Saturday, June 4, 2016

YA FOR THE DAY: Beth Kephart's THIS IS THE STORY OF YOU, interview and giveaway

The Don and I are huge Beth Kephart fans, and when Chronicle Books invited us to be part of the blog tour for Beth's latest YA novel, we jumped at the chance. (We're taking down all the middle grade wallpaper and being YA for a day! The Don's even allowing himself to smoke a cigar in the press room.)

I've raved about Beth before--on my dearly departed blog THE YEAR OF WRITING DANGEROUSLY--and in reviewing her previous novels, Small Damages and You are my Only, I wrote: "Kephart's stories are full of secrets and hurts, of small and sometimes painful declarations of love, and of what it means to expose one's heart to the joys and sorrows of the world." In this new novel, I stand by these assertions.

This is the Story of You takes place on Haven, a six-mile-long, one-half-mile-wide barrier island. It's linked to the mainland by a bridge, a bridge over which Mira Banul's younger brother, Jasper Lee, must regularly cross to get the infusions that will allow him to live with Hunter Syndrome.

Mira describes herself as "medium everything." She's not going anywhere because, on Haven, she has "responsibilities." These include not only her family, but also her friends--particularly Deni and Eva. Into this 'haven' then, rides a colossal storm. The bridge is out, property destroyed, lives lost. Amid the devastation, though, people hang on. There are rescues, and the rise of a patchwork community. Secrets are revealed.

If there is a more wonderful fashioner of sentences than Beth Kephart, then lead me to her, because in my book Beth is the best. Her sentences sing on the page. They are sinews, and sparkles, and strong undertows. Beth Kephart's writing is proof positive that writing can rescue us, can lead us into dark places and back to the light again. At several points in the novel I cried, and the Don claimed that the cigar smoke was bothering his eyes.

I am thrilled that Beth took time to answer our questions. Here we go:

Middle Grade Mafioso, thank you so much for making room for This Is the Story of You—and for your questions.

1. Do your stories germinate from a "what if?" question, or from a glimpse of a character, or some other inciting factor? Was Hurricane Sandy's devastation the catalyst for This is the Story of You?
Oh, the mysteries of the writing process. I wish I could name all the inspirations, all the influences, but perhaps it is best that some of this remains a mystery even to me. When I am writing I am in a mood. I am hearing voices. I am seeing something far away that is coming closer and closer, so close that now I trap it with words.

I love the Jersey shore. I am devastated by rising seas. I imagine the future.  I study these storms. And I love young people, these kids who survive in the wake of calamity. I love Jasper Lee, my young character with Hunter’s syndrome because I had, as part of my job, twice interviewed a person with this condition and grown to be so fond of him.

But in the beginning, I heard a handful of words. I knew I’d be writing about the sea and storms. My husband and I went to Beach Haven off season so that I could feel that world deeply. I got up before dawn each morning and watched the dolphins and the dogs. And the story began there.

2. You have written many wonderful things. What is the greatest challenge for getting words on the page? What is the greatest delight?
Well, first, thank you. I appreciate your words. And — the greatest challenge for me is finding the time. This past year, I have spent most of my time with my father, sorting out and packing up and cleaning and staging and hoping to sell his home, while helping him move into his new home. There was no room for words in all that until, finally, the silence in my writing head burst and I discovered stories waiting for me. Too many stories, perhaps.

When I began to write again—only for a half day here, two hours over there—it seemed as if I had never written before. And I think that maybe it always feels this way. That the new story is the first story. And, all things being new, I have to teach myself how to write again. It’s all hard. It’s all worth it.

3. What words of wisdom would your current self impart to your younger writer self?
Don’t be afraid of all the time you will (because of family responsibilities, because of your paying job, because of how life gets in the way) spend not writing. Something is churning. Your stories will find you.

4. In This is the Story of You, one of your characters has a rare syndrome. How did you learn about this syndrome, and what steps did you take to research it for your character?
As part of my day job, I have interviewed patients for many, many years. Patients with all different conditions, hopes, therapies. I interviewed a young man with Hunter syndrome and met others with the condition. I wrote about the infusion medicine that helps him for many years. I was deeply inspired. I wrote Jasper Lee to honor those who are living with Hunter.

5. Morning person or night owl? Cheesesteak or hoagie?
Morning person, starting at 4 AM. But since my husband is a night owl, I don’t often go to bed until 11 or later.

Can I have a chicken cheesesteak, please? And if you are visiting my hometown of Philadelphia, I think we ought to talk about hoagies. (MGM: If I ever get the chance to visit Philadelphia, I would love to talk about hoagies, as well as writing and life, with Beth Kephart. Beth, I'm holding you to the hoagie conversation!)

Thanks for taking time on a Saturday, no less, for this very special post. A comment here, or on my Facebook link, will give you the opportunity to win a copy of THIS IS THE STORY OF YOU from Chronicle Books. (US and Canada only, please.) Have a great weekend, cari amici.


  1. Well! Here you are. And I am so grateful for your words here — your continuing presence in my writing life. Thank you.

  2. I think I will have to check out some of Beth's books. They all sound quite interesting. Thanks for the post.


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