Hooray! An Event of Successful Fiction and Memoir

IMG_2731Yesterday, we headed down to Alexandria, Va., to attend an event at Hooray for Books with Beth Kephart, whose writing cannot be praised enough, and Debbie Levy, who is as charming in person as I expected.  It has been many years since I’ve been there, but I’ve always loved the waterfront, the Torpedo Factory, and many other things about the shops and restaurants there.  While I did notice some changes, including the movement of Hannelore’s where I got my wedding dress to a side street off of King Street, much of the atmosphere remains the same.  What did we do after the event? We went to our favorite pub, Murphy’s, though after the nauseated morning I had, I did not dare have the Guinness I would have love to have.  And then we took Wiggles around to check out the sights she has never seen.  (pictured here is my favorite tree down by the water).

Due to construction on the lovely George Washington Parkway, I was late to the event and I hate being late!  I abhor it.  My husband kindly dropped me off as he sought parking.  I walked in and was told there were still seats, which was good, though I would have stood for this one.  And stupidly, I became too absorbed in the conversation to take too many photos.  There was talk about memoir and its differences from fiction and autobiography, and how there is still a need for imagination in memoir, but not in making up facts.  We all know those memoirists that have been caught bending or blatantly making up facts — they are not Beth Kephart or Debbie Levy (below Beth on the left and Debbie on the far right).


There were books galore to be had at the bookstore, and when my husband finally arrived with Wiggles, they sat for a few minutes while the audience — and myself — were engaged in a writing exercise about what friends from our school days would remember about us and what we’d like them to remember — thanks to Debbie Levy.  Earlier we had engaged in a different writing exercise about a first person account of an object, which Beth Kephart dreamt up.  I did share the poem, I will share here at the behest of Beth and Debbie, though I feel it is unfinished.

Ghost in a Book

She was a bean pole
books hanging from her nose,
from her hands,
in her bag.
Looking down, but
always -- inwardly -- out
to a horizon
beyond four walls,
small town, gossip.
Ready to spring --
jump forward, move
and leave us
wondering if she was here.

I’ve honestly written more poetry than fiction and essay and have never written memoir or nonfiction. It was good to stretch my writing in these exercises, and it was fun to see what others came up with. Some of them were funny and sarcastic, while others were serious. This was a great event for more than one reason — writing exercises, readings, questions and answers — but most of all the genuine awe and support the writers showed for one another, culminating in each buying books from the other’s stacks and signing books to their friends and loved ones. I loved how they bounced questions off of one another and how they interacted. It was like watching two colleagues who have known one another longer than I suspect Beth and Debbie have.

I’ll leave you with my favorite photo from yesterday — thanks to my husband who took the photo — of three lovely ladies.


Book News: Hooray for Books!, Indeed

Hooray for Books! is a children’s bookstore in Alexandria, Va., to which I’ve never been.

I haven’t been to a bookstore in Old Town since Olsson’s closed and my husband and I went to our favorite pub, Murphy’s Grand Irish Pub, and their live music fun.  And it was always great to visit the Torpedo Factory.  In fact, my wedding dress was bought at Hannelore’s, which has the best seamstresses in the world, more than 10 years ago.

On Saturday, July 27 at 3:30 p.m., I’ll head down to Virginia with my small family in tow.  Local author Debbie Levy and Pennsylvania-based author Beth Kephart will talk about the fine line between truth and fiction as they discuss their latest books at Hooray for Books in Alexandria, Va.

Debbie Levy will showcase The Year of Goodbyes and Imperfect Spiral, which was just released, and Beth Kephart will talk about her books, Handling the Truth and Small Damages. The authors will read from each book, discuss its creation, and share their thoughts on workshopping the fine line between truth and fiction. For those interested in participating, Kephart says, “We each have an in-store exercise for those who’d like to try their hands at a bit of writing—and to hear our thoughts about their work.”

Levy’s The Year of Goodbyes is a WWII narrative poem based on an actual book created by her own mother, Jutta Salzberg, who lived in Hamburg, Germany, when the Nazi’s took power and began to ramp up their persecution of Jews in 1938. The book is powerful and a great testament to her mother’s memory, her own family’s past, and the hope generated by that remembering, I said in a recent review. Levy’s new book, Imperfect Spiral, is a young adult novel about how tragedy can affect the life of a babysitter, especially when the boy who’s killed is an undocumented immigrant.

Meanwhile, Kephart has had a string of publications in the last year, including Small Damages (new in paperback), Dr. Radway’s Sarsaparilla Resolvent, and Handling the Truth (due out in August). Small Damages is a young adult novel set in Spain about the adult decisions that children sometimes must make for themselves, especially when they find themselves in situations that are beyond their comprehension. Dr. Radway’s Sarsaparilla Resolvent, on the other hand, is an illustrated, historical fiction, young adult novel that brings to life old Philadelphia in a way that contrasts the opportunities and drawbacks of industrialization in the background as one family struggles to survive when their father is jailed. Kephart’s Handling the Truth, on the other hand, is a book for those interested in writing memoir, which will likely reach the heights of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.

I’m ready for this event, are you? What events are on your agenda for the weekend?