Letter from the Editor: Going Over
What role does an editor play in the development of a book? How does the relationship between writer and editor shape the story that emerges? Here, Chronicle editor Tamra Tuller and Going Over author Beth Kephart sit down to chat about the challenges, rewards, and often years-long process of creating a work of fiction together.
Beth Kephart: For ten years, before I met you, I had been writing a novel called Small Damages. It had been many things. It had nearly found a publishing home. But looking back now, it was clear: It was always waiting for you. You would be the one to read, to embrace, to understand this story of southern Spain. How did I get so lucky to have you come into my life—to turn the first page of Small Damages, and then the second one?
Tamra Tuller: Well, Beth, first of all I think I am the lucky one. For me it was a no-brainer. I fell in love with your writing! It was impossible not to keep turning the pages. And it didn’t hurt that I had a love for Spain and had traveled there as a teenager. I think one of the things that makes us such a great team is that we love to travel! We also both fell in love with Berlin. Do you remember the amazing conversations we had after we had both visited?
BK: Do I remember the amazing conversations we had about Berlin? Um. Yeah. I remember all of our amazing conversations. You are one of my very favorite people to talk to, and I would say that whether we had started to create these books together or not. Sometimes I think I’m still writing books for the sole reason (also the soul reason) of continuing our conversation. When we talked about Berlin, for example, we essentially created Going Over. We made room for a book about a boy and a girl divided by a wall. And then you, with that fantastic team at Chronicle, made the book soaringly beautiful and more creatively launched than any book in my career. But I’m not the only lucky one. You have many writers who are dreaming many books. How do you help all of us see our books more broadly? How do you help us go deeper?
As an editor, it’s most important that I recognize the talent in others and that I ask my authors the right questions.
TT: Sometimes the best books really are born from the best conversations. Exactly like Going Over! And that one, in particular, was also a no-brainer. I knew it from the first page of the first draft. I cried when I read it. I cried every time I read it. And I’ve read it many many times. I think as an editor, it’s most important that I recognize the talent in others and mainly that I ask my authors the right questions. When I’m done asking questions, that’s usually when we’ve gotten to where we need to be. I’m sure you’ve noticed my editorial letters to you are often a long string of questions. Be honest, has this process ever driven you crazy? Have you ever thought, “Enough with the questions already?!”
BK: I think we have to be honest with ourselves as writers. Sure, we’d love to write a perfect book, one draft through, ta da (as Ada of Going Over would say). But we need editors to take an interest, to sit with us, to care—and you care. The only thing that ever drives me crazy in the making of a book is myself—my own self doubt, my own limitations, my own inability to see something I should have seen for myself. You asking questions—that is sanity-giving, not insanity-making. Good goodness, we are at our best when the people in our book lives show how much they care. Does caring so much tire you out?
We have to be honest with ourselves as writers. Sure, we’d love to write a perfect book, one draft through, ta da… But we need editors to take an interest, to sit with us, to care.
TT: Honestly, yes and no. But tired in the best sense of the word! Tired in the “I just ran a really long race and kicked some ass” sense. Which is also invigorating and energizing. I would say about 75% of the time there is a point in the life of a book where I have that same self-doubt you are talking about, and I have a little freak out and I say, “I have no idea what I’m going to do!” and then, somehow, I (hopefully!) figure it out. And sometimes, the books that make me the most tired are the same ones that give me the most pride, and end up giving me the energy to move on to the next. And speaking of the next, how excited are we to have TWO more upcoming books together?!
BK: Accuse me of speaking in circles, but I would not do those next two books with anyone but you. I have learned a lot about stories and myself working with you. And as we take One Thing Stolen (Spring 2015) into design, and as I write past page 100 of This Is the Story of You (Spring 2016), I am still learning. So. Thank you. And lots of love.
Read the first six chapters of Going Over free on Scribd, listen to the Going Over Rdio Playlist, and find the book or ebook online or at your favorite bookstore.
Beth Kephart is the award-winning author of books for both adults and young readers, including Going Over, You Are My Only, Small Damages, and Handling the Truth. She lives in Devon, Pennsylvania.
Tamra Tuller was born and raised on the Jersey shore. It was on those beaches where she read book after book, developing her love of literature which would eventually lead her to a career in publishing. Tamra is currently an editor at Chronicle Books, working primarily on middle grade and young adult fiction. She lives in Oakland, California.
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