Interview With Beth Kephart

Earlier today, I posted my review of You Are My Only by Beth Kephart, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and later on in the interview, I’ll let you know how you can win a copy of your own.

I’ve read Beth’s work for the last few years, and I’ve enjoyed her books very much, and I’ve come to understand her writing process through her blog posts and her email conversations.  I just adore her spirit and she’s very motivating even if she doesn’t realize she’s being so.  I was so happy when she agreed to be interviewed about her stellar novel about child abduction, a tough topic for adult and young adult readers alike.

Many of you may have read enough reviews of this book, and some of you may be avoiding the book for one reason or another.  I hope that this interview will help those on the fence about the book to jump off and give Kephart’s work a try.  Without further ado, please welcome Beth.

1. You Are My Only is a haunting title with an equally haunting cover. Was it your intention to create a story that would haunt its readers and get them thinking more in depth about child abduction?

Thank you, Serena, for asking such a great first question. First, the cover credit belongs entirely to Neil Swaab, whose work is exquisite. He reads the books he illustrates and that makes all the difference. Second, this book was evolved over such a long period of time that I cannot say that I set out, from the start, to get people thinking more about child abduction. I was thinking about heartbreak—the loss of a child—and how one manages to survive it. I was thinking about the compassion we must have for people whose hearts have been broken.

2. Some readers have said that Sophie’s voice is stronger and the most engaging in the novel. Do you see one voice as stronger than the other? Why or why not?

I am delighted that readers are distinguishing between the voices, for that, I think, is one of the hardest things to do—to make certain the characters sound just precisely like themselves. Sophie is 14 and while she lives an unusual life, she has not been crushed; she is also gaining an education, however unorthodox. Emmy is not nearly as educated, but she has her own poetic intelligence, and she is heartbroken. I love the characters equally. I typically hear a greater preference for Emmy from adult readers and a greater preference for Sophie from teen readers. It never occurred to me that readers would choose one voice over the other; the two voices are necessary to complete the story.

3. Of the scenes that your wrote in the novel, the soaked feet of Emmy swimming like fish in the pond of her Keds has stayed with me longest, in effect symbolizing the disembodiment of her from the life she knew before her child was abducted. Is there a particular scene that woke you from sleep or came to surprise you as you were writing?

Thank you, Serena. This entire book kept me awake for a very long time. The truth is that, while You Are My Only is a novel, some women do live the terribly bereft life of a lost child, and some children are growing up inside airless homes. I felt a great desire to get this right, a great urgency to keep reworking the stories until they honored the emotions (if not the precise storylines) of what real people have endured. I hardly ever sleep when I am working, which is to say: I sport some pretty dark circles under my eyes.

4. Your work often has a poetic feel and I know that you’ve written poetry before. Did/do you have plans for a poetry collection in the future? If not, have you read any great poetry collections that you’d recommend?

I do not have a poetry collection pending, though years ago I thought (for a brief moment) about trying to package a book of poetry and art. It still sits on my computer. I love Neruda, Stern, Gilbert, Ondaatje, Kunitz.

5. Poetry is often considered elitist or inaccessible by mainstream readers. Do poets have an obligation to dispel that myth with their writing styles? Or what other solutions do you see to get more mainstream readers interested in poetry?

Oh, my goodness. This is a great question, but I am not sure I have a good answer for it. Poets have an obligation to be rigorous with language, to imagine deeply, to feel deeply, to know. The rest of us are impoverished souls if we can not find our way to the work of these poets. (And please know that I am not counting myself among these poets; real poets do more than I can do or have done.)

6. Finally, your blog often covers writing struggles, shares photography, and some of your recent reading. How do you find time to balance the blog, writing, and your job teaching? Are there particular habits, routines, or obsessions that help you accomplish that balance?

Oh, Serena, I have no balance. I am grabbing at time, getting up very early, despairing that I will never finish or sell another book. The only thing I know for sure right now is that I cannot work on the computer when I am writing a novel. I have to go to another room and find a slice of sun and some silence. The vast majority of my time is spent running a business—a boutique marketing communications firm called Fusion. The next big chunk of time is spent making sure the house is in order—the bills paid, the floors swept, the meals on the table, and (when my beautiful son is home from college, I try to spend as much time as I can with him, of course). During spring semesters at the University of Pennsylvania, I spend about twenty-five hours each week teaching, preparing for class, working with new students and former students. Finally, to relieve the pressure of things, I dance. And so I write far more slowly than anyone realizes. Weeks will go by without a novelistic or memoiristic word. The blog is my outreach, my way of writing at least some one thing each day.

Thanks, Beth, for answering my questions; it has been a pleasure conversing with you in last year or so. As a bonus to my readers, Beth agreed to share a picture of her writing space; isn’t it gorgeous!

Beth Kephart's Office

To Enter to win 1 of 2 copies of You Are My Only by Beth Kephart, leave a comment on this post.

For a second entry, let me know that you commented on my review.

For up to 3 more entries, share this giveaway with people on Facebook, Twitter, and/or your blog and leave a link.

Deadline Nov. 18, 2011, at 11:59 PM EST. Perfect holiday gift.


  1. Beth, it’s good that you seek to write a book doing justice to the real emotions of those involved in a certain situation. 🙂

    Thanks for the giveaway. I commented at the review and posted about it in my Twitter (@EvangelineHan), Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/sugarpeachsite), and blog (right sidebar at http://sugarpeach.wordpress.com/). Total no. of entries = 5.

  2. I need to read this book so much.

  3. I think your interview is wonderful. You managed not only to capture the essence of the book, but Beth as well!

  4. Serena, I recently did a post about Beth Kephart on my blog, The Year of Writing Dangerously. I am eager to read her fiction, after loving her book “A Slant of Sun.”

    I am tweeting about your contest, too.

    • Michael: Thanks for stopping by. I’ll have to check your blog for that post. I actually haven’t read “A Slant of Sun.” It is one of the ones on the list to read, however.

      Thanks for entering the giveaway.

  5. Great interview Serena! I am definitely planning on reading this one, it’s just a question of when I get to it!

  6. This is a great interview with Beth–very insightful. Thanks to you both! And I thought your review was excellent, Serena–I’m very much in agreement with it.

    I’ve already read the book, so no need to enter me in the giveaway.

  7. Holy cow, after reading all she does, I’m amazed she has time to write! Great interview, Serena.

  8. Great interview! I love the look of her office.

    I’ve added the giveaway to my sidebar, commented on your review, and linked to it on Facebook. 🙂

  9. Great interview! Sounds like a lot to juggle, but I’m so happy to see that she’s succeeding. I can’t wait to read You Are My Only.

  10. I assume you know this, but don’t worry about entering me – I have the book and it has an esteemed place in my permanent library 🙂

    By the way, there seems to be an error with your comment luv 🙁

  11. Don’t enter me! I just wanted to stop by and say what a lovely job you did interviewing Beth!

  12. Thanks for this interview, Serena. Although I feel like I have gotten to know Beth pretty well over the last year, I learned some new things about her process here today! Great questions (and equally wonderful answers!)

  13. A great review and the storyline is so good. I would love to read this book.