Features:Dangerous Neighbors, Philadelphia Inquirer Review, October 24, 2010
Dangerous Neighbors and Radnor High Hall of Fame, Main Line Media News
The Heart is Not a Size is featured in the El Paso Times, April 6, 2010
Main Line Media News/Nothing but Ghosts
Toby Bloomberg's Blogger Stories
Melissa Walker talks about House of Dance
Interviews:Caroline Leavitt on Dangerous Neighbors
My Conversation with My Friend Amy
My Conversation with My Friend Amy
The Nothing But Awesome Bootleg Interview with humorist Anna Lefler
In Bed With Books
The HarperCollins Interview
Interview with Sarah Laurence
Pen on Fire
A Few Questions Answered:
Before publishing young adult fiction, you were writing adult memoir, fable, and history. What compelled you to branch out?
I had been writing memoirs, mostly, trying to make sense of parts of my past. At the same time, I was teaching young writers about the arts of fiction and poetry, reading some favorite books out loud to them.
In the midst of all this, I had an extraordinary conversation with Laura Geringer, the editor of Undercover, who asked me to talk about who I had been as a young person. Her questions took me back to those parts of myself that I had never fully explored on the page—to a somewhat introverted young girl who wrote poems, who ice-skated, who had a teacher who believed in the power of stories. To a girl who was sometimes asked, by the popular boys, for advice and help as they pursued the girls of their dreams. I was never the girl of anyone’s dreams. I took note of that. I wondered why. But some of my best friends became the guys who professed love for other girls. I was in a strange position, then—in the shadows, always, but also indispensable.
After Laura and I finished our conversation, I boarded a train. The train had not pulled out of the station when the first line of Undercover came to me. By the time the next day dawned, I had written ten pages. I had been liberated, by the conversation, to remember something that was important to me, and I was liberated by the rules and non-rules of fiction to stitch together fragments of truth with the characters and places I began to imagine.
Writing for young adults has since become my passion. Young adults are enormously interesting people facing complex choices, convergences, turning points. They are readers for whom I love to write. Readers I trust with my stories.
What authors, illustrators or creators influenced you as a young adult? Have you met any of your literary heroes?
I was writing poems from the time that I was quite young, and I was very influenced by music, the sound of words. I loved to sing. I loved to perform, with my brother and sister, to the sound tracks of The Music Man or My Fair Lady or Windjammer. I always had rhymes sliding around in my head. So that even as I got older, I would return to Robert Louis Stevenson and Hans Christian Andersen to see how they created what they created. I would read F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway and Sinclair Lewis, also, to learn about how words fit together. And then, of course, there was Black Beauty.
What is your writing process? Do you have any advice?
I write in the dark of the early morning hours, mostly, when there is silence in the house. I concentrate on voice, character, color, and mood, and allow myself to be surprised, in places, by the plot. The worst thing a writer can be is bored with her own work. If I know all the answers of a story before I start, I’m not going to be as engaged as I need to be to write well all the way through. After the hours tick by and it is day again, I turn most of my attention to my job—to the communications business that I run. In the middle of the day I take a long walk and think about where my stories are going. I get them close to me again that way.
Keep notebooks. Write five metaphors every day. Don’t go to bed before you write down three things from the day that intrigued you. Listen to how other people talk—at school, on buses, on trains, in stores—and write down interesting expressions. Don’t just read stories for plot. Read to understand how a story or a book was made. Practice the art of foreshadowing. Become familiar with the tools and techniques of back story. Never leave a piece of in-progress work in a neatly summed-up place. Always leave yourself hanging on the edge of a cliff, so that you can’t wait to get back, to find out what absolutely must happen next.
What do you do besides write and run the business?
I ballroom dance as much as I can and go to Zumba twice each week. I garden and I walk gardens. I hang out with my incredible friends. I cook. I keep my very little house as nice as I am able. When I can, I travel. I try to see the world, try to live each day. I take a lot of photographs.
You have published fourteen books since your first was released in 1998. Why do you keep writing? What is in the works?
I keep writing because I haven't figured out a way to stop, because writing, for me, is medicinal. Not therapeutic, but medicinal. The actual laying down of words, the finding of rhythms, the locating of stories within the rhythms—all this silences the larger world, quells my anxieties, eases my heart. And so I write.
Following the July 2012 release of Small Damages, I look forward to the release of Dr. Radway's Sarsaparilla Resolvent, a prequel to Dangerous Neighbors featuring William and 1871 Philadelphia, Handling the Truth, a book about the making of memoir and its consequences, based in large part on my teaching at Penn (Gotham), and We Could Be Heroes Just For One Day, a novel about Berlin (Philomel). I am also at work on a novel for adults.
How can I reach you?
Please feel free to e-mail me with any questions or comments at kephartbooks AT comcast DOT net