Wednesday, April 16, 2014


What I woke up to this mid April! 

At least I got my daffodil fix last week in NYC.

The people at Columbia College were very helpful with my research. 

When I got back home, all the ice had melted. I thought we'd seen the last of the snow. You need a good sense of humor and an excellent pair of boots to live in Maine. 

Thanks so much for all your encouraging comments last week. I'm taking a blog vacation to finish the first round of revisions on my novel. My crit-partner, the talented Charlotte Agell, will be reading my work-in-progress next week. I'll be away touring colleges with my 16-year-old daughter.
I'll be back online May 7th. 

Happy Passover and Easter!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Rough Draft of the Maine Novel

After seven months of writing, I have completed the first draft of a new young adult novel! It's a rough draft riddled with inconsistencies and plot holes, but the main story, setting and characters are there. I have chatted and written notes to these people at all hours of the day and night. My family has to remind me that my characters aren't real. You know that feeling when you're engrossed in reading a book? It's even more intense if you are writing that book. I kept writing because it was the only way I'd know what would happen.

First drafts are thrilling but also challenging. Although I know the initial set-up and the ending before I start writing, the narrative can go in so many directions in between. The characters are defined existentially through their actions, but those choices are made as I work through the plot. Initially my focus is on story and on character developed and not on writing craft. My first draft looks so coarse compared to a final polished manuscript. It makes me cringe with embarrassment. I much prefer revision to drafting, but it's all part of a process that can span more than a year. There will be months of revision and beta testing on teen readers before I share the manuscript with my agent.

Central Park in April a couple of years ago.
The timing couldn't be better for fleshing out a novel set in the spring of senior year. For hometown details, I'll be revisiting Monhegan Island and harbor towns that inspired my fictional coastal community. Since my protagonist has been accepted to Columbia College, my first field trip is to New York City, where I grew up. The last time I was on campus was back in high school so I've signed up for a prospective student tour tomorrow. I'll be the only parent accompanied by a virtual daughter!

I'm starting my field work in New York because Maine is still a fraying patchwork of snow and ice. This has been an unusually long winter and a protracted mud season. I'm craving flowers, warmth and any color beyond frosty white and muddy brown. I'm staying with my parents, seeing friends and celebrating Passover with my family. There will be time for museums and shops. I need a short break.

Happy spring!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Going Over by Beth Kephart

Do you remember the fall of the Berlin Wall? In November of 1989 I was at college, majoring in Government, and that was the first time I felt a part of history. It was a day to be remembered, the turning point in decades of icy hostility between democratic and communist nations. By the close of 1990 Germany was reunified. The whole world was changing.

The following year in Moscow, Mikhail Gorbachev resigned, dissolving the Soviet Union into a commonwealth of independent states. My children were born in this new era, one not overshadowed by nightmares of nuclear holocaust. I thought the Cold War was over, and then last month Russia made a grab for Crimea. How will today's youth understand the significance?

Going Over makes Cold War history relevant to twenty-first century teens. Beth Kephart's new young adult novel (released yesterday) transports readers back to 1983 Berlin. In free West Berlin fifteen-year-old Ada has dropped out of school to work at a daycare center. At night the pink-haired girl sprays graffiti art on the concrete wall that separates her from the young man she loves. Armed soldiers and dogs keep guard on the other side.

In communist East Berlin eighteen-year-old Stefan worries that the Stasi secret police are watching him. His grandfather died while trying to escape to freedom, although his body was never recovered. Stefan is training to be a plumber to support his grandmother, all the family that he has left. He aims his grandfather's telescope at the stars, but Ada refocuses it on West Berlin. The young lovers meet only four times a year, when Ada's grandmother visits Stefan's grandmother in East Berlin. Ada tells Stefan that she is tired of waiting for him. If he really loves her, he would risk his life to cross over to the west.

Going Over is much more than a star-crossed love story. It tells the history of a war-severed city, of a turbulent period lost to time. The book is educational without sounding so. The gripping story reads more like a dystopian novel than historical fiction. Kephart drops the reader into Berlin without explanation. (I think the book could benefit from a short historical preface for teens.) The author writes from the perspective of that period in a fresh and immediate teenaged voice. Ada's first person narrative alternates with Stefan's told in the second person, to remind us that this is her story.

Like many teens, Ada is self-centered but she is also capable of great empathy. The most moving part of the book was her fight to save a young Turkish immigrant boy and his battered mother. That part of history was new to me. I also loved Ada's and Stefan's relationships with their grandmothers, who had teamed up to survive the brutalities of the Russian occupation, following World War II, only to be separated by a wall.

Kephart takes the time to develop all her characters, including the secondary ones, and to set the scene. The writing is gorgeous, sensuous and nearly surreal at times:
"The courtyard is blue with the late-night TVs. The air is eggplant and sausage."
"Seeing is silent and it doesn't leave a trace. Seeing is waiting for the sky to lose its turbulence so that you can scope the distance. Seeing brings the far close in and the dark to light."
"There's cold in my eyes and winter in my lungs, and when I call for Savras his name scorches through me. Near the Landwehrkanal the vendor trucks are rutting the snow with their wide wheels, leaving grooves shellacked by the morning sun."
"And I stand with the wind in my bones."
I'd strongly recommend Going Over to readers aged twelve and up who enjoy literary fiction. The 1980's setting and the lyrical style would cross over well to adults too. Beth Kephart is one of my favorite young adult authors and this is one of her best books. The critics agree. The book has earned starred reviews from School Library Review and Booklist. It's a Junior Library Guild selection. I expect it to win awards. The eye-catching cover is a winner too. Going Over made me cry and it made me cheer. I finished the last chapter longing for more.

My reviews of more YA novels by Beth Kephart:

Undercover (includes an author interview)
You Are My Only
Dangerous Neighbors & Dr. Radway's Sarsaparilla Resolvent
Small Damages

Disclosure: author Beth Kephart is a blog buddy. Upon my request, her publisher Chronicle Books sent me a free ARC but did not pay me for this review.

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@Barrie Summy