Home    |     Bio    |     Books    |     DBAW Tour    |     News    |     Press    |     Events    |     Contact

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Story Secrets: THE HEART IS NOT A SIZE by Beth Kephart + Giveaway!

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!

Welcome, Beth!


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.

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!


  1. I'd love to read Beth's book after learning her writing process.


  2. I have never read any of Beth's books before. I would like to start with Heart because it seems like a real issue most people (like myself) should be aware of.

  3. I've read this lovely book so don't enter me, but I just wanted to say thanks for this extra insight into the lovely Beth.

  4. I'd love to read this book because I've read several of Beth's other works and loved them. Also, we have the same name!


  5. I would love a chance to win this book! I am interested because I like to read about people who are experiencing real life problems that I myself have faced.

  6. I would love to travel with my father to Rwanda and other parts of East Africa and help him with micro-financing and small business support for coffee farmers.

    I'd also love to read Beth's book.

  7. I would like to read Heart is not a Size because I love Beth's books, and also because my daughter went to Mexico on a missions trip while in college.

  8. It was great to get some insight into Beth's writing process. I'd love to read this even more now.

    jpetroroy at gmail dot com

  9. If I could travel anywhere, I'd travel home, and make sure that in this small place which I think I know so well, everything is alright.

  10. I would like to travel to China and help with the orphanages there. I'd even like to adopt from there. Its just a place I've always felt drawn to.

  11. There's this essay journalism project I've been dreaming of doing in Thailand.

    What's most inspirational to me about Beth's interview is its timeliness, considering Juarez's issues right now, and the depths to which she forces herself.

  12. I would love to travel to Africa and help make a difference with AIDS. I have had a story in mind for the past 3 years that I'm still working on where the main character is born HIV positive and it has made me really interested in helping end AIDS in the world.

  13. I would love to read this book because I'm a sucker for books about friendship and the secrets that could potentially tear them apart.


  14. I've been to China a couple of times already, but if I was given the chance to go there and make a difference, I will definitely grab the opportunity to change how the people there view women, especially daughters. I'm Chinese myself and I grew up feeling inferior to my little brother just because he is a boy and I think it's really unfair...


  15. I love Beth Kephart's writing (especially in House of Dance), which is reason enough to want to read her new book...

    I dunno if I want to go anywhere to make a difference--there seems to be plenty of trash to pick up in the stream below my own house, and other things close to home, to keep me busy for a while.

  16. I would love to have the opportunity to return to China and give back to the orphanage in Kunming, Yunnan, China. The amazing people in this orphanage took care of my beautiful daughter for the first 8 months of her life. She's 6 now. I would like to work in whatever capacity that would benefit the children.

    nancyecdavis AT bellsouth DOT com