November 29, 2010

Books for People Who Love to Write . . .

What do we writers LOVE to get for the holidays? Other than a quiet space and time to write?

We love books about writing!

Here are a few suggestions . . .

For general writing, how about these two classics from Stephen King and Anne Lamott?

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

If you need to learn classic story structure, you can't go wrong with McKee's book. It's a thick book with everything you need to know about creating the form of a good, solid story.

If writing for children is your thing, try this annual guidebook, which is loaded with instructional articles, markets, contests, etc.

2011 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market

And for fun, try this PUNderful book by Avi . . .

A Beginning, a Muddle and an End (The Write Way to Write Writing)
-- Avi

Please take a moment to share your favorite book(s) for writers in the comment section below. That way, when someone asks, "So, what would you like for the holiday?" we'll have a great resource from which to draw.

November 25, 2010


Wishing you and yours a happy, healthy Thanksgiving holiday!

Let the eating, the sharing, the shopping and the laughter begin . . .

November 21, 2010

Adventures in New Jersey and New York

When Arthur Levine invited me to speak at the BK Book Festival in Montclair, NJ, I couldn't have imagined what a fun time I was in for.

The adventure began with a visit to speak to the 5th and 6th grade students at HBW Middle School in Verona, NJ.

This school is interesting because the front has a stately, traditional look and the back is completely modern.

Uber-librarian, Jen Kleinknecht, hosted my visit. She is TERRIFIC!

Then it was off to Watchung Booksellers, a small, warm independent bookstore. After buying a few books, I had the great pleasure of meeting, Margot, the owner.

Then it was off to Brookdale Park to crunch through leaves. Do you know how many years it’s been since I crunched through leaves?

I guarantee I looked like a little kid tromping through that beautiful park!

The next day, I was off to speak to the 7th grade students at West Essex Middle School. They certainly made me feel welcome!

Unlike in FL, where we have cafetoriums (cafeteria/auditoriums), there was a gorgeous auditorium with stadium seating.

After my talk, it was time to run a writing workshop in the media center with 25 enthusiastic students. We had sooooo much fun! The kids came up with funny, sad, touching writing to share. And the coolest thing was that the amazing librarian, Catherine Spinella, created recipes from the back of each of my books.

I will never admit to how many slices of Jewish apple cake and lemon squares I consumed. But I will admit to having a FANTASTIC time! Thank you, West Essex Middle School!

Saturday, my buddy Elysa, met me in NYC, as did my agent and her new baby and my editor and her new baby.

After a scrumptious lunch at the Theatre Row Diner, made special by the scrumptious babies I held and cuddled, Elysa and I took in a Broadway Show – my first. Next to Normal was fantabulous and got a much-deserved standing ovation.

Elysa and I also saw St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Times Square, part of Central Park and Rockefeller Center. We wondered why they cleared the ice at the rink, except for one couple. Suddenly, the man dropped to one knee and put a ring on the young woman’s finger in front of hundreds of people. They skated a victory lap to a love song by Elton John. What a great day!

The next morning, I spoke at the B'nai Keshet Synagogue for the BK Book Festival in Montclair, NJ. A great group of kids and adults filled the seats. It was fun chatting with everyone after the event. One man had gone to the same elementary, middle and high school that I had.

I can’t thank Arthur Levine enough for inviting me to be part of the festival. And Margot, owner of Watchung Booksellers, for providing books, support and good cheer.

Arthur Levine, Margot Sage-EL, Donna Gephart

When it was over, I got into my rental car with my best friend – Lola – my GPS, and she got me back to the airport.

I had a wonderful time in New Jersey and New York and made some amazing new friends, but it was great to get home to my guys, my dogs, my cat and this . . .

November 16, 2010


My heart's still hammering. My thoughts are still racing. My face hurts from smiling so much.

Yesterday, this e-mail appeared in my in-box:

It is with great pleasure that I write to let you know that your book, How to Survive Middle School, has been selected for the 2011 Texas Lone Star Reading List. The committee considered many books and felt that yours was exceptional and would be perfect for the list.

This is the first time a book of mine will be on a state list. And Texas is one big state! (You can read the complete list on this blog.)

Thank you to Lori Loranger, Committee Chair, and to the entire Texas Lone Star Reading List Committee for this great honor. I am beyond thrilled!

Texas has been very good to us this year. It was only two months ago that Hubby and I had the time of our lives in Austin, TX because of a trip we won from Whole Foods Market.

In other state news -- Good citizens of New Jersey: Lock your windows and bolt your doors.

I'm coming to town. Consider yourselves duly warned.

During my visit, I look forward to meeting students and staff at a couple middle schools, where I'll be presenting and giving a writing workshop.

Then, I'll be speaking, reading and signing books at the BK BOOK FESTIVAL at Bnai Keshet Synagogue in Montclair, NJ, Nov. 21st at 10:45 a.m. This book festival benefits the Bnai Keshet Synagogue and indie bookstore, Watchung Booksellers. If you're in the area, please stop by and say howdy.

If you can't make it to the event and want to support Watchung Booksellers, please call 973.744.7177 to order a book. Or support YOUR local indie bookseller by ordering your holiday books from them. Check out Indiebound to find the one closest to you.

Thanks so much!

November 12, 2010

6-1/2 List -- Wisdom from a 13-Year-Old

Austin Towle is 13. He's an 8th grader at a middle school in Florida. He likes to play X-box, especially Call of Duty and has a sister, Sydney, who's about to turn 11.

When Austin's mom contacted me about her son writing a guest post on my blog, I thought it would be great to hear what he had to say. 13-year-olds don't always get a voice. I suggested he write about what he'd like authors of books for children and young adults to know.

And he did.

But Austin did more than that. He wrote with honesty and wisdom about what every parent, every person who works with kids should know. And he did it eloquently.



1. We don't like to be compared to other kids. When you compare us to little Timothy down the block saying how smart and well-mannered he is, it doesn't make us feel good. We like to be appreciated and complimented on our abilities. It may not seem like it but being complimented is one of the best things you can say to us.

2. We have our own sense of humor. You may hear us cracking up about something that doesn't even make any sense to you and you're racking your brain trying to figure out why it's so funny. But don't bother, we have our own sense of humor that sometimes doesn't make any sense. For example, I was with my friend, Pedro, and we started laughing and his mom asked us what was so funny and we explained it to her but she didn't have the slightest idea why it was funny.

3. One of the most important things, don't try to act our age. We don't think you're "hip" when you're saying cool, rad, or dude in every sentence. Just act your own age. We'd rather you ask us if we want to play "stickball" then you asking us if we want to go hit up the clubs. Another example, one of my mom's friends was with me and asked if I wanted to go shred down at the skate park. That is a prime example of overdoing it on the whole "be your child's friend kind of thing".

4. We don't want a lecture as a response to a yes or no question. You don't have to yell at us for five minutes about how bad or wrong that is, just say no. Oh and another thing, I'm pretty sure none of my friends would jump off a bridge and even if they did I wouldn't. So the next time one of us goes up to you and asks a question, just say yes or no.

5. Bullying is more of a problem than any adults can even fathom. The media blames schools or the parents, saying that bullying is a minor problem that is rising, Guess what? it's actually been a huge problem for a while. The problem is that most of the victims are afraid to speak up. Bullying occurs between everyone and happens everywhere. Guys bullying guys, girls bullying girls, guys bullying girls, and even girls bullying guys. Another thing, telling the principal and calling up the bully for confrontation is probably the worst idea ever. If you snitch, it will more than likely get remarkably worse. Trust me, bullies don't learn their lesson. They will keep at it until either you fight back or they are expelled.

6. Let us have our personal space. If we want to be alone, then let us be, it's not like we're plotting world destruction. I know some adults worry about their kids falling in with the wrong crowd or getting into bad habits, but you just got to have faith in us and have confidence in how you raised us. You raised us better than that.

6-1/2. It may seem like we don't want to be hugged or loved, but inside we do. We're just trying to act tough and grown up, but we always could go for a big ole' hug.

November 4, 2010

It's Not All Oprah Appearances and Whirlwind Book Tours, You Know

I once read that the average number of books sold at a book signing is three.

That's why I steer away from bookstore events, unless they follow a school visit.

But, when a local bookstore manager was looking for a middle grade author to do an in-store event, I said, "Yes."

To prepare for the event, I created a flyer, which I e-mailed to the manager. I spread the word via my Web site, blog, FB, etc. and I corresponded with the manager several times.

She made it clear I'd have to promote the event myself. All she could do was list it on their Web site and have a display of my books in the store.

No problem.

I had modest expectations the evening of the event. None-the-less, I dressed and applied makeup (I hate wearing makeup), packed my bag with giveaways, a stuffed toy hamster, etc. and drove an hour through driving rain to get to the store on time.

I did not expect what happened next.

There was a small flyer about my event on the front door as I entered the store.

Good sign.

I asked an employee, "May I see the manager?"

"No," the employee said.

Bad sign.

"She's on vacation this week."


"Well, I'm here for the author event. You have a sign up on your front door about it."

"Wait here." She dashed out of sight.

While she was gone, I checked the children's department. Not only was there no display, no signing table, no nothing . . . there was not a single copy of my book in the store.

The woman came out and said, "Um, did you bring your own books?"

I wanted to say, "This is a bookstore. Why would I bring my own books."

I couldn't speak, though. My lower jaw was dangling.

The woman explained that the store was closing after the holidays.

I told her I was sorry, but I'd prepared for this visit. I drove an hour to get here.

She apologized profusely, saying the manager handles all store events, and no one else was aware of it. She offered to buy me a drink in the cafe. (I declined.) She told me about how many people would lose their jobs and how she would have to drive an hour each way to get to her new job after the store closed.

Then she tried to cheer me up by discussing the demise of brick and mortar bookstores and books in general.

I waited around about ten minutes in case someone showed up. No one showed up.

By the time I left, the flyer announcing my event had been pulled off the door. Only a wad of tape remained.

Why didn't this bother me?

Was it because I thought about all those people who would lose their jobs in a market where too many people have already lost their jobs? Hmm. That put my inconvenience into perspective.

Sure, it would have been nice if the manager thought to drop me a quick e-mail to let me know.

But that's how things go sometimes.

Life's too short to get pissed off over things we can't control. And frankly, there's very little we CAN control. (I'll just be a bit more careful next time about saying "Yes.")

Instead of wasting time and energy getting upset, here's what I did:

I listened to Gordon Korman's SCHOOLED on CD all the way home. Very funny.

I thought about how glad I was to be getting home early to have more time with Hubby, and how we'd settle down to watch a new episode of MODERN FAMILY.

And I reflected on the good things that happened this past week:

1. We watched our older son and his eight fellow cast members get a standing ovation for their performance in the school play.

2. Our younger son had his first drum performance in front of an audience. (And he didn't vomit, lose a drumstick or faint.)

3. Three different local schools contacted me about setting up author visits.

4. And one library.

5. I got the delightful news that I will be on the faculty at the NESCBWI conference this May, giving two workshops about writing humor and creating quirky characters. (This is especially exciting as they are celebrating their 25th anniversary.)

6. And Random House let me know yesterday that HOW TO SURVIVE MIDDLE SCHOOL just went into its FIFTH printing.

So, you win some. You lose some. And then you go watch MODERN FAMILY with Hubby.

November 2, 2010

I'm too old to have this much fun on Halloween . . .

Strange beings invaded our home and our neighborhood . . .

(Oy vey!)

(Scariest costume ever -- teen at the computer.)

(Looks like they've lowered the drinking age in Florida.)

(In your future, I see a trip . . . to the dentist.)

(Too cute to be a mad murderer.)

(See what happens when you insult the wife's cooking?)

(Where am I and where did I get all this hair?)

(This is how I look most mornings before school . . . and after school.)

(Look who responded to the personal ad this time.)

(Last seen terrorizing small children and stealing their candy.)

(In sickness and in health and in last minute Halloween costumes.)

(Greek Gods? Nah! Geek Gods!)

Hope you all had a Halloween to dismember!