I'm excited to welcome Beth Kephart, the extremely talented author of ten books, including the stunning Nothing but Ghosts.
A Brief Biography:
Beth Kephart is the author of ten books, including the National Book Award finalist, A Slant of Sun; the BookSense pick, Ghosts in the Garden; the autobiography of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River, Flow; and the critically acclaimed novels for young adults, Undercover, House of Dance, and Nothing but Ghosts. A fourth young adult novel, The Heart is Not a Size, will be released by HarperTeen in March 2010 and a fifth, Dangerous Neighbors, is slated for a fall 2010 release from Egmont. Beth Kephart’s short story, “The Longest Distance,” appears in the May 2009 HarperTeen anthology, No Such Thing as the Real World. She is a winner of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fiction grant, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a Leeway grant, a Pew Fellowships in the Arts grant, and the Speakeasy Poetry Prize, among other honors. Kephart’s essays are frequently anthologized and she has judged numerous competitions. Kephart teaches nonfiction at the University of Pennsylvania and is the current readergirlz author in residence. Kephart has conducted writing workshops at Chanticleer Garden, Radnor Senior High School, Agnes Irwin High School, The San Francisco School, University of Pennsylvania, Loyola University, Villanova University, Rutgers University, St. Joseph’s University, Blue Sky Arts, and elsewhere.
First off, tell us a little bit about your novel, NOTHING BUT GHOSTS.
GHOSTS is the story of a rising high school senior named Katie who is trying to come to terms with the sudden loss of her mother to cancer. She’s got an eccentric dad who restores paintings for a living. She’s got a job at a nearby estate. A mystery emerges concerning a recluse. In trying to solve the mystery, Katie is also solving the bigger mysteries of life and love.
What inspired you to write GHOSTS?
In the wake of my own mother’s passing, I began to notice all these signs — finches at my window, lines of music, fox encounters — that in some ways returned her to me. Katie grew out of my own relationship to the larger world during a long period of mourning. It also grew out of my passion for a particular garden named Chanticleer, which I fictionalized for the purposes of the novel.
Are you anything like your main character, Katie?
All of my characters have some aspects of me laced within. Katie is watchful. She is protective. She loves her dad and worries about him being alone. All of that is very much a part of me.
GHOSTS has an variety of minor characters, including a teenage boy, a mysterious old woman, a glamorous librarian, a frazzled father… and an inquisitive little boy. What is Sammy’s role, as part of the bigger, underlying message of the story?
Sammy is the little boy who lives across the street from Katie and her dad. He seems like a terror on wheels at first, an interference, but in fact he is pivotal to Katie and her dad as they each try to reconstruct the idea of family.
Did you do any research while writing GHOSTS? If yes, please explain.
Well, the book takes place in a town very much like my own hometown. I was taking a lot of photographs throughout the writing of this book and studying them carefully. I was also researching the potential life story and details of the mysterious recluse—trying to shape her life based on facts I would find in historic documents and old newspapers.
What was the most difficult aspect of writing GHOSTS?
The mystery! I wrote it several times, several ways. It’s not that the plotting was hard. It was that it had to mean a certain thing.
Did you always want to be a writer?
Since childhood I’ve loved words and written poems. But I was also a tomboy and an ice skater. So I combine these two things in my life—the very cerebral and the very physical. I don’t think I could ever live without one or the other.
What jobs did you have on your way to being a writer? Did they help you in any way as a writer?
This is a great question! I started working when I was a teen—in gift shops, at life insurance companies, in libraries, etc. By the time I was 25 I had my own business, doing the marketing and writing for a dozen area architecture and engineering firms. I now run a boutique communications firm that has its roots in that early business, and I also teach. I think it’s important, always, to know things, to be around people, to hear how they talk. The business has always placed me in the center of others’ dreams. The teaching does that, too.
When and where do you usually write?
Lately I write with pen and paper on a couch. Typically at 3 or 4 in the morning. I type what I’ve drafted in between business calls and during other quiet hours. But it starts with paper and pen and moves into many drafts before it’s anything I’d share with another.
Is there something that is a must have for you to be able to write?
I like really good apples, chocolate, and cheese. I try not to eat too much of them when I am writing!
What author or book most influenced you as a writer or in general?
I fell in love with Michael Ondaatje, his huge capacity for a gorgeous sentence and for deep feeling.
What are currently reading?
My students’ papers and my friends’ manuscripts, to be honest. But I’ve also been reading a lot of research for a novel I’ve been writing for adults.
Can you tell us anything about your next YA novel(s)?
THE HEART IS NOT A SIZE is due out next March, and I’m very excited about it. It concerns a goodwill trip that a number of students take to Anapra, a squatters’ village in Juarez, Mexico. It also concerns a best friendship between two girls hoarding dangerous secrets. After that, in September 2010, I am releasing, with Egmont USA, DANGEROUS NEIGHBORS, an historical novel that takes place in Centennial Philadelphia. It’s about two twin sisters, a devastating accident, and a terrifying fire. It’s about loss and love and guilt. I loved writing it.
The Hiding Spot is dedicated to my personal hiding spot, books. Is there a place, activity, or person that is your hiding spot?
Wow. Love that question. I hide inside the world of dance (it seems public, but I’m very much in my own quiet, floating space when dancing). I hide in gardens. I hide during long walks. Hiding is a talent of mine.
Anything else you would like to share with us?
These were perfect questions, and I thank you for them.
Read my review of NOTHING BUT GHOSTS, here!
Win your own copy of NOTHING BUT GHOSTS, here!