April 29, 2010

Hammy and I Had a Blast at Vero Beach

I left home at 7 a.m. yesterday and returned nearly 14 hours later. Here's what happened in between . . .

I arrived at the Vero Beach Book Center -- a fabulous indie bookstore with a separate store for their children's and young adult books and programs.

Here's what you see as you enter this very special space:

The amazing Cynthia Grabenbauer orchestrated the day. Thank you, Cynthia!!!


I had the great pleasure of spending the day with Cynthia and Tiffanie. (Yes, Tiffanie was as much fun as she looks . . . and she draws a great map!)


Our first stop was Storm Grove Middle School. The media specialist had Hammy Time playing on a giant screen when the students entered the cafeteria. The kids came in dancing. It was so much fun.

This sweet student, Ryan, stood at the podium and introduced me. Ryan was also running for office. Isn't this a cute poster?

(That's a mirror in the center.)

After that, we whooshed over to St. Edwards school. I talked to only 50 students, which was fun because we could interact more. I began my talk by saying, "I am a dork." Some boy near the front said, "I'm a dork, too!"

After lunch at Crispers, I had the pleasure of talking to the 6th graders at Oslo Middle School.

There, Anna, introduced me to the students and got waaaaaay more cheers than Hammy did.

Their media specialist, Alison Rhoden, was the kind of person you wish were at YOUR school. Alison has a contagious enthusiasm and bright smile. Check out her great idea: Students get "bucks" for reading, then spend their bucks at the "store" she sets up. An autographed copy of How to Survive Middle School is the newest item in their "store."

After that, I got a break to explore Vero. Cool town!

Then it was time for the meet and greet at the bookstore. This great group of tenth grade students from Vero Beach High School stopped by.

Here's Mykhue . . .

And Nick with Hammy . . .

These amazing kids made me want to write YA!

And my dear friend Carole, gave away a shift at work to be there. Thank you, Carole!

Now, I'm off to Michigan to have a fun time at the S.C.B.W.I. Conference this weekend.

I leave you with the obligatory cute doggies photo . . .

Tune in next week for Michigan conference photos and the new blog post: Sumo Wrestler vs. Hammy the Hamster. (Will Hammy win?!)

April 26, 2010

I Met Stephen King (Sort of)

When our family pulled into the Digital Domain Stadium in Port St. Lucie, we knew the FAMILY READING FESTIVAL was going to be a big deal. The parking lot was jammed with cars.

When Debbie Remington, President of the St. Lucie County Reading Council and Media Specialist at Manatee Academy, contacted me about speaking at a baseball stadium to promote reading, I thought it sounded intriguing.

What I couldn't have imagined was how many teachers, media specialists, parents and students would embrace the idea.

There was so much going on at once -- a used book exchange, authors talks, raffles, children performing reader's theater and much more. Such a festive environment!

Participants wore name tags sporting their favorite character's names, authors or books.

I had the great pleasure of meeting "Stephen King." She was delightful. I also met Nancy Drew, Hermione and well, The Bible!

It was a fun event centered around the love of READING!

Now, I look forward to meeting bazillions of sixth graders in Vero this Wednesday. I'll be sharing my talk, "6-1/2 Ways to Survive Middle School" with them. There will be a guest appearance by Hammy the Hamster.

Vero Beach Book Center will host me in their teen loft from 5:30 to 7 p.m. this Wednesday, April 28th. I'll talk, sign and generally cause a ruckus!

It's good to know people still get excited about BOOKS and the people who write them, like my, um, new friend, "Stephen King."

April 22, 2010

Places To Go And People To Annoy . . .


April 24th -- FAMILY READING FESTIVAL at the Mets Stadium (Digital Domain Park) in Port St. Lucie from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. (I'll be speaking from 11:30-noon and will be signing books before and after.) The first 300 kids get FREE tickets to Saturday's game. (Baseball and books -- What could be bad?)

April 28th -- Storm Grove Middle School sixth graders, look out. Here I come! And my hamster, Hammy, might be coming with me. (This event is not open to the public.)

will be hosting me in their Teen Loft at 5:30. I'll be meeting and greeting and having a fun time at an amazingly cool independent bookstore! Please stop by at your earliest inconvenience.

April 29th -- SUNFEST!!! This has nothing to do with books, but I'm super excited to go to this awesome venue -- "Where music meets the waterfront" to see and hear THE FLAMING LIPS perform. The whole family is going -- Whee! (Thanks Melissa. You are filled with wonderful!)

May 1st -- Hello, Michigan! SCBWI MICHIGAN'S SPRING CONFERENCE sounds like it will be a blast. I'll be talking about writing humor for children, creating quirky characters and my rubber chicken necklace. I'm just sayin'. There are oodles of cool presenters, like Jay Asher, Ruta Rimas, Jim Tobin, etc. (I think registration is full now. Are you going to be there?)

May 12th -- I'll have the great pleasure of speaking to the 5th grade students at GREENACRES ELEMENTARY SCHOOL. (This event is not open to the public.)

May 16th -- BOOKS & BOOKS in Coral Gables! Stop by and browse this amazing bookstore. Grab a drink and snack in their cafe and enjoy it at their outdoor seating area. And if you happen to be there at 3 p.m., stop by and say HELLO! I'll be speaking and signing, but not singing because that would drive people from the store.

May 17th -- I'll be speaking at INDEPENDENCE MIDDLE SCHOOL, which has a special place in my heart. (This event is not open to the public.) It's just going to be me, a few teachers and, oh, 400 sixth graders. (And I'm going to tell them a secret.)

May 18th -- Collapse, with a big smile on my face!

April 20, 2010

Good News and a Contest!

My editor just shared the wonderful news that How to Survive Middle School went into its SECOND printing, after being in the world less than a week! Go, Hammy!

Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen, my third book, is finally finished (for now) and on my agent's desk. I had so much fun learning quirky trivia and about the show Jeopardy!. (Yes, it's supposed to have an exclamation point after it. I mean . . .!!!!!)

A big thank you to Cindy Hudson for her review at The Mother Daughter Book Club. Check out Cindy's book!

Now, onto that contest: The LOVELY LADIES, Mary Hershey and Robin LaFevers, at Shrinking Violet Promotions have launched my novel with a giveaway. Answer a question on their blog, and you'll be in the running to win a nifty autographed copy of How to Survive Middle School. (Rumor has it Hammy will sign it as well.)

Spread the hamster love!

April 19, 2010

Erma Bombeck Writer's Workshop

Everything was funny during the Erma Bombeck Writer's Workshop, especially what happened while I was giving my workshop. (I'll get to that in a sec.)

First, I loved being in Dayton, OH, where Erma Bombeck lived. I enjoyed strolling around the University of Dayton campus, where she went to school. Everything was in bloom. There was a street named after Erma and this display in the lobby of one of the buildings.

The wonderful thing about this workshop is that even though I arrived knowing no one, I left with new friends.

Here's Helen. We actually met on the plane ride to Dayton.

And here's Jon Hess, Chair of the Communications Department, and his lovely wife Minh.

This conference takes place every two years and always sells out. It's loaded with useful workshops, like how to publicize yourself on the web, get your humorous columns syndicated, sell to regional parenting publications, etc. The food was excellent and the speakers -- Bill Scheft, Loretta LaRoche and others -- were hilarious.

I laughed so hard, it hurt . . . in a good way.

So, in 2012, if you have a chance to go to this inspiring, informative event, GO! It's exceptionally well run.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled dose of EVERYTHING THAT CAN GO WRONG WILL AND AT THE WORST POSSIBLE MOMENT.

Friday morning, I gave back to back workshops titled "12 3/4 Ways to Tickle Young Readers' Funny Bones."

My workshops were held in a room called the Torch Lounge. Very appropriate name as the temperature was somewhere between Sahara Desert and Hades. Participants fanned themselves with their programs. I would have removed my jacket, but I had sweat stains from my armpits to Miami.

To alleviate the heat, windows and doors were opened. This would have been helpful if there weren't a construction site right next door! "Beep. Beep. Beep. Kaboom. Beep. Beep. Beep. Kaboom."

Thank goodness for microphones, right?

This is what the room looked like from my viewpoint before everyone arrived:

Because it wasn't a closed classroom, students from campus would stroll through on their way to other places during my talk. They probably wondered, Why are they talking about pickles, Twinkies and chickens?

Here are a couple shots of my poor, unsuspecting participants as they shuffled in and found seats:

Halfway into the first workshop, participants said, "We can hear someone else through the sound system."

No problem. I switched microphones and continued.

"Um, it's still happening. It sounds like a radio program."

Someone on staff ran to get help from the A.V. guy. Two minutes later, we could hear her talking to him through our sound system.

I found the "off" switch and motored through sans mic until the glitch was fixed.

That was NOTHING compared to what happened during my second workshop.

After teaching a segment about how embarrassing situations can be springboards for stories, I asked everyone to list his or her most embarrassing moments from middle school. I promised these lists would NOT be shared. I told them they could cover their papers as they wrote. I pinky swore and crossed my heart that their lists were for their eyes only.

Everyone hunched forward and began scribbling . . . just as the entire camera crew from CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood walked into our room. (Mo Rocca is doing a piece on the conference they plan to air on Mother's Day.) The camera guy approached several participants as they were writing and got close-up shots of them and their lists of THE MOST EMBARRASSING THINGS THAT EVER HAPPENED TO THEM.

Game over.

Not really. It was a humor conference, after all. When the camera crew left, we all had a good laugh over it.

But I suppose it all worked out because when my workshops were over, people came up to tell me they got a lot out of them and came up with ideas they plan to keep working on. Hooray!

And the lovely Andy Bombeck (Erma's son), who sat in on my workshop, stopped me in the hall later to tell me how much he enjoyed my workshop and said that I provided a lot of good information.

Erma's oldest granddaughter, Eva, took my workshop, too. At 13, she came up with some highly creative ideas and bravely shared them with the group. It seems she's on her way to becoming a writer, like her grandmother.

It's good to know that so much of Erma Bombeck's humor and heart live on in the spirit of her children and grandchildren and in the Erma Bombeck Humor Writer's Workshop.

I feel honored to have had the opportunity to be part of that unique and wonderful community.

April 18, 2010

How to get stuck in an elevator . . .

Oh, what a wonderful weekend! (I mean, other than getting stuck in an elevator.)

But first . . . can you guess the name of the city I was in?

Here's the view from my hotel window . . .

These things were in my hotel room:

1. A gift basket filled with local goodies, like Mike-Sell's potato chips and dip, Esther Price chocolates, etc.
2. Two big comfy beds, a TV and a remote control (that, remarkably, didn't have a dog's teeth marks on it).
3. Quiet.

These things were NOT in my hotel room:

1. Two dogs, one of whom is a puppy and can't stop moving because he clearly is possessed by the canine form of Richard Simmons.
2. An eighteen-year-old-cat, crying at 2 a.m., 3 a.m. and 4:15 a.m.
3. Two teenage boys, who eat as though they've never been fed before and play (c)rap music so loudly it makes my ears bleed.

There was even a private lounge down the hall, where they served delicious eggs, oatmeal and fresh pineapple in the morning.

I felt like Calgon had taken me away . . . until I got stuck in the elevator.

When I arrived at the Marriott and checked in, the man at the desk said, "Mrs. Gephart, you'll be staying on our concierge floor." I was so disoriented from two planes rides and acclimating to a new city, that I heard, "Here's your key card, lady."

So I took my key card and luggage and got in the elevator, pressed my floor number -- the top floor -- and watched as another person got off on the second floor. I waited. The elevator didn't move. I pressed my floor number again. And again. And, well, again. But nothing happened.

Great, I thought, I'll make quite a first impression by getting stuck in an elevator. I eyed the bright red emergency button and prayed I wouldn't have to use it.

It was then I noticed a slot next to my floor number. Hmm. That's interesting. So I slid my room key into the slot and . . .

The elevator moved.

I nonchalantly got off and walked to my room, as though I didn't JUST GET STUCK IN AN ELEVATOR!

So, now back to that question: Which city was I in?

Here's a clue:

What's your guess?

Tune in tomorrow to find out the answer and the really embarrassing thing that happened when the folks in my workshop were writing about really embarrassing things that had happened.

April 14, 2010

30 Things on Launch Day

Sometimes, Launch Day is slightly less glamorous than one would imagine . . .

1. 6:25 -- Quick, take the puppies outside to . . . you know.

2. Get younger son off to school bus (after giving him moolah for lunch).

3. Feed puppies. Um, one more quick trip outside.

4. Throw on shorts and your "Be Careful or You'll End Up in My Novel" T-shirt.

5. Open card from hubby that specifically states: "Do not open until April 13th." Try not to cry at the sweet words hubby wrote about you and your special day.

6. Wish Hubby weren't away on business on Launch Day (or any other day).

7. Drive older son to school bus. (More moolah.)

8. Walk puppies . . . or let them walk you. When puppies chase squirrel, you will be reminded that yes, your back does still hurt from when you pulled it last week in weight-lifting class.

9. Back home, shove some yogurt, nuts and fruit down your gullet, grab a cup of green tea and GET TO WORK . . .

10. After one quick game of fetch with puppies.

11. Revise third novel -- deadline approacheth.

12. Take puppies out to . . . you know.

13. Practice talk for Erma Bombeck Humor Writer's Workshop this weekend.

14. Take puppies out to . . . you know.

15. Think about napping. What's that? Lawn guys arrive.

16. Uh-oh. Clean up the . . . you know . . . in the back yard. Quick!

17. Collapse in a heap, realizing how little you've accomplished so far. "Puppies, the sofa is NOT a chew toy!"

18. 11 a.m. Answer the doorbell and hush the barking puppies.

19. Allow mouth to drop down to toes because two of your best friends have incredible hamster/book-themed gifts in their arms.

Thank you so much, Carilynn and Holly!!!

20. Gush about wonderful, thoughtful, creative gifts, take photos and babble about how awful you look and how dirty your house is. But mostly gush about wonderful, thoughtful, creative gifts and your fantabulous friends.

Hamster wheel filled with delectable muffins and mini-breads all baked by Holly

Plexi-glass box filled with books to be autographed, a large cardboard cut-out of my book and a clever YouTube sticker on the front, to match my book's cover. Carilynn is the queen of presentation and clever themes.

21. Friends rush out, insisting, "We know you have a lot of work to do." And you do, but you'd rather hang out with friends (even if you are dressed like a homeless person and your house looks like it should be condemned by the Board of Health).

22. More puppy time.

23. More practice for upcoming talk and revisions for third novel.

24. 3:45 Meet your friend, Deborah, at local Barnes and Noble. Friend will greet you with hug and a dozen pink roses.

25. Discover that Barnes and Noble doesn't have a single copy of your book in stock . . . because they sold out immediately. More on the way. HOORAY!

Deborah, taking a photo of me while I was taking one of her.

Roses, from Deborah

26. Enjoy scrumptious sushi with Deborah.

27. Back home, LET THE PUPPIES OUT!

28. Read sweet note from your neighbor, who made dinner for you because she knew how busy you'd be with work and puppies and hubby out of town. (Think about how fortunate you are.)

29. Read thoughtful, encouraging e-mails, FB posts, etc. from the most lovely friends, colleagues and family you could ever hope for.

30. Relax. Finally. (Well, right after you let those puppies out.) "Puppies, the door frame is NOT a chew toy!"

April 12, 2010

What will YOU be doing this Tuesday?

I'll be celebrating the release of my new novel, How to Survive Middle School!!!

I'll also be wishing my buddy Pam a very happy birthday. (And reminding her that she's older than me. Only slightly.)

As if that weren't enough, I'll also be celebrating National Arts Advocacy Day. Hooray for the arts!!! And, as an added bonus, I'll enjoy a slice of peach cobbler because, apparently, it's National Peach Cobbler Day. (Gotta love Google searches.)


April 8, 2010

Five Days?


Gene Hull, book reviewer for Florida Scripps Newspapers, wrote a lovely review of my new book.

After reading his review, I realized MY BOOK COMES OUT IN FIVE DAYS!

I've been so absorbed in the world of Olivia Bean, young trivia whiz who will do anything to get on Kids Week on Jeopardy!, that I forgot about the new book release . . . until my friend Deb sent me an e-mail: "Hey, what are you doing to celebrate your book's release on Tuesday?"

"Um . . . "

"We're going out for sushi, then to look for your book in Barnes and Noble."

"Okay. Thanks, Deb!"

Olivia Bean hasn't been the only think occupying what little brain space I have left after dealing with two teenage boys.

These guys have been wearing me out . . . in a good way.

Benji, in a rare non-chewing moment

Teddy, getting some attention from hubby.

What we get to come home to each day.

Life is good. And hey, I have a new book coming out in five days. Wahoo!

April 3, 2010

Be There or Be Square


I'd LOVE to see you at any of these events. Let me know if you'll be there (or be square).

I'll also be doing several school visits, but they are not open to the public.

Thanks for your support!

A Wonderful Surprise . . .

The most touching thing arrived in the mail yesterday.

It was a large, flat package with the return address from our niece, Nicole.

At 22, Nicole is about to graduate from art school in Philadelphia. She's the most lovely human being -- thoughtful, fun, adventurous, kind and creative. She's got a zest for life and is always willing to try new things, like kayaking to an island last time she visited us.

I've loved her since before she was born. To my husband and me, she is like the daughter we never had. And she continues to make us so proud.

Even though she's busy getting her senior portfolio prepared and figuring out where she's going to work and live, she took the time to create something very special for us.

This is a tribute to our dog Lady, who passed away in January. Even though we've welcomed two new dogs into our home, we still miss Lady very much.

Nicole's portrait means the world to us. We're going to frame it and hang it on our living room wall, near the spot where Lady used to sleep.

Nicole created it from this photograph of Lady:

This isn't the first time Nicole has done something wonderful like this.

After my dear father-in-law passed away, she created a portrait of him for us and his three sons.

It hangs in our guest room that we still refer to as "Pop's Room." And it was created from this photograph:

There really are no words to thank Nicole for such a thoughtful, unexpected gesture of love. But I have a feeling she knows how we feel.