t think I’ve ever written a sentence that has stayed untried, untested. It’s always evolving until the very end. I know when a book of mine is done when I no longer have the urge to rewrite its sentences.
Thank you so much, Beth, for sharing your secrets and your great heart.
THE HEART IS NOT A SIZE Giveaway:
For a chance to win a copy of THE HEART IS NOT A SIZE, leave a comment below on either a) a place you would love to travel and make a difference or b) why you'd love to read HEART. Deadline is 5pm PST Monday, and please include a way to contact you. Comment away!